Channing Sargent
June 19, 2017 11:11 am
Brenda Godinez/ unsplash.com

Not-so-fun fact: Food allergies are on the rise in the United States. The most common food allergies now are to nuts, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. And most of us know someone who’s allergic to seafood or shellfish, which can also cause serious allergic reactions. The tricky thing is that these foods often show up as ingredients in other foods you wouldn’t expect. Everything seems to have soy in it these days; ice cream contains wheat. Many mega food companies process peanuts, which is why you see that “may contain peanuts” warning on everything from chocolate bars to dried fruit.

The point is, if you have food allergies, there’s a lot to consider, and yes, this shit can get a little scary and overwhelming. But the truth is we know how to handle our allergies. What you, our friends, might not know, is what we do — and do not — need from you.

If you have a friend with a food allergy, there are some important things to consider. And if you want to help make her life easier, keep them in mind.

A knowledgable friend is a good friend.

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Find out which foods your friend is allergic to. This sounds simple, but when it’s not your allergy, it can be easy to get things a little confused. Assumptions can make even the simplest situations aggravating for your friend. If you keep going out of your way to help her avoid peanuts when she’s really allergic to walnuts, you’re just complicating things (so just give her a damn bite of your PB&J already). Once you know the actual allergy, find out what some of the symptoms of a reaction are. Many symptoms are immediate — a rash, a tingling in the tongue or mouth, or trouble breathing. But others have a delay. The more familiar you are with what can happen, the easier it will be for you to identify triggers and take action if something happens.

Take it seriously.

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So this weird thing happens where people like to make jokes about someone’s food allergies. Some food allergies can be life-threatening. Ask your friend about the severity of her allergy, and take her word for it. If a sip of wine could throw her into anaphylactic shock, do not brush it off. At that point, the “one sip won’t hurt you” line becomes dangerous. Besides, adult peer pressure is the worst.

Know what to do in case of emergency.

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Find out what medicine your friend takes to treat a reaction. Is she comfortable with you administering it, should the need arise? If so, ask what it looks like and what to do in the case of a reaction. Chances are you’ll never need to, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to be a fully equipped member of the squad.

She doesn’t need you to police or parent.

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Now that you’re armed with information, try to take a considerate back seat. Trust her: She knows how to navigate her food allergy better than you do. And going out to eat becomes a real pain when your friends constantly interpret the menu for you or try to control how or what you order.

She does need you to be patient.

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Speaking of restaurants, she might need to ask the server a lot of questions. She might need to be firm with the server in order to get the seriousness of her allergy across. She might need to send the server back to the kitchen to ask the chef about ingredients. Let her take the driver’s seat when it comes to getting the service she needs. You’ll both have a better time for it.

Let her pick the restaurant.

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You may love that little Thai hole-in-the-wall, but hey, it’s chock full of peanuts. Or you might be dying to try that new organic, vegetarian cafe that everyone’s raving about, but your friend can’t eat two-thirds of those vegetables. We’re not saying that a food allergy means she always gets to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the all-important decision of Where To Eat Today, but it sure does make it easier. Be a pal and just let her pick sometimes.

Potlucks are a pain.

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Most people do not understand food allergies. If you’re hell-bent on having a potluck and want to be considerate of your allergic friend, make specific menu assignments. You don’t need to go putting it on the invitations that Cassie is allergic to soy; a simple “no soy, please,” should do the trick. And ask your attendees to print out and bring the ingredients of their dishes to display next to them.

No grand announcements, please.

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As mentioned above, your friend does not need you to get on the loudspeaker and announce to the whole party that she has a food allergy. She doesn’t need to be the center of attention, nor does she need to field all the questions that will inevitably come with such a spotlight. Your gentle consideration and confidence in her aptitude will go a long way.

Her food allergy is not the end of the world.

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Yes, food allergies can be life-threatening, but life with a food allergy is still great. Statements like, “Oh my god, how scary!” or “Wow, that must be so difficult,” or “HOW can you live without drinking wine?!” can come across as insensitive. And also, they don’t help. So just chill. Accept your friend’s food allergy as a mere,manageable fact of her life, and get over it. Then you guys can go out to eat or plan your parties or bestie vacays and have all the fun in the world, which yes, is totally still possible sans peanut butter.

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