Dining Out

Emotional Challenges of Holiday Gatherings…

Since I became mom, holiday-time socializing has become bitter-sweet. Seeing the wonder of festivals through the eyes of a 5 year old is priceless. But, ensuring that he does not get excluded from enjoying festive foods because of his multiple food allergies is emotionally draining. I spent most of my youth in India and most my adult-life in the US of A. What does that translate into? Our family celebrates all the Indian festivals  that begin in late-August and go on till early-November and also celebrates all the festivals in the US – Halloween through New Year 🙂

When Arjun was younger, I would make allergy friendly versions of goodies at home and carry safe food for him to all gatherings. As he is growing up, he has outgrown a few allergies which has made eating out a little easier. However, the challenging part is – though he is aware that he needs to be very careful about what he eats, he is a little boy who wants to feel that he is as normal as the other kids. He understands that he cannot eat everything from the festive spread but he does hope that there are at least a couple of items he can eat. Fortunately for him, most people who have us over go out of their way to ensure that he has something more substantial than chips to eat. Thanks to all of you who are considerate to food allergy sufferers.

However, there are gatherings where he cannot eat a single item from the spread. This makes him so sad that it brings tears to my eyes seeing him endure  the social trauma. Till last year, I would hesitate requesting our host if they could have something for Arjun to eat. Then I decided to be upfront with my request.  Here are my reasons for this approach:

  • It is unfair of me to expect the host to remember in a big holiday gathering. Most people are considerate and if we give them advance notice they would be happy to oblige.
  • After all, we invite people and spend days cooking prior to that so that all our guests (even the littlest ones) can enjoy and appreciate.
  •  We live in a society where we offer a ‘choice’ even about basic foods like the type of creamer and sweetening agent in our hot beverage – tea, coffee, cocoa or the amount of salt and pepper in dishes. A food allergy is a life-threatening condition. It is not unreasonable to expect a ‘choice’ in such a situation.
  • When entertaining, all of us do consider the cultural sentiments of our guests. If there is a vegetarian in our midst, we ensure that there is at least one dish he/she can eat. So, why should food allergies be any different?
  • We do take into consideration adult health conditions like diabetes, hypertension et al when cooking for our guests.  Here we are talking not only about a life threatening condition but also about young children – the future of our civilization. 
  • It is understandable that some of us are apprehensive about taking on the risk of serving something that might cause a severe reaction in someone with known food allergies. Hence, we might opt to take the easier route and not serve anything to such people. But, we as a society cannot be so afraid of doing the right thing and more importantly, the onus of responsibility is on the allergy sufferer/ caretaker. As a host one can only offer choices. Allergy sufferers understand that!

The direct approach has helped in most cases but there is always the outlier! How does one deal with it? Should I still attend such gatherings because of social pressures and end up miserable on an otherwise happy occasion? Or, should I politely refuse if the host is unable to oblige thus shielding my son from the trauma that might have a long-term impact?

This is a very emotional post for me because my heart struggles with my rational side when I see my son suffer. So, I would love to hear from other allergy sufferers/ caretakers on how they handle this emotionally draining experience. I would also love tohear from others just so, people on this side of the fence can see things from a different perspective. That may help us handle the situation better.

My parting thought…is it too much to expect that we should be a little considerate to other people’s needs especially if they are serious whenever reasonably possible? I think ‘not’ – I want to believe that we are humane enough to be able to think beyond ourselves and our own in small ways.

6 thoughts on “Emotional Challenges of Holiday Gatherings…”

  1. I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on a host. What if they haven’t read the ingredients carefully? What if there’s some accidental cross contamination? My son is the only kid in his class with a food allergy. It’s hard to be the only kid but I try to have the attitude that it’s just a fact, the way it is, not an unfairness — and hope he’ll view it the same way.

    We recently moved and went to our new church’s holiday bazaar. I was very pleased to see that many of the baked goods had ingredient labels on them. Many times my son and I pass on food because we’re not sure what’s in it.

    Thank you for your blog — it’s the only place I’ve seen flax seed allergies discussed.

    1. Thank you Beth – your words are much appreciated.
      You are right – I do try to approach the issue in a matter of fact way. Though it does get to me when those close to the allergy-sufferer dont even want to make an effort.

  2. Anu, nice thoughtful post…I admit that the ‘eat-everything-and-survive-Bihari’ in me cannot even comprehend such a situation where a re-used spoon of peanut butter could actually mean hospitalization for a five-year old kid…
    Don’t really know how far one would trust the hosts to keep the food safe for a child with allergies. I would say the assurance of knowing your child is safe would be worth the trauma he might go through watching his friends wade into those brownies…

    1. Thanks Chetan 🙂 Over time, Arjun has outgrown some of his allergies and a little bit of cross-contamination will probably not be deadly with the exception of all nuts.
      I may choose to not offer Arjun anything for the reasons you have mentioned but when someone very close to him doesn’t even make the effort to make something for him – that gets me! Have we as a society become so self-centered?! Then why do we even bother to host gatherings?

  3. Good post Anu. If the host cannot prepare any allergy friendly items, the host should inform you a priori. This is what we would have done had the situation been reversed. This prevents the guest from being hungry !

  4. Hi anu, I’m first timer to your site. My 10 yr. old have many food allergies. It does get difficult when they can’t eat anything but rice in the parties that too many a times have nuts. When ever I have guests over & if kids(guest) don’t eat anything from the food I’m making I always make sure that I have something specially made for their kids. So it’s difficult for me to understand why other hosts can’t do little extra effort. for allergy reasons I always avoided parties but host most of them at my place instead….it’s difficult for me to see everytime at b’day parties all the kids enjoying cake & she’s the only one who is just looking & on top of that host asking “Oh she won’t eat”….I always felt like saying “Yay, U guys don’t even remember that one of your guest is allergic to eggs”. Anyways this is going to be ongoing problem as once they start school, it’s sometime difficult to make other parents understand that there are other allergies also and not only the peanuts. I wish all the schools had ban on b’day parties in the school. Btw i’m also in NJ.

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