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ANOTHER ONE BITES THE CRUST

30 years ago the free-from aisle, gluten-free bread and lactose-free milk didn’t exist. The number of people suffering with a food allergy is rising. What is everyday life like for them? Written by Rebecca Stein

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remember my mum telling me that food intolerances were just an excuse for the fussy kids - that their parents were making excuses for their disobedience. I remember the head chef in a restaurant that I worked in rolling his eyes when he got a “gluten-free” check. I remember my brother mocking my lactose-intolerant boyfriend for ordering a “soy latte”. For some reason, the rise in allergies has reduced the amount of people that take them seriously. Surprisingly, “44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy… 48% of sufferers have more than one allergy” according to Mintel in 2010. So, why is their such a stigma against food allergy sufferers? Ignorance is bliss. Recently, Pediatrics stated that 31.5% of children with a food allergy were bullied as a result of their allergy. These children even disclosed that they had been threatened with food by classmates. They believed that their experiences of bullying derived from the stigma that surrounds “being different”. Before Dina Luttrell Rudesheim was four years old she had experienced her first reaction to garlic. Dina is now 52 years old, she suffers from multiple allergies, including gluten, eggs and dairy:

The Magazine, May 2017

“Life changes? HUGE. I rarely socialise anymore. When I have tried, I've been both openly mocked and made people feel bad that I couldn't eat anything. I miss the days of not being the centre of attention because of food.” Dina isn’t alone. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organisation found that “every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room”. But surely, these facts are overexaggreated? People suffering with food allergies can just have a little bit and be OK, right? Well actually, no. Despite there being a distinct difference between food allergy sufferers and those with food intolerances; neither should be taken lightly. According to the Mayo Clinic, a food allergy “causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body.” Symptoms of a food allergy can include swelling, breathing restrictions and anaphylaxis. A food intolerance is an ‘internal struggle’ between the digestive system and the properties of a food product. As opposed to the body reacting to a food product. The NHS state the most common symptoms of a food intolerance include "tummy pain, diarrhoea and skin rashes”.

The stigma surrounding food allergy sufferers extend to their lives. Sufferers that I spoke to often described allergies as “restricting”, “isolating”, “alienating” and “lonely”. Admittedly, I take the flexibility of my everyday routine for granted; can’t be bothered to cook? Order in. What drink do you want? Whatever you’re having. What do you want for dinner? Whatever you want. Dina’s lifestyle is something entirely different: “Socialising is almost impossible. Trying to have Thanksgiving dinner or another event with friends or family is a nightmare.” Dina expresses, “Either I don't eat or I make my own food. It feels especially isolating because you can't even share in the festivities.” The reality is, the lifestyle of sufferers is dictated by their diet. They must expect acceptance from their friends towards their dietary requirements, they must put their trust into the chefs or servers that are handling their food, they must expect criticism from those who do not live the lives that they do. I spoke to those who were effected by food allergies everyday - from the parents of children with food allergies to the sufferers themselves.


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The Magazine, May 2017


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“People don’t understand the severity; the fact that people with anaphylaxis can die from these allergies” Lexi has anaphylatic allergies to tree nuts, strawberries and shellfish. She carries two epipens with her at all times. When Lexi was younger, her school decided to make their canteen tree nut free. As a result, other children nicknamed her ‘Peanut Girl’. This was the first time she had experienced a form of bullying that derived from her allergy.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY REBECCA STEIN

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“To dine for”

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n an effort to experience what living with a food allergy or intolerance is like, Kevin Smith restricted his diet for a day. We took a seat in the middle of the quirky, open planned beer garden of our local pub. The sun beamed onto the flowers beds, children chased each other around the picnic benches and tables; these are the moments to kick back and relax, surely? Under the guise of a life-threatening egg allergy, we were able to look at the allergens handbook. The handbook identified all their products on the menu, from bread and butter to the Hunter’s Chicken. For each product, 14 columns followed which detailed the top 14 food allergens. Any column that had a tick in, showed that a product contained the identified allergen. Pretty easy, right? Wrong. The chips had milk in, pies used egg wash, gluten was in the gravy and peanut oil is used for frying. The menu was restrictive enough if you should have one food allergy - to outline multiple allergies would be a nightmare. I had assumed restaurants would cater for food allergies, I mean, who puts milk in fried potatoes? But, this wasn’t the case - by law, restaurants, cafes, pubs etc. have to disclose which products contain the top 14 allergens. But, they don’t have to cater for those suffering with a food allergy or intolerance.

The Magazine, May 2017

In December 2014, The EU Food We avoid restaurants most of the time.” Information for Consumers (FIC) introduced legislation that means “food businesses have Melissa isn’t wrong; the enjoyment was lost in to make information on 14 allergens between analysing numerous sheets of paper available to consumers. This ranges from the against the menu in order to decide what to most common allergens, such as peanuts and eat, and having to express multiple times the gluten, to less well known severity of Kevin’s allergy. But, triggers for allergic reactions the fun didn’t stop there; there "WHEN THEY such as mustard and celery” was still the anxiety of cross WAVE OFF MY contamination and if the according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). server would inform the CONCERNS AND SAY THEY kitchen correctly. A study by the FSA found UNDERSTAND; The FSA study also found that 69.18% of food allergy sufferers said they had that since December 2014, IT'S USUALLY THE experienced “Staff not 34.19% of food allergy OPPOSITE." understanding the severity of sufferers had experienced an an allergy, and how easily a allergic reaction to food in a mistake may cause a reaction”. 67.9% said restaurant/cafe or takeaway in the UK. that staff displayed a “lack of knowledge of menu content when giving information” and Despite the efforts made by introducing 41.64% stated “Staff being in a rush and not stricter laws, the risks are all too real for checking thoroughly/informing the kitchen sufferers. Based on the results from FSA of my/my family member(s) food allergy”. study, over a third of people with an allergy are still experiencing allergic reactions to Melissa Dawn has a son with allergies to food when they eat out. As a result, nearly peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and garlic. 19% of those individuals have been Melissa believes that attempts to understand hospitalised. Would you run the risk? her sons allergies made by a server is incredibly reassuring: The restrictions of a sufferer’s life don’t begin and end at the dinner table. Many “Restaurants scare me. However, restaurants are socially anxious when dining out or that have servers that ask questions and are attending friends parties; their allergies informed put me at ease.” Melissa states, burden their everyday, lifestyle choices. They “When they wave off my concerns and say did not choose their allergy, but somehow they understand; it’s usually the opposite. their allergies effect the choices they make.


