Dietician + Wife + Marketer + Food Allergy Expert
by Christina Byrnes, Head of Market Activation at SAFE + FAIR
The basis of my food allergy knowledge is very scientific. I first learned about them when I decided to switch careers and left my life in marketing to pursue my Master’s in Nutrition. We learned all about IgE-automated responses and what happens within the body when a reaction occurs. I knew how severe allergies could be, but as often is the case with science, it was from a technical, impersonal perspective.
After I graduated, I started working for a food service company at a school. A large part of my job was ensuring that all of the allergy kiddos could eat safely. I trained my staff extensively on the dangers of cross-contamination and also made sure to prepare every plate for these kids myself, since I had more knowledge on the subject than the others.
Around this time, I started dating someone, who I would later marry. He was a great guy, but there was a caveat--I could never eat peanuts again! That’s right, I found one of the few from my generation with an anaphylactic peanut allergy, and all of the sudden, my scientific knowledge transformed into something incredibly personal. Thankfully, I was already a fan of sunflower seed butter before I met Jeff. (After meeting him, I of course had to change brands due to risk of cross contamination!) As a dietitian, I was always looking at food labels, but now, someone I cared for dearly was dependent on my attention to detail.
Despite growing up at a time when most people were unaware of what a food allergy was and how severe it could be, Jeff lived a very normal life and managed to stay relatively safe, only having two anaphylactic reactions before turning 30. Unfortunately, since meeting me, despite people being more aware of food allergies now, he has had just as many reactions.
When he puts something in his mouth that doesn’t taste quite right and immediately gets a tingly feeling, everything changes. The feeling I get is awful and indescribable, but I can only imagine what he is feeling. Sometimes it is nothing, maybe something with too much sesame or cashews (both of which remind him of peanuts) but sometimes it’s the real thing.
I hope that when we start having kids, they defy the odds and are food-allergy-free, but I fear that may not be the case. I think I can relate to food-allergy parents, but in reality, I know their experience is on another level entirely. Jeff knows how to keep himself safe, he is in control of his allergy, and I did not have to help him get to that place.
I feel so grateful that I get to share our story with the food-allergy community in my role as Head of Market Activation with SAFE + FAIR. I love hearing other people’s stories and working to increase allergy awareness. It is hard to get someone who does not have that personal connection to food allergies to understand them since there are so many unknowns, but I have hope that one day, we will be able to do just that!