Living with a Food Allergy
Did you know that the prevalence of food allergies within the Western culture is rising? A reported 1 in 50 UK school children suffer from a peanut allergy!
Food allergies are a serious autoimmune disease. When an allergy sufferer falls into contact (whether by indirect of direct) of their allergen, some with serious allergies, respond by anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening reaction. The most common symptoms of food allergies include: skin reactions, including itchiness, rashes, swelling, swollen lips and/or face, difficulty breathing and gastrointestinal complications.
Food allergy sufferers must always be attentive with the foods they eat, even at home, as some manufacturers can change recipes without formal warnings! An allergy sufferer must always ensure they always have their adrenaline (known as an Epipen) on them, so in case of emergency, they can have adrenaline administered whilst the medical services arrive. This can also play a huge social detriment as allergy sufferers do not have a lot of confidence in food outlets. This has been shown after the Pret A Manger case where a sesame seed allergy died after consuming a baguette which was not labelled with the sesame allergen.
I was 5 years old when I discovered that I suffer from a very severe tree nut allergy. After numerous trips to Great Ormond Street Hospital for what seemed like a lifetime of pins and needles (also known medically as Skin Prick Tests) I realised my life was to change forever. I moved to Spain after 3 years of living in the UK with a tree nut allergy. My family were slightly cautious of the move in case the Mediterranean diet would not be suitable for a nut allergy sufferer. However, clearly not reluctant enough, as I spent the next 10 years in Spain!
Living in a Mediterranean country with a tree nut allergy was no handicap at all. The diet is mainly based on fish and shellfish (hence paella) and eggs (tortillas) and wine! When I first moved to Spain, they were not aware of food allergies as they were in the UK. Although this was an initial cause for concern, it was actually a silver lining, as there was no skepticism which I have found in the UK as restaurants believe customers are just fussy eaters. Instead, my food allergy taught them when I ate out and they were more than happy to inform me of all ingredients in their dishes.
Since returning to the UK I have noticed that there is a lack of healthy nut free foods as many brands use nuts to substitute for flours. This is where Creative Nature understand that food innovation needs to be different in order to cater for everyone. As my doctor once said, “no one ever died from not eating a nut, but they did for eating one!”
Unfortunately, some places are not as accommodating for allergy sufferers. The founder of Creative Nature, Julianne, visited Bali at the end of 2018. Julianne suffers from an allergy to all nuts, including peanuts, chickpeas, lentils and all other legumes. When dining out of the villa she stayed in, she found the language barrier to be a problem, as restaurant staff were unable to understand that her food allergy extended out to all varieties of seeds, beans, and nuts.
As well as the language barrier being an issue in Bali for Julianne to explain her food allergies, the group she was with wanted to experience the dining culture in Bali. However, the dining culture in Bali is usually to eat street food on-the-go. Although this suits most people and tourists, because you can see the local attractions and take in the culture whilst enjoying their cultural foods, it doesn’t support allergy sufferers. This is because it was found that food caterers are time constrained and therefore cannot go into detail about the ingredients present in their foods, and sometimes, they may not know the full extent of what is in their foods.
Another issue which Julianne pointed out from visiting Bali with a food allergy is that a lot of their dishes are made with pre-made sauces and spices. Therefore, even if one is eating at a private resort, for instance Julianne stayed in a villa with a chef on site who cooked meals in the kitchen on site, they still use the pre-made sauces which cannot guarantee being safe to eat with allergies.
Finally, and the most distressing point of all, is that Julianne suffered from an allergic reaction whilst she visited Bali. This was due to the language barrier, as the restaurant she was eating at did not understand that a dish, even if it doesn’t contain nuts, cannot be made using the same utensils as nut containing dishes. Julianne’s lips swelled up straight after she had her first mouthful! This also draws our attention to the seriousness of food allergies and the extent we need to reach in order to ensure allergy sufferers are safe when they’re eating.
It may be some surprise to learn that Portugal is the most accommodating European country to expats with food allergies. The Portuguese diet is heavily relied on seafood and fish, but they have reported to be very tolerant towards people with food allergies and not put them off visiting the country and trying the food within their culture. Also, because Portugal is so close to Spain, they can at least understand the Spanish language as well as being able to speak a wide range of other European languages. Also, it is worth pointing out that the Time Out Market is held in the heart of Lisbon. Here they showcase pop up stalls of many restaurants and delis from around Portugal. You are to be sure to receive a 10/10 for service and taste as all pop-up stalls must have received the maximum of 5 stars from a panel of judges to showcase their products at the Market hall.
Last summer I spent a holiday in Toronto to visit friends. I was surprised, but also delighted, when I saw every food shop, whether it was a supermarket, café, deli, restaurant had a list of all allergens present in every one of their dishes. This may be because peanut allergies are the most common, among all food allergies in Canada and therefore, they want to ensure that all allergy sufferers do not feel the embarrassment and inconvenience that some feel when they ask for the ingredients in retailers’ food dishes.
During my time in Toronto, I felt excited to eat out, which at first was a foreign feeling as I have never felt excitement to eat out anywhere else in the world! Since my trip to Toronto, Canada has been scored very highly on AllergyTravels.com with a score of 4.6 out of 5.
As a result of the rise of Veganism in the UK (an estimated 600,000 vegans are living in the UK) I have found that caterers and retailers are more aware of the importance of food labelling. This may be because there are more people that want to know what exactly is in the foods they are consuming. This can only be a good thing for allergy sufferers.
Restaurants are also able to offer more flexibility with the dishes they offer. They are more inventive with the ingredients they substitute and replace.
I think the bottom line is, always ask the provider of the food product you are buying from if it is safe to eat, even if you are certain, ask! Asking cannot kill you, but not asking can!