Five years ago, we moved in our wonderful neighborhood comprised of young families, and many little kids. Halloween was quickly approaching, and a friend of mine who lives down the street asked, “Are you handing out candy with peanuts?” I laughed. Literally, I laughed. Halloween without peanuts? What is Halloween without Reese’s peanut butter cups or Snickers bars? I wasn’t even quite sure of why she was asking me until she proceeded to tell me there was a little girl in the neighborhood with a peanut allergy. Admittedly, I thought to myself: I am not going to hangout my favorite candy bar to hundreds of kids because one little girl can’t have it? Not a chance. And, so, I suggested to my friend that the little girl take something other than a Reese’s; maybe M&M’s or a Hershey’s bar.
And then, my oldest son, who was the pickiest eater as a toddler, only ate peanut butter on bagels. I was so happy that peanut butter was at least nutritious, so nothing was going to stop me from feeding him the only thing he ate. Until, he started preschool. I received a call from his teacher who explained their classroom would be peanut free because there was a little boy who had an allergy. I was annoyed, completely. What could I possibly pack my son for lunch now? Couldn’t they switch the kid out of his class so I could send peanut butter? My son will starve if he can’t have his peanut butter on a cinnamon raisin bagel. Again, admittedly, these were all thoughts I had at the time.
I grew up attending public school, where I was surrounded by hundreds of other kids. Never had I heard of anyone having a food allergy. We were served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at school, cakes for birthdays, and any type of candy in the treasure box for rewards. I couldn’t fathom what possibly changed now where all of these kids have such allergies. Was it because the parents weren’t exposing their kids to the foods? Or were they being hypersensitive and just claiming they had allergies? Would someone really die from eating peanut butter? I mean, come on. That just sounded crazy and unreasonable.
That is, until I had a second child. Prior to any type of diagnosis, I watched as my baby excessively vomited, developed severe eczema, rashes, and hives, and refused to eat food. He failed to thrive, and we had no answers. We went from specialist to specialist to try to determine the issue, but it wasn’t until he was fourteen months old that it was figured out. My son was tested and diagnosed with severe food allergies, including milk, egg, wheat, peanuts, and tree nuts. As a result of his food allergies, and me trying to force feed him these foods that made him sick, he developed a condition called, Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). He suffered terribly, and for so long.
Prior to having a child with food allergies, it wasn’t that I was a mean person who didn’t care about other children. I liked my neighbor, and I would have never wanted her to get sick from the candy I handed out on Halloween. I just didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what food allergies entailed, how serious they are, and the precautions people must take in order to stay safe and healthy. While I am completely on the other side at this point, lugging around liquid Benadryl and an EpiPen wherever we go, I assume that those who have yet to experience what I have just cannot comprehend the severity and demand of food allergies.
I watched my 19-month-old at the time go into anaphylactic shock. A nice woman with harmless intentions offered him a peanut butter cracker because he was hungry. He took one tiny bite. I watched this reaction take place, which started off very slowly, and took a turn for the worst within seconds. He went from struggling to breathe, to gagging, to then not responding. He was saved by an EpiPen.
My point in sharing this is that Jimmy Kimmel, like myself three years ago, doesn’t mean intentional harm regarding celiac disease and a gluten intolerance. In fact, it does seem kind of illogical how our society went from one extreme to the other from one generation to the next. Some people’s lack of understanding shines through comedy and laughter. And, though I don’t believe anyone suffering from celiac disease or food allergies should be called, “annoying” (like Kimmel stated at the Emmys), I do understand that until more people are educated and exposed to these serious health issues, they will not be able to share in the lifestyle and fear we do everyday.