Jenn lives in Chicago and works as a paralegal for a non-profit on the topic of immigration. This job keeps her pretty busy, but she always manages to find time for her favorite pastime: baking. She bakes things from brownies and snickerdoodles on a regular basis to challah and rugelach for more important occasions such as Shabbat and Hanukkah.
Jenn bakes because she loves it, however, there is another reason. At a young age, Jenn was diagnosed with a severe allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy. While she slowly outgrew her egg and dairy allergy, the nut issue was there to stay, inhibiting her ability to safely eat fresh baked goods from local bakeries. “I feel like having [a severe food allergy] can make you go one of two ways. It can either make you resent food and just not want to engage with it at all. Or it can make you really interested in food, which is where my love of baking comes in.”
Customizing family traditions
Since she could not enjoy baked goods from bakeries, Jenn decided that meant she had to make the goods for herself, a challenge she was more than happy to accept. “I pride myself on my baking because I know that I can make things that I would not normally be able to buy and I know I can give them to people who I know would also not be able to eat from bakeries.”
Stemming from her original association of baking with her family during the holiday season, Jenn was able to spread love in her local food allergy community. She said most people with food allergies like hers know to generally stay away from unlabeled baked goods. However, Jenn was prepared to answer any questions and put at ease those who had a nut allergy like hers. “It was fun when people [said they had nut] allergies and I could say ‘I also have an allergy and I just ate this cookie!’”
Jenn says, “a lot of people don’t think that much about it. You go to the bakery and buy yourself a muffin; it is just a nice thing to do for yourself. But not everyone gets to do that. It seems like a small thing, but after getting to see when I could change the environment so that others could safely eat [baked goods], it really was a big thing: that you can go out and be part of your community and just sit and eat a muffin.”
She said that having a food allergy can make you feel a loss of control in your life over the foods that you can or cannot eat, “so it is important to find ways that you can meaningfully shape food for yourself.” If there is anything that Jenn has learned from having a food allergy it is: “Be mindful. Pay attention to what you like, how your body reacts to certain things, and what makes you happy. That is why baking is so important to me. It is something that makes me happy and I know exactly what is in the food.”
The moral of the story
So whatever your holiday gathering looks like this season, whether it be in person or virtual, with or without tree nuts, remember that you still have agency and power. Traditions are not lost, only modified. You do not have to let COVID-19 or your food allergy get in the way of sharing joy with those you love. Just like we can build up new habits for our day to day living, we can mold fresh habits for the holidays. Creating new rituals with your family and friends allows you to take control of your food and your experience, ensuring that the holidays are a memorable, inclusive, and happy time to be together.