All posts by Morgan Smith

Preparing for Study Abroad

I’m leaving on Monday, August 1st to study abroad! I’ll be traveling with friends for the entire month of August through Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece; then, I’ll be in Denmark for a month completing a research project; and then I’ll be at a host university in Lancaster, England from October to mid-December. Crazy times!

I’m beyond excited to embark on this adventure of a lifetime.

The planning for this process admittedly started before my Freshman year at college even began. I was excited! The University of Denver has an incredible set-up: during your junior or senior year, you can study abroad at any partner program or university (they have over 160) in over 80 countries around the world. You pay DU your normal tuition, housing, and fees and they take care of the costs at your host program or university! And, with a 3.0 GPA or higher, DU students can also qualify for the Cherrington Global Scholars program, which helps cover visa fees and flights to and from your program! Truly, DU makes it super easy to study abroad.

I knew from the get-go (as I discussed in a previous post) that I would need to study in an English-speaking country where I would have control of my food intake — so homestay programs and shared kitchen set-ups wouldn’t work. I narrowed it down to a variety of programs in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia, but eventually settled on Lancaster University. It’s quite a good school and has a variety of academic + fun programs I can get involved in!

Lancaster Castle
Lancaster Castle

LU

I left all of the study abroad stuff on the backburner until this past fall, when all the study abroad applications begin. After investigating all of my options at Lancaster, I decided to pursue independent research. I had no idea (originally) what my research would be about but I knew it sounded cool and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity of studying abroad. As a Public Policy major, I’m really interested in how different governments structure their economies, health care systems, and other public sector services. I mulled around a bit with the idea of looking into the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK since it’s so different from the US health care system; but, after doing a lot of research and reading (I kid you not I read three PhD dissertations and two books and forty-odd academic journal articles), I settled on conducting research in Denmark on the way they treat small & medium-sized businesses.

I now knew that I would be spending a considerable amount of time in Denmark conducting this research and I would have to do it before my program began. Lancaster’s term starts late (the first few days of October), so I knew I had September to conduct my research.

And then, I decided that traveling with friends sounded like a cool idea — why not? I’m over there already and my flights were paid for by DU. After many months of figuring out immigration issues and friends committing and then finding out they weren’t able to, my two close friends (Thomas, my first year roommate, and Danny — or DK for short) and I decided to travel together for all of August! We didn’t really have much planned until mid-May, but we knew we wanted to see a lot of Italy.

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So, the run-down for the next four-and-a-half months came to look like this:

  • I’ll be traveling with Thomas and DK through Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.
  • I’ll be staying in Copenhagen, Denmark for the full month of September.
  • I’ll be attending my study abroad program at Lancaster from October to mid-December. I get home December 18th.

I am blessed to have a full-ride scholarship to DU that helps pay for my study abroad experience at Lancaster. I also applied and was awarded grants to help fund my research in Denmark. I started saving over two years ago for my study abroad experience and am also using all my personal savings to help fund my travels and other fun excursions! The point being I started planning for this incredible experience a long time ago, both financially and mentally.

Health & Safety Abroad

This was a top priority for me from the get-go. I knew (from other bloggers and food allergy families) that international travel was completely possible, even if I didn’t speak all of the languages. My Spanish is a little rusty, and I definitely don’t know how to explain anything in French or Greek, so I knew I’d be flying blind. I admit, that’s scary! But, I knew I could prepare successfully for my travels abroad and remain 100% safe.

I downloaded the Google Translate app, which can help translate things on the spot — you can even take a picture of something and it will translate it!

I also downloaded AllergySmartz, an app for my iPhone that allows me to select my food allergens and it churns out a prepared chunk of text describing my food allergies & cross contact issues in multiple different languages to give to a waiter who may not be fully fluent in English. It’s essentially a digital chef card in multiple different languages!

DU also helps its abroad students by automatically getting them membership to International SOS, a company that delivers 24/7 emergency help and advice. They don’t provide health services, but they can call an ambulance or help notify a US Embassy in case of a national security issue. DU requires all of its students call International SOS before they leave to get advice on health & safety while abroad.

My call with International SOS was fantastic. After getting a security overview of all of the countries I was traveling to (and advice to watch out for pickpocketers and such), I got to speak with an actual medical doctor (!) about my food allergies and traveling abroad. He helped clarify that I should carry a doctor’s letter to get my medication through immigration (and what should be in that letter), to always watch out for cross-contact issues in restaurants, and to always carry my EpiPens. It was really great to talk to a doctor who was so knowledgeable on food allergies and travel.

This is, in many regards, the ultimate test of self-advocacy. I’m already really quite good at advocating for myself, but to do it other countries and across languages certainly tests my own limits. My mom helped research potential issues in food overseas by reaching out through her various social media groups to figure out what other things could come up. I found out lupine flour, a flour used a lot in baking across Europe, cross reacts with nuts, and therefore isn’t good for me with peanut and tree nut allergies. Definitely going to avoid that! I have the absolute faith and confidence that I’ll be safe and I know how to take care of myself.

For medication, I’ll be carrying two EpiPens with me at all times, and I’ll have an extra two in my backpack. Because they have become so expensive, I’m traveling with EpiPens that are expiring in August of 2016 (this next month) – these are my two backups. We ordered the two new ones from Canada Drugs and got the MEDA brand, the European drug manufacturer of EpiPens, to make sure I was safe for all of my travels. They cost ~$220. I will be keeping the new ones with me. This is a definite risk, but from conversations with my allergist, the EpiPens won’t become extremely ineffective in the couple months past their expiration date. They may or may not be 100% effective, either, but we simply can’t afford to spend $220+ for a second new pair of EpiPens. I’ll also have other prescribed medication in my backpack at all times.

I researched labeling laws for the EU and the UK. Thankfully, no regulations will be changing due to Brexit in the coming months, so I’m in a sweet spot to come to the UK (especially since the pound sterling is weaker against the dollar)! Over 85% of Danes speak fluent English, so I know I won’t have too many issues communicating in restaurants regarding my food allergies. However, most of their labels are solely in Danish. I’ve become familiar with important words (mainly my food allergies) in Danish to quickly identify those while reading labels in a grocery store.

Traveling & Living

For the next 4+ months, I’ll basically only have a backpack’s worth of belongings. Since I’m traveling for the duration of August, I’ll only be carrying the things I absolutely need. Thomas, DK, and I are traveling mainly by trains, so I can’t be carrying around tons of luggage — it’s inconvenient, heavy, and unnecessary. I’ll have all the necessities, but nothing really more — clothes for different kinds of weather, some hiking shoes, flip flops, swimsuit, my medication, and some electronic & utility stuff, but that’s about it.

For August, we’ll mainly be staying in hostels or AirBnB. We used HostelWorld to find the best hostels (stayed with hostels rated 8.5+ upon the advice of a friend). We were able to check their no pet & no smoking policies, plus cost and living situations. All of our AirBnBs were strategically placed in cities we were staying longer in: for example, we’re spending 5 nights in Rome, so we got an AirBnB so we could cook our own food if we wanted, wash clothes, and so forth. All of the AirBnB’s we chose are non-smoking and pet-free!

The AirBnB we're staying in Rome -- for only $90 / night!
The AirBnB we’re staying in Rome — for only $90 / night!

In Denmark, I’m renting an AirBnB for the whole month. It’s also pet-free and smoke-free and the owner is even giving me a bicycle to use while I’m there! Truly a wonderful set-up. It has a kitchen and a refrigerator and I get to truly take care of myself for that whole month!

While in Lancaster, I’ll be staying in a studio dorm room. I’ll have a bed and bathroom and a small kitchenette to cook all of my food. I can take a short bus ride into Lancaster whenever I need to buy more food. It is also pet and smoke-free!

Final Thoughts

I’ve prepared just like any other student studying abroad & traveling internationally — making copies of my credit cards, passport, immigration letters and documents, making sure my housing is set up at Lancaster, booking trains — and I also prepared as someone with food allergies. I’m going to be cautious. I’m not going to be eating crazy dishes without knowing, for certain, what will be in those dishes.

And, I know, I’m going to have the time of my life! I’ll post an update probably once I get to Lancaster in October. Until then!

Staying Safe in College (and Life)

DU#2

I want to talk about staying safe at college. For many of you, that’s many years off; for others, it’s right now! College is an exceptionally exciting time. You are free from a parental burden, you are living on your own, figuring out life for yourself, and taking on all of your own responsibilities. You have to figure out when you go to class, if you even want to go to class, when to complete homework, when to eat, when or if to exercise, when to hang out with friends, when to go to bed, and so on. There’s a lot of new personal responsibility!

And to top it off, you have to manage your food allergies. You have to make sure you carry your own epinephrine autoinjectors without a (friendly?) reminder from Mom. You have to ask people about what food they’ve eaten before you kiss them at a party. You have to figure out where you’re going to eat. This can be unbelievably scary for parents since this might be the first time they don’t have supervision of your food intake or at least even a general knowledge of what you’re eating, where you’re eating, if you’re eating, etc.

Then there are questions of accommodations — can you feel safe in your dorm room? Will your roommate be willing to accommodate your food allergies? How about the dining halls? Will you have access to a kitchen, and if so, do you feel safe using it?

Really, the questions are endless. They are so endless, in fact, you can scare yourself out of going to college and living your life. So, for the moment, stop asking yourself all of those questions.

Let’s focus on what you can do: you can advocate for yourself.

This is the fundamental principle of staying safe in college, and in life. You must be able to self-advocate. This also isn’t something you wake up one day and know how to do; it is developed over months and years of practice. Self-advocacy is a skill that every food allergic child must learn. It may be scary for your parent to let you learn how to self-advocate because it requires you to step outside of your comfort zone, learn how to tell people about your food allergies, learn the potential consequences of not telling someone about your food allergies, and get yourself into situations in which you must self-advocate. But, let me tell you something: it’s a lot scarier to go out into the real world and not know how to advocate for yourself.

Self-advocacy, at its core, is made of two main components:

  1. Speaking up.
  2. Managing risk.

Speaking Up

Self-advocacy, and therefore staying safe in college and in life, requires you to speak up. You must be able to tell other people about your food allergies, set boundaries around what is acceptable for your safety, and demand nothing less.

To do that, you first must become comfortable with the idea that you have food allergies. Too often, we become the victims of bullying and indifference. We become identified solely as the “food allergic kid” in the class who forces everyone else not to eat PB&J’s or bring in certain foods. We’re teased for it, and in some cases, our life is threatened simply because other kids don’t understand the severity of our food allergy. I had a young boy chase me around the playground in 1st grade with a peanut butter cracker chanting, “I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill you!” The good news? He and I became really close friends after he better understood why what he did was not only wrong, but dangerous.

Time and time again, we are told that we are different, that food allergies make us different. And it becomes difficult to accept the reality that we do have food allergies, that we are different, that our health and safety is threatened by a plate of fish or that croissant with almonds. And, what I still struggle with, is that I have to make other people live that reality with me. I have to ask my date to not eat any of my allergens just in case we kiss later. I have to ask my friends in the middle of Italy not to eat at this one restaurant even though we are starving after walking for 8 hours straight because most of their menu is seafood and I just don’t feel comfortable eating there.

But.

Your life is too important to not speak up. You have to accept that you have food allergies, that you (may) wear a MedicAlert bracelet, that yes you have to explain to every waiter at every restaurant you eat at that you have food allergies. Because food allergies is not a badge of shame, but a badge of pride. Be proud of your differences. Recognize that everyone has them: you have food allergies, she has two moms, he has Crohn’s, she has dyslexia, he can’t stand horror movies, she’s afraid of heights, he gets cold easily, and so on. The beauty of food allergies is that it adds another dash of diversity to the incredible mixing pot of humanity. You are incredible and never let anyone tell you differently.

So speak up. Especially when it feels like an inconvenience, speak up. The first day I was in Copenhagen, I ate at a local cafe with a friend and ordered a simple sandwich. I was exhausted after a full day of traveling, on and off metro stops, planes, and walking everywhere. I almost didn’t ask, because I thought it might be safe. But I did, because I’ve trained myself time and time again to always ask. And it was a good thing too: the bread on the sandwich contained sesame.

