Food allergy stories from Italy
Food allergy stories from Italy
My name is Eleonora, I’m 23 and I’m allergic to milk from when I was born. I manage my allergy thanks to the support of my parents and my friends. Since I was a child, I understood that my allergy is a serious problem for my health, so I’ve always been alert about what I eat. Since forever I have always taken my medications with me: two adrenalines, antihistamine drops and pills, and Ventolin. I’ve never forgotten them because I know they can save my life in case of anaphylactic shock.
When I buy something to eat in the supermarket I have to read the ingredients very carefully. When I go to restaurants I have to explain to waiters my allergy and ask them what dishes I can eat, often I decide to take a salad or some beef, obviously without cheese, butter or anything else that contains milk. When I’m not sure about something to eat I decide not to eat it at all because my life is more important. When I go abroad with my parents or friends, we prefer to stay in a flat in order to cook meals at home, so I know what I eat. When I go to restaurants abroad I eat beef or fish, obviously explaining my allergy and the risk of having an anaphylactic shock to restaurant staff. Due to my allergy I learnt together with my mum to modify many recipes with ingredients I can eat, obtaining great results.
When I was younger, I saw my allergy as a big problem for making new friends because I felt different from my peers, but luckily, I grew up and understood that my allergy does not to hinder me from having friends. Now my friends know about my allergy and they are very careful about what I eat. I have no shame in explaining my allergy to people because I’ve always lived this issue with tranquillity, just paying attention to what I eat. Allergy is a serious matter and sometimes people don’t understand the danger and they confuse it with an intolerance, but they are two different things. When I explain them the risks they start to understand that allergy is not a joke.
In conclusion, I’ve learnt to live with my allergy and sometimes I prefer not to eat something if I’m not sure I can, but can still spend a wonderful day with my friends or relatives nonetheless.
Living with allergies is challenging. I have been suffering from food allergies since I was a child, but I was lucky to grow up in a family who never let me think that it was a big problem. I was educated to always ask about ingredients, to be independent, and to avoid food if I was not sure or comfortable about the dish. Allergies were part of me, but did not really impact my life negatively, even though I used to pay a lot of attention to them. This was a normality that I had totally accepted until I moved to a new city for my University studies.
There, all my reality changed. New people and a new environment tested and questioned me and my lifestyle, often undervaluing my condition. So I started to research more and more on this issue that had always characterized me, and that I had never considered so consciously. After that, I began to feel limited and different in a negative sense. In addition, my biggest fear became the possibility to have an allergic reaction that I could not control. For a long period of time, the anxiety of eating outside home overcame the joy to participate in social life. Going out with friends is not easy because often food & beverage services are not prepared to help you.
However, at some point I decided to react and find my own way to live life to the fullest. I realized that it is not impossible to deal with allergies, it just takes more time. When outside of my home, I try to be as clear as possible and always order simple dishes, bringing with me the whole emergency kit which includes 2 epi-pens. Staying calm in front of a dish prepared by someone else is always a challenge. My dream is to find more and more places with labelled food because, as long as I feel safe, I can enjoy every moment of my life.
My name is Davide and I’m an energy engineer. I live with several food allergies: milk and dairy products, peanuts, all tree nuts (e.g., almond, pistachio, etc.), and crustaceans. Yes, I have never been able to dig into a jar of Nutella…
I always carry with me two AAI (Adrenaline Auto-Injector) devices in order to treat a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in case of emergency.
When I was a child my mother prepared special meals for me and over time she adapted her cuisine – and consequently the family meal recipes – to my diet. However, outside the home the scenario was very different.
When I went to school, and later to university, in all the cafeterias I couldn’t eat any meal. The reason was not only the lack of food allergy-free menus, but also the poor competence and willingness of the food operators. They didn’t guarantee avoiding cross-contamination, so I had to eat lesser amounts than a standard meal or I brought food from home.
During my years as a university student, I had to overcome two anaphylaxis episodes. That was quite psychologically destabilising. This meant that from then on eating outside was never the same.
In general, as an individual with several life-threatening food allergies, I feel anxiety about planning for the future, in particular for dining out and travelling abroad (especially in further countries).
For me, the main difficulty is to overcome my initial distrust towards kitchen personnel.
For instance, in my precedent workplace, which had a company canteen, during the first few weeks at the self-service counter I chose only fruits and vegetables, and beverages. All the menu items have pasta or meat dishes very seasoned or exposed to other foods which I’m allergic to (i.e., pasta with Parmesan or cheesecakes). The risk of cross-contamination was too high. Later, I sent an e-mail to the catering company that provided food to the canteen, asking them if they could guarantee me a special meal. I also attached to the mail a medical certificate attesting my food allergy and the high risk of anaphylaxis.
