I’m a library junkie, which is where I stumbled onto Sandra Beasley’s “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life”, and I was instantly intrigued.
The title, first of all, is brilliant. Seriously. It’s witty and morbidly funny. Morbid is my favorite kind of funny.
And the cover…who couldn’t like the cover? Seriously - a skull in the cupcake. Friggin brilliant!
The title and cover image say it all. Food allergies kill. A simple treat can turn into a nightmarish, near death experience. Every occasion is a cause for anxiety and worry for those with food allergies and their parents.
Sandra’s story is one of lifelong food allergy experience. She’s been allergic to multiple foods, including dairy, soy, mango, and beef, for as long as she can remember. She had these allergies well before food labeling laws were put into affect, before special food allergy tables were put in the school lunch rooms, and before anaphylaxis was part of the everyday American’s vocabulary.
And yet, she managed to survive!
How did this happen? Well, Sandra admits several close calls, some of which were pure accident and others, well, downright stupid risks taken by a headstrong teenager.
It’s an autobiography charting her life from grade school until the present day. It chronicles her journey through school, parties, family vacations, relationships, and her experience being known as “The Fish Girl” in the college cafeteria.
Yes. The staff at the college cafeteria really called her “Fish Girl”. I’ll give you 3 guesses as to why.
The book started out a bit slow for me, so I was honestly a little bored at first. However, I got into it after a few pages and had a difficult time putting it down again. I was grateful I didn’t have to return it the very next day only to bring you a review of “I couldn’t even get through it, because it was so damned awful!”
No, it wasn’t awful.
It was brilliant.
The part of the book that sticks out with me the most is her admission that she is actually against banning specific foods on airplanes. She said that her life revolves around her food allergies, but the world doesn’t revolve around her. She admits that while many children seem to have anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions to peanuts, she’s not convinced that these are true allergies or a conditioned emotional response to knowing that peanuts are nearby.
What I got from the story was that some people, rather than having a true allergic reaction, are simply having a panic attack. I have some experience with this, as I once seemed to be allergic to everything I put into my mouth. Of course, I wasn’t allergic to all foods. Rather, my emotions ran so high that my histamine levels went through the roof. Everything I ate, my tongue and throat would begin to swell. It was anxiety, and nothing more.
It’s an interesting theory, but one I’m unable to truly verify. It’s difficult to differentiate between a psychosomatic reaction to something and a true reaction, as they look and feel the same. The end result is the same: sheer terror, airways constricting, pending sense of doom and death.
Many people want to ban peanuts on planes. Based on the data I’ve been given, this is a good idea since some people have airborne reactions to peanuts as well as skin reactions. A simple touch of a peanut shell or inhaling peanut residue from a freshly opened bag of peanuts can send some people with severe peanut allergies into anaphylactic shock.
However, Sandra’s claim is that, with her multiple food allergies, the only safe and easy thing left for her mother to pack for her on long trips was, you guessed it, peanut butter. In the long list of allergies Sandra Beasley has had in her life, peanuts have never been one of them. Without peanut butter, Sandra and her mother would’ve been even more limited in finding something that was both safe and affordable for her to eat while flying.
It’s an interesting concept that I think most parents of food allergic children tend to forget. You’re not the only one with food allergies, and other people have allergies to foods that you aren’t allergic to and vice versa.
She goes on to say that, she sometimes smells a strong cheese and becomes incredibly nauseous and sometimes even vomits. However, she doesn’t expect anyone to ban dairy products on planes or in schools. That would be outrageous! If we banned every single type of food that people could be allergic to, what would be left? It’s a serious question we all need to ask ourselves. It’s not very practical.
I understand where she’s coming from. Her point of view makes sense. However, I’m inclined to say that there’s a big difference between puking your guts out because you inhaled an airborne allergen and having your airway close down completely to the point that you can no longer breathe and you’re suffocating.
However, as I said before, Sandra believes that it’s possible that these people aren’t really all that allergic. They just need to learn not to panic when they smell peanuts.
At least, that’s what I got from this particular chapter.
I see both sides of this argument. I have no personal experience with such severe allergies, so I am unable to comment on the validity of her claim. I can see how it could be true, but I’m sure parents of a severely peanut allergic child, like the one in Florida that other parents protested when the school made several accommodations for her, would strongly disagree.
Aside from the psychosomatic reaction Sandra believes most people have to the smell of their offending food allergen, she also believes that most parents these days are way too protective of their children…on the verge of paranoia when it comes to keeping these foods from their children. It’s currently being suggested by doctors and other experts that keeping our children from foods like peanuts and tree nuts at an early age increases the risk of them developing an allergy. Could it also be true that, keeping the children as far away from foods they are already allergic to could be making them even more allergic?
It’s possible. And I will cover why I believe this to be a possibility in a future post. What we do know now is that the old (and when I say old, I mean 7 years ago, because this was the advice given to me) advice of “if the allergy runs in the family, don’t consume it at all during pregnancy and nursing, and don’t give it to the child in the first 3 years of life” is no longer the recommendation according to Sandra’s book.
Bottom line: I learned a lot of facts about the history of food labeling, the changes in food recommendations in order to protect the food allergic community, a few theories on why food allergies are increasing, and opinions I didn’t expect from a food allergic individual.
On the whole, I would say the book was refreshing, insightful, and logically opinionated with factual data to back up everything she expressed in the book.
Kudos to Sandra Beasley and “Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life”.
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