Could you imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t asked? The sandwich would come out. I might recognize that it has some weird seeds in the bread, I might not. If not, I eat the bread and then go into an allergic reaction. And even if I do recognize it, then I have to explain to my waitress about my food allergies and then force them to remake the sandwich. All of that could be avoided in the first place.

Never be afraid to speak up. Always put your safety first and never settle for less.

Managing Risk

The second part of self-advocacy provides guidelines around what to do after you speak up. After you explain your food allergies to a waiter, to a friend, or to your roommate, there is an infinite combination of responses. They may be the most accommodating and kind person you ever met; or, the dish you ordered and almost every dish on the menu at the restaurant isn’t safe because of cross contact issues.

Managing risk is the really difficult part of self-advocacy, because it requires you to train your “good judgement” muscle. Like any muscle, you need to work it out for it to strengthen.

I want to give a real-life situation that I encounter at college most days: during lunchtime at the University of Denver, the dining hall has a mix of different stations. There’s a salad bar, a pizza station, a grill station, a soup station, and a variety station that differs everyday. I usually go to the grill station because I know the food selection usually contains safe food.

Why? Because previously in the year, I spoke up. I talked with the head chef in the dining hall and got to understand what food they use and how they prepare their meals. I worked hard to make sure the food I was eating was safe. And, if I have any questions at all, I can go directly to the head chef and ask!

That’s very different than ordering at a restaurant. At a restaurant, especially the ones you’ve never been to before, there’s a high amount of risk on dishes you’ve never eaten before. “Good judgement” says that I need to ask about their food preparation practices for my safety every time. And even if I go back to the same restaurant time and time again, I still speak up.

“Good judgement” is simply following this creed:

Safety is your first priority, so always prioritize your safety. Safety is maximized when there is little to no chance of the food actually containing your allergens and little to no chance of cross contact issues in the food.

Really, there’s not much more to it. You have to learn how safe you feel at restaurants and your parents and doctors can help with that. You probably shouldn’t eat french fries that are cooked in the same oil as their fried shrimp; but, if your chicken is prepared separately from the salmon, you’re far more likely to be safe (if you have shellfish or fish allergies, for example).

Final Thoughts

There is a lot more personal responsibility in college, from school to friends to sleep. You get to add in managing food allergies into that mix.

I personally know how…intimidating it can feel. I was in a new city, in a new room, with new friends, taking new classes at a new school, and I had to figure out what the heck I was going to eat! But my Mom and Dad helped me from a very young age to understand how to speak up, how to manage risk with good judgement, and how to maximize my safety. That’s all self-advocacy is.

You may have a roommate that isn’t accommodating to your peanut allergies, and you’ll have to set those boundaries, especially if he or she is constantly storing open jars of Nutella in the room fridge. Like, that’s just blatant disrespect. Your safety comes first and never convince yourself otherwise.

I haven’t had an allergic reaction since age 10 (to fish on a camping trip when I really had no idea I was allergic to fish). You should never accept the “reality” that you may have an allergic reaction. If you’re having allergic reactions, minor or major, you may need to work on strengthening that “good judgement” muscle. If you’re constantly in situations where you don’t feel safe, you may need to evaluate how well you speak up about your needs.

Do I go to restaurants where they serve seafood? Obviously, yeah. Do I allow my friends to order seafood? Yeah, nearly all of the time. Do I personally order seafood? Obviously not. Do I go to college parties? Not really. Do I deal with drunk friends? Yes, of course, it’s college. Do I eat out with friends? Absolutely! Do I usually have influence over which restaurant we go to? Yes. And so forth. Those are the boundaries that I have set, through good judgement, as acceptable for my safety. You need to figure out yours.

Self-advocacy assures you are kept safe. Really, college is just like any other area in life where you deal with food allergies. Instead of talking to an airline’s customer service about their peanut policy, you talk with the university’s Disability Services Office, or their Housing department. Instead of training your teacher at a 504 Plan meeting, you train your friends. And so on.

College is such an exciting time. It’s merely one part in a big journey through life and food allergies are simply one small part of that adventure.


You are always welcome to ask me any questions or voice any concerns you have to me. Send me an e-mail at morgan@allergicchild.com!

Travel, Travel, Travel Abroad! 

I’m writing this sitting in Copenhagen, Denmark after traveling for 30 days through 11 cities in 5 countries. I started in Reykjavik, Iceland and ended in Athens, Greece and visited nearly everywhere in between.

Needless to say, I’m a bit tired.

This past month was fantastic. I cannot even begin to explain how much impact this last month has had upon me. I was a bit skeptical when everyone said “travel will change you in unimaginable ways.” Well, I can say with certainty, it does.

This past month has also re-affirmed a sincerely held belief: having food allergies doesn’t limit you from anything. After ordering food in dozens of restaurants across Spain & France, eating gelato from the best shops in Italy, and having authentic Greek food in central Athens, I know that food allergies are simply another part of traveling.

Threesome in Florence

I traveled with Thomas (my first year roommate and best friend #1) and DK (best friend #2) for the month. They were absolutely hilarious to travel with and we had an absolute blast. Both Thomas and DK knew about my food allergies and were incredibly supportive and accommodating. They had been previously trained in how to use an EpiPen and were aware of cross contact issues. Most of the time, they were more worried about me being safe than I was!

It would take too much space to give a detailed play-by-play of each meal in each city, so I will give a review of where I went and what I saw and then move on to the important takeaways and lessons from this amazing travel experience.

My Itinerary

Thomas & I flew out on August 1st and did a one-night stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was our first city and it was a wonderful first stop. Even though we only had two full days in the city, we got to experience a very different city (in style and living) than most of Europe. If you have the chance, do a free stopover in Iceland with IcelandAir. They’re an excellent airline! We traveled via regional trains for the remainder of our journey.

We departed in Reykjavik and entered mainland Europe, beginning with Barcelona. We spent three days in Barcelona and got a real taste of what it’s like to live there (hint: most people wake up past noon and stay out late). We got to see La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí that is still under construction! It’s world famous. But we also ate at markets, got to see the Mediterranean, and walk around a really great city.

La Sagrada Familia

After Barcelona, we left to meet DK in Montpellier, France. With only one night, we only saw the main attractions: a cathedral, a large Arc de Triomphe and attached park, and the great medieval architecture. We got kicked out of our Airbnb (more on that later), so our time was cut a bit short. After Montpellier, we arrived in Marseille, France for two nights. We walked so much in Marseille, but we got see incredible views, churches, and history in France’s 2nd largest city. It was by far my favorite French city. After Marseille, we left for two nights in Nice, France — we mostly slept since we were recovering after Marseille and spent the rest of our day on the world famous beaches. As a note, there were armed French military patrols every 200 meters walking around the streets and along the beach due to their recent terrorist attacks.

Trio in Italy

After Nice, we arrived in Milan, Italy after a brief 3-hour stopover in Genoa, Italy. We got to see the famous Il Duomo and three other incredibly historical churches, a medieval fortress, a museum, and ate world-famous pizza at Spontini Pizzeria. Our two nights in Milan felt really short but that’s mainly because we walked 12+ miles each day we were there! After Milan, DK went to see his cousin in Cinque Terre, a gorgeous coastal area of Northern Italy near Florence; Thomas and I went to Venice instead. Venice was by far my favorite city from the whole trip: picturesque canals, small shops and churches scattered all over the island, and a ton of history. We spent three nights in Venice.

We met back up with DK in Florence and spent a short three nights in Florence. Florence was the ideal “Tuscan” city: a giant cathedral (the Florence Duomo) surrounded by red tile roofs in a picture-worthy valley. We spent most of our time in art galleries and museums (the Uffizi and the Accademia, where Michaelangelo’s David is held). We could’ve easily spent a week in Florence, partly because we found the best gelato shop in all of Italy!

Trio in Vatican City

After Florence, we moved on to Rome. We spent a total of a week in Rome, but stayed in two different areas to add some variety. Our whole group got to see Pope Francis for his Sunday Angelus and now we can claim we have shirts blessed by the Pope! We also got to see all of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, plus multiple museums and Roman historical sites. I ventured out to Tivoli, Italy by myself for a half-day in Villa D’Este, a 16th century villa with incredible gravity-operated fountains. After 7 days in Rome, we were definitely exhausted.

But no matter! We hopped on a short plane to Athens, Greece (via Aegean Air, another excellent airline) to conclude our trip. By this point, we were pretty darn tired so we split our days between relaxation and seeing historical sights. Still, we got to see a plethora of Ancient Greek history sites and museums.

Threesome in Athens

Upon reflection, Thomas and I realized we kind of moved “backwards” in history — Iceland was the “newest” country, founded in about 800 CE. And we moved all the way back to the cradle of Western civilization in Athens, Greece, which dates as early as 8,000 BCE. It was an incredible journey through history and through Europe!

Scariest Moments

I think there were a few moments that definitely top the list of “what the [heck] just happened?”

  1. We got kicked out of our Airbnb in Montpellier. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it is fun to say. Our host said we needed to be out of the Airbnb before “12am” — knowing that many Europeans (especially those less fluent in English) could mistake 12am with 12pm, I asked him if he meant 12am or noon. He re-affirmed 12am. As it turned out, he meant 12pm. Most of the French (and elsewhere) use 24h time, so time after 12h is expressed as 13h–23h instead of 1pm to 11pm. It was a simple mess-up, but his cleaning lady came a-knocking at 12pm. Luckily, we were there by accident since DK needed to grab his water bottle! Unfortunately, his cleaning lady didn’t speak any English so we roughly communicated through Google Translate to figure out why she was there and how much time we had to leave (about 1 minute). We hastily packed everything and ran out apologizing (Je suis désolé !). We explored Montpellier with all of our stuff on our backs until our train left for Marseille.
  2. We were in a restaurant in Marseille, France and I decided to have a dessert — creme brulee! It’s a classic French dessert and it’s really a set recipe. However, their creme brulee was served with a side of raspberry sauce and almonds. I asked for them to leave off the almonds on the side. Thomas and DK got a separate dessert — but when they came to serve the desserts, they didn’t get Thomas or DK’s right (they served them the wrong dessert) so I had an “OH BOY” kind of moment, waiting for the creme brulee to come out with nuts on the side. They actually first entirely forgot about my dessert for about 5 minutes once they corrected their previous mistake with Thomas and DK, but they eventually got it out and it was completely safe, no nuts anywhere.
  3. We were at a restaurant in Athens, getting a late lunch. Our waiter was an older Greek man and his English wasn’t great — although, on the whole, Greeks in the service industry seem to know more English than the French or Spanish do. I explained to him that I couldn’t do any sesame, and he smiled and nodded his head and put his hand on my shoulder and said “it’s no problem, all safe.” I wasn’t entirely convinced. But he served food that was completely safe, since I found out from another waiter their bread was made in-house and didn’t contain any sesame. (Whew)

Most Successful Moments

Obviously I had a couple run-ins with danger, but there were far more successes.

  1. Every meal I ate while traveling, which meant about 90 meals were entirely safe at a variety of restaurants in a variety of countries, explained to servers who weren’t usually fluent in English. So, I only had two mix-ups out of 90 — that’s a stellar record.
  2. I ordered a a simple peach tart in Nice — basically baked peaches with a peach sauce. The waiter actually double checked with three cooks about the processing of the peaches before he came back to the table and informed me that the peaches have cross contact issues in their kitchen with nuts they use in other dishes. How incredible! 
  3. This gelateria! IMG_2343 (2)
  4. This restaurant in Venice!Italian MenuThis restaurant in Rome!
  5. IMG_2144

Those are some highlights (and I actually just realized while writing this that all of those moments were from Italy). Every waiter in Europe that I’ve explained my food allergies to completely gets it. They don’t ignore it and they double check with the kitchen on my meals. Really, truly good service even with a slight language barrier.

Lessons & Important Takeaways

There was a lot I knew coming into my travels. I planned for months in advance for which cities we were visiting and where we were staying. I double checked airline policies for serving nuts (Iceland Air and Aegean Air are two fantastic airlines). I knew I would have to avoid chocolate at all costs because chocolate is usually made with nuts across Europe, and I would avoid it even if they told me their chocolate wasn’t. I even checked immigration restrictions on medicine and bringing EpiPens® into different countries.

