It’s that time of year! Parties, potlucks, cookie swaps, family meals, and food, food, food. No problem if you love food and have little to no dietary restrictions, but if you follow the information of the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), you’d know that about 26 million adults and about 5.6 million kids have food allergies. Combined that’s almost 20% of the US population has food allergies, which means not all foods are safe and healthy for them. For some people, eating the wrong cookie or not knowing what’s in potluck fruit salad could result in anaphylaxis which can be a deadly reaction to allergens. Before you set your holiday menus, buy your baking ingredients, or pick out your office gifts, consider asking your audience if they have any food allergies.

What is a food allergy? Food allergies aren’t foods we don’t “like,” they are foods that cause a physical reaction in the body, perhaps as mild as causing a cough and all the way to being a deadly reaction. There is no way to tell who may be allergic to what just by looking at them, you must ask. If you are prepping food to share you can open a conversation in a kind way to see if there are any foods, you should avoid due to allergies or restrictions. Sometimes a person will say, “oh I don’t like peanut butter cookies,” because they don’t want to draw attention to their food allergy. If you are planning to host a meal or offer a community recipe, do everyone a favor and list all the ingredients in your dish. Innocent ingredients like using almond flour in cookies or adding sesame oil to your salad may sound like a delicious option, but it will taste even better knowing you are disclosing all your ingredients.

Food allergy empathy goes a lot further than just the foods you might share, it’s also about creating a safe environment. If you are sharing an office, breakroom, or even computer, wash your hands thoroughly after eating/cooking, welcome a conversation about food allergies with those around you, and don’t be shy about sharing yours. Some people with food allergies will try to isolate themselves during meals, which isn’t foolproof. Eating lunch alone doesn’t always mean you are safe. Food allergens can be in the air or left on services. If you have severe food allergy reactions, talk to your manager or HR team about how you can assure your break space, office and desk can stay as safe as possible for you.

Do some people lie about food allergies? Sure! VeryWellHealth.Com did their research on this topic finding that up to 16% of people may not be telling the full truth when they say they have a food allergy. Some people may have what they consider food sensitivity, which does not cause anaphylaxis but may cause other symptoms in a person. While some people will claim that many foods cause a reaction to them, it’s not our place to decide if that is true or not. When someone mentions a food allergy or sensitivity it is always better to steer clear for safety’s sake. Don’t assume someone is declaring a food restriction as a part of a diet plan or disordered eating, offering someone foods they have described as off-limits could be life-threatening.

AAFA shares data on its website that severe allergic food reactions are responsible for 90,000 emergency room visits a year. If you are concerned about food allergies or experiencing symptoms without reaching out to your medical provider, don’t delay! Food allergies aren’t worth the risk! Taking part of a day off from work or heading to a doctor’s visit after a long day isn’t a reason to skip out on asking your physician about taking advantage of the opportunity to have facetime with your provider or reach out via your customer to set up. Next, you can decide if there are people you trust in your workplace or settings, with a conversation that lightly opens up the topic about the health and needs of you and your workplace.  These conversations may help you, or they may give other employees a chance to speak up about their own health.

Food allergies aren’t a choice, no one can choose what they may or may not be allergic to, and this deserves compassion, empathy, and respect. Resist the urge to comment on other people’s diets and never make fun of someone for what they eat, or don’t eat, there shouldn’t be shame around food. For those with food allergies, it can be hard enough to keep themselves safe, they shouldn’t have to worry about if what they can eat makes someone else happy. Let’s be mindful and kind to each other this season, while some people do live with food allergies, no one is allergic to kindness!


Mary Hoadley

Director of The Wellness Center