This classic Norman Rockwell painting certainly shows the ideal Thanksgiving meal--everyone anxiously anticipating the feast with a smile and a feeling of goodwill towards all at the table.
Obviously, many families don't meet the Rockwell ideal. They struggle with personality clashes, unresolved arguments and other emotional issues that seem to surface at the table along with the Thanksgiving meal. Even more complicated: What if you are the parent of a child with food allergies? Or you have them yourself? If your family is anything less than perfect (and truly, who has perfect relationships with everyone in their family) food allergies present a whole new way for relations to fight.
This is not a topic that is covered often and mainly because it is an awkward conversation to have. Too often the food-allergic (and their parents) are meant to feel as if they are taking away from the feast, the fun and the tradition if they ask for a certain food to be eliminated from the menu. This is especially difficult at Thanksgiving because the "traditional meal" is so iconic to everyone's idea about what Thanksgiving "should" be.
I've had so many people speak to me about in-laws, grandparents and other extended family members who just refuse to accept food allergies during the holidays. They're determined to serve that pecan pie or walnut-laden turkey stuffing despite the fact that their child, nephew or niece, grandson or granddaughter will be unable to partake of a large portion of the feast. Not only that, the presence of certain foods throughout the kitchen and the home may pose too much of a risk to a highly-allergic person. This is hard. What do you do?
First of all, try to remember the reason for Thanksgiving and the fact that you are in the driver's seat with your child's health and of course your own. If you are not getting reasonable accommodation--and by that I mean, a main course safe for your child or at least an effort to lessen food allergy reaction risks--then you may have to say "We can't make it this year."
Will this anger some family members? Probably, but that's really not your problem. Your problem is health. That's not to say that you close yourself off, shut down the communication and refuse to accept anything less than a full conformity to your rules. Compromise is key here.
One of the first things to consider is that the family members in question may not understand the very real danger of food allergies and that a severe reaction may cause death. When you live with this every day, it's hard to imagine someone won't get this but of course, many don't "get" it. Educate them. Show them this blog, the FAAN site and any information you doctor has given you. Share the details of your child's allergic reaction, if they've had one. Explain what can happen if an allergic person eats a certain food. Explain cross-contact. I talk more about how to do this here.
You won't be able to make inroads with everyone and in this way, you may also need to accept a less than "perfect" Thanksgiving. Family ties are important and so is health. You shouldn't have to choose between the two, but there are times that you will have to make that choice.
Even if you find yourself opting out of a feast this year or part of a feast, consider hosting your family in the future, where you will control the food. Try to keep family in the fold, because this is really what Thanksgiving is all about. Not pecan pie. Not pumpkin walnut bread pudding or pine nut bread stuffing.
Also, Allergic Living magazine will be featuring the topic of family feuds and food allergies at the holidays in their upcoming Winter issue. Stay tuned to their web site for details--today is the last day to subscribe in order to receive the Winter 2011 issue, so head over there! I'm a subscriber and it's a such a wonderful resource.
If you have Thanksgiving tales to share, good or bad, we'd love to hear them.