The following content is the context which supports the documentary style imagery. For each of the three articles, the same heading has been used to refer to the magazine easily.
‘ANOTHER ONE BITES THE CRUST’
30 years ago the free-from aisle, gluten-free bread and lactose-free milk didn’t exist. The number of people suffering with a food allergy is rising. What is everyday life like for them?
I remember my mum telling me that food intolerances were just an excuse for the fussy kids – that their parents were making excuses for their disobedience. I remember the head chef in a restaurant that I worked in rolling his eyes when he got a “gluten-free” check. I remember my brother mocking my lactose-intolerant boyfriend for ordering
a “soy latte”.
For some reason, the rise in allergies has reduced the amount of people that take them seriously. Surprisingly, “44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy… 48% of sufferers have more than one allergy” according to Mintel in 2010. So, why is their such a stigma against food allergy sufferers?
Ignorance is bliss.
Recently, Pediatrics stated that 31.5% of children with a food allergy were bullied as a result of their allergy. These children even disclosed that they had been threatened with food by classmates. They believed that their experiences of bullying derived from the stigma that surrounds “being different”.
Before Dina Luttrell Rudesheim was four years old she had experienced her first reaction to garlic. Dina is now 52 years old, she suffers from multiple allergies, including gluten, eggs and dairy:
“Life changes? HUGE. I rarely socialise anymore. When I have tried, I’ve been both openly mocked and made people feel bad that I couldn’t eat anything. I miss the days of not being the centre of attention because of food.”
Dina isn’t alone. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organisation found that “every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room”. But surely, these facts are over-exaggreated? People suffering with food allergies can just have a little bit and be OK, right?
Well actually, no.
Despite there being a distinct difference between food allergy sufferers and those with food intolerances; neither should be taken lightly.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a food allergy “causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body.” Symptoms of a food allergy can include swelling, breathing restrictions and anaphylaxis. A food intolerance is an ‘internal struggle’ between the digestive system and the properties of a food product. As opposed to the body reacting to a food product. The NHS state the most common symptoms of a food intolerance include “tummy pain, diarrhoea and skin rashes”.
The stigma surrounding food allergy sufferers extend to their lives. Sufferers that I spoke to often described allergies as “restricting”, “isolating”, “alienating” and “lonely”.
Admittedly, I take the flexibility of my everyday routine for granted; can’t be bothered to cook? Order in. What drink do you want? Whatever you’re having. What do you want for dinner? Whatever you want. Dina’s lifestyle is something entirely different:
“Socialising is almost impossible. Trying to have Thanksgiving dinner or another event with friends or family is a nightmare.” Dina expresses, “Either I don’t eat or I make my own food. It feels especially isolating because you can’t even share in the festivities.”
The reality is, the lifestyle of sufferers is dictated by their diet. They must expect acceptance from their friends towards their dietary requirements, they must put their trust into the chefs or servers that are handling their food, they must expect criticism from those who do not live the lives that they do.
I spoke to those who were effected by food allergies everyday – from the parents of children with food allergies to the sufferers themselves.
‘To dine for’
In an effort to experience what living with a food allergy or intolerance is like, Kevin Smith restricted his diet for a day. We took a seat in the middle of the quirky, open planned beer garden of our local pub. The sun beamed onto the flowers beds, children chased each other around the picnic benches and tables; these are the moments to kick back and relax, surely?
Under the guise of a life-threatening egg allergy, we were able to look at the allergens handbook. The handbook identified all their products on the menu, from bread and butter to the Hunter’s Chicken. For each product, 14 columns followed which detailed the top 14 food allergens. Any column that had a tick in, showed that a product contained the identified allergen. Pretty easy, right?
The chips had milk in, pies used egg wash, gluten was in the gravy and peanut oil is used for frying. The menu was restrictive enough if you should have one food allergy – to outline multiple allergies would be a nightmare. I had assumed restaurants would cater for food allergies, I mean, who puts milk in fried potatoes? But, this wasn’t the case – by law, restaurants, cafes, pubs etc. have to disclose which products contain the top 14 allergens. But, they don’t have to cater for those suffering with a food allergy or intolerance.
In December 2014, The EU Food Information for Consumers (FIC) introduced legislation that means “food businesses have to make information on 14 allergens available to consumers. This ranges from the most common allergens, such as peanuts and gluten, to less well known triggers for allergic reactions such as mustard and celery” according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
A study by the FSA found that 69.18% of food allergy sufferers said they had experienced “Staff not understanding the severity of an allergy, and how easily a mistake may cause a reaction”. 67.9% said that staff displayed a “lack of knowledge of menu content when giving information” and 41.64% stated “Staff being in a rush and not checking thoroughly/informing the kitchen of my/my family member(s) food allergy”.
