Be Wary of Allergen Labels

Today I learned (thankfully the easy way), that food labels aren’t consistently trustworthy — though you probably already knew that.

I felt like making some chocolate chip cookies this evening, but didn’t have enough of my Ghirardelli Special Dark Chocolate Chips, so decided to pick some up while I made an errand to Wal-Mart. I normally do my grocery shopping at HEB, so was in for a surprise when I learned that Wal-Mart doesn’t carry my go-to chocolate chips.

As I read the ingredient lists for all the chocolate chips that might work for me, I came across this:

Do you see that? At the end of the ingredient list, it says ‘May contain milk.’ But IN THE LINE RIGHT ABOVE, it says ‘milk fat.’

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Thank goodness I read the ingredient list and not JUST the ending!! I realize that it’s always been important to read the entire list and not just the ending, but we’re all guilty of just being tired of reading lists upon lists, when it would be incredibly easier to just look at the bottom.

My PSA after this incident:

READ THE ENTIRE INGREDIENT LIST!!

FDOM16: Food Allergy Awareness Interview

Because the number of people with food allergies has drastically increased within the last decade, understanding food allergies and anaphylaxis has become more and more necessary. More children can’t have peanut butter sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

To find out how many of my friends and family were knowledgeable about food allergies, and to understand their opinions on how the rise in allergies should affect the restaurant business, I designed a survey (with the results of that survey documented here). In addition to a survey, I also interviewed a friend of mine about his knowledge of food allergies and what he thought about the difference in taste of regular food and allergen-free food.

The results of both my survey and interview were astounding! Thankfully, significantly more people understand the severity of food allergies and anaphylaxis than five years ago. While it’s upsetting that more children are being encumbered with food allergies, it’s great to know that more adults are attempting to understand the children’s plight — especially when they don’t even have children with food allergies!

FDOM16: What I’ve Learned

In addition to forcing me to keep up with my food allergy-related adventures, I learned a lot about blogging in the process.

Out of the tools that WordPress offers to its consumers, I found the photo slideshow to be the most effective and helpful. The slideshow allowed me to upload multiple photos without obnoxiously bombarding my readers. I didn’t find any tools particularly ineffective, just unnecessary for my blogging.

Since I plan on going forward with my blogging (and even start a ‘Recipes’ page dedicated to dairy- and egg-free recipes), I plan on using some of the lessons I’ve learned this semester to help me expand my reader-base.

I’ve learned how to properly tag my blogs to ensure I gather the right crowd of readers, I’ve learned how to make my writing more interesting and less esssay-like, and I’ve learned how to choose my battles in regard to what is blog-worthy.

A Rundown of My Blog Statistics:

  • My most popular week: 31 October – 6 November
  • Number of views and visitors that week: 91 views and 33 visitors
  • My most popular post of the year: 2 November
  • Number of views for that post: 31 views
  • I think that particular post (and therefore week) was the most popular because utilized lots of different tags and businesses. When I then posted the blog URL on Twitter, I made sure I mentioned each of the businesses I discussed in order to gain more attraction.
  • The most surprising information from the Site Stats data: I thought it was pretty cool that I could see where people were viewing my posts from and how they got to my site. I could compare how many of my visitors came from Facebook vs. how many of my visitors came from Twitter.
My allergy-related Instagram: nothanksimallergic

My allergy-related email: nothanksimallergic@gmail.com

My personal/allergy-related Twitter: txannieswi

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FDOM16: My First Vegan Experience

It’s nice to have a vegetarian friend: I get to experience new foods that I wouldn’t normally try.

And yesterday I experienced something completely eye-opening to me: a fully vegan restaurant called Viva Vegeria. No meat and no animal by-products . . . which for me meant NO DAIRY OR EGG ON THE PREMISES. This was the first time I’d ever been able to order a full meal without listing off all the parts of the meal that the chef had to remove. I got to order exactly what I felt like having with no fear at all of cross-contamination.

