DEI Resource Center

Inclusion Matters

Back to Category View

The Parallel Worlds of Heritage and Food Alleriges 

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

February 2024

The world we live in is a beautiful tapestry woven from the threads of diverse cultures and backgrounds. In our American melting pot of nations, we find a rich amalgamation of traditions and histories that have followed people here from around the world.

If I were to ask you to delve into your family heritage, I can imagine a swell of pride as you contemplate the journeys of your ancestors. The stories handed down from generation to generation, trinkets held dear from those of the past, and even family recipes bring feelings of nostalgia and connectedness. The ability to trace one's roots back for generations, even before families set foot in the United States, is truly remarkable.

The thought of recognizing roots is brought to the forefront in February as we commemorate Black History Month. While the reflections and pride associated with heritage are profound for many, it's crucial to recognize that not all Americans share the same connection to their ancestral roots. For many African Americans, tracing heritage and culture is often limited to a just a few generations or reaches back to those who were brought to this country against their will. Many African Americans don't have photos of their ancestors because, frankly, we aren’t always certain to which African country our roots extend. This lack of detailed knowledge adds a layer of complexity to the celebration of heritage months throughout the year.

Speaking of complexities, I find a parallel between the appreciation of heritage and the awareness of food allergies. When conversations about my own family member's food allergies arise, there's a particular comment that tends to annoy me: "She doesn't know what she's missing." This statement, though likely well-intentioned, doesn't capture the nuanced reality of managing multiple food allergies. It misses the mark on the unique experiences of millions of Americans who live with food restrictions. This sounds similar to well-intentioned people who make assumptions about the cultural or heritage experiences of others.

People might be shocked to learn about the array of food allergies my family member contends with, assuming that it translates into a life devoid of culinary pleasures. Or they may assume it is a choice rather than a need to avoid foods that can be life threatening. The world of flavors and textures remains unexplored territory for people living with food allergies as it relates to those foods they’ve never eaten. The same can be said for those who may have had certain foods early in life but have no real recollection of them. Their view of that loss is not the same as others.

Our children and others navigating the challenges of food allergies find ways to celebrate holidays alongside people who indulge in foods they cannot safely consume. Instead of criticizing or dismissing unfamiliar dishes, they maintain a respectful distance, ensuring their person’s safety. It's disheartening when individuals make uninformed comments like, "That allergy-free food tastes weird or different." Such remarks contribute to the stigma surrounding food allergies, making it even more challenging for those managing allergies to navigate social situations. Do these off-the-cuff remarks hit home as they relate to people making uniformed comments about other cultures, heritages, orientations, and more?

As we reflect on the interconnectedness of heritage and food experiences, let's cultivate empathy and understanding. Just as the depth of our family histories varies, so does our relationship with food. Instead of assuming what others may be missing, let's celebrate the diversity of our experiences and foster a community where everyone feels seen and appreciated, irrespective of their culinary choices or restrictions. And during the vast array of heritage celebrations throughout the year, let us be more respectful of differences in cultures, because each of us may have a different story to bring to the cultural table. Heritage is what we make it, so let’s do our part in making it the best for all involved.