Living with a nut allergy on campus can make you nuts
April 12, 2017
My father owns a restaurant in small town Minnesota, where you rarely hear anyone mention an allergy of any kind.
When I was 15 and helping in my father’s restaurant, I remember the dismay of having to throw out my perfectly-sliced ham for an out-of-towner’s sandwich because it had just barely touched tomatoes. My dad explained with irritation that she had mentioned having a tomato allergy; therefore, we had to be extra careful with her food.
A few months later, I had my first allergic reaction to nuts, having eaten a 2 pound bag of chocolate covered almonds. I broke out in a painful rash, and I spent all night throwing up and all week absent from school. My mother was horrified.
Despite having allergies, I was nonchalant about what I ate up until college. Sure, I was allergic to both tree nuts and peanuts, but it wasn’t like a stray piece of nut would kill me. I was a young adult; therefore, I was inherently immortal.
Then I went to college.
See, a funny thing happens when someone goes to college, particularly a college with an all-you-can-eat section. I ate everything. I’d always loved food, and it was like heaven. Long gone were the careful preparations of my dad in his commercial kitchen and the consideration of my mom; all of the food I devoured was made for absolute mass consumption and not for a young woman with a nut allergy.
I woke up in December during my freshman year and took a bite out of a muffin I had gotten from the Commons to have for breakfast. By my third class of the day, I could hardly speak and ran back to my dorm to take my allergy pills. I looked in the mirror and my entire neck mirrored Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." My roommate freaked out, my boyfriend was weirded out and I was personally grossed out by the strange texture of my now-red neck.
I called my mom that night and told her what happened, and she warned me to watch what I eat. So I tried.
Over the course of the past two years, it has steadily gotten worse, a lot of which is not the fault of our food provider, but my own.
In the first semester of this year, I had gotten sick a few times, enough to learn to never trust baked goods again. I learned very quickly that sometimes what is marked as a blondie is actually a brownie, and muffins hold many evil secrets. I talked to the school, and they told me to drop my meal plan if it got too bad.
I did not drop my meal plan, because I live on campus. I work on campus, two jobs this semester and three last semester; all of my friends also eat in the Commons. There is a social aspect that I feel is very vital to my being that makes me want to eat with other people.
I learned to eat stir fry the first semester, because you always know what is in it and you can always decide what you would actually like to eat. Buffalo mac and cheese is my favorite, while chicken alfredo with cooked broccoli and actual garlic is a close second. They implemented sauces the second semester, and I was over the moon. I can assure you with all confidence, I cannot pronounce Szechuan, but man, I love Szechuan.
But, even in a world where there is amazing Szechuan sauce and the awesome soy sauce, there is still peanut sauce lurking in the background. Sometimes the spatula doesn’t get dipped in cleaner or hasn’t been changed in a while, and sometimes small bits of the sauce get on my plate. It doesn’t upset me. I’ve worked in food, and I know that things like this happen.
I go home, and there’s a pomegranate-colored rash on my throat that will last for a week. The wind hits it and it burns.
I found out in October, when I broke my nose for the umpteenth time, that I had to have it fixed to give me a little more time before my airways swell too much for me to breathe. I listened to people who were supposedly my friends tell me that I broke it on purpose because I am a low self-esteemed human who wants a new nose. I don’t bother to explain it’s because my airways have been swelling up, because at this point it isn’t the concern of anyone except me. I love my nose, and I don’t want it to change, but the world cannot be Bethany-proof. Therefore, I must become world-proof.
So, what is the solution? Do I have any mass answer for all the other people in this school allergic to nuts and slowly dying? Not for the school, I don’t.
I’ve worked with food; I know how it goes. Sometimes it’s not completely safe, and that’s all right. A worker should not be discredited for my abnormality. The women who work at the stir fry station are awesome, and I love them for letting me put anything in their tiny pans.
My solution is I watch.
I look as closely as possible, and I just hope that it’ll be okay. If something really worries me, I speak up. I make sure to have an EpiPen and am considering doing therapy for my allergies this summer. I take candy with words written in languages I don’t speak and try them. I accept offers of candy bars from friends who don’t know and hope; I don’t expect anyone to cater to my needs exactly. I read anything that seems suspicious and I understand that at the end of the day it may happen.
Even having to miss class to go back to my allergist this Friday, I’m not asking for a perfect campus where there are no nuts. Dear God, my boyfriend would die without trail mix to supplement his diet. Everyone deserves to eat what they want. I just must be ready in case I eat what I can’t.