This month’s Allergy Teens Talk features Elise, a passionate food allergy advocate and teen with a lot of grit.
Elise not only shares the numerous ways she has made a difference in the food allergy community but also discusses the tremendous impact that having food allergies have on her life, especially the social aspect. Elise’s perseverance and courage are very inspiring, and it reminds us that anything is possible with passion and hard work.
Enjoy the rest of March, and maybe Elise will inspire you to make some change in your community this month!
Allergy Teens Talk: Elise
Name: Elise Buellesbach
Allergies, and when you were diagnosed: I am allergic to eggs (age 0), chicken, and turkey (age 14).
Age/grade: 16 years old, Junior (11th Grade)
Teens with food allergies talk!
Q: What is the main struggle you faced growing up or being a teen with food allergies?
Elise: The emotional strain that comes along with constantly being left out and excluded at events. I want to be included in food-centred activities, as do most. As a society, everything we do has to involve food, which ends up putting me in an awkward situation all of the time.
Although staying safe has become a natural habit, I still feel disappointed and frustrated that I’m excluded. Even after 16 years of reading labels and eating safe foods, I remain hopeful that one day I will be able to participate. But until then, it feeds my sadness that everything seems to contain my allergens or has no label leaving me unable to participate.
Q: How does having food allergies affect your social life (dating, parties, etc.)?
Elise: I have never enjoyed parties or dances. The awkwardness of being a teenager and trying to socialize is magnified through having food allergies. I find myself turning down food at every event I go to, which is always followed by the awkward conversation of ‘why don’t you have food? Why aren’t you eating? Don’t you want a donut?’. I then explain that I have food allergies in the first response is ‘I’m so sorry.’
This response is one of my biggest frustrations that people feel the need to apologize for me having food allergies when, in reality, everyone in life is struggling with their challenges. One of my biggest challenges is having food allergies, and there is nothing to apologize for. Having food allergies has made me more apprehensive in my social life. Yet, at the same time, the friends that I have understand and care enough to take the time to understand food allergies.
Q: How do you advocate for yourself as an allergy teen?
Elise: I am a passionate advocate for people with invisible disabilities, specifically food allergies. The easiest and most readily available form of advocacy is talking about having food allergies and what it means to me. I have found that most people just don’t understand the wide range of effects that food allergies have. I like to talk about food allergies and explain the big questions: What is anaphylactic shock? Why do I carry an EpiPen? What accommodations do I need?
My peers often understand more and feel more comfortable talking about allergies after I initiate the conversation about my personal experience with food allergies.
I am fascinated with how the government works. I have recently been advocating for the FASTER Act (H.R. 2117) alongside FARE. I had the opportunity to meet with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D- CA – 18) to discuss co-sponsoring this bill. What I learned from meeting with Congresswoman Eshoo is that food allergies are not often addressed in government. Congresswoman Eshoo had a good understanding of what a food allergy is. Still, her assistant did not understand the implications of having a food allergy and the importance of proper labelling.
I was able to share my story with them and illuminate the daily struggles of living with allergies. Although the task of meeting with your representative seems daunting, I would urge other teenagers interested in making a change in labelling laws to meet with their representative. It is an incredible opportunity to share your story with someone who directly decides what labelling policy will be in the United States.
Q: What advice would you give to other teens with food allergies?
Elise: The most significant piece of advice I have to share with other teens with food allergies may seem cliché. However, the impact of talking about allergies is tremendous. By sharing your story about having food allergies, you are educating others. Education comes in the form of repeated exposure, meaning that every time people hear about allergies, they come a little bit closer to actually understanding the effects of allergies.
Q: How do your friends treat you when it comes to your food allergies?
Elise: A majority of my friends have complete respect for me and my allergies. One of my friends who I met in high school has a set of red cooking utensils at her house that is only used to make food for me to avoid cross-contamination. Another friend of mine went as far as to find the only gluten-free and vegan bakery in the area and had a G.F. and vegan cake at her birthday party.
Although my friends can be supportive, there are parts of having allergies that are nearly impossible to understand if you do not have allergies. I am still left out at birthday parties, I still bring my food to other’s houses, and I still feel lonely when I can not participate at events.
Q: How have you become more responsible in handling your food allergies, and have you experienced a shift of responsibility from your parents to you?
Elise: When I was younger, my mom always carried my EpiPens, she read labels, she ordered food at restaurants – my mom handled everything regarding food allergies.
Now that I’m a junior in high school, I pretty much do everything regarding my allergies and advocate for my needs. When I was frustrated that my school’s administration allowed students to eat in the classroom and I was forced to sit near the door to be safe, I went to the administration and asked for a change. My parents were supportive and willing to help if I wanted help, but they let me run the show. I sent repeated emails to the school asking for a new policy, I met with the administration, I learned from the experience, and I got the policy changed.
Q: How do you handle your food allergies at school / in college?
Elise: As a junior in high school, I finally have figured out to handle most of the weird food-centred events that pop up at school. I let each of my teachers know at the beginning of the semester that I have allergies, and I need other students to eat outside of the classroom. I have also spoken to the administration, and we have worked out stricter rules about not eating in the classrooms.
However, as a freshman and sophomore, I was afraid to speak up for my safety. Each year, the school held an event where they served donuts to the entire school. Having an egg allergy made this feel incredibly unsafe, yet I never spoke up. This year I went to the administration and requested that they serve a more inclusive snack. At first, I was told this event is a tradition and would not change, but in the end, they served pre-packaged popcorn instead!
Having a safe learning environment is crucial. It is hard to get others to understand food allergy needs and safety concerns, but with patience and determination, the school can be a safe and inclusive environment.
Q: What advice would you give to the parents of young children with food allergies?
Elise: No matter what alternative food you offer your kid, it will not make up for being included. I often joke that even if everyone was eating broccoli (which I do not like) and I was offered a cupcake, I would want to be included more than I would want the cupcake. Having a special treat at home helps, but there is something distinct and irreplaceable about being included and having the same thing for everyone.
Q: What positive things have come out of having food allergies (have you benefited from them in any way)?
Elise: Growing up with food allergies has forced me to become mentally tough and self-reliant.
Although being excluded leaves me with a deep pain, I am stronger because of it. I am able to translate my determination and strength into other obstacles in my life. I channel my grit into swimming and academic work. I push through the frustration, sharing my story with others to create change in the food allergy community. Overall, having food allergies is no fun at all, but I have become a stronger and more passionate person.
🍽 Favourite restaurant: Erin Makenna’s Bakery (N.Y., CA, FL) – G.F. and vegan (so good!!)
🍪 Favourite food: Mac-n-Cheese (Homemade)
🍬 Favourite allergy-friendly product or brand: Only What You Need (protein shakes!)
👍 Which social media platform is best? Instagram
🦸♂️ Dream job: Political Analyst
📓 What do you do after school on an average day? Homework and swim practice
📱 Texting or talking? Talking
💙 Describe yourself in three words: Passionate, Committed, Talkative/ loquacious
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Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!