Melissa Dawn has a son with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and garlic. Melissa believes that attempts to understand her sons allergies made by a server is incredibly reassuring:
“Restaurants scare me. However, restaurants that have servers that ask questions and are informed put me at ease.” Melissa states, “When they wave off my concerns and say they understand; it’s usually the opposite. We avoid restaurants most of the time.”
Melissa isn’t wrong; the enjoyment was lost in between analysing numerous sheets of paper against the menu in order to decide what to eat, and having to express multiple times the severity of Kevin’s allergy. But, the fun didn’t stop there; there was still the anxiety of cross contamination and if the server would inform the kitchen correctly.
The FSA study also found that since December 2014, 34.19% of food allergy sufferers had experienced an allergic reaction to food in a restaurant/cafe or takeaway in the UK.
Despite the efforts made by introducing stricter laws, the risks are all too real for sufferers. Based on the results from FSA study, over a third of people with an allergy are still experiencing allergic reactions to food when they eat out. As a result, nearly 19% of those individuals have been hospitalised. Would you run the risk?
The restrictions of a sufferer’s life don’t begin and end at the dinner table. Many are socially anxious when dining out or attending friends parties; their allergies burden their everyday, lifestyle choices. They did not choose their allergy, but somehow their allergies effect the choices they make.
The weekly burden; the dreaded food shop. Children race down the aisles, you can’t find the beansprouts and somehow your ‘£30 shop’ has totalled £67.92. It’s a routine most of us are all too familiar with, but the costings of the weekly shop effect some more than others.
It seems that free-from products are far from free. The hefty price tag that attaches itself to allergen-free products can burn a large hole in the consumer’s pocket; often indicating that a simple £5 recipe can be three, or four times more expensive when made with allergen-free products.
To put our research to the test, we decided to make allergen-free pancakes As a cows milk alternative, we used almond milk, as an egg substitute we used flaxseed powder and as a plain flour alternative we used gluten-free flour. This recipe should have cost an approximate £4, but when made with allergen-free products it came in at over £11.
The Food Allergy Institute of North Texas expresses that the production process “requires strict vigilance”:
“Manufacturers must use dedicated single-source ingredient suppliers who do all parts of production. This includes: growing, harvesting, milling, and packaging. Dedicated assembly lines and equipment must also meet strict guidelines.”
Many families and sufferers are experiencing food insecurity when it comes to stocking the shelves every week. Brittany Thorpe, mother of three says that the cost of living with allergies limits her disposable income:
“My husband and six year old son both have anaphylactic allergies, so we fill our cupboards very carefully. Our whole family eats according to their dietary restrictions while in the house. It’s the only way I keep things relatively ‘fair’.” Brittany explains, “So, our kids will burn through the £3.99,175g free-from cookies in less than a third of the time than the £3.56, 515g Chips Ahoy cookies.”
Although the rise of free-from products hitting the supermarket shelves is a triumph for food allergy sufferers, it’s not all blue skies yet. Not only is the costing of products restricting, but to find a hybrid product that combines a lifestyle choice with an allergen-free item is even harder.
As food allergens are on the rise, those making the choice to be Vegan, Organic or Halal are too. To source products that can satisfy this need is made harder in the already rigorous production process. If it didn’t seem that the lifestyle restrictions surrounding an allergy were already troublesome – the extension to peoples religious beliefs and personal views have been thrown into the mix.
Christine Rowden developed an allergy to eggs at the age of 40. At the age of 22, Christine committed to being a Vegetarian. Her diet was dramatically restricted once again:
“It was a nightmare. I had to balance a choice that I made years ago with an allergy I didn’t choose.” Christine sighed, “Explaining to people you’re allergic to eggs and you’re Vegetarian is difficult. It’s another reason for them to ‘roll their eyes’ at my allergy.”
Sadly, the rise of food allergies isn’t enough. The price of allergen-free products would only decrease if there’s a rise in food allergy sufferers. The more consumers requiring free-from products, the higher the demand. Therefore, lower costs.
But, for now, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
If you would like information or support regarding an allergy, please contact AllergyUK on 01322 619898. Alternatively, you can visit their website: http://www.allergyuk.org