by Andrew Cheng, FARE Teen Advisory Group Member
As many of you with food allergies know, it can sometimes be difficult to find safe places to eat when you are on the road. Ever since my anaphylactic reaction last year, my parents have been even more wary about going to new places where we don’t have complete control of the food and cleanliness of the place. So, imagine my surprise and apprehension when mom and dad said we were going on a cruise to Alaska.
This past June, we started our vacation in Vancouver, BC. Vancouver is a fun city. We wound up staying there two days before the cruise. Our biggest challenge was finding restaurants that could accommodate my peanut, tree nut and lychee allergies along with my two younger, very loud siblings. Our hotel concierge recommended a restaurant that wound up having peanuts, cashews, almonds, and/or walnuts in every single dish. We literally walked a few blocks to the restaurant, looked at the menu posted outside, and left.
The problem with eating out with food allergies is that you never know if a restaurant “gets it.” Many restaurants have small kitchens where the chance of cross-contact is high. Or the server or cooks simply don’t understand (due to a language barrier or just a plain lack of knowledge about food allergies).
Thankfully, our family found a cruise line that gets it. We boarded the Disney Wonder in Vancouver and spent a week cruising in Alaska. The Disney Wonder was able to handle my food allergies (and even my very loud brother and baby sister). The boat has three main restaurants where the kitchens are huge. The chefs were able to cook my food separately and safely. It was awesome that I could order food off the adult menu and eat without worrying about whether the food was safe.* Too many times we go to restaurants where the “safe” food is just plain pasta or chicken nuggets.
Although we felt safe with the food onboard, I still carried my epinephrine auto-injectors in a big waist pouch. At school, I always have them in a waist belt under my shirt (my other medications are in my backpack). I thought having the waist pouch would be a pain on the cruise, but it worked out fine. I was able to have my emergency medicines, camera, wave phone, and daily schedule in it. I usually snuck some candy in it too.
One day on the cruise, my younger brother really needed a nap. He wound up seeing me eating candy and immediately threw a temper tantrum. He complained that “it wasn’t fair that you get to eat candy and I don’t.” He went on and on and on. So, I told him that lots of things in life aren’t fair - like how I have food allergies and wear a hearing aid. I also reminded him how he gets to eat lots of really yummy foods that I often can’t even try. I admitted that sometimes, I feel jealous about others without allergies or hearing aids, but I have learned to deal with the fact that life isn’t fair.
When you think about a “normal” life for a tween, you think about a guy waking up to go to school. He brushes his teeth, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and then leaves the house. In my case, I have to do the same things, except I have to get my hearing aid, put on my allergy alert bracelet, pack up my emergency meds, and put my waist belt under my shirt too.
Yes, living with food allergies can be a challenge…I like to think that food allergies won’t stop me from enjoying life - especially on a Disney Cruise!
Editor’s note: Individuals with food allergies should inform their server, a restaurant manager or the chef about their food allergy every time they dine out – even if they have safely dined at the same restaurant in the past. For more information and tips, visit safefare.org/for-diners.
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