Why Food Allergies Are Important Considerations at My Family’s Holiday Meals

Pamela P

I love eggnog. Not just as a beverage, but as a herald of the holidays just around the corner. It is always the first item I see in the grocery store, forerunner to the dazzling array of festive foods to come. It signals a time when many people throw dietary caution to the wind, but if you have food allergies, it can be one of the most challenging times of the year.

My grandmother was diagnosed with celiac disease back in the 70s when it was rare and no one had ever heard of it. I grew up knowing grandma couldn’t eat certain things. In our family, it was a given that you make sure everyone is included at meals. I was in college before I learned that most families make their gravy with flour, not corn starch. I had a cake at my wedding, but we also had a really spectacular chocolate mousse. When I, in turn, was diagnosed with celiac and other food allergies, pumpkin custard made with coconut milk joined the overflowing dessert table and everyone loves it. I’d heard stories of families less welcoming, but I didn’t realize how unusually blessed I have been in my experiences until I saw the result at my own family table.

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The year my husband and I moved back into driving distance to my extended family, we sat 28 people for Thanksgiving dinner in my grandmother’s house. Among those was my brother’s girlfriend, Sandy, who also has celiac disease. It was my first family dinner in years, and everyone pulled out all the stops to create a truly amazing meal. Along with two turkeys there was all the usual gravy and stuffing and creamed onions, each with their gluten free counterpart. Casseroles and fresh vegetables and onion dip made from scratch. The dessert table was fit for a magazine photo, gluten free on one side, flour on the other. It was a fantastic spread with plenty of choices for everyone. Everything a glorious Thanksgiving table should be.

It was Sandy’s first big dinner with us. When we pointed out to her the very few items she couldn’t safely eat, she couldn’t believe it. She told us that her own family had never made any special dishes for her, and she always had to eat before she went so she didn’t go hungry. I thought she might cry.

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I thought I might cry.

It was inconceivable to me that family and friends wouldn’t make sure everyone at a holiday meal was included. To my horror, I have since read worse stories from people whose families don’t consider their needs or even worse try to trick them, as if food allergies were some hoax we’re perpetrating. I have friends who have been hospitalized because “it couldn’t be that bad.” It makes me terribly angry and sad.

When Sandy left our celebration, it was with all the leftovers she could want, every bite safe and delicious and well seasoned with love and inclusion.

This holiday season, I hope wherever you are and however you celebrate that you are loved, cherished and well fed.

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