But there’s so much I simply learned by traveling. In no particular order:

  1. Never, ever, ever believe your food allergies are an inconvenience. Thomas and DK were wonderful companions and always supportive in finding restaurants with safe menus. After walking 10 miles in Venice one day, Thomas and I were famished and we found a good looking restaurant, but about 75% of their menu was solely seafood (which Thomas enjoys). I didn’t feel totally comfortable with the place even though I could eat there, but it was Thomas who was the really uncomfortable one since he didn’t want us eating there for my sake — how’s that for great friends! He decisively said “no, let’s find somewhere else.” We did. Never convince yourself or your friends that it’s okay to put yourself in danger, because it’s not.
  2. Always restate your food allergies to the waiter multiple times while ordering. Before I ordered, I would tell them “I have food allergies. All peanuts and nuts, sesame, shellfish, and fish,” in English. If they looked confused or weren’t totally fluent in English, I’d pull out my phone and show them the list in whatever language they spoke. Then I’d order my food. Then I’d restate my food allergies. By that point, the waiter or waitress was like “yes, yes I got it,” which made me feel even safer!
  3. Carry all your important documentation in one area and have digital copies available. I feel as if this is a good travel tip in general, but especially for those of us with food allergies. I had a bright red folder in my daypack (that I carried on to flights as well) that contained copies of doctor’s letters for immigration that allow me to carry my medicine, my passport, all of my credit cards and ID cards including health insurance, a copy of proof of health insurance, and a copy of bank statements (really for my travels in the UK). I had all of these documents also saved digitally so I could print them out if necessary. I also had printed verifications of everywhere we were going to stay (AirBnB’s and Hostels) along with flight confirmation information. This way, I had any and all information I needed at anytime I needed it on my person. In case it was stolen, I also had digital copies I could print out.
  4. If you want control over your meals, use AirBnB. I should become some sort of brand rep for their company because I absolutely adore AirBnB. Basically, you can “rent” out another person’s apartment or a room in their apartment for as long as you would like. There are hundreds of options in each city. We stayed with top-reviewed places and top-reviewed hosts (called SuperHosts) so we assured our experience would be a good one. Through AirBnB, we stayed in an apartment in a 13th century monastery, a 5th floor apartment with a grand view of Marseille, a first floor apartment with a river view in Florence, a gorgeous apartment near the Vatican, and a top-floor apartment with a rooftop view of Rome. Oh and a spacious apartment in Athens that had a view of the Olympian Temple of Zeus. And for the most part, we didn’t spend more than $30 or $40 per person, per night. When shared between three people, it becomes really quite cheap to travel via AirBnB. Since you have access to a kitchen, you can cook or at least have a place to store food you can eat at anytime. We stayed in our fair share of hostels, but they’re simply not as flexible or easy to use for food.
  5. Bring an emergency supply of snacks. This should be a small bag of some kind of emergency food. I always bring NutriGrain bars, and those staved off hunger on a couple of train rides. You might end up in a situation where you can’t eat safely or you need to catch a train instead of eating due to bad planning (did that one…). It’s always good to have a guaranteed safe option available.
  6. Please always carry your epinephrine autoinjectors. That’s a no brainer.

Final Thoughts

I could probably write pages and pages more — and I just might eventually! For now, those are the top takeaways.

After Greece, Thomas and DK left for Zurich, Switzerland to meet DK’s family. They’ll be finally settling down in Salzburg, Austria for their study abroad program in the next couple of days. I left for Copenhagen, Denmark where I am now completing a research project on small business performance and growth.

City

International travel can seem scary, I totally get that. I had a lot of fears about communicating with different people in different languages and still feel that the food served would be “safe.” But, it is entirely possible. You have to plan ahead, of course, but once you’re there, you have to figure it out somehow. If you explain you have food allergies, you may be surprised at how many people are willing to help and make sure the food is going to be safe and delicious. You can always figure a way to make it work!

Simply: Food allergies do not prevent you from doing anything in life, unless you let them.

Questions about travel or study abroad programs? Send me an e-mail at morgan@allergicchild.com. I’d be happy to answer any and all questions you have about my travels or about planning for yours!

EpiPens in Denmark

Hi everyone! It’s Morgan. I’m currently researching small business growth in Denmark at the moment, but I decided to take a quick reprieve from my research and look into EpiPen® pricing here in this country.

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Copenhagen!

The recent outrage over Mylan’s price increases certainly has made international news. Heather Bresch is now viewed as a challenger to Martin Shkreli as worst CEO of a pharmaceutical company, ever. Good.

Seeing all the news and congressional inquiries started to make me think: why does the US have this problem? Is it only a US issue? Why can Mylan get away with this blatant price gouging?

Doing a full cross-country comparison among developed countries in North America and Europe would take a few weeks, so I decided to examine how Denmark does it.

Background

Denmark has a publicly funded health care system with mixed governance structures: the national government sets health care goals, policies, and tax structures while regional and municipal governments oversee the delivery of health care and process payments and reimbursements.

All Danish citizens qualify to be a part of the health care system and self-identify into two groups:

  1. Group 1. 97% Danes select to be in Group 1. It’s entirely free to visit a general practitioner (GP), but you need to get a recommendation to visit a specialist. If you visit a specialist upon recommendation of your GP, it’s entirely free.
  2. Group 2. 3% Danes select to be in Group 2. You can visit GPs or specialists at your pleasure and don’t need recommendations. All GP visits are free, but there’s only partial coverage of costs for specialists.

Denmark offers on-the-spot reimbursements for pharmaceutical costs (more on that later) and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Group 1 or 2.

Pharmaceutical Delivery

Let’s say I’m the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Let’s call this company Molfyne and say it mainly produces anti-depressants. Let’s also assume that I’m licensed by the Danish government to produce and sell pharmaceuticals in Denmark.

Molfyne would need to apply to the Danish Medicines Agency, a national agency, to have its drug recognized and sold in Denmark. I would need to file an application with the Danish Medicines Agency (DMA) and tell them my selling price of my drug to Danish pharmacies. I also submit documentation regarding the effectiveness, side-effects, and value-added of the drug (among other information) to DMA and wait for their response.

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DMA determines whether the drug will be reimbursed or not based on those factors. It’s not entirely clear from my research whether DMA “negotiates” with my company over my price offered, but I suspect there might be a little negotiating.

Then, if approved, my anti-depressants are bought either by Denmark’s hospital drug procurement company (called Amgros) or by private wholesalers who sell to local pharmacies. If a patient is prescribed my drug in a hospital, there’s no co-pay or any payment since any and all pharmaceuticals are provided by the hospital and payed for by taxpayers.

If a patient is prescribed my drug by their GP or specialist and needs to buy it from a local pharmacy, they are reimbursed on-the-spot by the Danish government on a tiered system. This means that if a drug cost $50 and they qualified for a “$10 reimbursement,” they would only pay the pharmacy $40. This tiered reimbursement system is determined by how much you’ve spent on pharmaceuticals this calendar year. These tiers are 2015 numbers and are adjusted annually.

(DKK refers to the Danish Krone, their currency; $ is US Dollars)

  • You pay out of pocket up to DKK 925 ($138)
  • You get a 50% reimbursement for DKK 925 to DKK 1515 ($138 — $227)
  • You get a 75% reimbursement for DKK 1515 to DKK 3280 ($227 — $491)
  • You get an 85% reimbursement for expenses higher than DKK 3280 ($491)
  • You get a 100% reimbursement for expenses higher than DKK 3830 ($574)

To translate this, if I need to get $200 worth of drugs in February, I pay $138 out of pocket, and get 50% off the remaining $62. But if I need to buy $200 of drugs in June, I get the 50% reimbursement on the leftover of the second tier ($27 worth), and get a 75% reimbursement on the remaining cost. It means the more drugs you need to purchase, the less expensive it gets for you.

There’s only one catch: reimbursements are calculated based on the least expensive generic product. Pharmacies are required to issue the least expensive generic product, unless a doctor says otherwise (this is unusual). So, if your doctors says “not the generic one” you may have to pay a bit more, but it is still heavily reimbursed.

EpiPens in Denmark

Denmark makes it really easy to find out how much drugs cost across the board: they even have a website (http://www.medicinpriser.dk/) you can explore. It is in Danish, but you can select “English” in the upper right to view it in English.

If you search “EpiPen” you get this screen:

epipens

Notice that there are three items for 0.3 mg doses (the Stryrke column) from three pharmaceutical companies: 2care4, Orifarm, and Meda (the Firma column). Look at the consumer price (far right column)! 440 DKK is the equivalent of about $66. This means that you would pay $66 for an EpiPen® (a single one, not a two pack). The Meda EpiPen® costs 446.15 DKK, which is about $67. Really not much difference between the companies.

I was blown away seeing this. $66 for one EpiPen is cheap, even though it is an increase from previous years. Furthermore, if I have other drug costs from the year and need to get an EpiPen, this could cost me $33 (50% reimbursement), or ~$16 ($75% reimbursement). That’s quite inexpensive.

Lastly, drug companies are only allowed to adjust prices every other Monday, and they must be publicly recorded with the Danish government. There is also a law-binding agreement between an association of pharmaceutical companies (called Lif) and the Danish Ministry of Health to only raise drug prices ~1.5% every 4 years. Only some companies, like Sanofi and Pfizer, are a part of this association.

What’s the Trade-Off?

Obviously, this lower price for an EpiPen® is not happenstance. But, before we get to taxes, I’d like to note two important changes in the Danish system:

  1. Drugs available to hospitals are negotiated by one sole entity. There is a “monopsony,” a literal single buyer in that market (Amgros). Amgros is the only entity that provides Danish hospitals drugs and therefore drug companies have to negotiate with Amgros to sell their drugs. This means an emergency responder or a hospital does not need to worry about using an EpiPen® since the price is reasonable.
  2. Drug reimbursements are approved by a national health authority, the Danish Medicines Agency. As I clarified earlier, I can’t find too much about the DMA negotiating with drug companies, but I bet they wouldn’t approve reimbursements for drugs that are exorbitantly expensive, which means Danes wouldn’t have access to them by any practical means.

On to taxes.

You pay 8% on all gross income — regular income, wages, pension benefits, and so forth. There are deductions for interest dividends up to about $7,000 a year.

Then, you pay the following national income taxes (2014 rates):

  • 5.83% for incomes between 42,900 DKK to 421,000 DKK ($6,420 to $63,100)
  • 15% for incomes above 421,000 DKK (above $63,100)

You also pay between 23% and 28% to your municipality (averaging about 24% across Denmark). They’re merging their national healthcare contribution tax (3% for 2016) into their national income taxes over the next few years, but you pay that too. In total, you could pay upwards of about 57% of your income to governments of various levels every year. That’s a lot of taxes.

Oh and there’s a 25% value-added tax (kind of like a sales tax) on all goods.

Benefits

The Danish government provides a lot more than just universal healthcare in exchange for those taxes. There’s extensive unemployment insurance, social security, education (including higher education), job training, and vocation schools. Plus you get the “normal” benefits like paved roads and national security. This kind of system is referred to as the “Scandinavian welfare model.”

Lessons for the United States

Health care is a complicated system. There are pharmacies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, emergency providers, private practices, and so much more. Denmark decided to basically keep most of that private (only doctors at hospitals are “public employees”; most health care providers are private employees) but fund it all publicly. They figured out ways to keep regulatory compliance low and efficient.

It’s also important to note there are a lot of differences between the United States and Denmark. Geographic size, population, and regional inequalities all play a role. If you live in a rural region of Denmark, you’re going to get the same kind of schooling or access to health care as kids in Copenhagen — that’s not necessarily true of Mississippi versus Minnesota. Denmark is only 5 million people large; that’s barely the size of Colorado. And, of course, it’s a tiny maritime nation on the north end of Germany versus half of the North American continent.

