What do a nerdy kid from Oklahoma, a confident musician from Virginia, and a laid-back athlete from California all have in common?
They were all in Washington D.C. from November 13 to 15 for the 10th Annual FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) Teen Summit.
Every year, hundreds of teens with food allergies gather for this three-day meeting, which is an incredible opportunity to learn some things about food allergies. For example, Virginia junior Sean McGraw feels that by attending the Teen Summit, “I’ve learned how to better prepare myself for the future.”
Now, we’ve all heard the statistics of food allergies, but something that’s a lot harder to process for us teens is the fact that there are actually others out there who must contend with the same condition that we have.
Before I attended the summit for the first time this year, I honestly felt like the only person in the entire world with food allergies. There are several places where food allergies are incredibly uncommon, and those of us who live in those places can at times feel isolated and hopeless.
So imagine how surprising it was to discover that enough of us had gathered at the summit to set a Guinness World Record – for the largest allergy awareness lesson. Picture 389 people, over half of them teenagers, all congregating in a single location to attend a lesson on food allergy awareness.
Even more incredible, these people hailed from 33 different states. Together, this diverse group spent 45 minutes learning about how food allergies work, and listening to other teens share their food allergy stories.
And, we teens often got to eat out together. Back home, it’s always difficult when I eat out with my friends, as I have to call over the manager and possibly even have to bring my own food. However, at the summit, I dined with others who also had food allergies.
The experience was so relaxing and liberating, and was another way of bonding with my new friends. I wasn’t embarrassed to talk to the manager – because everyone at my table had to talk to him as well.
The Teen Summit is a unique kind of place. The kind where Rhode Island junior Madi Kelly says she can “use food allergies as an icebreaker.”
It’s the kind of place where those of us who have been ostracized or bullied can find solace in the experiences of others. It’s the kind of place where even an unqualified kid like me can give a speech and have people listen and relate to it.
So, what did I learn at the FARE Teen Summit?
I learned that we are not alone in our plight, that the world is full of other wonderful teens with food allergies, and that friendship, solidarity, and maybe even something deeper are all out there just waiting for us to find them.
Michael Mandanas, age 15, is a member of FARE’s Teen Advisory Group from Edmond, Oklahoma. He has multiple food allergies.