For our appetizer, we ordered vegan picadillo nachos. The picadillo was actually made with soy beans, and the vegan queso was made with carrots and sweet potatoes. I ordered a chile relleno stuffed with portabella mushrooms, vegan mozarella cheese, beans, fire-roasted tomatoes, and coconut milk. My friend ordered buffalo wings, which were actually battered and fried cauliflower tossed in ancho and cascabel buffalo sauce. We ended the meal with a vegan funfetti cupcake.

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Lemme tell you: I did freak out a little. I emphasized and re-emphasized my food allergies, and took a good five minutes before I’d actually try the nachos just because for the entire 25 years of my life, I’ve never been able to eat anything called ‘cheese’ or ‘queso.’ And it was a little scary to just jump right into it, even though my friend and the waitress and the chef reassured me it was all safe (I even unnecessarily went out to the car to retrieve my Epi-Pen just in case).

But the food was delicious!!! It was so freeing to enjoy my meal without needing to be worried, and I got to try at least five different foods that night. Vegan restaurants are perfect for people just like me! I’m making it a point to find one closer to me (I definitely don’t want to have to drive to San Antonio every time I want a worry-free restaurant experience). So please, let me know if you’re aware of any vegan restaurants in the Austin area! 😊

FDOM16: When Restaurants Do It Right

This evening I had a wonderful meal at Applebees where the server was completely understanding of my allergies. She made sure that I had the allergen menu with me to make educated decisions about my meal, and let me know when I selected something that wasn’t within my parameters.

The great thing about Applebees, and many other chain restaurants, is that they’ve learned the importance of being allergy-friendly — by offering an allergen menu both online and in the store. Not only did this assist in me making an educated decision on what I could eat, the restaurant also ensured that my meal was completely allergen-free.

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An un-buttered steak at Applebees.

I was thoroughly impressed with Applebees, especially since the last time that I’d eaten at an Applebees I had a really bad reaction. It was so wonderful that the restaurant was so willing to accommodate my allergies — I’ll definitely have to come again!

FDOM16: The Hunt for Vegan Sweets

If you think finding allergy-friendly restaurants is hard, it’s even harder to find allergy-friendly bakeries. Due to the fact that most baking requires eggs, enjoying sweets has never really been something I get to do . . . in fact, I’m not even much of a fan of sweets (I believe it’s just because I never really got to have any). But every now and then, I crave something decadent!! And there’s just really no point in me making a batch of cupcakes for one leetle craving (as much as my husband and coworkers enjoy it when I do 😉)

But hallelujah! I live in the Austin area, which means some allergy-friendly/vegan bakeries are within driving distance! Because I’m in Georgetown, they’re about a half hour to an hour drive away, which just means I make a day trip out of going down into Austin to enjoy the beautiful views, listen to my favorite podcast, and partake in some delicious sweets. ❤


Capital City Bakery

This is the first allergy-friendly bakery I came across in the Austin area. Located in downtown Austin off Cesar Chavez, Capital City Bakery has absolutely no dairy or eggs onsite, which means there is NO THREAT OF CROSS-CONTAMINATION. And let me tell you: that phrase is one of the sweetest (no pun intended 😆) phrases someone with food allergies could hear. This bakery is a little far for me to drive to, so I don’t go there as often as I’d like — but it’s definitely a must-try for anyone wanting a vegan and allergen-free bakery experience.


The Steeping Room

Although this place is a tea lounge and not a bakery, they still serve quite a few vegan options! From cupcakes to cookies, The Steeping Room is a place I always enjoy stopping by to have some green tea, a vegan currant scone, and to either read a book or do some homework. I always go to the Domain’s location, but there’s also one in downtown Austin. Austin is so allergy-friendly, and I’ve never had a problem with their vegan options!

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Doing homework with a vegan currant scone and a cup of hot green tea.


