Mike, Founder of Nut Free, as a young kiddo at the local county fair
Growing up with multiple food allergies was a different experience from most. Thankfully, I had thoughtful and encouraging parents and support around me. It’s a bit strange looking back at the handful of food limitations I had to consider. Here’s the breakdown of food allergies I had throughout childhood and to present day:
- Wheat allergy until age 4
- Dairy allergy until age 10
- Egg white allergy until age 12
- Lifelong peanut allergy
- Lifelong tree nut allergy
- Avoided most legumes until age 32 (turns out I wasn’t allergic… more on that in #5 below)
1. UPS Truck Delivering Tapioca Bread
This is by far one of my fondest childhood memory related to food allergies, second only to my parents cooking wheat free, dairy free donuts and pizza for me (see #6 below). I find something poetic about 3-year old Mike watching the UPS truck come barreling down the road, with the special bread I was able to eat. With some regularity, the truck would come. And along with it, Mike-friendly Ener-G Tapioca Bread (Amazon). Several months ago, at age 32, I tasted this bread for the first time since childhood — and was surprised how familiar it tasted!
2. Day Camp: Dixie Cups of Raisins and Skittles
“Snack time!” the summer day camp counselors would call. And in would rush us several dozen of Chicagoland elementary and school aged kiddos. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the Midwest (or in warm, summer climates for that matter), summers there were typically unbearably hot and especially humid.
So, as you can imagine, us kids were relieved when it was finally time for some ice-cold Kool-Aid (Oh Yeah!) and light snacks. There was always a slight snag, for me though. Given my deathly allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, the counselors always had Dixie cups of raisins or Skittles on the ready for me. Kudos to them for that! And best yet, I never felt ostracized or unwelcomed. But rather, taken care of and noticed. It’s the little things.
3. Eating Nuts and Peanut Butter on Purpose...
Oh boy, this one’s a big one. And occurred during my junior year of high school at around age 17. Classic case of “I know better.” Well, I didn’t.
On a weekend afternoon, I got the bright idea to drive to the grocery store down the road and purchase a couple one-pound bags of peanuts, mixed nuts with dried fruit, and even a jar of Skippy peanut butter (if I were a member of Mensa, surely they would have revoked my membership at this exact moment). After all, I had outgrown childhood allergies to milk, dairy, and eggs. So, why not peanuts and tree nuts too?!
Returning home, I plopped myself into my bed, turned on a Family Guy DVD, and absent-mindedly began to munch on the assortment of nuts and dried fruit. About an hour later, I slowly realized that I wasn’t even enjoying the show anymore (which was unheard of for me at that age, I mean come on it was Family Guy after all). So, I stood up out of bed, walked a few steps to the bedroom door… and then it hit me: I’m having trouble breathing! My throat was scratchy, my breathing labored, and my body itchy. Oh… no (sorry, Kool-Aid guy). Into the bathroom I trotted, turned on the light, lifted my shirt in front of the mirror, and BAM! Hives all over my chest, armpits, and groin. I knew I was surely in big trouble then.
I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when I waltzed into the family room and said, “Mom, I think I did something stupid.” Ya think?? She turned around in her chair, and shouted “Oh my god!” The next few minutes for me were like a whirlwind. Either my dad or mom called an ambulance, I sat on the family couch and plunged an EpiPen into my thigh (not nearly as dramatic as Pulp Fiction makes it seem, by the way).
The ambulance and EMTs (emergency medical technicians) arrived several minutes later. Wonderful folks. And had a good sense of humor about them too! As one of the EMTs put it while en route to the hospital, “So, you’re allergic to nuts, and you ate nuts, hmm…” Yeah, hard to argue with that. And as a bit of poetic justice had it, the hospital I was transported to was the very same hospital I was transported from when I was born.
Thankfully, after a couple hours of medication and the most excruciating discomfort in the emergency room bed… it was finally time to go home with my head low and tail between my legs. But, hey, at least now I knew I was indeed allergic! Silver lining, and all.
Fast-forward to age 32 on an improv comedy stage, I recounted this tale to an audience on a couple occasions. It was honestly heart-warming to make peace with my error, by sharing the experience with 100 or so people during my storytelling class performances. By the way, for any of you residing in the Seattle area, Unexpected Productions (right in Pike Place Market by the Gum Wall — Market Theatre) is a phenomenal place to watch improv comedy, storytelling performances, and sketch comedy. I’ve taken their improv comedy series, storytelling, and sketch comedy writing classes.
4. Saying My Favorite Food Was Apples Whenever Classmates Would Ask
Ah, the classic question everyone has answered at least no less than a dozen times during childhood: “What’s your favorite food??” For me, this question was a bit perplexing. Surely I enjoyed food and ate a variety of it. But food for me was more utilitarian and grouped as either safe or unsafe. So, when classmates and teachers would ask me this… I’d just respond with, “I don’t know… apples?” Just a short, fond memory I recall. And yes, I still do love apples (except Red Delicious and Granny Smith, yuck…).
5. Avoiding Most Legumes — But Turns Out I Wasn't Allergic
This one ends on an extraordinary good, but slightly foolish note. Up until age 32 (I’m 33 now), I had always thought I had a deathly allergy to most legumes. Such as black beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Needless to say, the prospect of Mexican food was always a bit perilous. Green beans and peas were always cool though.
It was only until my girlfriend (who eats mostly vegetarian) and I took a vacation to Vancouver, Canada that my legume “allergy” hit a brick wall. Given the conflict between her diet and mine, it was understandably difficult to find restaurants and snacks that would suit both of us and provide her with adequate protein. Thankfully, she pushed me to get my allergies re-evaluated. As it have been over 15 years since my last test.
Several weeks after the Vancouver trip, I headed to a local allergist. It was in the small exam room where the doctor administered a series of scratch tests on my arms. And to my surprise, non-peanut legumes came back as completely negative. I returned for a follow-up appointment where, under doctor supervision, I ate a spoonful of canned black beans every 15 minutes. No reaction whatsoever! After about an hour of this, the doctor came into the room for the final time and announced the good news that I was overwhelmingly not allergic to non-peanut legumes. As I exclaimed to her that this was surely the best news in quite a while, I began to imagine all the dishes I would be able to enjoy. And, of course, the stress removed from accommodating meals and travel (though, there will always be peanuts and tree nuts). I’m extremely grateful to my girlfriend for encouraging me to get the allergy test, of course.
If you’re considering getting an allergy test for yourself or a loved one, check out my article 5 Great Nut Allergy Blood Test Options as a start. I’m partial to just paying for a nut allergy blood test directly, without waiting for you’re doctor’s buy-in. Really wish I had done so sooner, before the Vancouver trip! But of course, consulting with your doctor does have its merits.
6. My Parents Baking Homemade Allergy-Friendly Donuts and Pizza
The smell of fresh dough wafting through the kitchen. Pizza sauce and sliced sausage being prepared. This is the fondest memory I have, during my childhood with multiple food allergies. My parents were extremely supportive of my food options, and turning limitations into opportunities. I remember the warm dough baking in the bread maker, and the fragrant pizza bread coming out of the oven. The acts of kindness such as these that my parents displayed throughout my childhood are indeed what I wish for every child today growing up with food allergies.