Allergies, Anyone?

Anyone else out there have an anaphylactic allergy? Or an allergy of any kind? Or a family member with an allergy?

I happen to fall in all three categories: I am anaphylactic to shellfish, I am allergic to cats and am lactose intolerant, and my little - in age, not height - brother is anaphylactic to peanuts and tree nuts.

He was diagnosed with his allergy when I was in elementary school, around 9 years old, and he was four. That would have been around 2002. I remember that day extremely clearly: our next door neighbour and I were talking on the bus ride home from school and he told me my brother’s allergy test was done and that he was allergic. I didn’t want to believe it. Why, you ask? Not because I was worried about him (that came later, of course!) but because most mornings for breakfast we (my older brother and I) had cinnamon raisin toast with peanut butter and jam on top, and I love with a capital LOVE peanut butter. Buuut I love my baby brother more.

I got home to find out it was true, he is anaphylactic to peanuts and tree nuts. My house had been ridden of anything that had nuts or may contain nuts or was produced in the same facility that also processes nuts of any kind. We wanted there to be a place where he didn’t have to worry about or fear for what he put in his mouth or what he touched. Your home is your safety, and having to always be on edge about what you touch doesn’t seem safe to me, and didn’t seem safe to my parents.

I wasn’t diagnosed with my allergy until much later, when I was 18... turns out you can go a lot longer not eating shellfish than you can peanuts and tree nuts. This story is more about my brother’s allergy and my experience with it growing up, but I gained a new perspective after my diagnosis.

Eating out posed a constant challenge. We rarely did, because a) it’s expensive and b) not many places were great about my brother’s allergy (except Swiss chalet - thank you! And The Keg for very special occasions). There was a lot of “yeah, you should be okay”... which when you’re talking about the life or death of a child isn’t super okay. At all. Dinners were normally easier to figure out, but desserts were all but guaranteed to be off the table. Again, not that we would get them anyway, but we would try and see, just for the sake of trying, if anything on their dessert menus would be peanut free. It never was. Also remember, this was 2002 we’re talking about, when it felt like that was seen as more of a nuisance than a legitimate need that deserved accommodating.

My brother was always a good sport about it, and we were all in solidarity with him; if he couldn’t eat, neither could we. (This did change slightly as we all hit adulthood.) He got extremely into soccer very early on, and was on the healthy eating train and dessert was never really something that called to him, allergy or not. Which was fabulous! Though it always made my heart hurt when place after place said they “couldn’t guarantee” whatever it was to be peanut and tree nut free.

He was excluded and that’s really what it boiled down to for me. I guess it felt like because people (restaurants/ice cream parlors) didn’t put in the effort to accommodate the allergy, they were saying they weren’t willing to put in the effort for my little brother. Assholes.

I understand they were doing their parts to not get sued. Totally. I would absolutely rather them say they weren’t sure or couldn’t guarantee it versus saying that he would be safe and turning out to be wrong. Of course I would! At least that way he was guaranteed to be safe by NOT eating anything. There are many stories of people being told their food was free from allergens to only later be found either sick, in hospital, in critical condition, or dead. I am so grateful this has not happened to my family. I weep for those that have suffered from this, as I know there are many.

It doesn’t change the fact that he and all the other kiddos with allergies were left out for a long time, seemingly because it was too inconvenient for people to get the policies and procedures in place to be inclusive. I understand there is likely more to it than that, but to a ten year old kid who just wanted to be able to go out for ice cream with her family, or god forbid a bakery, that’s what it felt like. My brothers and I are extremely lucky to have parents that are amazing in the kitchen. My mom is an amazing baker, so we never wanted for treats, believe me! My dad makes a killer apple crisp, too. It just would have been nice to have the option.

Enter my beautiful best friend, who I met in 2012 at York University where we lived on the same floor in residence and attended the same program. During our first year she found out she was gluten intolerant, and then celiac. A peanut allergy in 2002 was like a gluten allergy in 2012... there were some products out there, but not many, and those that were had the price tag to match. Gluten-free products then had a one-up on the peanut-free market... they weren’t all that tasty.

Kenzie Goodall has always had a love of and knack for baking and cake decorating. When her Naturopath told her that inhaling the flour from the air while baking was enough to cause a reaction and do damage to her body long-term, she decided to strike out on her own and open a gluten-free bakery where she could safely bake to her heart's content. Sugar Suite opened on Lakeshore in Oakville, Ontario in August of 2018.

In classic Kenzie fashion, she decided to up that game, and offer nut free and gluten free baked goods, as well as provide vegan options.

My little brother isn’t so little anymore, but I have still been so happy to be able to bring baked goods home for him and not have to worry about his safety. I wish a bakery like this existed 15 years ago! I am so excited for anyone with a nut or gluten allergy in the area that can happily and safely indulge in something that those without such restrictions can easily take for granted.

Inclusion is talked about a lot, and I think the food industry is slowly coming to the realization that these allergies aren’t going anywhere and that they need to step up and figure out how to accommodate. It has gotten much better over the years, and we still have so far to go.

It’s companies like Sugar Suite who are paving the way for the rest of the industry. If you are anywhere near Oakville, please give them a try!! You honestly wouldn’t even know Kenzie’s treats are gluten free. Discard the image you have of dense, gummy gluten-free treats, and try Kenzie’s mouthwatering indulgences; you won’t be disappointed!

Kenny, thank you for blazing the trail that so many have cowered away from. I know there are many little (and not so little) children out there who can safely bring treats for the class (in non-Covid times), or have a beautiful cake at a wedding or birthday party that is safe for all to enjoy.

Being a human is hard, and there seem to be numerous ways in which we can be made to feel like we’re on the outside. Thank you, Kenzie and Sugar Suite for eliminating a couple of those and helping kids be kids (big or small!) and feel included and part of the group. It has more power than you know.

Let’s all follow suit and be trailblazers to a more inclusive world, in whatever capacity we each can. It is possible, it is necessary and it is overdue. Go Nourish the world with your unique gifts, and let’s see what magic we can make!