Nonetheless, I think there a few key takeaways:

  1. The US needs to get serious about price negotiations. The Economist recently ran an article on EpiPen® pricing and the failures of the US system (note: there might be a paywall). It’s illegal for Medicare, our nation’s largest health insurance entity, to negotiate with drug companies on pricing. Only private health insurance companies can do that and they’re heavily constrained in their negotiating — only in 6 broad categories. The idea behind this choice was that competition would result in lower prices, but it obviously hasn’t worked. From the article: “As a result America spends 44% more on drugs per person than Canada, the next-highest.”  That isn’t working. A publicly funded entity like Amgros could help lessen the price of drugs across the board, but it’d be very politically unpopular.
  2. The US needs to get serious about pharmaceutical influence in politics. Denmark spends about 9.8% of its GDP each year on healthcare (12.4% of that total expenditure is on pharmaceuticals) and pharmaceutical companies comprise about 13.5% of its exports. Pharma is big in Denmark. To compare, all machinery exported by US companies comprised 13.7% of our exports. The Danish government has every reason to bolster their pharmaceutical industry and loosen regulations, but they don’t. On the flip side, as the Economist article pointed out, “[Mylan’s] chief executive, Heather Bresch, heads the generic-drugs lobby and is the daughter of an American senator.” There’s some questionable influences in American politics over our regulation of and choices regarding the pharmaceutical industry.
  3. Lastly, the US needs to get serious about insurance reform. Drug companies are notorious about offering coupons and deals for many of their more expensive drugs, especially if your insurance doesn’t cover their drug. They do this so they “look good” and can avoid regulation by Washington. But, they don’t do this for insurance companies. Insurance companies have to pay for the expensive drugs without the deals some consumers gets. In the long-run, that raises insurance prices for everyone. The Affordable Care Act (y’know, Obamacare) only did so much to combat that and, in some cases, ran counter to that goal by causing insurance price increases.

We need some serious healthcare reform. Most of it is going to be opposed because (from the Economist, again) “the only thing that Americans detest more than an expensive drug is a bureaucrat who says they can’t have it.” But, there are obvious lessons from countries around the world who have effectively dealt with price gouging by pharmaceutical companies like Mylan.

Dealing with Airlines While Traveling

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Planes are the trickiest for those of us with nut allergies. Airlines are not always friendly to nut allergies and it is up to the airline to determine their policy regarding peanuts and other nuts on the airline. You should do a quick Google search for your airline and nut allergies: for example, I’d search “Southwest nut allergies.” Most airlines will have their policies easily accessible on their website grouped in with their “Disability Accommodations” or similar.

All of the airlines will have some kind of disclaimer that reads: “We cannot prevent passengers from bringing products containing nuts or other allergens onboard our flights. Therefore, we are unable to guarantee a nut- or allergen-free flight. Attempting to do this would create a false sense of security for passengers with severe allergies. We encourage passengers who are allergic to nuts to consult with their doctor regarding the safety of air travel.” It’s true that you’ll be stuck in a metal tube with limited ventilation for a few hours while flying and exposure to nuts in flight could cause serious issues, so you will want to consult with your doctor about the safety of air travel. However, this shouldn’t dissuade you from flying, especially because different airlines will have different policies regarding flying.

Most airline websites will have a section devoted to accommodations and there should be a small section about nut allergies. There are a few different kinds of policies airlines have:

  • They won’t serve nuts if they are given notice.
    • Southwest is famous for their “Peanut Dust Allergy” document. You’ll mark that you have a disability – a “Peanut Dust Allergy” – when you book your flight online (or you can call Customer Service and they can do this too). When you get your boarding pass, you’ll also have a printed slip that says you have a peanut dust allergy. You present this to the service representative near your gate and they will give you an extra copy and a pre-board slip (see below) that you will give to the crewmember aboard your flight and they will not serve nuts on your flight. This doesn’t mean it will be a nut-free flight as other people could have nuts, but they will usually make an announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating nuts as well. They’re fantastic!
    • Delta changed their policy a few years ago, so you just need to notify the crewmember that you have a peanut allergy and they won’t serve nuts. It’s very similar to Southwest’s policy, just more informal.
  • They will allow you to pre-board to help wipe down seats.
    • Southwest allows you to pre-board if you show you have a Peanut Dust Allergy document to the service desk next to your gate. Basically, this allows you to board before everyone else, find a safe seat, and clean your area before anyone else gets on your flight. I’d highly recommend this if you fly Southwest.
  • They will give you a “buffer” zone.
    • This seems to be the predominant policy from airlines that do accommodate allergies in some way. United, AirCanada, JetBlue, Alaska Air, and many other airlines will offer to create a buffer zone of one to three rows on either side of your row. The crewmember will ask all of the people in the buffer zone to not consume any nuts and they won’t serve nuts to those rows, if they serve nuts at all. JetBlue, WestJet, and AirCanda and a couple other airlines don’t serve nuts on their flights but will still offer a buffer zone to prevent other passengers from consuming nuts on the flight. This can be useful to help assure a safe surrounding.
  • They won’t accommodate at all.
    • American Airlines is rather infamous for this. They don’t serve peanut products, but they do offer warmed nuts for first class occupants and will not grant buffer zones or even allow you to pre-board to wipe down seats.

Obviously, flying is the most complicated form of travel simply because different companies have different policies regarding food allergies. My best experiences flying have been with Southwest. I know other families have had great experiences with WestJet, JetBlue, and Air Canada as well, but I’ve always flown Southwest. The combination of a pre-board, no nuts served, and relatively inexpensive rates to most places in the country have served me well.

There are a lot of online resources regarding traveling – just do a quick Google search and you’ll find a host of blogs and other resources to help you decide.

The airline is one of the most important considerations when you’re traveling as a group. It’s likely that your teacher or coach will be booking flights without regard to your food allergies or food allergy policies. You must tell them ahead of time if they’re booking on an airline that is not friendly to food allergies and explain why it’s important to have accommodations (at least a buffer zone) on a plane for your food allergies, if you have a nut allergy. If your teacher or coach has already booked flights for the trip, you must decide whether you are comfortable flying the airline and have a thorough conversation with your teacher or coach about other ways you could get to your destination if you’re not comfortable flying the same airline.

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(Example Southwest Boarding Slip + PDA Document)


Top 10 Dating Tips for Teens with Food Allergies

Morgan & Friends April 2016

Tip #1: Carry your auto-injector (please do this anyway)

Make sure you carry your auto-injector with you all the time. Certainly, you should be doing this anyway whether or not you’re on a date. Make sure you have them on your person: they should be within your arms length whether you carry them on your person or in a bag. A purse could suffice as long as you don’t leave your purse lying around anywhere. Your auto-injector is the single most important thing you need to have just in case something happens (we’ll hope nothing does).

Tip #2: Tell Your Date… Really.

You can’t assure your safety without telling your date about your food allergies. It doesn’t have to be awkward explaining it to them! It could go something like this:

“Hey, so I didn’t know if you knew, but I’m actually really allergic to [x]. I could get really sick – even die – if I eat any of food that has it.” You don’t have to explain that kissing could create a problem (yet) unless they ask. Make sure you clearly list out your allergens and make sure your date knows that you could get really sick and/or die if you make contact with those food allergies like kissing someone. When you make the problem sound serious, your date will take it seriously.

If you’re on a dinner date, then tell them about this on the drive over to the restaurant. Lock the doors so they can’t escape! Just kidding. But really, tell them about your food allergies. If you can choose a place for dinner, make sure you choose a place with lots of safe options for both of you (i.e. Red Lobster may not be the best choice if you have a seafood allergy). If you’re meeting at the restaurant, make sure to tell your date before he or she orders.

Tip #3: Kindly make your date order a safe dish.

Usually, it works really well to immediately follow the “I’m allergic to [x]” with “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t order anything I am allergic to.” If you’re on a date with someone, hopefully they’ll be super accommodating to your food allergies. If they’re not, you probably shouldn’t date them. Keep an eye and ear open to make sure the food they order is safe.

Tip #4: When explaining food allergies and cross contact issues to the server, make sure to say “we” and not “me.”

As is good practice, you should tell the waiter or waitress about your food allergies when you order food at a restaurant. However, make sure you say “We can’t have any of these foods so if you could mark it on both of our orders.” Whether or not your date actually has food allergies is irrelevant. Making sure the food they order is prepared safely as well mitigates problems that could occur later in the night (like a kiss). If your date asks, explain it like this: “I just wanted to make sure that all of the food on this table was going to be safe.” You don’t have to explain your desire to kiss them to get it past them. They’ll be understanding anyway.

Tip #5: Tell Your Date (Yes, Really, Again).

Have you not told them? Sheesh. You need to tell your date! You must tell them. They can’t keep you safe – heck, you can’t keep you safe – if you don’t tell them about your food allergies! They could have had a plan to take you to Texas Roadhouse but they wouldn’t know that was a bad idea if you didn’t tell them about your peanut allergy (for example).

Tip #6: Making the move: don’t make it too awkward

So it’s time for the kiss. Maybe it’s the end of the first date. Maybe it’s the end of the second. Whenever this time comes, you don’t need to make it awkward. The reason I prefer dinner dates is because I can assure that the hours before a kiss is possible contain safe food. That mitigates problems from the kiss. Hopefully (although this is not guaranteed), they are also hygienic and they brushed their teeth before they went on the date with you. You can’t assure this happens but dinner dates lengthen the time between consuming unsafe food and the ensuing teeth brushing with a potential kiss.

However, if you’re simply seeing them at night after sports practice (for example), you should ask them what they had that day. You wouldn’t want to be kissing them if they just ate a PB&J sandwich with their team for dinner and you’re allergic to peanuts. That’s not a good combination. You need to set that boundary and say, before you kiss them: “Did you eat anything that I’m allergic to today?” It can help if you list off those allergens if they’re unsure. If they just wave it off and say “no, no, I didn’t,” pressure them! Make them confirm. You don’t need to make them list off every item from every meal of the day (unless if you want to), but you do need to make sure they haven’t eaten anything unsafe in the past few hours. I know that this doesn’t keep the “moment” intact, but your life and safety is far more important than kissing someone (even if they are superbly attractive).

If you don’t feel comfortable kissing someone after a dinner date (even if they ate safe food) because you don’t know what they ate earlier in the day, it is completely okay to ask them what they ate throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be an extensive list, but frame it as if you’re concerned and you really want to kiss them but you just want to be safe. Or, you can simply postpone the kiss for another night (even if that isn’t the best solution, it is the one that keeps you safe).

Tip #7: Over for dinner? Come early or be the chef!

Your date has invited you over for dinner – oh no! Even if you’ve told them about your food allergies, you can’t guarantee that they’ll be as good as you reading labels and preparing safe food. You can either come early and read all the labels (explaining to your date that you just want to make sure all the food is safe). Even if your date assures you that all the food is safe, read the labels anyway. Make some excuse about being weird and paranoid and that you just want to make sure the food is safe, even though you trust that they have read it. Also, if you want to be extra safe, make sure they clean pots and pans before they start making dinner. You never know what has been cooked in those pans previously. Personal note: I’ve cooked a balsamic sauce in a pot before and even after three thorough cleanings, I still get a hint of balsamic in anything I cook in that pan. Needless to say, some food can stick around in the pans (especially if they’re poor quality pans like mine are).

Your other option is to be the chef! If your date invites you over for dinner and you don’t/can’t come early, insist on cooking. That way, you can bring all the safe ingredients and tools to make safe food. You can even invite them over to your place for dinner.

Tip #8: Meeting the parents: Go to a safe restaurant or be the chef!

Your boyfriend/girlfriend is now wanting you to meet their parents. That’s intimidating anyway – there’s no need to make it more complicated, confusing, or stressful with your food allergies. Your date’s parents may not fully understand your food allergies, even if it’s been explained it to them multiple times. That means there is a possibility for mistakes – and that’s something you want to avoid.

You can first invite them to a safe restaurant. If there are safe options available, kindly ask your date to order one of those and again use the “we can’t eat any of my allergens” statement from Tip #3. If you wish, you can also ask your date’s parents to order food that couldn’t cause issues. For example, I do ask for them not to eat shrimp pasta since we’re in such close proximity. I’m not going to be partaking in it, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve never had a negative reaction to this request since they can forgo one night without their shrimp pasta.

You can also be the chef! Offer to bring your food and pans to their house to cook a family meal. You can also invite them over to your house and cook them a meal. That may be a nice meet-and-greet opportunity as well between your parents and theirs.

Tip #9: Know safe “staple” foods and brands for easy shopping and food.

