There’s No Substitute for a Doughnut: What I Wish People Would Understand About Living With Food Allergies

Our family has food allergies. While our eight-year-old daughter is the one who must carry Epinephrine and has IGE-mediated allergies, me, my husband, our non-allergic five-year-old daughter — the entire family — is impacted in myriad ways that have no beginning, no end.

As an allergy mom, I am regularly chatting with my daughter’s friends’ and classmates’ parents, to delicately raise awareness about her food allergies. They say, Joey is going to have a party.  I say will there be cake?  Yes, sure, of course. What’s a party, or a classroom celebration without cake, cupcake, cookies?

Our daughter can’t eat the cake, cupcakes or cookies.  No worries, the birthday host will say, we will have a “special” treat just for her.


More like:

“Different.” “Alternative.” “Weird.”

Those seem more apt descriptors for the treat.  Also for the recipient of that treat.  Sometimes my girl eats it, and other times she just pushes it aside, looking around the room wistfully as frosting smears her friends’ faces.  The social isolation, which grows over time, is real and painful.

We have been at it for years. When she was a two year old with multiple food allergies- her particular bucket has eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, legumes- she was fairly easy to accommodate, at least from an emotional perspective.  She was amenable to any sweet.

As she matured and grew more socially aware, a “treat” became a differentiator.  At critical developmental junctures, when being a member of the gang was crucial for acceptance, that treat lost much of its appeal.

A treat attracts eye rolls from peers, laughter and food allergy bullying.  Yes, food allergy bullying is real.  My peanut allergic child was most recently taunted by a friend waving a Bamba puff.

“It’s just cheese,” he told her with a smile.  “Try it.”

My girl, coached and quizzed and buoyed by our insistence to read labels and never just grab and eat, said “No.”  But what if she acted her age and ate it?  What if?

We don’t go there. There are too many stories. Heartbroken families.

Families celebrate each other, knit close together, identify as members of a clan.  Food allergy families, especially so. And this is why I say our family has food allergies.

Have you ever RSVP’ed to a birthday party and not showed, because you were ill, tired or just had a change of heart? Plenty of parents have RSVP’ed to my kids’ birthdays, then for one reason or another didn’t come. It’s fine, things happen.

As a food allergy family, and especially if any accommodation has been made for your child, for instance a once-in-a-blue-moon-custom-made-egg-free cake, you cannot no-show.  You would be judged an ingrate or worse, lose a friendship.

You must be profusely thankful and attend with a smile.  You lose the option to play it casual, like others in (or out of) attendance.

Food allergy parents cannot rest, we must forever be prepared and even that is not enough. We are grateful when our child is included in the smallest celebration and crestfallen when every kid is faceplanting a donut and ours clings to a dry chocolate chip cookie, a tear in her eye, gulping down sadness. Food allergy parents plan every meal, at home and outside and in school and at snacks and playdates and sleepovers, camp, and any other possible activity that may revolve around food, and today, that is everything/always/around the clock.

I won’t get started on how this obesogenic environment is extra taxing and toxic to our allergy babies.  Allergy families know.

And we are still, in spite of our best, all-encompassing efforts, not fully prepared.  Because even after multiple exchanges with well-meaning teachers, parents, hosts, and others, even after sharing snack suggestions, reviewing ingredient lists and apologizing for requesting consideration for your child… They still bring a box of doughnuts for the gang, and a “treat” for your child.

And your kid is an island, once again.

Sigh. The social isolation for the child and the family cannot be overstated.  We are in this together and must continue to advocate, educate, and encourage our kids to own their buckets and feel empowered, not deflated.

That, and a promise of a decadent trip (once she outgrows her allergies) to New Orleans for Cafe Du Monde’s famous beignets have helped sweeten life for our allergy kid, though she insists she will eat a Dunkin first, to finally experience it for herself.

Reminds me of the following Meg Ryan/Nick Cage exchange in the film City of Angels:

Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.

Maggie: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?

Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.

Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?

Seth: It’s perfect.

One day, I tell my daughter, you will taste that doughnut for yourself and tell me what it tastes like to you.

And she knows she will.