Before you fly off the rails, you should know that I have Celiac disease — diagnosed by a doctor after years of agony. My body’s intolerance of gluten led me to spend much of my childhood curled in a ball holding my stomach against the worst imaginable pain. It gave me rashes, stunted my growth, and affected my physical and emotional life in myriad other ways. So, I fully understand the potential ramifications of a food allergy or intolerance. What I absolutely cannot stand, however, is the freedom we’ve taken as a society to just decide that entire food groups are not okay, without real cause. Is it for attention? Is it one more method of spoiling or babying our children? Is it a desperate attempt to climb aboard the trendy wagon of selective eating? I’m not quite sure. What I do know? It’s getting annoying.
It used to be that when I asked a server or grocer a question about the ingredients in a food, they responded with the information I needed or at least a mystified “I’m not sure,” followed by whatever investigating they could possibly do. These days, the first thing I get is an eye roll. The jury’s still out on whether Celiac is genetic, but I’m hoping my own kids won’t ever experience that reaction, or a plate of curiously “safe” food that makes them sick. But I know that if they do, it will have something to do with the fact that everyone is pretending to have allergies these days, and the people who make, serve, and sell our food are getting frustrated.
Food allergies can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. I am absolutely not denying that. I will do everything in my power to ensure your child is not exposed to whatever real allergy he or she has. But I know a mom who is so terrified of food allergies that she insists on a peanut-free environment for her child — even though her child has tested negative for food allergies three times.
Another friend has convinced herself that her child’s negative food allergy screening must be flawed, so she insists that he is definitely allergic to everything. The poor kid is non-dairy, non-gluten, non-soy, non-fun, and it just sucks. I want to shake this woman and shout, “Show me the proof!“ Why are you making your kid subsist on grain-free wafers and organic clementines when there is not a stitch of medical proof that he is allergic to, well, anything?
Faking a food allergy does more than annoy me. It instills fear in your child and creates a foundation for food obsessions. The exhaustion and stress that I live with as a Celiac is something I would never wish on my children. Why create the panic where it doesn’t need to exist? I know you think it sounds cool, or precious, or that it makes you look like you care more… or something. But if you want to live a food-excluding lifestyle, why not just go vegan? Or all-organic? Or only buy local? There are so many ways that you can adjust your family’s eating habits to make a real, sustainable impact. At least exert that control impulse in a way that benefits them and the community.
There are also so many ways that you can make your child feel loved and special. Exclusionary eating is a little corner of hell that I would do absolutely anything to not have to thrust my kid into. Instead of leaning on potential allergies as a crutch, shouldn’t you be knocking down every door to find out exactly what you can do to keep your children from developing food sensitivities? These days it seems like every time I log onto Facebook, a mom is crying out for vegan, nondairy, gluten-free, nut-free treat recipes because her kid wants to celebrate a birthday in school and the classroom is everything-free.
I can’t be alone in thinking that a good portion of these allergies are invented, or dependent on other factors — otherwise, why is it that we all survived a childhood where special occasions were punctuated by fun food? Why do we have to spoil everyone’s celebration, especially when the proof is just not in the vegan pudding? Had I been diagnosed with Celtic as a little kid, I’d be willing to bet you that nut-free banana loaf that my mom would have been fine sending in a gluten-free cookie for me to nosh on while other kids enjoyed their gluten-filled birthday treat. And my life would not have been ruined by having to tote a separate snack.
I’m doing my best to create a well-rounded diet and read every bit of literature I can find about preventing food allergies in my kids. I won’t risk poisoning your kid by serving something you say they can’t have, but I will do a (secret) eye roll if I suspect you of being a faker.