Friday Feature: The Nut-Free Mom

This Friday Feature is an interview with Jenny Kale, The Nut-Free Mom. Learn more about Jenny through our Q&A's.

What is your food allergy background?

My food allergy journey began 5 years ago when my then 4-year-old daughter had a bite of a peanut butter sandwich at preschool. She never wanted peanut butter when we offered it to her, but we didn't think much of it.
On this day, I went to pick my daughter up at school after lunch and found her eyes swollen to 3 times their normal size. Her face was covered in hives. I got her home and called the doctor. She appeared to be asleep, but now I know she probably fainted from low blood pressure. She "woke" up when she began violently vomiting. Luckily her airway didn't close, though she began wheezing. I know now that she was having a full-blown anaphylactic reaction. Before this, I had a vague idea of what food allergies were but didn't think it could happen to us.

The pediatrician diagnosed peanut allergy. At a follow up with an allergist, my daughter was also found to have tree nut allergies. The doctor said that based on her reaction, we were lucky my daughter had survived.

I remember staggering home that day in shock with my baby and 4-year-old in tow wondering how I'd ever cope with the situation. I thought my daughter was perfectly healthy--it was a blow to learn that she had a life-threatening medical condition. I was terrified she'd have an even worse reaction and die. It was a sobering time for me and my husband.

What are you passionate about in the food allergy field?

I'm passionate about educating others--especially non-allergic families--about what food allergies are. I unknowingly put my daughter in a life-threatening situation. Had I understood peanut allergies, I would have called 911 immediately. I want other parents to know about this.

Also, I want everyone with a seriously food-allergic child to know that life can be mostly normal with food allergies. I advise caution, but not fear. Teach them from a young age to "own" their allergies and they will be much more confident. My daughter does everything that other kids do--except eat certain foods. That's very important to me, and to her.

And I'm also passionate about advocating for food allergic people, especially in light of recent OpEds and blogs that claim nut allergies are manufactured by neurotic parents and are not real. I've seen with my own eyes how real they are and this type of media backlash is dangerous. Laws, public perception and public policy have come a long way toward accommodating food-allergic people and I want that to continue.

What else are you working on in the food allergy area?

I'm a writer, so in addition to my blog, I'm in the process pitching some mainstream print media such as articles, essays and more. I work hard in my daily life to educate the school and those around me about food allergies. There are a lot of fears and misconceptions that I hope to dispel.

What are your favorite food allergy friendly food staples?

Fresh fruits and veggies--can't push those enough with my two daughters! Also, my kids eat a lot of yogurt and things like Teddy Grahams. My daughter likes to make fruit smoothies and snack on raisins and "safe" popcorn. And Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate--we can't live without that. Of course, Mom's from-scratch cookies and cakes are favorite staples. We "only" deal with nut allergies so we may have more options than some other food-allergic families.

What did you do before life with food allergies?

I was a stay-at-home mom working as a freelance writer--I still am doing that. One thing we no longer have is the sense of spontaneity . My husband and I are "foodies" and love ethnic restaurants, exotic travel, etc. A lot of this has had to be curtailed. Asian food is out--bakeries in Paris are out. However, we can still do so much. We just need to plan ahead and be prepared with medications, etc. But I miss the whole concept of thinking that we can do things on the spur of the moment --that's pretty much gone!

What are some of your other interests/hobbies?

I'm an avid reader, I love museums, French films and British TV shows--especially the cooking ones like Kitchen Nightmares. I like to travel and would love to go back and travel in Europe with my family. I love to cook, bake and entertain (this has come in handy with nut allergies) and I enjoy writing fiction and poetry in addition to my non-fiction freelance gigs. And the whole blogging thing has been really fun for me. If I had time, I'd do a writing blog as well!

Thank you, Jenny for sharing your world with us. We appreciate all you do to educate others about food allergies.

Visit Jenny's blog here.
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