Food Allergy Advocate and Blogger, Nut Free Wok
FoodASC Member since 2016
Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in food allergies, asthma, and eczema.
When my children were babies, I kept asking our former pediatricians why they had eczema, why they had such terrible and long lasting colds, why they kept throwing up and eating only specific foods. My questions were rebuffed and dismissed time after time. It was a terrible experience.
While their harshest words were unacceptable, they spurred me to advocate for my children by seeking help from others and finding different doctors. When we finally received better care and accurate diagnoses, I read and learned what I needed to know to manage my children’s medical conditions.
Please tell us about your website, Nut Free Wok.
My blog, Nut Free Wok,is all about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I share my family’s favorite recipes and my experiences as an allergy mom to encourage others to manage their lives with food allergies and to enable readers to enjoy Asian food in a careful and allergy aware manner.
Describe a challenging experience you had related to food allergies and your lessons learned.
My younger son had a high of 30+ different food allergies plus environmental and contact allergies. He also had a history of reacting to traces of nuts in the air or food, which meant that he was highly sensitive to his allergens and a tiny exposure was enough to send him to the ER or require epinephrine.
I could be 1000% vigilant about the foods he eats but have absolutely no control over the air or what people eat or do around him. It was impossible to keep him safe without a lot of support and understanding of everyone around him.
In the midst of this struggle, I learned to cook a variety of foods while on the go, while camping, in hotels and in foreign countries for my family as well as others.
I learned to speak up for my son and ask for help when necessary.
I found my voice and my community.
Describe a rewarding experience you had related to food allergies.
I think asking for help with my son’s food allergies and being accepting of unknowns associated with food allergy research led us to Dr. Kari Nadeau and her research at Stanford University. My son’s clinical trial experiences have been life changing for our family. We are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the food allergy treatment answers for future generations.
What motivates you to do what you do?
I do what I do as an act of community service and compassion for others. I’ve advocated fiercely for my children when they’ve been teased, excluded, and/or threatened. Not only have we have survived, we have thrived and have great encouragement and hope to share with others.
On the other hand, I have friends who have lost children to food allergies and their stories are sober reminders that food allergies are no joke. We have to share our stories and experiences to help others take food allergies seriously and to save lives.
Do you have a go-to resource? If so, what is it and why is it useful?
In my early days of managing food allergies, I read food allergy related books written by respected allergists because those were the only resources available. Nowadays in addition to the trusted books authored by allergists, I also read content from food allergy non-profits with a medical advisory board as well as articles from JACI, AAAAI, and ACAAI.
What do you wish other people knew about food allergies and what’s one action that can be performed to increase knowledge and awareness in the general population?
I wish that people knew that some food allergic individuals can die from their food allergies and that the precautions we take to keep them safe is a matter of life or death. It’s vitally important that they always carry their epinephrine and emergency medications, read ingredient labels, and be aware of cross-contact. They need to feel included and accepted and we can help them by supporting and encouraging best practices and not tease them or joke about their allergies.
One way to become more empathetic is to try to live one aspect of life with food allergies for a week. For example, to understand what it’s like to have access to epi 24/7, tie a couple of fat markers together and carry them in your pocket or purse. Another way to relate to someone with a food allergy is to avoid their allergen for a week. Try baking cookies without eggs, butter, flour, and nuts.
What advice would you give to someone just embarking upon this journey?
The most important thing to remember is to always have access to your epinephrine auto-injector 24/7, know when and how to use it.
Ask a lot of questions, because that is how you learn, but be careful of whom you ask and what resources you trust.
Determine whether the person is qualified to answer your questions. Can you verify what they say with other resources?
Be aware of any negative feelings (anxious, guilty, fearful, pressure) because that is when you need to trust that you are the expert about yourself or your loved one. You are doing the best you can.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
My most requested recipe is Peanut-Free Pad Thai. Even though it seems simple to leave out the peanuts, my recipe is allergy aware Asian fare adapted and includes suggestions on how to make the dish gluten-free, egg free, shellfish free, soy free, etc.
I do take recipe requests. I put a lot of care into developing recipes so it may take me awhile to publish a recipe because I’m a busy mom too.
Please visit www.nutfreewok.com or chat with me on your favorite social media platform @nutfreewok.
Thank you Sharon for being part of our Member Spotlight! Have any more questions for Sharon? Ask them in the comments below.
Member Spotlight is our new monthly column in which we interview FoodASC members to highlight their businesses, publications and personal experiences. If you are interested in being featured or nominating another member for the spotlight, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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