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The Magazine, May 2017


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“I am petrified that my son will die, that I won’t be able to save him. I pray that there will be a cure.” Melissa has an 11 year old son, Josh. He is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and garlic. Last summer, Josh was rushed to hospital with an allergic reaction. The first time Josh experienced an allergic reaction was when he was 11 months old. He ‘helped’ Melissa with the dishes after she had baked peanut butter cookies. When she pulled him away from the sink, he was covered in hives.

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The Magazine, May 2017


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“A huge stigma is that parents are introducing their kids to ‘fad diets’. They don’t realise it’s not a choice... Our lifestyle is very restrictive and lonely.” Steph’s son had his first reaction when he was five months old. He turned blue. He is allergic to nuts and milk. Steph and her husband consider it too risky to ‘eat out’, and they find it too hard to relax when they’re not in the comfort of their own home. They believe that people don’t take their sons allergies seriously and that they are constantly judged.

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“What’s cooking?”

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he weekly burden; the dreaded food shop. Children race down the aisles, you can’t find the beansprouts and somehow your ‘£30 shop’ has totalled £67.92. It’s a routine most of us are all too familiar with, but the costings of the weekly shop effect some more than others. It seems that free-from products are far from free. The hefty price tag that attaches itself to allergen-free products can burn a large hole in the consumer’s pocket; often indicating that a simple £5 recipe can be three, or four times more expensive when made with allergen-free products. To put our research to the test, we decided to make allergen-free pancakes As a cows milk alternative, we used almond milk, as an egg substitute we used flaxseed powder and as a plain flour alternative we used gluten-free flour. This recipe should have cost an approximate £4, but when made with allergen-free products it came in at over £11. The Food Allergy Institute of North Texas expresses that the production process “requires strict vigilance”: “Manufacturers must use dedicated single-source ingredient suppliers who do all parts of production. This includes: growing, harvesting, milling, and packaging. Dedicated assembly lines and equipment must also meet strict guidelines.”

The Magazine, May 2017

Many families and sufferers are experiencing food insecurity when it comes to stocking the shelves every week. Brittany Thorpe, mother of three says that the cost of living with allergies limits her disposable income:

extension to peoples religious beliefs and personal views have been thrown into the mix.

Christine Rowden developed an allergy to eggs at the age of 40. At the age of 22, Christine committed to being a Vegetarian. “My husband and six Her diet was dramatically year old son both have restricted once again: MANY FAMILIES anaphylactic allergies, so AND SUFFERERS we fill our cupboards very “It was a nightmare. I had carefully. Our whole family ARE EXPERIENCING to balance a choice that eats according to their made years ago with an FOOD INSECURITY Iallergy dietary restrictions while I didn’t choose.” WHEN IT COMES TO Christine sighed, in the house. It’s the only way I keep things relatively “Explaining to people STOCKING THE SHELVES ‘fair’.” Brittany explains, you’re allergic to eggs and EVERY WEEK. “So, our kids will burn you’re Vegetarian is through the £3.99,175g difficult. It’s another reason free-from cookies in less than a third of the for them to ‘roll their eyes’ at my allergy.” time than the £3.56, 515g Chips Ahoy cookies.” Sadly, the rise of food allergies isn’t enough. Although the rise of free-from products The price of allergen-free products would hitting the supermarket shelves is a triumph only decrease if there’s a rise in food allergy for food allergy sufferers, it’s not all blue sufferers. The more consumers requiring skies yet. Not only is the costing of products free-from products, the higher the demand. restricting, but to find a hybrid product Therefore, lower costs. that combines a lifestyle choice with an allergen-free item is even harder. But, for now, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles. As food allergens are on the rise, those making the choice to be Vegan, Organic or If you would like information or Halal are too. To source products that can support regarding an allergy, please satisfy this need is made harder in the already contact AllergyUK on 01322 619898. rigorous production process. If it didn’t seem Alternatively, you can visit their that the lifestyle restrictions surrounding an website: www.allergyuk.org allergy were already troublesome - the


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The Magazine, May 2017


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“I imagine most people think I’m too anxious, too involved, too protective, too worried, too controlling. I can’t take the risks.” Gillian’s daughter is eight years old. She has anaphylactic allergies to eggs and dairy. She was diagnosed following a life threatening reaction to her first bite of baby cereal. Gillian says it effects every decision they make as a family; where they live, where they work, where her daughter plays, where they go on vacation. Everything.

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The Magazine, May 2017


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“I went to the store to find something to eat... I stood in the gluten free aisle and started to cry. I had hit the wall.� Dina has a number of allergies, she describes gluten and soy as being the worst. Dina emphasises that her allergies make socalising extremally restrictive. Family gatherings, the holidays, moving in with her boyfriend, going to restaurants; all petrify her.

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REBECCA STEIN MAGAZINE / MAY 2017  

This editorial layout for magazine production takes an in-depth look at the effects and rise of food allergies.

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