Eventually, you may find yourself in constant company with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s important to know go-to brands of food and restaurants. If they become hungry, you can simply say “how about [x restaurant]?” That way, you always have a safe option in the back of your head. This works great especially when you are with friends of your boyfriend or girlfriend; they can all enjoy good food and you can have safe options.

For long-term relationships, knowing safe brands of food means you can answer their parents’ requests about what food you would like. If you find yourself at a grocery store needing food, you automatically know which brands are safe and which aren’t.

Tip #10: Please train them.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know anything about food allergies or how to administer an epinephrine autoinjector. Train them! If you don’t train them about signs of an allergic reaction or how to administer your auto-injector, they cannot help you in times of emergencies. It doesn’t take long and it’s a very important part of keeping safe.

BONUS TIPS

Bonus Tip #1: Long-term relationship tip: give them a toothbrush and toothpaste to store in their car

This may seem like a weird one, but it’s important. Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend accidentally ate a KIND bar during a break at work and they’re seeing you later that night. You want to mitigate any possibility of having issues from kissing them later that night, so give them a toothbrush and toothpaste to store in the car.

Obviously, it’s preferred if they don’t eat any of your allergens. That sacrifice may be difficult for some and it’s up to you whether that’s a deal-breaker in the relationship. You must determine the boundaries you are willing to live with. Personally, I would prefer them not to eat anything I’m allergic to (and I voice it clearly) but I’m not super strict about it. I understand that they will be eating nuts every once in a while, but I make sure they are fully aware of the consequences. If you’ve been dating a while, it may be time to have a conversation about whether they’d be willing to give up eating a food you’re allergic to – but that’s all up to you.

Bonus Tip #2: Avoid Alcohol

Let’s ignore the fact that underage drinking is illegal. There are two parts to this.

First, alcohol allows you to do stupid things. It hinders your ability to think straight and you could end up accidentally eating something while you’re drunk that you’re not supposed to because you forgot to read the label. Usually when you’re drunk (in high school and college), you’re surrounded by other drunk people. Those drunk people will most likely be unable to help you if you eat something you’re allergic to because either a) they can’t think straight like you, or more likely b) they don’t know how to administer an autoinjector in the first place.

Second, a lot of alcohol contains food allergens and they’re not required to label it. This quite literally means your first drink could be your last. You could be your diligent ol’ self and promise to only have a sip of something even after reading the labels on the alcohol, but you don’t actually know what it is in it because they aren’t required to put it on the label. For example, Bombay Sapphire contains tree nuts and it appears nowhere on the label.

I know alcohol seems enticing and helps you “fit in” with friends. Most people respect your decision if you say “no” to their offer of a drink; however, if they continue to pressure you into drinking even after you’ve said no, then it is time for you to leave the party and maybe even find a different friend. In this instance, your life is on the line and you need to choose responsibly instead of “fitting in.”

Bonus Tip #3: Enjoy your dating life!

Life is too short to take it too serious. You should always try and keep yourself as safe as possible and I hope the above tips help out with that. Remember: you’re on a date! You’re supposed to have fun with this guy or girl who you like and who you think is really attractive. Don’t let food allergies ever stop you from dating. Be yourself and have fun! It’s a date.

Studying Abroad in College with Food Allergies

Studying Abroad is a rite of passage at the University of Denver, where I attend college. There are numerous steps for every student to prepare appropriately for being in another country for a school quarter or semester. For me, adding food allergies into the mix, generates even more necessary preparation!

The University of Denver (where I attend college) is #1 in the nation for study abroad participation rates. Nearly 3 in 4 students at DU study abroad, typically during the fall of their junior year. I kid you not, it seems like the entire junior class disappears during the fall and magically reappears in the winter. DU makes it excessively easy to study abroad: they partnered with over 130 universities and study abroad programs around the world in dozens upon dozens of different countries. With a good GPA (3.0+), a student is eligible for the Cherrington Global Scholars (CGS) program. If you’re eligible for CGS, you pay DU the normal tuition and housing costs for a quarter; in return, they pay for tuition and housing at your host university abroad and reimburse visa and flight costs (among a few other things). It really makes studying abroad superbly easy (plus, they have an easily searchable database of available programs!)

I knew this coming into freshman year and I’ve spent a long time looking at the programs available. I knew a few things:

  • Unless I magically became fluent in another language, I would need to go to an English-speaking country. The language barrier present in trying to explain my food allergies to chefs or other people in a country that does not predominantly speak English would be a challenge that puts my life at risk. That was unacceptable so I knew I would have to look at an English-speaking country in which to study abroad.
  • I could not do a homestay program. This is especially true in non-English speaking countries. In a homestay, I would have little to no control over the food served and thus would be putting myself in danger. I knew a homestay would not work.
  • Most importantly, I would have to find a university or program that had classes that interested me and was in a country that interested me! I wouldn’t want to study abroad in a country that I didn’t like or at a university/program that offered no classes that interested me. That wouldn’t be fun and I want to have fun while studying abroad.

I found a few programs around the world in the UK, Australia, and Ireland that interested me. After narrowing it down, I found an awesome program at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. It’s about 3 hours away from London (by train) in rural England and it’s ranked as a pretty good university!

Lancaster

Because I love to plan ahead, I knew this was the program I wanted to attend before I even started school my freshman year (last year). It had all of the academic courses that I desired, and the housing was on the university campus with access to a kitchen.

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I did a bit more research into the program at Lancaster during the winter & spring of my freshman year and realized that the dormitory system may throw a wrench in my plans. Lancaster is set-up in a college system. Each college has its own dining hall, common areas, and living spaces. The majority of the dorms were set-up in a shared kitchen style, meaning that food would be stored in a shared refrigerator (or two) and everyone would have access to the same pots and pans to cook. That posed a lot of cross-contact issues both in storing and preparing food. I knew that I could probably buy my own pans and pots while I’m there, but I couldn’t mitigate contact between my food and other people’s in the same refrigerator. I made a judgment call and determined I didn’t feel safe with that option.

I found that some colleges have a “private ensuite” option: I have a kitchen and storage and a bed all to myself in my own self-contained suite. This mitigates a lot of the issues that could arise in a shared kitchen facility. I became really excited since I knew that the option was available! I just had to find out if I could secure a “private ensuite” while I study abroad.

I dug into Lancaster’s website and found their disability office contact. I sent an e-mail with my concerns (explaining my food allergies, their severity, the problems with shared kitchen facilities, and the possibility of a private ensuite). I heard back from the office and they said that it was a definite possibility! They remarked that it wasn’t a preferred set-up for a study abroad student simply because it limited my social interactions with other people, but they said my health always trumps those concerns.

I was really excited. I knew that I could study abroad and find safe housing at my host university. I started to research labeling laws for the UK and got some help from the Anaphylaxis Campaign in the UK in identifying the regulations. Since the UK is a member of the European Union (EU), the EU’s regulations apply to all UK manufacturers and producers.

At the University of Denver, the Office of International Education (OIE) supervises all of the study abroad programs. Students get a study abroad advisor depending upon their country and that advisor helps answer any questions regarding studying abroad and helps coordinate all of the application process.

I told my OIE contact person about my food allergies and why homestay/shared kitchens would not work. I wanted to reconfirm through him and his contacts at Lancaster that a private ensuite option would be available for studying abroad. The staff at Lancaster confirmed this! I would need to submit some medical documentation, coordinate with the disability office, and include the request on my study abroad application, but otherwise, everything was a go!

After spending the last few months coordinating with OIE, my academic advisors, and Lancaster University, I decided to add a month of research in Copenhagen Denmark, prior to the start of the school quarter at Lancaster. The research will be within my two majors: economics and public policy.

Copenhagen

Denmark is also, technically, an English-speaking country. 86% of Danes are fluent English speakers, meaning that I won’t have problems assuring my safety in urban areas. I’m still securing a lot of the details around my research since it is a relatively new adventure! I know I’ll be staying in a no-pet and no-smoking Airbnb in Copenhagen for the month, with access to a fully-furnished kitchen. This makes it really easy to make sure I’m safe: I buy all of my own food and cook it myself! I’m still researching labeling laws in Denmark, but given that they are members of the EU as well, I’m sure their regulations are very similar to the UK’s.

I’m so excited to have this opportunity to study abroad, and to do so with my food allergies handled in a way that makes me feel safe!

 

 

 

Traveling Alone with Food Allergies

My Trip to New York!

I recently traveled to New York – alone – for a conference put on by the Roosevelt Institute. As I’ve mentioned before, Roosevelt is a national organization trying to re-engage young people in the policymaking process. They offer a national training each year to leaders of the Institute from around the nation at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Since I started my chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at the University of Denver, I was invited to attend!

They offered to cover my flight out (which is great)! I had a great few e-mails with their operations specialist at Roosevelt and then I called and voiced my concerns about which airlines I could fly. Since I’ve really only had good experience with Southwest, I told them that I would prefer to fly with them. However, there was one main problem: I had to be at Grand Central Station in NYC by about 2:45pm on Thursday, August 6th to catch my train to Poughkeepsie, the nearest train stop in upstate New York. Only one flight from Denver would get me to LaGuardia airport at 1:40pm (landing time). I knew that it would be a tight push to get off the plane, get my luggage, and get to Grand Central in an hour.

Instead, I had Roosevelt book a flight the day before. This allowed stress free traveling and some extra time. Since I didn’t book the trip online, I called in to Southwest customer service and explained my peanut allergy so that it would be noted on my reservation.

The next problem was, where would I stay? My Mom and I had a couple discussions about friends and family we knew in NYC and in Poughkeepsie. We looked up a hotel in Poughkeepsie that was relatively cheap. However, we eventually settled on renting through Airbnb.

If you’ve never used Airbnb, it’s wonderful! It is a website where home owners advertise a room or their entire place for you to stay in, like a hotel. Usually, however, you’ll have access to a full kitchen and all the amenities you may not have in a hotel. Plus, they must mark if smoking and/or pets are allowed. By default, they’re not! This makes the stay even better. I found a very awesome room to rent in Poughkeepsie, NY. I submitted my request to room there for the night and had a great conversation with the owner through Airbnb before I went confirming the non-smoking and the no pets! I didn’t get into my food allergies since I knew I could find safe food. She and her boyfriend lived together; they were both lovely and fully accommodating.

Roosevelt arranged housing for the duration of the conference at a nearby motel called the Golden Manor. I was supposed to have a roommate, but he didn’t show up. Instead, I got to have a room to myself! Now that I had my housing arranged, I had to make sure I had my food all in order.

I coordinated again with the operations specialist at Roosevelt for a menu of the food provided at the conference. (I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish.) She got back to me and we realized that, in fact, all but one of the meals would be safe! She double checked with the caterers for ingredients and confirmed that all the meals (except one) would be perfectly safe. The lunch on Friday was Chinese, which was not safe for a multitude of reasons. Instead, they bought me a frozen meal that was perfectly safe (it was a burrito bowl and we both triple checked the ingredients) that I ate instead of the Chinese food.

I also brought extra food for myself (a few homemade granola bars and a couple of bagels) just in case a breakfast or a lunch turned out not to be safe. That way, I always had something to eat!

The trip itself went very smoothly. I arrived in NYC at LaGuardia airport, got my luggage, and hailed an Uber. Uber is another great app that allows you to hail a (more or less) private driver – like a taxi, but usually they’re nicer cars and nicer people – that will take you anywhere. The fee for the ride is all conducted through the app and tips are automatically added. It’s really a seamless experience and I had a great Uber driver on the way into New York City.

The driver dropped me off with my luggage at Grand Central. I forgot how many people lived in New York City! Despite the masses, I found my way to a ticket booth, got my ticket, and got on the train to Poughkeepsie. It was about an hour and 45 minutes long. Once I arrived in Poughkeepsie, I walked the short walk to the Airbnb place and arrived home for the evening! Since the owners were out, they left a hidden key outside and let me know via the Airbnb app. Once they arrived back, we chatted for a while before we both went to bed. I had packed food for the trip and I ate along the way.

Airbnb room

In the morning, I had a granola bar and some coffee. A light breakfast, admittedly, but I kind of spaced on what I would do for that morning. Even with all of my careful planning, I did overlook it, but I was grateful I had brought extra food. After a while, I said goodbye to my wonderful hosts and walked back to the train station. Roosevelt promised to shuttle us from the train station up to Hyde Park, where FDR’s home is.

