In a world full of allergens

Every year there are more people developing allergies. Okay, I don’t actually know if that’s true or what any of the statistics are. If you want numbers, you may of course do some research. I’m not one for numbers (being a graphic designer I suppose that serves me well—I like and understand visuals, but numbers mean nothing to me) so if that’s what you’re looking for, here is not the place.

Allergies come in so many different forms—food allergies, contact dermatitis, seasonal allergies—and the symptoms range from fatal to minor annoyances. I fall in the range of, well, all of them. Luckily I haven’t gone into anaphylactic shock (the potentially fatal one) since I was about three, and so luckily I don’t remember it. But this is all through being very educated from such an early age.

Me at four years old: Are there nuts in this?
Preschool teacher: No, it’s just red Jell-O.

By now I have trained my brain to check every single food I may eat for possible allergens, so much so that when I see anything written in bold at the bottom of an ingredient list, I immediately think it means “no, you can’t eat this,” even though some of them are there to explicitly say they are allergen-free. Bread at the grocery store? Most are okay; baked goods made in the store’s bakery is probably okay, even though there’s a warning. Fries at the boardwalk? Peanut oil; no go. Can’t eat at Cheeburger or Chik-Fil-A (Of course, due to recent events I don’t want to eat at the latter anyway) because they’re both peanut oil. Hershey’s chocolate? The king- and snack-sized bars may contain nuts, but the normal-sized ones don’t. I can’t eat the regular ramen or any cup noodles, because those either may contain peanuts, shellfish, or both. Universal Studios had absolutely nothing for me to eat when I went there two years ago, except for the freshly-cooked food at the Irish restaurant.

Every year it seems that at least one of my friends become more aware of reading ingredient labels, and I almost find it comical, because they tend to get very excited when they find something allergen-free or become very sad in my honor for foods I cannot eat. Most of the time I no longer get upset about these things, unless I’m already very stressed out or upset about something. I’ve again given up on trying to find peanut butter alternatives—SoyNut Butter smells to much like the original, Sun Butter just smells weird, and attempting to make “No-tella” with Sun Butter was just very odd. My most recent “big” problem with these allergies is the fact that I cannot have Nutella, especially given my love for chocolate. But I’ve come to love Biscoff spread which is just a brown sugar cookie spread, so maybe at some point I will mix some chocolate into it.

One longtime disappointment for me was the absence of Kit Kats in my life—when I was about ten years old (maybe younger) they started manufacturing them in a plant that processes peanuts and/or tree nuts (I forget which). Luckily, I have finally found some in the “International” department at the grocery store, straight from the UK.

Kit Kats and Toffee Crisp (in the alarming colors of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups)

While there, I also found some biscuits that, although they were made in a factory that processes tree nuts, the ingredients were worded so that I was not weary of eating them.

“Manufactured on equipment that processes products containing Milk, Soy and in a plant processing Egg, Tree Nuts.”

With this, I felt better about the warning. If  the allergen is on the same machinery, I certainly do not want to eat it then. When they say the “plant/facility” processes the allergen, there is no way to tell if it’s on the same machinery. If companies started clarifying like this, instead of just doing the minimum that the law requires, many more people including me would be able to expand our palates to more foods and food companies.

Hopefully in the near future things will be changed just a bit more, to benefit the consumers and the companies. This post was a long post, and I hope that’s okay with all of you, because now I’m probably done talking about allergies for a while now.

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