As someone with multiple food allergies, there are times I feel alone in my advocacy. Having support from somebody without food allergies can be invaluable in taking away that isolation. Throughout my life, my food allergy allies have played a big role in building my confidence, supporting my grievances and reducing my anxieties.
What does a food allergy ally look like?
An ally is defined as someone who “helps and supports somebody who is in a difficult situation”.Oxford Dictionary
To be a food allergy ally is to help someone managing a food allergy, be it their own or that of a family member/partner/friend, when they need you. This can happen in many different ways from big gestures like planning a totally allergy-friendly dinner to standing up when someone is not getting it, whatever the circumstance, your support is priceless.
A food allergy ally in action
My best friend is my biggest food allergy ally. I have known her for five years and within that time she has made me feel supported, safe and understood.
The allyship started off slowly; she asked me questions about my allergies. Like, what to do if I had a reaction, or what allergens I can and cannot be around. Slowly we built trust.
She made plans that didn’t involve food and if the food was involved, she asked me first for safe dining options. At restaurants, she noticed when I was uncomfortable and talked to the waiters when I was feeling insecure. My friend checked in with me when I was eating something new or if I was ok with a particular brand. She even went a step further and would call hotels we booked to see how they accommodated allergies.
The first time my friend baked for me, she bought new pots, pans, whisk and used clean sponges so that I would feel safer. She also kept labels of all ingredients and took photos of them to send to me before I arrived at her house because she knew I would be nervous.
This is what being an allergy ally means to me, you don’t have to buy new pots or pans, but having empathy and compassion can go a very long way in being a food allergy ally.
Inspired by my best friend, an amazing ally, here are my 3 A’s of allergy allyship
My 3 A’s for being a Food Allergy Ally
This list isn’t about you being perfect; allergies are a learning experience for everyone involved. The reason that allies are needed, is to make sure nobody is excluded, feels unsafe, or isolated. When you learn with us, you are an ally.
A food allergy ally ASKS questions
‘Knowlege is power’ is one of the Zestfull mission points. People who live with food allergies want to help you understand what we are managing and feeling. Never be afraid to ask questions. Opening up the conversation allows us to be able to talk freely about our concerns.
As an ally, asking questions shows that you care, and take food allergies seriously. Nobody can be an expert in something they don’t have to manage. We are all learning as we go, even our allergists.
A food allergy ally is AWARE
Food allergy folks are big on planning. If you change venues or times without notice, it can cause some panic.
As an ally, you can help by showing compassion if we decide to back out of an event last minute if we are feeling sensitive about a change of plans, or decide not to partake in eating. Being aware of non-verbal cues can calm nerves.
An ally can help by being aware that anything involving eating can be a stressful situation for people living with food allergies. Planning activities that aren’t centered around food will reduce some anxiety that we may be feeling but not always able to express. Finding new and creative ways to spend time together is a silver lining.
A food allergy ally ADVOCATES
You can help pave the way even if you don’t have food allergies.
As an ally, you end up learning a lot about food allergies. You can advocate by spreading awareness and educating others to learn, which will go further than you think. By advocating in the ‘real’ world, you are not only an ally to your food allergy friends but the entire food allergy community. Being at our side builds trust, which makes all the difference, as a food allergy ally.
Lindiwe is the creator of The Allergy Table blog. She brings awareness by sharing stories about the real person behind the allergy. Lindiwe hopes that others will feel more confident in advocating for their food allergies.