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Gratitude for Differences 

by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

November 2023

As the winter holiday season approaches, many families will begin to make plans for large gatherings. These get-togethers may give way to thoughts of huge spreads of food, visiting with relatives you have not seen in a long time, and sharing special moments filled with laughter, love, and gratitude.

Well, that is what we think it is supposed to be like right? The truth is for many families, the holidays are filled with stress, anxiety, hurt feelings and strange events we sometimes shove into the closet like skeletons hoping the details about the shenanigans that went on at the holiday table stay hidden. No matter what family you are connected to, we all have some version of experiences with the not so nice relative, the person who does not have regard for the difference of others, or the one who thinks the world revolves around them.

Navigating the myriad of personalities and family dynamics during the holidays can be tough. When we add in the need for others to be accommodating of you or your family member’s food allergies, things can seem even worse. Based on past experiences, some will choose to opt out of large gatherings because they just cannot deal with trying to get everyone to understand what it takes to remain vigilant or even how to be polite. What seems simple to the food allergy community, is not as simple to some others for instance when you say you cannot have peanuts, they do not understand why you also cannot have peanut butter or why cross-contact is a thing. Other things like the comments “you don’t know what you’re missing” or “why do you have to be so complicated….” are concerns that can be very frustrating at best and life-threatening at worst.

So, what should people do? How do we look at our differences and find a happy medium so we can all enjoy the winter holidays? Here are four things to consider:

  1. You may never be able to get others to understand the complexity of food allergies so work more on empathy to get them to care about other humans.
  2. Diversity of thought is as real as diversity in processing. Realize some are not at your level of understanding. Embrace that difference and educate with compassion.
  3. Use analogies to help them see the differences in your healthcare matter. Example, imagine dust being everywhere and only when you are super careful can you keep it out of an area at one time. Food allergies are similar because dangers can be anywhere and only through careful planning and cleaning practices can you better prepare.
  4. Use the differences to create new traditions and new dishes that may be healthier for all.

Getting people on board is a “them” thing but “you” can help them if they need it. Patience and talking about these things before the holidays typically yield better results. There will be some cases where family members or friends are unyielding because the changes you may require could mean it would impede their desire to create what some consider to be a “typical American holiday.” Just like a rose has thorns, the typical American holiday is not immune from them. Remind people that the country is a melting pot where various cultures and ethnicities must work together for the better. In this case of having a fun and safe winter holiday season, there is no reason to expect less.