Roosevelt home

The conference was absolutely amazing. We got a tour of FDR’s home and presidential library (both of which were great!). We also did some great trainings for leadership, strategic planning, policy making, coalition building, and even PR techniques. The food went absolutely perfectly throughout the entire weekend and the staff were so wonderful! Every time I went to get food, the staff was double checking with me about the ingredients of the food and what I could eat. It was just wonderful.

One night, a huge group of us walked 15 minutes up the road to a nearby diner. Just like any restaurant I go to in a foreign place, I played it safe and got some French toast. I double checked with the waiter and he double checked with the chef; everything went great. It was really tasty French toast, too!

After the conference was over, I took a mid-morning train back to NYC from Poughkeepsie on Sunday, August 9th. Even though I had a small suitcase with me, I decided I wanted to look around NYC a little bit, so I ventured my way onto the metro and went down to the World Trade Center. The memorial was absolutely gorgeous and the new One World Trade Center is great! I grabbed Panera for lunch before going to the airport via Uber.

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Panorama 9_11

My safety for the entire trip was assured by planning ahead and making sure everything I was going to eat was safe. I just communicated my concerns and I made sure all of it would work! Overall, it was an amazing experience.

Go with the Flow when You’re Invited to a Business Lunch

Last Friday, I was in Denver meeting with a bunch of non-profits and elected officials for my most recent project: the University of Denver Roosevelt Institute. I’ve made mention of it before, but to recap, it’s an undergraduate non-partisan think tank. We’re a chapter of a national network of campuses that is attempting to re-engaging young people in politics (a tall order, I know).

Anyway, I had a meeting with the Governor’s Senior Advisor, Jamie van-Leeuwen. Jamie advises the Governor of Colorado on social policy and projects (like homelessness) and has a wealth of experience in urban and economic development. He actually started his own international development foundation called the Global Livingston Institute. Needless to say, he’s very intelligent and was great to meet with him. He’s an absolutely whirlwind of energy – I swear this man never sleeps.

I had scheduled a meeting with him at 12, but he was late. He had to finish up a panel discussion with a number of interns in the Governor’s office. Once he arrived, the conversation went something like this:

Jamie: “Hi, Morgan, right?”

Me: “Hi Jamie, yes. Nice to meet you!”

Jamie: “Nice to meet you to! I’m running late, sorry about that.               But I’m actually supposed to be at a lunch – do you mind                             coming along?”

Me: “Uh, sure! I’d love to.”

Given that this was the only opportunity for me to meet with him in a month (he’s in Africa now working on projects related to his foundation), I figured if I had to talk to him on the way to a lunch (and at the lunch), I would. We basically raced to his car and started a short drive over to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where the lunch was being held.

As it turns out, a celebration of culture for North & South America (called the Biennial of the Americas) was going on during last week and Jamie served on their board. Since this was the last lunch of the event, he needed to at least make an appearance. While I chatted him up on our car ride over, my mind was already thinking about the food at the event. I figured I would wait until we got there and see what they were serving.

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After a few brief hellos with people Jamie knew, we sat down at a table. There was a salad with spiced chicken on it and a vinaigrette already drizzled over it. Accompanying it was a chocolate cupcake with a nut-looking topping. As I sat down, a server came over and began to pour some water. I turned to her and immediately asked if the salad has any of my allergens. She tells me she will ask the chef and departs.

Jamie and his friend we sat down with immediately turn to me and ask if everything is all right. They were very interested in my safety! I briefly explained that I had severe food allergies; they completely got it. The server returned and told me that everything in the salad was 100% okay. They did not prepare anything with shellfish, fish, or sesame. They aren’t a nut-free kitchen but the salad did not contain nuts. I felt very comfortable with that answer and began to dive into the salad.

While the lunch was going on, there was a really great panel between the Mayors of Denver and Calgary, and a former Mayor of Bogota. They were talking about the importance of local community change. I always think about how important it is for parents of food allergic children to work with their schools and the school board on making sure food allergic children are safe in their schools. That’s a great example of what the Mayors were talking about.

Without even asking, the server later returned and said the cupcake was topped with pumpkin seeds and not nuts, but cautioned me again that they weren’t a nut-free kitchen. I thanked her. As a general rule, I always pass on dessert simply because most desserts have some sort of cross contact issue with nuts, whether or not the topping is pumpkin seeds.

Overall it was a great lunch and Jamie was awesome to talk to. I certainly wasn’t expecting to go to lunch, but everything turned out just fine! I always make sure to ask about the food served, especially at big galas. Who knows what’s in the food!

The Sometimes Incompetence of Waiters

The other weekend I went with a friend and ate at P.F. Chang’s. For those of you who are familiar with the restaurant’s menu, it seems like an odd choice for my food allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish and shellfish). It’s Asian cuisine and most of the menu items contain some sort of nut or shellfish/fish ingredient. However, I’ve eaten at P.F. Chang’s since I was very young and I’ve always had an excellent experience. I became good friends with the Head Chef and then Assistant Owner of a local P.F. Chang’s in Colorado Springs so I knew what went on in the kitchen and what menu items could be prepared safely.

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My favorite menu item is Crispy Honey Chicken – a very “play it safe” but delicious dish. I’ve eaten it dozens of times and never had any issue.

Anyway, we sat down and the waiter came over and introduced himself. He brought us menus and we ordered water for drinks. I knew what I wanted to order because of my allergies and I knew the dish would be safe. When he came back, I notified him of my food allergies. He told me that P.F. Chang’s has a “matrix” or print out of items on the menu that would be safe for me. He returned quickly with this print out and let us scan through it. I don’t know how this list is compiled, but it is most likely a list of dishes that “may contain” the allergens input. I never received clarity on it.

To my surprise, the Crispy Honey Chicken was not on the list, despite my eating of it a mere month or two before. There were probably only four or five items on the entire list. When the waiter returned, I notified him of the issue and he said he couldn’t do anything about it, nor could he assure that the item was safe. I went ahead with it anyway and ordered Crispy Honey Chicken. I knew it was safe and I had eaten it many times and very recently too. I simply asked him to notify the chef of my food allergies or put it in the system so they could prepare it separately from all the other food – something I know P.F. Chang’s does for food allergic customers.

The waiter said the chef couldn’t do that. They couldn’t guarantee the safety of my food or prepare it in an area away from the regular food. I was surprised and at this point a little scared. What if I couldn’t actually eat my “play it safe” dish? What if P.F. Chang’s had changed? Or, was it just this location that had different practices? I told the waiter to give me a few minutes to think about it.

I was mainly surprised because the Head Chef and Assistant Owner I knew from my youth made it very clear that the kitchen always has a separate area to prepare dishes for food allergic customers. I decided to take matters into my own hands and call the restaurant – from within the restaurant. I asked to speak to a manager. I told the manager: “Hi! I’m looking at coming to your P.F. Chang’s but I have severe food allergies. I’ve eaten at many P.F. Chang’s but I just wanted to check your practices. I know you have a matrix print out, but I was wondering if the chefs prepare food for customers like me in a separate area.” The manager confirmed! She told me that the chefs use separate pans and oils to prepare food for food allergic customers and I only would have to notify my waiter to put it into the system.

I was much happier at this point because I knew I could have a safe meal. I made sure the waiter had put it in the system when the meal was ordered (really, I double checked) so I could have a safe meal. The meal was delicious and safe and nothing went wrong.

Within a couple days, I called the restaurant back and spoke to a manager (a different one) and explained to him what had happened. I also made clear it wasn’t a big deal for me but that it could be an awful experience for a family who had never eaten at P.F. Chang’s. They would either be very scared or they would simply leave. He was deeply apologetic and told me he would have a deep conversation with the waiter about practices. The odd thing (for both the manager and I) was that the waiter was not new and was pretty familiar with the kitchens’ practices for food allergic customers. That aside, the manager sent me a $15 gift card and I’ll definitely be returning for more Crispy Honey Chicken.

I think there are a few important lessons from this adventure:

First, waiters can be wrong. They can also be right! I’ve had many positive experiences with waiters at restaurants, including P.F. Chang’s. Sometimes, however, they can be incompetent and unwilling to ask their manager or the chef. In those cases, you need to take matters into your own hands like I did to make sure you’re getting a safe meal.

Second, play it safe. I knew Crispy Honey Chicken was a safe dish even though the matrix didn’t have it. That’s a risk I took but given that I had eaten it a mere month before, it was a relatively safe risk. If you’re at a restaurant you’ve eaten at before with an incompetent waiter, eat something you’ve had before to play it safe. If you’re at a new restaurant, get something that looks like it is the least risky dish.

Finally, I think it’s very important to be patient. I could’ve lost it and gone after the waiter but I didn’t. Working it out and getting as much information is super important to understanding the situation at hand. Getting in touch with a superior (like a manager) also helps. Being patient makes sure that you are careful and deliberate in your decisions.

Overall, it wasn’t the best experience. I certainly had moments where I was unsure or scared that the food was not going to be safe but I had faith in the chefs in the back to keep it safe. Everything turned out well – and hey! I have a gift card of $15. Always good.

Freshman Year at College with Food Allergies

I cannot believe I have finished my first year of college at the University of Denver (DU). It is CRAZY!

Spring Conference

The main event in Spring Quarter was flying out to Los Angeles to attend a conference at the University of Southern California. I founded a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at DU. Roosevelt is a non-partisan, non-profit, undergraduate think tank (how’s that for a mouthful) that seeks to empower young people in political change ranging from K-12 reform to international development, economic justice to public health issues (like food allergies!). The Western Region held an annual conference at USC that I was invited to since I had recently started up the chapter at DU. They were very understanding of my food allergies and expressed an interest in accommodating them.

Everything didn’t work out how I had planned. I had initially understood sandwiches were going to served for the mid-conference lunch but that was soon changed to Indian food. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to how to work around Indian food. I decided to bring my own bagels and snacks in my suitcase for a safe alternative for food. Thankfully, the breakfast they provided was safe. I knew I had to work around it since it was a last minute change, and I didn’t throw up a fuss. Since I could bring my own food (or heck, even order Jimmy John’s to deliver once I was there), it was not a problem.

For dinner, I ate at In-n-Out Burger. I’ve had In-N-Out before on a trip my senior year and I knew it was safe. I double checked once I was there and they assured me nothing contained sesame. It was absolutely delicious!

Just to reinforce something, this was the first time I had flown alone – no friends, no family, nobody with me besides, well, me! It was a big leap forward. However, I flew Southwest Airlines so I knew no problems would arise. You can indicate (like I did) a “peanut dust allergy” when ordering tickets and get two things: a preboard slip and a PDA slip. Preboarding allowed me to enter first and clean off my seat from any previous flight to prevent contact with allergens. The PDA slip I gave to the flight attendant and because of it, they do not serve peanuts on the flight. Overall, the conference was a safe and successful trip!

Morgan & Thomas June 2015

My Roommate

I have to say: the reason my first year at college was successful was because of my roommate, Thomas.

Thomas comes from the humble little town of Buena Vista, CO and he is one of the best people I know. He wouldn’t eat my allergens in the dorm room, he’d wash his hands if necessary, be considerate of the restaurants we’re eating at, watch out for my health, and simply would be a good guy. Thomas was truly an amazing roommate. We were randomly assigned through the housing system and I have to say I was very fortunate to be assigned to room with him. I can’t offer enough praise for having such an awesome guy.

I trained Thomas about allergic reactions and what symptoms to look for, and how to administer my EpiPen. He’d even read labels on things! I hope every food allergic child has such an awesome experience.

Certainly, Thomas was aware of my food allergies because I told him – an essential step. When your food allergic child(ren) go to college, tell them this: do not keep them hidden from the person/people you’re living with! I set out the standards of asking him not to eat things I was allergic to in the room and everything worked out amazingly.

Wicked

To celebrate the end of the quarter, I went and saw Wicked, the famous Broadway musical. I have seen it before and I absolutely love the play. Very catchy show tunes – they’re still stuck in my head almost a week later!

