Food Allergy Action Hero
Our featured Food Allergy Action Hero is Kristin Klein, founder and writer of Gratefulfoodie
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: We had the pleasure to interview Kristin Klein, Gratefulfoodie, and her son, Cyrus, a few months ago. Both Caroline and Cyrus are a dynamic duo who provide support and information for those of us who manage food allergies and asthma. It is our pleasure to introduce you to our newest Food Allergy Action Heroes.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Would you share with us why you created Gratefulfoodie
Kristin: I attended a blogger workshop trying to learn more about blogging so that Cyrus could actually start a blog. During the lunch break, the local editor of our newspaper came up to me and said, “Caroline you need to write a blog about food allergies and asthma! You have content and you have knowledge. I’ve heard from several people in the community that they learned more from you than any other source about their child’s allergies”. I realized that I truly wanted to have a place to hold conversation and share resources.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Your blog provides many resources, blog posts and advocacy. What would you tell families new to either asthma or food allergy what to do first once they received the diagnosis in order to make life more full and enjoyable?
Kristin: I believe the first step is take a big deep breathe in and say, “I can do this! Many have and do this well and so will I”. Next, they should confirm with their board certified allergist what emergency medications that should carry, ask for an Emergency Action Plan and learn how to recognize and respond to a life threatening allergic reaction. A good sweep of their kitchen, bathrooms, medicine cabinet and possibly make-up vanity is required to remove allergens. Become an expert at label reading and immediately speak to schools if age appropriate and ask for a meeting with the school nurse to discuss a 504 plan. There are many very good resources out there for newly diagnosed from Food Allergy Research and Education, Kids with Food Allergies-A Division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team. I suggest visiting these three top websites to discover good basic information. Lastly, seek out local food allergy support groups, Facebook groups or blogs that match your personal to find others just like you. We often feel so isolated when we receive diagnosis. It’s incredible when you discover that there are millions of others just like you living a great life with wonderful tips to share!
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: You raised your teen age son to manage his food allergies and support him as he plans to help others with food allergies. What advice can you give to parents of teens who have food allergies and want to fit in?
Kristin: The teen years challenge me! As a parent my heart broke when he was excluded in his younger years. I feared the teen years would be worse. Instead, it has been better. Most teens are feeling awkward without food allergies and everyone is in the same situation of trying to figure out how to fit in. He was not unique in feeling awkward. Talk about what it feels like to be a teen in general. Then encourage your teen to become the CEO of their life and do some problem solving. I suggest to parents to raise your children to be the world’s best problem solvers-start when they young. Managing life threatening food allergies is all about how well you stay prepared, plan ahead and problem solve as you go along. Going to dinner before a dance? Ask to choose a fabulous restaurant-that just so happens to be allergen safe. Encourage teens to do their homework ahead of time and learn which restaurants are safe in town so if the offers arise, you have solutions ready. I have a recent blog post about an interview I did with super bowl great Jerome Bettis. I asked him for dating tips for my son! His suggestions were perfect as he advised that my son ask the girl lots of questions about herself, showing interest and caring. Ask her if she has allergies, asthma or anything that he should know, then, slide in that he has allergies and begin the conversation. Basically, be up front with people and let them know that you have allergies, you carry epinephrine and have many fun ideas of places to go, things to do, etc. Be matter of fact, problem solve and if you act like life threatening food allergies are normal, then the others will too. The best nugget of information I received was from Allergic Girl, Sloane Miller, she said, “Never apologize for your disease or yourself”. I agree, be who you are and be proud!
Cyrus is an impressive teen who also has food allergies. He has a great mentor and role model; his mom – Caroline. His confidence, knowledge, and maturity have been the perfect ingredients to help teens like himself who are trying to live safely in a world surrounded by food allergens. You can read more about Cyrus at: Speak Up!
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: Cyrus, you recently shared the need for people to fill out a few surveys on the Grateful Foodie blog in preparation for a community service project. Would you share with us your inspiration to help others with food allergy?
Kristin:I have food allergies and they have been a daily challenge, so I know what it feels like to have to deal with them. With this knowledge in mind I want to create a resource that can make food allergics lives that much easier. I firmly believe that knowledge is the best tool that we have to combat food allergies; the more people know about food allergies the easier it is for everyone to deal with them. I feel that now since I have my own food allergies under control (thanks to education from others and the support of friends and family) it is my turn to give back to the community.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: If you could give advice to teens with food allergies who are struggling to fit in what would you say?
Kristin: Never let people get to you. Your disease is something you have, but is not something that defines you. We are all the same type of human and nothing will ever change that. It also helps to remind people of that, and of the severity of the disease; furthermore, it is important to remind people that you did not choose food allergies. Many other teens struggle to understand the severity of food allergies, so education is usually the best answer. I find it most important to just educate people so they have a better understanding of what our disease is. A lot of people are afraid of food allergies because they can scare them, so it is easy for them to just avoid the problem; hence, again why education is so important.
ALLERGY FREE TABLE: If you had unlimited resources what changes would you make in the world around you to create a safer environment for people with food allergies?
Kristin: I would create some kind of educational resource that anyone could access and that people might even be required to be exposed to, so that they can further understand the invisible disease that is food allergies. The resource could be taught in k-12 education and even have work force application. I would also create a type of law that states that manufacturers must label all ingredients that may be in their product, or are made on shared equipment. This is one of the biggest struggles for a food allergic when one of their allergens is not considered a major allergen in their country. For example in the United States there are only 8 major food allergens compared to Canadas 11.