Living With Food Allergies - Food Allergy Awareness Week!

Living With Food Allergies - Food Allergy Awareness Week!

by Natascia Simone, FAACT College/Young Adult Council Member

In celebration of “Food Allergy Awareness Week,” I am introducing my new blog and promoting FAAW in my community.

My name is Natascia Simone, and I am competing for Miss Connecticut in June. As part of the competition, I must have an issue for which I advocate. In my case, the choice was simple - I chose food allergies. I have been living with an allergy to tree nuts since I was seven years old.

Prior to becoming allergic to tree nuts, I loved Nutella (which is made from hazelnuts). In fact, I would eat a Nutella sandwich every day after school. My dad and I would munch on pistachios after dinner, and my mom would put my favorite candy – Ferrero Rocher chocolates – in my stocking at Christmas time. What else do you expect from a 100% Italian child?!

Once I discovered I was allergic to tree nuts, I was happy that I could still eat peanuts (which are a legume), but disappointed that my eating habits could never be the same. It was very hard being seven years old and having to watch what I ate. At the time, food allergies were not very common, and I was the only one in my class that couldn’t eat tree nuts.

Not only was it hard for me to adjust, my parents found it very difficult to change their daily habits, too. No more snacking on nuts or Nutella sandwiches. This was a whole new ballgame. The scariest part was that my life was on the line.

What many individuals do not understand is that food allergies are much different than seasonal allergies. The key difference is that seasonal allergies can be controlled with a simple dose of Claritin or, if severe, a prescription antihistamine. With food allergies, on the other hand, an epinephrine auto-injector may keep you alive for an additional 20 minutes while being rushed to the hospital. Whether it’s the careless act of a restaurant chef mixing up your “allergy safe” meal with someone else’s or the lunch lady cross contaminating a spoon, your life can be lost in a heartbeat.

I am now 20 years old and have lived through multiple allergic reactions, food mishaps, and countless hospital visits. Still, I am in shock to discover that while the number of people with food allergies has risen to 15 million in the U.S alone, the ability to take care of those with food allergies has increased minimally. With the world we live in today, food allergies should not be this difficult to live with. As a titleholder for the Miss America Scholarship Organization, I am ready to bring this issue to the table – literally – and start creating clear lines of communication between those who have food allergies and those who just “don’t get it.”

Stay tuned! I will be posting articles periodically on living with a food allergy. My next topic will be, “Dining Out with Food Allergies.”

Natascia Simone will be entering her senior year this fall at Western New England University, majoring in Marketing Communications and Advertising with a minor in Entrepreneurship. After graduation, she plans to open her own “allergy-friendly” bakery that also serves items that are gluten-free. Natascia is currently Miss Mountain Laurel 2014, an official preliminary of the Miss America Organization, and will be competing for Miss Connecticut 2014 this June! In this position, she has spoken to students throughout her community about her platform, “Food Allergy Awareness: Be Aware, Share and Prepare.” Natascia is determined to address the disconnect between the customer and the server when dining out, the student and teacher when attending school, and the individuals who have a food allergy and the people who are part of their lives.

Natascia founded the "Keep It Safe, In Every Place" program in 2013, which is dedicated to promoting food allergy awareness in schools and restaurants. She also served as a camp counselor for Camp TAG (The Allergy Gang) and serves now as a College/Young Adult Council Member for FAACT (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team). She understands living with a food allergy and continues to make sure others understand what can be done to save a life when an allergic reaction occurs – or better yet how, to prevent an allergic reaction from ever happening.