By Ryan Carson ’18
I live with a life threatening illness: a severe tree nut allergy. While other life threatening diseases such as diabetes and cancers receive enormous amounts of media attention, severe allergies go almost unnoticed by the general public. In order to demonstrate the dangers allergies can pose, the public must be aware of their existence and that severe allergies have the capacity to damage and/or end lives.
At the age of three, I consumed a blueberry muffin my mother had purchased at a local grocery store. In the later 1990’s when this product was processed, it was not labeled with an allergy warning. I only ate a small piece of the muffin before I began to experience life-threatening symptoms when my throat closed up and I passed out.
My diagnosis has profoundly affected my life in a number of ways. Food became a danger instead of source of nutrients. In order to cope with the dangers my allergy posed, my parents set out trying to inform basically anyone that came in contacted with me to steer clear of tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews) while around me.
What my parents found broke their hearts. Very few people understood the severity of allergies. For many, when someone discuss the word “allergy,” the only allergy they have ever experienced themselves is a seasonal cold or a sensitivity to pollen.
Members of my own family continued to cook and season food at family gatherings with walnuts and almonds.
Years later, I finally began to understand that their ignorance was not their fault. The severity of allergies had never been at the center of the public sphere. The lack of public awareness translates into ignorance of the dangers that severe allergies can cause.
While diseases like diabetes have the backing of foundations such as the American Diabetes Association or the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, allergies such as tree nuts do not have wide spread public support.
All diseases that are considered life threatening should be treated equally and given the same weight in the public’s eye. This summer the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge raised nearly 100 million dollars to combat Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or as it is more commonly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The show of support for ALS indicates what the American public can do in order to bring about awareness for an illness.In order to affect change and find cures, people can’t just jump on the bandwagon when they are being called out on social media. There must be a commitment to improve the lives of others by understanding and sympathizing with what they are going through. You don’t have to move mountains; there are simple steps to improving the lives of others with food allergies.
The first and most important step in trying to accommodate those with food allergies is asking if they have a food allergy. It does not matter if you’re hosting a party for five year olds or forty year olds; you don’t want to isolate someone because they are the only ones that can’t eat the food you prepared.Secondly, if you truly cannot accommodate the person with a severe food allergy, tell them the truth.
For those of us with food allergies, our main goal is to stay alive. We appreciate when someone tells the truth. By not being truthful, our lives may be put in danger.
The next time you see a student in Huffman or any other dining hall on campus holding up the line because they are quietly asking the chef about a food allergy concern, remember that all they are trying to do is survive.