One year ago around this time, we were just learning about our baby’s food allergies. In retrospect, I’d say that it was a life-altering discovery and definitely a bit overwhelming at the start. Without experience with food allergies ourselves – as parents – and with little exposure to people living with multiple allergies, we had a lot of learning to do to understand (a) how to cook without the allergens and (b) how to read labels. Sure, we already loved to cook from scratch but the rules of the ball game had changed. A number of our go-to condiments were now a no-go.
As challenging as it has been to create safe family meals that don’t get repetitive and that include diverse ingredients and flavours, I think it’s led us to eat ‘cleaner’. We cook even more from scratch than before (remember we said bye to a lot of our condiments?), substituting things like ketchup (which is still on our list of foods to try with our toddler) with a mix of tomato paste, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. We’ve tried different types of recipes than we may have been inclined to try before. I’d guess that our salt consumption is lower since we add a very minimal amount when we’re cooking.
I’ve also added new terms into my lexicon:
- safe foods
- Top 8 free (and I actually know off-by-heart what the Top 8 are)
- ingredient cross-contamination (and not just in keeping raw meats separate from cooked meats!)
- allergen free
…and I’ve learned new concepts:
- oats, barley and rye are typically cross contaminated with wheat
- vegan recipes are great because they’re egg- and dairy-free but you have to watch out because they love nut substitutes
- people with allergies have different levels of sensitivities and reactivities
- things that don’t sound tasty indeed have a very useful purpose (think egg replacer and xanthan gum)
- make friends with fads because they can make food shopping much easier (think gluten free, vegan – these are legitimate diets but the mass commercialization of them really helps me zoom in on foods that may be safe)
- the importance of facilities in following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to minimize cross-contamination on processing lines
- even ingredients like spices that seem so ‘raw’ or bare bones can be contaminated with allergens (the cumin recalls are a recent example
- the cumin recalls mentioned above actually highlighted the complexities related to the global food chain and ingredient traceability as well as factory practices.
I now make use of the 1-800 numbers for manufacturers on the backs of packages, which I used to always wonder why they needed to be listed. Now I know. It’s for people like me who need to question the safety of the packaged food. And if there is no contact information or allergen information on your website, I won’t bother buying your product any more. Which reminds me, websites that DO list a company’s allergy policy get an A++ in my books and I will be brand loyal to them.
I’ve also learned how to use an auto injector, which is a good thing to know for anyone; I even think it should be taught as part of first aid courses, in addition to AED use.
So you can see, I have gotten so much out of our life situation. It doesn’t take away the anxiety that I feel trying new foods with our child or the stress that I feel when our child has an allergic reaction (because in the moment, you can’t predict how much that localized itchiness will escalate in 5, 10, 30 minutes). I can be okay with seeming like the paranoid parent who won’t let their child eat food prepared by others (did you use a clean cutting board? did you wash your hands? could any cross contamination have happened? how safe are all of your ingredients that you used?) if it prevents my child from having an allergic reaction. But I have learned so much, so far from this experience.