Hello! My name is Claire, and I’m a food allergy teen from Washington DC. In addition to the work I’ve done through baking, this past summer, I joined Food Equality Initiative’s Teen Advisory Board because I wanted to be a part of the mission to raise food allergy awareness.
What growing up with food allergies taught me
On my first birthday, I remember taking a bite of my delicious lemon birthday cake when suddenly I felt a funny, itchy feeling in my mouth. My parents called my doctor and she told them what medicine to give me. It was scary, but everything turned out alright. After that experience, I was diagnosed with food allergies. My first birthday cake contained eggs, which I am allergic to.
Now I am seventeen and I have severe food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs, and moderate allergies to shellfish and soy. Normally, when I tell people my long list of food allergies, most reply with, “Are there any foods that you can eat?” Well, actually, yes. I can eat a lot of different foods!
What Food Allergies Can Teach You
Having food allergies has inspired me to learn how to cook and bake for myself. I didn’t want to let my allergies limit the types of foods I could eat, so I experimented and created my own allergy-friendly recipes. Baking and cooking have since become major elements of my self-care routine.
Baking is my way of winding down, relaxing, and taking my mind off of work for a while. To put it simply, I love baking because I get to create something that is beautiful. When I bake, I enjoy trying to make something that not only tastes good, but also appeals to the other senses. To me, baking is an art form that is meant to be as visually pleasing as it is delicious. Whatever I make, I enjoy assembling its presentation, and I love to fill my kitchen and my house with warm, sweet aromas. Baking is also my way of connecting with others. Especially now, when social interaction is limited, I can share my love with friends and family by dropping off a baked good, with the happiness of knowing that such a gift truly comes from my heart. Whether I am baking for my friends, family, or even just for myself, baking is my form of self-love.
Standing Up For Others Is Self-Love
To me, my food allergies are much more than just a disease, they are a major part of my identity and have shaped my life in many ways. From an early age, I learned how to advocate for my needs and to stand up for others around me who are going through the same experience.
When I think back to what first got me excited about baking, I remember my elementary school’s annual cake raffle, which was a fundraiser for the sixth grade class. Each year, I would sit in the great hall with the rest of my school, listening as a teacher pulled names out of a hat, my heart thumping with excitement. In fourth grade, my name was drawn and I nearly jumped for joy. I had won a cake! It was beautiful and decorated with pink fondant and colorful sprinkles. As I thought about how good it would taste, a sinking feeling flooded over me. There was no ingredient label on the cake. I had no way of knowing whether the cake had egg or nuts, and I couldn’t take the risk. I was sad but I didn’t want to waste it, so I gave the cake to a classmate who didn’t have food allergies. After that event, I did not want others to go through that same disappointing experience I did.
Flash forward a few years to when I am in sixth grade. That year, my classmates and I were in charge of providing all of the cakes for the cake raffle. I was so excited to bake, but I wanted to make sure that all of the food allergy kids would be able to eat their cake. That weekend, my mom and I baked and decorated fourteen allergy-friendly cakes. All of them were free-from eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts. We also made some gluten-free and dairy-free in order to address all of the allergy needs at my school.
I remember walking into school the day of the raffle, triumphantly carrying my cakes, each clearly labeled with allergens, to the cake table. My friends oohed and aahed at the decorations, and I was thrilled knowing that another food allergy kid would feel that same awe. During the raffle, I was filled with pride each time one of my cakes was handed to an allergy kid and I got to see their face light up with joy, knowing that they would be able to eat their cake without worry.
Sharing With Others Is Self-Care
Cooking and baking brings so much joy to me, especially when sharing with others. I learned that having food allergies doesn’t mean that you can’t take part in the joy of delicious food. I wanted to share my recipes to prove that allergy-friendly cooking can be delicious, so I created a food allergy blog called “The Allergy Avocat.” I started by posting pictures and directions of my recipes, making sure to label the allergens they contain, and suggesting substitutions. Soon, I realized that I had a lot more to share about my allergies than just recipes. I wanted to use my blog to share my personal experiences navigating life with food allergies, to raise awareness, and to connect with other food allergy teens.
I added an “About me” page to my blog that talks about my story, and started a discussion board with the hopes that other food allergy teens would feel welcome to share their own stories (and share their own recipes!).
Now, I am also a member of FEI’s Teen Advisory Board. It has been a wonderful experience to connect with other teens who understand what it is like to have food allergies. I appreciate our group’s shared dedication to raising allergy awareness and mission of providing support to food allergy teens across the United States. As a senior in high school, hearing from the older students on the board about their experiences navigating food allergies has been a great insight for me as I prepare to go off to college next fall.