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  • Writer's pictureArul Nigam

Thanksgiving 2016 Part 2: How Food Allergies Build Character and Make You a Stronger Person

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Food in diverse cultures gets interesting as you move beyond mere sustenance to the ‘paradox of plenty.’

The scintillating aroma of the turkey, pecan pie, mashed potatoes, and the numerous other dishes that go on to making a Thanksgiving Day feast, are a reflection of the hosts’ warmth and hospitality.

While the ambiance is always refreshing, it is the bounteous food that can be intimidating for someone with food allergies.

As a teen or a young adult, the hosts’ fervor for one to sample countless appetizers, the feast at the Thanksgiving table leave one torn. It is a balancing act between saying a polite no to the hosts’ generosity or becoming very sick.

As a food allergy advocate, I cannot reiterate enough that when it comes time to confront a situation where you are unsure of the allergy friendliness of any food item, you MUST speak up.

Striving to understand the multifarious questions people have about food allergies, evaluating and responding in the most accurate and convincing manner, and learning to tactfully and respectfully condemn skepticism, while engaging with the host and politely advocating and reiterating choices you are making is absolutely essential in building a safe environment for yourself.

While food allergies seem and, to an extent, are an impediment in one’s ability to freely explore food culture, or dine at parties or banquets, I have come to discover a hidden positivity- It better equips one to build strong and ethical communication skills.

In order to be safe you have to say it as it is – honestly, accurately with a genuine reason namely, the specific allergy and its implications.

Being honest and unpretentious is a skill that will serve you well in all walks of life.

Consider another scenario: You are out dining with friends at a new restaurant, a test of your ability to be proactive and judicious. For someone with nut allergies a scoop of plain ice cream seems innocuous. Yet you aren’t sure of the risks of cross contamination. “Temperance” here is the key.

The word “temperance” comes from the Latin word Temperantia which means self-control. So when you say no to the ice cream it goes much beyond than the just not eating element. It represents self-restraint in actions and in speech.

In a dynamic world of a teenager with varying scenarios, be it a field trip, camping with your Scout Troop, attending a wedding reception, staying away from home at college or attending a party, the changing environment teaches persistence in problem solving, adaptability, resourcefulness and diligence to determine safe dining options. With advocating, some planning and empowering others around about your allergies you will almost never go hungry. While it may not always be something that you truly enjoy eating, contentment may come with some fortitude but is so instrumental in teaching resilience and grit.

Travelling abroad opens a new plethora of excitement. The trail blazer in you will raise curiosity, that sense of wonder and optimism knowing that cultural nuances will impact your dietary restrictions strengthens positivity of character, the respect for diversity and courage to take on the challenge.

To embrace a struggle and to extrapolate it to make you stronger is the elixir for all success.

“So this Thanksgiving as you express gratitude remember that the highest appreciation for what you have is not to just utter words. The strength of persona that you have developed over the years, consequential to your food allergy and that you continue to hone every day is the silver lining in the challenges that the food allergies pose. Look back and marvel at how far you have come. Your biggest asset and strength is your power over your mind!!”
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