As a four-year-old Buddy, from Uncasville, Conn., was diagnosed with a chocolate and cocoa allergy. He vividly remembers returning home after trick-or-treating each Halloween and forking over his chocolate candy in exchange for his sisters fruit-flavored sweets. This is his allergen story.
How do you combat your allergy?
I avoid anything that looks like it could contain chocolate or cocoa byproducts, but this doesn’t mean I don’t read every package or label I can get my hands on! Cocoa can appear in the oddest places, for color or flavor. If I’m not careful, I could accidentally set off an anaphylactic reaction.
Does your allergy require you to carry an EpiPen, or any other emergency treatment?
I carry an EpiPen on me, or in close proximity to me, when I travel. I take great care not to cross-contaminate in my own house, however, I keep an EpiPen in my medicine cabinet should that happen.
What precautions do you take when eating in restaurants or other public places?
I make sure to read menus thoroughly. If I’m unsure, I ask about the ingredients. Cocoa is present in a lot of Mexican and South American dishes, mole sauce uses cocoa for flavor and color, so I try to avoid anything along those lines.
How do you teach people about the severity of your allergy and the dangers of cross-contamination?
I find people are interested when I talk about my allergy. A lot of people are taken aback when I tell them I have a cocoa allergy. I’ve heard everything from “I cannot believe you can’t eat that!” to “You’re kidding me!” It’s a tough situation, but there are more and more people with different food allergies, and the need to understand creates a much-needed dialogue.
When eating at a dinner party how do you bring up your allergies to the host beforehand?
I tend to ask a lot of questions beforehand about what will be prepared and when. I’m vigilant because if cross-contamination happens I will get sick. For example, utensils used to make something with cocoa need to be cleaned before they touch anything else. It helps if I can take part in the preparation; just to make sure that no cross-contamination occurs.
Have you ever ingested something contaminated with chocolate? If so, how did you react?
I made myself sick a number of years ago at a chain restaurant. The ground beef was flavored with coca, among other seasonings.
I started to feel ill, and one of the first signs I knew something was wrong was that my face started feeling very hot and I had trouble breathing. I was able to get my EpiPen and hit myself with it. I then went to the hospital for observation. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
On a lighter note, what are your favorite non-cocoa recipes?
I have a major sweet tooth and yearn for chocolate chip cookies or brownies. I do have a substitute – carob or St. John’s Bread.
Carob is a Mediterranean bean that has a similar color and taste to chocolate. Carob brownies are delicious, and you can substitute carob one-to-one in place of cocoa powder in any recipe. It’s healthier too! Most health food stores, including Whole Foods, carry carob powder. Try it sometime and see the difference!