Sweet Ritual

This vegan ice cream shop was just introduced to me two weeks ago and I’ve already stopped by twice since my original encounter! Just like Capital City Bakery, Sweet Ritual has absolutely no dairy or egg on the premises, so again there is NO THREAT OF CROSS-CONTAMINATION!! Located off of Airport Blvd and only about a half hour drive for me, this place is a little easier for me to get to. All of their ice creams are made with locally-produced items, and their entire ingredient list is available online!


Attention vegans and others with food allergies: THE WORLD IS CATCHING UP WITH US. Eventually, there will be more and more options for us and we won’t feel so left out of the sweet craze! 💗

FDOM16: The Environmental Skin Test

As y’all have learned, I’ve always had food allergies (quite literally from the day I was born).  I’ve learned to deal with that by bringing my own cupcakes to other kids’ birthday parties, by carrying a purse at a very young age so I could always have an Epi-Pen on me, by telling anyone I dated that they had to wash out their mouth before they could kiss me (which was definitely awkward on first dates), by not being able to have lattes at coffee shops, and by many other strange but required things throughout my life.

Since it’s been almost a decade since I’d seen an allergist, I figured it was about time to go back to see one since my food reactions have become more common and more severe lately (and I can’t keep calling out to work, so I needed some doctor’s proof to receive some FMLA). At one of my doctor visits, the nurse asked me if I was feeling congested; I responded that I wasn’t. She then asked me if I was having any trouble breathing; I responded that I wasn’t. She then asked me if I ever felt like there was something tickling the back of my throat; I responded that I never had. Strangely enough, she told me that she could feel the congestion in my neck, could hear the rattling in my lungs, and could see the mucus in the back of my throat . . . an environmental skin test was ordered.

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I came back to the allergist a few weeks later to get the environmental skin test. Needless to say, it was definitely an interesting experience! Instead of having to stick me 82 times with individual needles, the technician had a machine with multiple needles at the end, and stuck me with that machine a few times. I then had to lay there for 15 minutes while my body reacted to the allergens. I decided to document (as best I could) my reactions to the allergens.

When the technician came back in after the 15 minutes were up, he audibly gasped as he looked at my back and at all the reactions I was having. He then had to manually hold up a ruler and measure each and every one of my hives and document how red they were. The larger the bump, the more severe my allergy. If I didn’t have a visible reaction to an allergen on my back, a more potent form of that allergen was then injected into my arms with individual needles.

Of the 82 allergens I was tested for, I am allergic to 64!! I’d always known I was allergic to cats and dogs, but it turns out that my hive to the cat allergen was three times larger than my reaction to the dog allergen! And my reaction to the horse allergen was even larger than my reaction to the cat . . . and my reaction to cedar was even worse than my reaction to the horse! My largest hive was 22mm in diameter. That’s a big ol’ bump!

The main thing I learned from this skin testing was that with all of the things I’m allergic to, I am just constantly congested and unable to breath fully. The breathing test I also took determined that I now have some minor asthma . . . which explains why my food reactions have become more common (if I’m already having trouble breathing, the possibility of me reacting to an allergen is even higher). Since this testing, I’ve begun to take allergy medicationsNasonex, and Dulera . . . and it’s amazing how my sleep has improved and how I can finally breath a little deeper!

Moral of the story: just because you’re incredibly focused on ensuring you’re not eating any foods that could kill you, also make sure that you’re not putting other health issues on the wayside. Those effect you on a daily basis!

FDOM16 Review a Blog

I was surprised to find that there are actually quite a few food allergy blogs going on — I thought I was one of a select few!! I came across a blog by Why Risk It?, a blog about teens living with food allergies, written by teens and for teens. It’s based out of Canada, which made the blog post itself seem even more interesting.

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A screenshot of the WhyRiskIt blog.

 

I chose this blog because it’s something that I identify with on a personal level: many people’s misunderstanding on intolerance and anaphylaxis. There have been countless times when someone around me has said they’re allergic to dairy, then when questioned further they reveal that milk just gives them bad gas.

