Friday, October 17, 2008

Why can't I eat what the other kids can eat?

The theme continues... there seems to be so many questions coming from Ella, these days. The hardest one to explain is "Why can't I eat what the other kids can eat?" Next Wednesday Ella's school will begin offering lunch to the children on Wednesdays. Last year this meal included basic, kid fare like Mac & Cheese, Chicken Nuggets, Pasta and Quesadillas. This year they are trying out a new service that offers healthy, organic lunches. After reading the menus for the next few weeks, I thought that it might be worth letting Ella try it. My thought is that she can eat most of the stuff the other kids eat (like fruits and veggies, cheeses and juices) and then I would send along a substitute for the things that she cannot eat. Next week they are having "Stackers" which means multi-grain crackers with cheese and turkey. There are some amazing Glutino (gluten-free) crackers that we have been devouring, and they would be an easy swap. Everything else being offered is Ella -safe. FINALLY, a chance for a little normalcy in her life. That was, until I got a call from her school today telling me that the man who owns the company that prepares the food, does not feel comfortable serving any child that has been prescribed an epi-pen. Ugh! So I was told to call the owner on his cell phone so that we could discuss Ella's situation and possibly come to a compromise about her lunch. These are the kinds of hoops we must go through on a daily basis. If you are reading this and your child is free of food allergies, please know how incredibly blessed you are just for the simple fact that you will never have to spend time engaging in one of these types of conversations. I have started to feel like every meal is a battle. It has become a delicate balancing act for everyone involved. I understand this man's position, truly. How horrible would it be for him to serve a lunch to a child and have them go into anaphylaxis? I know how annoying we must be to everyone, including the staff at her school. Our problem has become their problem. Thankfully, everyone loves Ella and seems to be committed to making her life as happy as possible. For me it is easy, in a way. She is my child, after all. And let me also point out that she is not the only one in the school who has these issues. I got to see the list of children in her school who have allergies. On average, there are 3 children, per class, with food allergies at her school. Each class has between 9 and 12 kids. That is either 1/3 or 1/4 of the children. Talk about an epidemic. I happen to know the parents of 3 of those children. None of their families have histories of food allergies. What is going on? This is madness. As a consequence and it happens to benefit us, the teachers and administrators are now well versed in caring for such children.

Anyway, back to my conversation with the owner of the food company. After 15 minutes of chatting (at times, I felt like I was negotiating a peace treaty) we finally came to a solution. Ella can eat her boxed lunch, as long as I provide an alternative wheat-free option. But if she has any adverse reaction, he is unwilling to take responsibility. My biggest fear is that she will consume a pistachio, but he has promised me that they will NEVER use any pistachios or pistachio products. But he also mentioned that most of the foods that they use have been processed on equipment shared by common allergens. For me, that is acceptable.

It is a bit of a roll of the dice. But it is no different than anything that we buy from Trader Joe's, whose foods carry similar warnings. And we also are taking our chances every time we eat out. It is scary. But I want her to feel like a normal kid. That, to me, is worth the gamble.

For now, she can eat with her friends. Fingers are crossed as I knock on wood :)

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