This week is Food allergy and intolerance week, from 23rd to 29th January 2012. Thanks to Allergy UK for building awareness of what allergies really are and the difference between allergies, food intolerance and coeliac disease.
About 2% of the population in the UK have a true life threatening allergy which can lead to anaphylaxis, and in rare cases, death. However the numbers of people with allergies is on the rise.
Far more peope suffer with food intolerances and irritable bowel, a far milder and more subtle reaction to food, but difficult and painful to live with none-the-less. Someone with a food intolerance does not have a true allergy and may be able to tolerate eating the allergen in small doses or on special occasions, or even when cooked, which can de-nature the allergenic properties of the food. It’s thought that 45% of the UK population has some kind of food intolerance.
Imagine my dismay on hearing this week that very worryingly, over a quarter of the UK population actually think that people with allergies are just being fussy eaters! Fussy? Really? This makes me feel very sad. Clearly the message is not getting out there to educate people.
It’s no surprise that people are confused – when was the last time you saw any coverage on TV sympathetically and sensibly portraying allergies in real life? And I’m not talking about the likes of Jack Dee and Michael McIntyre who poke fun in the subject and imply it’s all in our minds. I mean dramas, documentaries, sitcoms, the news, soaps; when we hear the statistics above why is that the people in TV programs are all totally allergy free? You might assume it wasn’t an issue since it’s ignored almost completely – I suppose it’s not exciting enough, it doesn’t turn on the general public quite like a teenage pregnancy or murder!
Even some of the medical profession lack a deep understanding in allergies and intolerances so we have a long way to go to educate the world.
What’s it like living with life threatening allergies?
The affect severe allergies has on peoples lives can be quite dramatic.
You can’t just pop to the shops and grab a snack – You have to be prepared, make a special trip to a shop you know caters for your needs and perhaps even make regular internet shopping orders to ensure you have the right food in the house.
You can’t go out to eat on a whim, in fact you’re terrified of eating out at all – avoiding allergens in restaurants is risky business. There are no legal restrictions governing food storage, preparation or cooking. It is highly likely that allergens can get into your meal so is there really anywhere truly safe to eat out?
May contain labelling gets more and more confusing – what can you buy that is truly safe? Labelling is getting better, but there are more and more regulations coming in that make it difficult for food producers to cater for those with allergens.
Children need to be aware at parties and school to avoid their allergens – How frightening for small children to be aware that they could die if they eat a peanut, or milk, or whatever allergen they are unlucky enough to be allergic to. What’s it like to be an allergic child at school forced to sit on a special table to eat their lunch with the other ‘special allergic’ children? At parties they have to take their own food, can’t enjoy the party bag and may even be excluded due to fear and ignorance.
What do you do if you’re invited for dinner at a friends? - do you phone your friend with your restricted list of allergens and request a safe meal? or do you take your own food? and will you eventually be struck off dinner party lists because people are terrified of making you ill? We get very few dinner invitations these days, but that could just be my boring personality or bad breath of course, although noone has actually owned up!
Living with allergies requires constant vigilance and preparation and can be very challenging at times. Sometimes you feel like just staying at home where you know you’re safe, but that’s not healthy is it?
So, what do you think? Fed up with being seen as a fussy eater? It seems it’s OK to refer to someone with an allergy as the awkward one, the difficult one or the fussy eater. Well from one allergic person here, it’s not OK. We are not fussy. If we could eat these foods our lives would be a damn sight easier. But we can’t. So please don’t make our lives any harder than they already are.
Let’s also look on the bright side. We can’t gorge on puddings, if we want cake it has to be special cake or we bake it ourselves; we think very carefully about what we eat and perhaps we’re actually far more healthy because of that.