With the influx in gluten-free foods, many people have been confusing any type of intolerance with food allergies. I was recently at a restaurant and explained to the server that I was fatally allergic to dairy and eggs, and asked whether their hamburger buns contained either of those allergens. The server had the audacity to tell me that I wasn’t actually allergic — I was just a picky eater and even so, a little butter on the bun won’t matter.

Um, yes, it will matter. Allergies are not something to be made light of. For those like me, whether there’s a little butter on that bun is a matter of life and death.

FDOM16 Allergies While on Vacation

 

Today is Josh’s and my second anniversary!! 😍 Last year we traveled to Colorado for a few days to stay in a secluded B&B at the top of a mountain . . . this year we opted for a cheaper trip and spent a day and night in Fort Worth. We had two issues with my food allergies in Colorado, so I was really hoping that my night out at an expensive steakhouse wouldn’t end in my face swelling (especially since I’d already had a reaction earlier in the week).

Thankfully, Capital Grille was absolutely amazing. Not only did the restaurant decorate our table, give me a rose, and give us a free dessert platter because it was our anniversary, they also rolled out the red carpet for my allergies. The waitress, Kristen, double-checked with the chef to see which bread I could snack on. When I finally ordered my entree and sides, we realized that I wouldn’t be able to have the fingerling potatoes like normal or brussel sprouts like normal — and I absolutely LOVE potatoes and brussel sprouts!! Kristen understood completely, and said that the restaurant’s chef was so wonderful that all she had to do was tell him the allergies and he would come up with some new way to cook it that was not only okay for me, but still mouthwatering-delicious.

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My bone-in NY strip steak, sauteed in something delicious other than butter, with some delicious brussel sprouts on the side.

And OHMYGOSH I was completely blown away by how delicious my meal was!! Because of how confident and knowledgeable Kristen was, I had no qualms or anxiousness about my meal (and believe me, and anxiousness tends to creep up while dining out!). In addition to thanking both the manager and the chef, I was also sure to leave them a positive review on Yelp and Allergy Eats (a restaurant review/finder website for families with food allergies).

What a relief it was to be able to travel, relax, and actually enjoy my vacation — all because I knew that this wonderful restaurant would go out of their way to ensure that I had the best, safest, and most delicious experience that I could possibly have.

Visiting a New Allergist — Before

So last night I had an allergic reaction to I-don’t-even-know-what. I made my own meal last night too, which is even scarier that it wasn’t an accidental cross-contamination at a restaurant. The only things I can think of?

  • There was cross-contamination at the Oroweat factory
  • I’ve developed a new allergy (crossing my fingers that it’s not that)

Fortuitously (if an allergic reaction could be considered fortuitous), I have an appointment with an allergist today!! This is my first time seeing an allergist since 2008, and the first time I’m seeing this allergist — so I’m a little anxious. 

Reasons why seeing a new allergist can be nerve-racking:

  • This allergist is more of a seasonal-allergy allergist, and not one specializing in food allergies, which means I’ll probably be referred to someone else after this. Which means my healthcare isn’t really going into effect just yet.
  • For some reason, I’m going to have to prove my allergies (because for some reason, blood tests aren’t proof enough). Which means I just spent the last 15 minutes going through all my photos since 2008 and found all of my allergic-reaction-photos.
  • My parents have had to deal with allergists who are new to the field and sometimes don’t fully understand the severity of food allergies on a day-to-day basis. “Just avoid the allergen” doesn’t always work because of cross-contamination, restaurant servers not aptly explaining the allergies to restaurant chefs, ingredient lists not being accurate, etc.

    So wish me luck . . . hopefully I’ll get a phenomenal allergist who understands food allergies and is willing to work with someone (me) who’s dealt with allergies wayyyyyy longer than that doctor has been in the field. 

    Funny how that works.