Haley is a Nima community member living in Pennsylvania. She is a strong young woman living with a peanut and nut allergy, who is finishing up her senior year of high school!
What’s your food identity, and how do you maintain it?
I’ve been avoiding peanuts and tree nuts for fourteen years and I’ve been avoiding dairy for almost a year. I stay away from these by reading every food label I can.
At home, my family is incredible about living with my allergy. They do everything they can to keep me safe and make me feel normal in and out of the house. My mom is a stellar chef. We eat a Mediterranean diet which includes using olive oil instead of butter, buying organic ingredients, and making spicy flavorful food, that’s all nut free. My mom will make me foods that are specifically dairy-free, too. I’ll talk with the chef if I’m eating in a restaurant and I give the chef an allergy card, which almost every restaurant I’ve been to appreciates seeing. I always ask about cross contamination and double check to make sure what I’m eating is safe.
Tell us a little about your peanut allergy journey. What was it like when you started eating peanut-free? What challenges did you face?
I’ve had my severe peanut allergy since I was 2 years old and as time goes on it’s been getting progressively worse. I’m the highest level of intolerance, but not to the extent that I can’t be in the same room as it. For as long as I can remember I’ve had this allergy, so it’s always been part of my life. Everyone has something they need to deal with and this is mine. I’ve faced about every challenge imaginable at this point, and I’ve overcome each one. It all comes down to trusting your instincts and being adamant. If a restaurant isn’t sure if there’s cross contamination, don’t eat there.
Since I’ve had my Nima, I’ve overcome a lot of recent challenges with one test!
If you feel comfortable, tell us a little about your experience as a teenager living with a peanut allergy? What have your experiences been like with your schools’ allergy programs / your classmates’ knowledge of food allergies?
As a teenager with allergies, I can say that at times it’s more challenging than I care to admit. My school is highly uneducated when it comes to dealing with allergies. In elementary school, they had me eat lunch with the nurse for a while until my parents learned about what they were doing. Then they decided to give me one person to sit with at lunch who wasn’t eating anything I was allergic to. Then I ended up sitting completely alone at a table all to myself. They didn’t know how to properly clean tables and chairs with soap and water.
They’ve also called me out in front of everyone about my allergy. I wish I could find something better to say besides that they’re a bit better now than how they used to be, and it’s all because my parents intervened. They believe it’s important for all kids to feel normal in a place like school.
I often find that my peers don’t understand how severe food allergies can be. Some of them are curious about it and want to learn more about how I deal with it and what it was like to experience anaphylactic shock. Others are inconsiderate and don’t care enough to understand how life threatening it is. This has happened in some restaurants as well, but I’m lucky to have family and friends who do everything they can to help me stay safe when I’m eating. They also take my allergy seriously and make me feel normal.
What was your food life like before you had your Nima?
Before I received my Nima, I felt more uncertain about what I was eating. I’m very fortunate to know that what I’m eating at home is safe, but I still read every label. When I’m going out to eat, I give the waiter my allergy card and we speak with the chef. Even with these extra precautions, it’s difficult to trust others and put your life into someone else’s hands.
Now that I have my Nima, it makes me feel much more at ease when I eat in a restaurant. My family and I are always busy so we’re constantly traveling. My Nima is a device I can trust because it eliminates most of the concerns I have. Cross contamination is always one of my top concerns and it’s always exciting to see that my Nima says my food is safe! I don’t need to worry as much about checking fifteen minutes after I eat for any sign of a reaction. It’s such a relief to have something portable and accurate that makes eating less stressful.
A quick note for our readers: Nima only tests a sample of your food, and does not guarantee the whole plate. It is meant to be used as a tool in addition to the conversations, research, and other safety measures you already use. We strive to educate our community members on the precautions they must take when using Nima to gain more information about their food.
What do you test with Nima? Has there been anything that surprised you wasn’t safe?
When I eat in a restaurant I almost always check my meal with my Nima. I haven’t had anything register negatively on my Nima yet – which is good! The most surprising thing I tested on my Nima that was safe was a slice of artisan bread. Usually in restaurants bread, salads, and desserts are never safe so this was a very exciting moment.
Everyone that I’ve told and shown my Nima to has been very intrigued by it. In restaurants, waiters will stand by the table to watch the device in action. They’re always happy to see the results of the test. A few places have told me they’ll ask the manager about getting one for the restaurant because they believed it was very innovative.
When using Nima at restaurants, what has been your experience? Do you have a favorite Nima related story?
Restaurants have reacted very positively towards my Nima. Some chefs have said they appreciate its accuracy and how it “double checks their cooking.” Some waiters have told me that they wish more people had them.
I think my favorite Nima related story was in New York City. I tested food that I didn’t believe would be safe and the results were positive! Everyone in the restaurant was so in awe of the device and couldn’t wait to see the results.
Are you going anywhere fun for spring break?
Our area of Pennsylvania gets a ton of snow and ice every year. In my school, we end up having so many days off due to weather, we only have Good Friday off for “Spring Break.” But my family and I are always traveling and we have a lot of exciting trips planned for this summer! One of them is a trip to Italy and Southern France.
How do you typically plan for travel? Do you have any travel advice for people your age who have peanut allergies?
Typically when I’m traveling my mom and I do a lot of extensive research. We research the culture and the area to see how they use nuts in their food, how they handle cross contamination, and how seriously they handle allergies. We call and email restaurants to ask about if they can accommodate someone with nut allergies, and we take allergy cards with us. We pack lots of Auvi-Q’s to be safe. I usually find that airlines can’t provide food for someone with nut allergies, but they allow me to board early to clean my seat. The best place I’ve been to for handling allergies was Paris, France. Everything I’ve learned about living with allergies has been through my own personal experiences. So everyday I’m learning a bit more and I’m always happy to share about how I live with it and tips I’ve learned over the years.
My advice for traveling is to take it seriously. Read labels, always ask to see if your food is safe before you eat it, and carry an epi-pen. I’ve heard an insane amount of stories and I’ve met a lot of people who have severe allergies and don’t do these things. I suggest researching as much as you can about where you’re traveling, even though it’s hard to find relevant information about cultures dealing with food allergies. Always contact restaurants before you go on your trip to ask about if you can eat there and give waiters and chefs allergy cards so nothing gets lost in translation. It’s always a good idea to carry a snack or a small meal with you in case you can’t eat anywhere. (This has happened to me and it’s never fun to go without food for several hours when you’re doing a lot of walking.) Also, don’t forget to take your Nima!
When checking out colleges / making your decision on where you want to go, do you do any additional research for your food allergy? If so, what is it?
My suggestion would be to speak with the school’s nutritionist and the chef. On a recent college tour, we met with their nutritionist and head chef and they were more than happy to walk us through two of their dining halls, answer any questions we had, and explain their thorough and detailed allergy process. They explained how they keep nuts isolated from other areas of the dining hall and how they’ll make you custom meals if you have a severe allergy. They believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Bonus fun questions:
If you can only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I really really love chocolate. I haven’t had real chocolate in a long while and it’s been difficult to go without it, but I make desserts with cocoa powder which makes up for it!
If you can only use one spice or condiment what would it be?
It would have to be crushed red pepper flakes. I put them on almost everything!
If you can only choose one restaurant for the rest of your life where would it be?
Pizza Pino on the Champs-Élysées. It was allergy friendly and extremely good.
– – –Thank you for sharing your story Haley!