The program at DU that helped sponsor this also paid for a pre-show dinner at a local French restaurant called Bistro Vendome. They offered a choice of two appetizers, four entree dishes, and two desserts since we had such a big group (over 30 people!). I told the waitress about my food allergies when I ordered the dishes I wanted and told her also about cross contact issues. She was very nice and helpful and triple checked all the dishes with the chef to make sure they were safe! It was a wonderful and delicious (and free!) dinner.

On Campus Food

The last quick note I’d like to make is that I still had no issue with the food on campus. The local dining hall actually had a change in staff so there was a new head chef! I made sure to introduce myself but since all the food has ingredients clearly labeled on television screens, I knew there wouldn’t be an issue.

Have a wonderful summer!

Learning More at College by Morgan Smith

The second quarter of the year has been fantastic!

Trip to Buena Vista, Colorado

About three weeks into Winter Quarter, my roommate (Thomas), two friends (Bryce & Kieran), and I decided to go down to Thomas’ house in Buena Vista for the weekend. We just wanted a weekend away from college and to be able to relax; what a wonderful time it was! I drove us down Friday evening and we stopped by Beau Jo’s pizza, a famous Colorado-based restaurant. I had absolutely no issues with their pizza and I did double check with the waiter and the chef if it was. We arrived late Friday night at Thomas’ house.

The entire weekend (Friday through Monday morning) was mainly comprised of lounging around and watching movies, but Bryce & I did utilize the kitchen a lot. She and I made breakfast both days and she was very mindful of my allergies. We didn’t make anything I couldn’t eat and, despite her being a vegetarian, the majority of her nut-filled snacks were eaten on the road and she made sure to wash her hands afterward.

Thomas has a dog, Lucy; however, I had absolutely no issues during that weekend with Lucy! It was a huge improvement from a few years ago before I got allergy shots. I didn’t have any tightness in my chest or coughing and I definitely didn’t have an allergic reaction.

We drove down to Salida, CO on Saturday and hung around for a few hours meandering through the streets after having lunch at a local restaurant. The restaurant was very accommodating. The cooks typically pre-prepare their meat at the beginning of the day; because of this, the waitress was concerned that many of the meats could have cross-contaminated with fish and shellfish. When this concern was expressed to the chefs, they made an entire new section of meat just for me so I could have a safe meal! (I was having spicy chicken quesadillas)

On Sunday, Bryce and I coordinated the final dinner, but everyone helped out making an Italian feast comprised of garlic bread, olive oil asparagus, brown butter pasta, and a safe dessert of creme brulee (which I realize is not Italian). The group shopped together and I made sure everything was safe.

On our way back to Denver, we stopped by my parent’s house in Colorado Springs and grabbed lunch, which is always safe!

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Winter Quarter Activities

This quarter has been quite busy; although I took one less class than I did in the fall, I filled my spare time with lots of activities.

I arranged an internship at the Colorado State Capitol, working for State Representative Pete Lee who represents downtown Colorado Springs. Rep. Lee and I had met at a previous dinner hosted by a mutual friend, and he had mentioned that I could intern for him during the legislative session! Since Colorado’s legislative session runs for only 5 months, it would be a perfect internship during the Winter & Spring quarters.

There isn’t any food involved, thankfully. The only food in Rep. Lee’s office is in a shared refrigerator, and it is composed of string cheese and Frappucinos. Since I typically intern in the mid-afternoon, I usually don’t bring food and I leave before I need to eat dinner. Even if there was an issue, I know the staff in the office would be superbly accommodating.

I’m also actively following HB 15-1232 in the CO State Legislature. The bill allows organizations other than schools to acquire and stock epinephrine auto-injectors. A food allergic child who is involved with such an organization must get a doctor to sign-off on a prescription allowing the stock epinephrine. It also requires those organizations to train its employees on the use of an epinephrine auto-injector. It’s exciting! It got through the House Health & Human Services committee and is now in House Appropriations for amendment-related information. It’ll be interesting to see if it passes or not!

Near the end of the quarter, I also helped out at the Boettcher Foundation’s annual Finalist interviews. The Boettcher Foundation is a Colorado-based non-profit that awards full-ride scholarships at any Colorado university to a select group of students who show strength in academics, leadership, service, and character. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Boettcher Scholarship last year and I decided to volunteer my time this year!

The Foundation interviews 100 Finalists and must select 40 who receive the scholarship. Needless to say, it’s a rather stressful time for all of the Finalists. I volunteered to be a helper in the waiting area to calm down the nerves and just talk with all of the Finalists as they await to be interviewed.

I worked for almost 5 hours with all of the Finalists, from a little before noon until about 4:30. The Foundation provided lunch to all of the volunteers. The week before, I e-mailed the coordinator of the day and I asked her what food was going to be served. Stephanie, the coordinator, is already aware of my food allergies and is absolutely wonderful! The catering company made an entirely separate lunch that was safe for me and contained all kinds of safe food, like a salad, chips, and a sandwich with safe bread. Stephanie let me know this was happening beforehand and the moment I walked in the door she told me exactly where to find my lunch.

Food at the University of Denver

Winter Quarter was a host to a couple of different events.

To start off, the daily meals have been absolutely wonderful and stress-free. The dining halls always have safe options for breakfast and lunch and I can always find something tasty, somewhat healthy, and safe to eat. The typical breakfast includes fruit, hashbrowns, and sausage (with pancakes somedays).

There are a few exceptions to this. One night, it was Chinese New Year and the dining hall did decide to get a themed dinner going! Unfortunately, all the dishes either contained or cross-contaminated with dishes that contained one of my allergies (nuts and shellfish were the typical ingredients). I walked a minute north on campus to the other dining hall that provides a food court style of serving. They have an entirely safe Mexican option that is reminiscent of Chipotle. I got a safe quesadilla for that night and everything was good. I don’t know if I felt left out, but it certainly was unfortunate that I couldn’t eat with my friends for that night simply because of the options available.

Thankfully, DU is amazing in all other aspects. They have the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management that runs all of their social events, especially the dinners. For the entire year (there was an opening dinner with the Chancellor at the beginning of the year and a couple of interspersed events I got into that also provided dinner), they have been absolutely accommodating. When I RSVP for the event, I include information about my food allergies and I ask what they can do about it. Every time, they respond that “everything is handled!” and guaranteed, it is. For example, they handmade a salad for me so that it didn’t contain nuts (like the rest of them did).

Final Notes

Our Chancellor has office hours once a month and last month I stopped by to introduce myself and ask a couple of questions. Before I left, I mentioned to her about how great DU is with food allergies. She agreed! She comes from two east coast private universities and they did not accommodate food allergies well.

I’m off to another 10 weeks of school! Hopefully, nothing too exciting happens – food wise!

Best wishes,

Morgan

The First Quarter of College by Morgan Smith

The first quarter of college was exhilarating!

The University of Denver (DU) runs on a quarter system: there are three 10-week quarters during the regular school year plus an optional summer quarter. I went up to school the last day of August for a week-long orientation at DU before classes began and I arrived home the week before Thanksgiving after successfully completing all my finals.

Before arriving at the school, we met with dining services to discuss food options (my mom wrote an entire blog post here about that visit). DU uses Sodexo as their food provider for their three different dining halls, convenience stores, and various cafes around the campus. In the past, I haven’t had extraordinary success with Sodexo; however, at DU, they are simply the best. When we originally visited, the executive chef at the local dining hall – Nelson Hall – had agreed that I could ask him anything about any of the food served, what it contained, and how it was prepared if I didn’t feel safe eating it. Needless to say, he and I have become really good friends. The dining hall has lots of good options for all meals: fruits & veggies are always available and safe flatbread/pizza is available for lunch & dinner. All the chefs are trained by the university on how to use an Epi-Pen as an extra precaution just in case something occurs.

A dining hall, only a little farther north on campus, has a food court-style service: there is a Greek option, an American option, a Mexican option, and an Asian option. The nice thing about this dining hall is that the menu never changes: they always offer the same food no matter when you arrive. More importantly, the Mexican option is 100% safe (after discussions with the executive chef at that dining hall) and the Greek option is safe as long as I don’t eat the pita bread. They also have “to-go” boxes so I can bring the food back to my dorm if I don’t want to eat it there.

Honestly, the food is working out superbly. I typically go grab the Mexican option for lunch in between classes and select one of the safe options at Nelson for breakfast and dinner. I always have friends around when I eat, which is great.

Classes are pretty difficult overall. I only had one 8am class this quarter and there was a surprising lack of food from students in the class. I decided not to tell any of my professors about my food allergies since I didn’t feel it was pertinent to my success as a student. Given that college is very individualistic, the expectation would be for me, and not for the professor, to ask someone not to eat a PB&J next to me. There was never any issue in any of the classrooms related to food. I kept a wary eye out in that 8am class just in case but the only potential “issue” I ever encountered was someone eating a Snickers on the other side of the classroom. I certainly was not worried.

I live on the Pioneer Leadership Program (PLP) floor at DU. PLP is a leadership program at DU that allows a student to obtain a minor in leadership studies. There are a lot of programs like this at different colleges around the nation; however, PLP is unique given that the students of the program live together on a floor in a dorm. Each year, PLP takes 66 new students and these 66 live together on the floor. They’re very driven, responsible, and intelligent students and it’s a blast to live with them! Our Residential Assistants (RAs) are older PLPers who know what the first year is like.

My roommate is phenomenal. He’s so understanding and we established from the get-go rules about food in the dorm: none of my food allergens in the room and if he eats anything that I would be allergic to, he just washes his hands. We have a refrigerator, but typically it’s stocked with caffeinated drinks, not food. We have pretty similar sleep schedules and personalities, so we get along super well. I feel super lucky to have such a good friend as a roommate (but honestly, I get along with everyone in PLP really well).

I applied before the beginning of the school year for an air conditioning unit that filters pollens out of the air to control my asthma; the university approved my accommodation. My roommate was definitely grateful for some cold air given we have windows that face the sun the majority of the day. This has helped immensely and I haven’t had any breathing problems.

I still carry two Epi-Pens and Benadryl in a Garmin case in my right pocket at all times. This is true when I eat, when I go to class, when I walk around the dorm, or really anytime I’m not sleeping. I also have a massive container under my bed with extra medication: Epi-Pens, albuterol, Pulmicort, Nasacort, etc. My roommate has a very similar tub under his. We constantly joke that we could run an underground pharmacy out of our dorm room if we wanted to.

As with any new living situations come new challenges: surprisingly, none of it involved my food allergies or asthma. My first quarter was plagued with sickness, instead.

The first week of class (of all weeks) I got superbly sick that I actually had to go home Wednesday through the weekend to recover. I had a nice combination of headaches, nausea, a fever, and exhaustion for quite a few days; while antibiotics knocked out the majority of my symptoms, I found out (through blood work) that I had an early infection of mono. Thankfully, I didn’t have any continuing symptoms.

I got a head cold halfway through the quarter and a stomach bug near the end of the quarter, and some close friends in PLP were happy to help supply (safe) chicken noodle soup to help me out. I made it through finals week and went home the week before Thanksgiving – the end of the 1st quarter.

The day before Thanksgiving, I woke up with swollen lymph nodes and was pretty tired. Through the weekend, I developed a fever, a superbly sore throat, and once again, I became absolutely exhausted. This time, it was a full blown “re-activated” infection of mono. I’m happily recovering after a week of antibiotics to combat a secondary infection of tonsillitis with plenty of rest, fluids, and reading. Thankfully, I’m home until the New Year so I have plenty of time to recuperate my health and prepare myself for the next quarter.

Certainly, I had more than a couple 2:30am mornings this quarter working on school or hanging out with friends. I think I might be limiting these next quarter to make sure my immune system can cope with everything.

If I had any one suggestion for college, it’s to talk to people. They are your best resources for your health, happiness, and sanity in school. When you’re sick, they can bring you fantastic chicken noodle soup. When you’re healthy, they can be excellent resources for studying, motivation, and even for a break every once in a while.

Overall, my first quarter was absolutely fantastic. College is a blast and I’m so grateful for all of the wonderful people at DU that make it a safe opportunity.

Happy Holidays and I wish you the best for 2015!

Nationals Trip for Speech & Debate

My last high school-related adventure involved traveling to Kansas City for the National Speech & Debate Tournament, an event I had qualified to attend earlier this year.