From the next day, I could consume a complete satisfying – and safe! – meal every day. It usually included a variable seasoned dish with pasta, meat of some kind or hard-boiled eggs, vegetables and some fruit. Sometimes, I also could enjoy my favourite pre-packed apricots tarts!
In my new place of work there is no canteen, hence I always bring self-prepared food. However, a few of my colleagues meet up regularly on Thursday to have a meal together at a bar near our workplace. At first I was reluctant to join them. This was a clear limit, especially in the perspective of making more personal connections that are more than just a working relationship.
As in the above case, I cast aside any qualms and I had a talk with the bar ownes, asking them if they could meet my needs. They showed great sensitiveness and were enthusiastic about preparing me a meal of seasoned pasta without the allergens I must avoid.
In general, I am reluctant to try new restaurants or other public places. If I have to choose, I prefer Italian restaurants, not because I’m narrow-minded, but just because I know our culinary culture better (Mediterranean diet) and this helps me in the communication with operators and in the visual inspection of the food. In fact, even if the operators show confidence in managing food allergy, I always check the food carefully before eating it.
Better safe than sorry, right?
This is the reason why I always inform restaurants, bars, caterers etc. about my food allergy.
I also always carry a chef card in my wallet. It allows me to communicate my food allergies to restaurant staff or to any public place, in Italy or abroad, where I’m going to eat.
Here in Italy and abroad I read ingredient labels every time I buy a food product, especially if I had never tried it before. I prefer to buy products I’ve already tested and assessed as safe. I avoid those products with PALs that include my food allergens.
The temptation is not worth the risk.
My name is Elisa, I am 23 years old and I live in Padua. I am allergic to nuts, peanuts and prawns. How did I find out?
At the age of 1 I had my first anaphylactic shock. I was sitting on my dad’s lap while he was peeling peanuts. At that moment, only by breathing the dust that came out of the skin, I had a serious reaction.
Since that time, my parents have always been careful about food, in particular telling others what I could not eat.
For this reason, there was a relationship of affection-protection with my parents, that has made me grow up being always on guard and trying to get everything under control, which then has also expanded in other areas. Now it’s not easy because it affects my relationships with people a little and often affects my mood when I feel there are potential threats around me.
When I was eight, I had the second anaphylactic shock. I was at my gradma’s house and she offered me some chocolates, which I accepted without worrying that they could make me feel bad since they were offered by a family member.
After a while I started to feel tightness while swallowing, as if I had marbles in my throat and then I started to vomit. My parents took me to the hospital and they had to give me an aerosol, and thanks to the fact that my body immediately expelled what had hurt me and thanks to the timely reaction, my life was saved.
It’s been a long time now, but the memory that I have of the feelings I felt is very strong and still causes me anxiety when I find myself in a situation where I feel in danger.
In adolescence I felt different from the others because I couldn’t do everything like them, I couldn’t go out to get an ice cream because the machines used to make fruit sorbets are the same that are used for chocolate ice cream, hazelnut and so on.
I couldn’t go for breakfast and eat a brioche or take a slice of cake for the same reasons, the machines used to make custard and the brioche dough are the same ones used to make the chocolate cream…
So there were situations that I had to avoid, feeling limited and suffering.
A person with food allergies is in a constant state of fear of dying when faced with a situation of having to eat outside the home and feels emotionally distressed when in contact with people who, not being familiar with the problem, can’t understand the real gravity of it.
You risk not only in the first person, but even if you are in a place where others are eating what you are allergic to: physical contact between me and another person, a handshake, a kiss or any other gesture is enough to cause the presence of the allergen to come into contact with the mouth and may therefore trigger an allergic reaction.
Moreover, when you go out, you need to trust people that you don’t know and that have to cook for you with the risk that even a slight mistake can cause an anaphylactic shock and therefore the risk of death. It is not simple and it creates tension and anxiety.
I often felt like a burden on others, especially with people I know little. This leads us to say ‘I’m not hungry, do not worry, no thanks’.
But I slowly learned to accept all this, firstly myself and then in the people I meet and who are close to me.
My first advice is to not be afraid to talk to those who are close to us, that special attention must be given to us because we didn’t choose to be born with this allergy, it is not our fault and therefore we have the RIGHT to be understood, to have the same opportunities as everyone and to be able to enjoy meals in a pleasant way.
I have also gained awareness thanks to the trips that I wanted to do alone to get out of safe family spaces and to be able to have the same opportunities as others, even against the will (for concern) of many people dear to me. With some attentions and in security, often with sacrifices, with moments of difficulty, I still managed to do it. I started with the Czech Republic and from there most of Europe, then I set off on adventurous trips to India and Georgia, and this is only the beginning!