College Year One: Success With a Side of Food Allergy ‘Jokes’

in College Corner, Managing Allergies

Hannah3Hannah Lank exploring Toronto's waterfront.
Year one of college and living on my own with food allergies = complete! Has it been that different from living at home with food allergies? In many ways no, but in other ways yes, and very much so.

When I moved from my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba to Toronto for university, I left behind a support system of family and friends who understood my food allergies very well, knew where I could and couldn’t eat, and where I kept my auto-injectors on me. I had to rebuild all of this in Toronto, where I knew no one, and no one knew about my allergies.

Overall, I had a great year. Academically it was a success, and I made a great group of friends, who in turn learned about my allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, and help me manage them. But it hasn’t all been smooth-sailing, and I’ve had a few incidents that never happened to me in high school, and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to deal with them. I learned from them for sure, but at the time, was a little taken aback.

Group Avoidance – No Thanks!

For example, the evening that my friends and I went out for dinner to celebrate a birthday. After enjoying a delicious caprese salad and some gnocchi, it was time for dessert. Like most food-allergic individuals, I’m used to skipping this course. It’s always a “may contain” situation, and while that frustrates me sometimes, I’m used to it. This time, however, after asking if the dessert was safe for me to eat, and finding out (as usual) that it was not, one friend declared for the whole table that we would all pass on dessert – even though a number of my other friends were eagerly hoping to order.

Hannah1On a visit to Harvard University, fulfilling the tradition of rubbing the foot of John Harvard.
While I appreciated my friend not wanting to make me feel left out, I could also see that my other friends were a bit disappointed. Support is super important when you have food allergies, but having someone else decide what you’re comfortable dealing with as a food-allergic person is not the same thing. Although I insisted the rest of them go ahead and order, and that I was quite fine with not ordering dessert, ultimately we all just passed on the sweets.

This incident stuck with me. While I’m used to having my peanut and nut allergies limit what I can eat, other people aren’t, and when they’re suddenly denied that unrestricted access, sometimes they blame the food-allergic person. I didn’t want my friends to think that my food allergies should hold them back from eating what they want. If they decided to restrict their diets around me, that’s their choice, but it’s not something that I require for my condition or want to force upon anyone.

One thing I haven’t had to deal with this year is food allergy bullying, which is a major issue for many youth in elementary and high school. But I have had to deal with something similar, and that’s when people think they can make jokes about food allergies.

College Year One: Dealing with Allergy ‘Jokes’  

For reasons I certainly don’t understand, some people seem to think the idea of an allergic reaction, and all the symptoms that come with it (swelling, itching, hives, trouble breathing, etc.) are funny – while I don’t. I think a lot of this comes from television; just the other day I was watching an Amy Schumer skit and was very disappointed to find out that a peanut allergy was the basis for the punchline.

In university, I’ve heard jokes ranging from the typical to the sexually explicit (commenting on my allergy to “nuts,” if you catch the innuendo). It’s not that my friends don’t understand my food allergies or don’t care; I know they do. A lot of it is propagated in the media, and I think a lot of it also comes from trying to make light of a serious situation, because they’re uncomfortable dealing with the severity of my food allergies.

It doesn’t really upset me so much as it frustrates me to hear these “jokes.” The best way I’ve learned how to deal with them is not to laugh. I either brush them off or say, curtly, that I don’t find that funny.

Really, though, I had a good year one of college dealing with my food allergies. Food allergies are a part of who I am, and I think people who know me understand and accept that. Not once have my food allergies stopped me from doing what I want to do – and that’s because I don’t see any reason why they should. I’ve traveled, gone to parties, explored, and made so many amazing memories, and I’m looking forward to three more years of doing the same!

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College & Cross-Contamination: Navigating Food Allergies on Campus