Before we left, I gave a health care plan to my Speech & Debate coach that explains procedure for an anaphylactic reaction, my allergies, and has an array of information on who to contact. I trained my friends/teammates on EpiPens as well.

We left Sunday morning from Denver International Airport, flying Frontier to Kansas City. Frontier does serve food, but you have to pay for it (i.e. there are no complimentary drinks or food for most passengers). I asked the stewardess the moment I got on the plane if they served peanuts, and she replied, “You can certainly buy them.” I quickly assured her I wasn’t going to buy them due to a peanut allergy. Since the flying arrangements for this trip were made by the school, all six of us traveling to Kansas City got to sit together. This was important since peanuts could still be served on the flight to someone who was interested in buying them; that issue was mitigated since I was sitting with my friends.

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After arriving to the hotel, it was about 1:00pm (an hour ahead from Denver), and we were pretty hungry, so we walked across the street to Panera Bread. Panera is notable for its homemade bread that is mostly all cooked together. I talked with the manager about some safe options (it differs by store on how they cook their bread), and settled on a simple grilled cheese for lunch. I had a salad at Panera for dinner, probably the far safer option due to the possibility of cross contamination. Weighing the information given though, I decided that the grilled cheese was safe since it was not cooked with nut breads and they have rigorous cleaning procedures.

Speech & Debate tournaments occur in high schools, middle schools, and sometimes (at Nationals) in elementary schools. In Overland Park, Kansas (where we were), they had dozens of different schools for the thousands of competitors, each dedicated to a specific event (like solo debate or humorous interpretation). We had our coach and two parents joining us with rented cars so they could go and buy safe food for us.

Breakfast was served at the hotel and there was a McDonalds across the parking lot for variety. I found out I could eat McDonald’s breakfast items after my California trip (read about it here). Lunch and dinner varied by days and locations (if we were at a different high school, we might eat something different).

To be honest, each day was about 17 hours (from 5:30am to 10:30pm), so I don’t remember exactly which days I ate what. Here’s a list of restaurants I did eat at:

  • Chipotle – this was for dinner (I believe) Tuesday evening. It’s a safe option for me and it’s a chain restaurant, meaning most (if not all) of its locations serve the same thing.
  • Applebee’s – another safe chain restaurant that was dinner the third night there.
  • Jimmy John’s – an easy, safe option for lunch sandwiches. The team got Chick-Fil-A, but my coach made sure that I got a safe option for food, and made arrangements for Jimmy John’s (she’s the best coach, by the way).
  • Potbelly Sandwiches – another option for lunch sandwiches. I hadn’t had Potbelly’s before, but I checked their website and called them up and talked with their manager about breads, sesame, and nuts. Everything was safe (besides their cookies) and it worked out great!
  • Kolache Factory – Kolaches are…dough balls that have filling like cheese & sausage, or pepperoni & mushrooms. Once again, I hadn’t had Kolache’s before, but I called ahead and talked with the owner about their procedures. The breads that do contain nuts are cooked entirely separate from the regular dough (at least at this location). I have to say, that was an AMAZING lunch – they were so good (and safe!)
  • El Fogon – a local Mexican cuisine restaurant we went to for lunch. Just like every other restaurant I hadn’t eaten at before, I called ahead. Notably, Mexican food is mainly safe, but various styles can include sesame and nuts. El Fogon did not use either in any dish or topping or side, which was great news! Even better, the food was absolutely delicious (I got a steak quesadilla)
  • Cinetopia’s Food Service – the last night we were in Kansas City, we went and saw a movie at the local movie theater. Unlike most, they have these “family rooms” with couches and reclining seats instead of the regular airpline-style seating. You also get to order food from their menu. I checked with the staff about their options and settled on another Mexican-style evening with nachos and a quesadilla.
  • Jack Stack BBQ – the crown jewel of our food adventures, Jack Stack has some of the best BBQ in Kansas City (if not the country). Barbecue sauce can be especially dangerous since some restaurants use peanut butter as a thickener and/or nuts as a spice. Jack Stack uses neither in their homemade, exquisite BBQ sauce. I have to admit, that was the best food we had all week!

Story of the Week: Due to its fame, Jack Stack’s is always pretty busy. Instead of dining in, we went over to their takeout side of the restaurant. While waiting for our food to be ready, we got in a nice conversation with a man who was picking up his own BBQ meal. Very genuine guy, who was interested in Speech & Debate and our interests. Right before leaving, he actually gave our coach $200 to spend on dinner for another night!! (We used it at the Cinetopia because, while their tickets aren’t that much more than normal, their food is abhorrently expensive). It was a very kind gesture.

This was the longest trip that I’ve been through where we haven’t brought/planned food. I had combined a list of possibly safe restaurants before the trip began and sent it to my coach (it included Jimmy John’s, Jack Stack’s, Chipotle, and Applebee’s). That helped dictate a few choices, but we also got recommendations from the locals (for El Fogon and the Kolache Factory, for instance).

Here’s a few tips on dealing with new restaurants:

  1. Always talk to someone in charge. Servers are knowledgeable about the menu, not how the food is prepared. Find a manager or the owner or the chef and talk to them about food preparation and the process of cooking food. Also talk with them about ingredients.
  2. Try and eat at “safe-cuisine” restaurants. Typically, Mexican cuisine is safer than, say, Asian cuisine for me (not only due to the use of shellfish & fish in Asian cuisine, but nuts as well). I’d automatically feel safer at a Mexican-style restaurant than an Asian-style restaurant.
  3. Call ahead, if possible. Don’t waste your time at restaurants that aren’t safe. Call ahead and talk to someone in charge about food. If it turns out the restaurant is not safe, you didn’t waste your time and you can find another safe option.
  4. There is always a risk. It’s really unavoidable – there is always a risk involved in eating new food. I ate at more new restaurants during Nationals than I had in the past 5 years combined! However, I felt safe and comfortable doing so.
  5. The two-minute rule. That being said, I’m still cautious! This is a personal thing that I do: when I try food at a new restaurant, I take a small bite and wait two minutes before eating anything more. From my previous experience with anaphylaxis, my first symptoms occurred within the first two minutes after eating fish. I cautiously eat a second bite after the first two minutes and wait a little while longer. If nothing happens, I eat my meal entirely. If something does happen, I would immediately tell someone about it.

Nationals was one of the best experiences I have had – not only due to the intelligent and humorous people at the event, but also the safe food that was readily available. I also broke to Top 80 at Nationals in Lincoln-Douglas debate, a solo debate centered around values & ethics.

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If you would like to view the National Tournament Highlight Video (published by the National Speech & Debate Association), click here. I make a cameo appearance at :49 (I’m in the background looking up. The camera isn’t focused on me). Plus, there’s a great music video at the end of it.

Morgan’s Senior Class California Trip Updates – Saturday and Sunday

Hello everyone! I decided to update all of you with just one post covering both days given that a good portion of one was in Disneyland.

Saturday

There is a McDonalds in the vicinity of the hotel, which makes getting breakfast easy. When planning, I was very surprised to find out that none of the foods that McDonalds serves at breakfast contain nuts (or any of my allergies).

I simply got pancakes and sausage and while it may not have been the most healthy breakfast, it certainly tasted good!!

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After breakfast, my whole group went out to the President Nixon Library and Museum. It was a phenomenal experience!!

I got to see the old Marine/Army 1 (depending on the branch of the pilot) that President Nixon departed from his presidency in. I also had the chance to learn all about President Nixon’s life and successes. No food was allowed in the museum, so I didn’t have any problems.

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After the Nixon museum, our group went to Disneyland! We were there from 1pm until midnight. I can say that I haven’t had that much fun in a very long time.

Food at Disney wasn’t hard at all. I stopped by and had some food at a Sandwich joint for lunch and balanced out some safe BBQ for dinner. I had simply asked about the sauce they use for their BBQ – they graciously provided ingredients for all of it. It was absolutely delicious!

Food is always a big issue when you’re at a theme park. But, what about carrying around your cell phone and EpiPens? If there is ever a problem, people need to be notified. I carried my EpiPens, cell phone, and wallet on me at all times. I didn’t leave them in a bag or put them in a locker.

Splash Mountain certainly made me a little wet, but my cell phone was fine and my EpiPens were stored in a Garmin case and remained in their waterproof case, as always.

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I was thoroughly exhausted by midnight. It was a fun day – I even got to see the whole castle lit up!

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Sunday

I once again had breakfast (and included a delicious and completely  unhealthy cinnamon melt) at McDonalds.

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We visited the Museum of Tolerance. No pictures were allowed, so I can’t document anything from the museum, but I can say it was one of the best museums I have ever visited. It was enlightening and heavy, examining the consequences of our words and propaganda against another group of people. It specifically looked at the Holocaust, and I nearly came out in tears from one of the gas chambers.

After the Museum of Tolerance, we went to In-N-Out burger.

I have never eaten such a good burger. And fries. And milkshake. It was amazing fast food. Fast food burger joints are nefarious for their use of sesame seeds on buns. I had called ahead to the restaurant chain to make sure they didn’t use sesame on their buns – they didn’t. Their fries are also not cooked in peanut or sesame oil – another wonderful and tasty victory!

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After In-N-Out, we visited President Reagan’s library and museum. That was an another awesome experience! We got to revisit Reagan’s life and successes along with the old Air Force One. That took the rest of the afternoon.

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For dinner, we got to eat at restaurants in the vicinity of our hotel. I had checked before the trip, and there was an IHOP just down the block. IHOP is what I call a “pocket” restaurant – it’s always safe and I can just pull it out of my pocket as a safe backup.

I’ll post a final update tomorrow after my flight home! I’ll leave you with this awesome California sunset taken from President Reagan’s library.

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To read Morgan’s other post about his Senior Class Trip on Friday, click here.

Senior Class California Trip – Morgan’s Update for Friday

Hello everyone! I figured I would do a few updates throughout the trip just to keep all of you apprised with the day to day happenings.

With traveling, I believe planning is one of the most important things you can do. Before leaving, I charted out all the locations my group was going to and located safe places to eat. The teacher in charge is super detail oriented, so the itinerary we received was very detailed with times and locations. After calling the different places, including In-n-Out Burger, Rainforest Cafe, and a local pizzeria, I had my entire menu for the trip planned! As a note, the Rainforest cafe (and two other meals) take place inside Disneyland. Disney is renown for their ability to take care of food allergic children.

I also created a list of everything I would need to bring, including medications. This way, I make sure I have everything I’ll need (mind you, this trip is only 4 days so it wasn’t an extensive list).

For TSA, I removed ALL the liquid medications (like eye drops and nasal spray) and put them in the bag with my other liquids. This ensures I won’t hold up the line. I also always wear my MedicAlert bracelet, but that’s never been a problem with metal detectors. It never sets it off. I do remove my EpiPens in my pocket and set them in the bin to have them scanned.

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Above is my boarding pass. When I fly Southwest, I typically have “PDA” printed on my boarding pass, which means “Peanut Dust Allergy.” This means that I can preboard the plane and wipe down the surrounding areas. (It also means I get to choose the best seats!) Thankfully, United doesn’t serve peanuts on their flights, so it wasn’t a problem for this trip.

I did bring a few snacks for the plane ride – NutriGrain bars, apple slices, and banana bread from home. If I were thirsty, I would have bought a soda near the gate for the flight.

The flight went excellently. There were no problems and I sat among friends so no one ate nuts.

After the flight, we immediately went to the beach! It was a great time. For lunch, I had pizza from a local pizzeria that I had checked with beforehand. It was delicious! I then went and played at the beach with friends for a few hours. There was a shellfish shop or two along the beach, but obviously I didn’t eat at them (nor my friends)!

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We also met a seal (pictured above).

After the beach, we returned to the hotel to change and then went to dinner at Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney. I had called ahead and checked their menu to make sure there was a possibility for safe food.

When I arrived at Rainforest Cafe, I let the server know I had severe allergies right after I ordered my drink. She was super kind and immediately brought out the kitchen manager – a sort of combination between chef and manager. He asked what my food allergies were, took them down, wrote down my meal, and then specially prepared it (he even served it to me)!

The steak fajitas were delicious.

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It was a wonderful Friday!! I’ll keep you updated about Saturday with journeys including Disneyland!!

To read Morgan’s post about his Senior Class Trip for the rest of the trip, click here.