The Mango Wars: Part I

In a recent trip to West Palm Beach, Florida I was surrounded by mango margaritas, mango salsa, mango puree, mango shooters, and yes, raw mangoes. For a mango allergen like me, it was a war zone where no one could fall on the anaphylactic grenade for me.
 
When I was three or four my parents took me to the local Greek festival. Amidst the wonderful desserts were Kourabiedes, a Greek walnut-flavored cookie. After eating one I turned red and began having trouble breathing. Not long after I was diagnosed with a nut and mango allergy. Strangely, mangoes are in the same family as cashews.
 
The 1990s was not an allergen-friendly time. Unlike today, food allergies were not common knowledge and warning against cross-contamination seemed like a mantra only my mother and my allergist practiced. As one of two students who wore a Medic Alert bracelet through grade school, not many of my peers understood the danger in eating trail mix at a sleepover and then sharing toys. Thankfully, mangoes only became popular in New England when I was in high school and old enough to identify them myself.
 

As a series on this blog, I’d like to use The Mango Wars as an opportunity to see the people behind the allergy and have them share their stories about diagnosis and how they live their day-to-day lives as highly allergic people.

 

The Mango Wars: Part I
Meet Christine from Greenfield, MA*. Christine has an allergy to peanuts, nuts, and seafood. She thinks the best way to live safely with food allergies is to disclose them, “immediately and assertively.”

FG: When were you diagnosed with these allergies?
C: I was diagnosed with my peanut and nut allergy when I was a baby, and I was diagnosed with my seafood allergy just a few years ago.

FG: How do you combat your allergies?
C: I am very careful—I always read ingredient labels and inform waiters/waitresses of my allergies when ordering at restaurants. If I’m not sure what’s in a food, or I’m the least bit nervous, I don’t eat it.

FG: Do your allergies require you to carry an EpiPen, or any other emergency treatment?
C: Yes, I carry two EpiPens.

FG: What precautions do you take when eating in restaurants or other public places?
C: I always inform the waiter/waitress of my allergies. If it’s a new or different restaurant, or an event with catering, I’ll call ahead. I used to feel awkward and uncomfortable about all of this; I am introverted and tend to play my cards pretty close to the vest, at least initially. However, I’ve had to learn to be assertive and stand up for myself, and this has gotten much easier as I’ve gotten older. I’ve learned that in the case of food allergies, the best thing is to disclose immediately and assertively.

My friends also know about my allergies and are very supportive.

FG: How do you teach people about the severity of your allergies and the dangers of cross-contamination?
C: I tell them that I have severe food allergies. Usually people are pretty receptive and restaurants are getting better, though I have experienced situations where people don’t take it seriously, including caterers. In those cases, I either don’t attend the event or I don’t eat the food.

I would much rather play it safe than take an unnecessary risk, though I do always try to do everything I can to be able to attend, and eat the food, safely.

FG: When eating at a dinner party how do you bring up your allergies to the host beforehand?

C: I get in touch with them before the event; I try to be polite, but clear and firm. Sometimes if it’s an event with just cocktails and appetizers, I’ll just have a drink and skip the food instead of getting in touch beforehand.

FG: Have you ever ingested something contaminated with these foods? If so, how did you react?
C: I have eaten something I was allergic to and suffered an anaphylactic reaction. I also suffered mild PTSD symptoms after my last severe reaction which was (thankfully and knock on wood!) more than 10 years ago. Though I was young during my last reaction, I knew what was going on immediately – it’s not a feeling you are unsure about or could forget, though it is hard to describe.

FG: On a lighter note: what are your favorite nut free recipes?
C: I am not much of a cook or baker, but I really like and appreciate peanut-free and nut-free brands, such as Vermont Nut Free Chocolate and School Safe Snacks.

I also try to keep up with what the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is doing. I find the research very interesting, especially research on the psychology of having food allergies and experiencing a reaction. I also admire and appreciate the importance of the advocacy work being done.

 

 

* Some names and locations in this post were changed due to privacy concerns.

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