When Culture and Food Allergies Collide

When Culture and Food Allergies Collide

There’s an unfortunate stereotype that exists in the minds of people who aren’t familiar with food allergies: “It’s a phenomenon that only affects rich white kids, whose parents spoil them and their picky eating.”

It’s enough to make us food allergy parents want to rip our hair out! But raise your hand if you’ve ever encountered a similar attitude from someone … it’s sadly common.

This stereotype can even come from family members and close friends.

When you ask for a simple change to a traditional family dish before a get-together, you might be met with a prickly response such as: “We have always eaten this way. Why do you have to make things so difficult?”

If you have family members who do not seem to understand the severity of food allergies, try to set up a time for your allergist to speak with them, either in person or over the phone. Sometimes people will listen to an authority figure.

Food Allergy Data May Be a Little Skewed

Food allergy studies could be improved in one significant way in order to reflect the fact that food allergies affect everyone: detailed demographic data.

For example, studies that finally focused on diverse demographics and actually evaluated the demographic data have revealed a significant increase in the incidence of food allergies among Asian Americans versus the population as a whole. Asian Americans are 30 percent more likely to have a peanut allergy than the general population, and yet they are also 30 percent less likely to receive a diagnosis.

And that’s just taking into account research from U.S.-based institutions. In some countries, the incidence of food allergies is virtually undocumented. But that doesn’t mean people in those countries aren’t suffering from food allergies or experiencing anaphylactic reactions.

Language and Cultural Barriers

For first-generation immigrants, the language barrier can be a significant source of frustration when trying to learn how to read labels, asking for special accommodations in restaurants, understanding the doctor’s instructions, calling for emergency assistance, speaking with school nurses, etc.

A bilingual guide is an immense help in such situations, ensuring that all families have access to information and care.

Some food allergy parents take it upon themselves to become an advocate in their community, filling a role that is sorely needed. But in some cultures, being outspoken for change is frowned upon, and advocacy is even more challenging than one might think.

For people who have to avoid certain food allergens or suffer the (sometimes fatal) consequences, navigating cultural differences and suspicious attitudes can turn into a daily battle. The constant vigilance can sometimes be fatiguing, but raising awareness for food allergies is vital for the safety and wellbeing of your own children and any other children in your community who may be diagnosed with food allergies.

Please see our resource section for tools that can help you educate friends and family members about food allergy safety.

Have you encountered any culture-based difficulties during your food allergy journey? Share your experiences with the My Kids’ Food Allergies community below!


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