Sarah’s column: Let them eat cake


My friend approaches me with a white envelope enclosed with a Hello Kitty card that says “You’re Invited!”

No, not again. Not another one.

Children grow up fearing the dark, spiders or monsters under their beds, but I had a different type of unorthodox fear.

Birthday parties had me feeling a mixture of perturbation and dismay throughout my youth.

I was born with multiple food allergies which could result in anaphylactic shock if I were to consume any foods that contain dairy, eggs, nuts or shellfish. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction where a person who is exposed to the allergen experiences swelling and constriction of the airway causing a difficulty in breathing, vomiting and an extreme drop in blood pressure. If not treated quickly, the person experiencing the reaction could die within the hour.

So it may seem odd to worry about birthday parties, which are typically positive occasions that families use to create memories for their children. However, my allergy to dairy and eggs restricts my diet greatly, making my party experience less enjoyable than that of other kids. No dairy and eggs means no pizza, no cake, no ice cream, all the foods essential for the classic American birthday party. So, when everyone is gathered around after singing the birthday song and cutting the cake, I always have to refuse, and just ‘let them eat cake,’ while I sit back, disappointed again that I am unable to enjoy the sweet wonder that is chocolate cake.

In the past, I tried to avoid these parties as much as possible, not because I was afraid of dying a painful death by pizza; which in retrospect, seems like a reasonable reason, but because I had always felt awkward and embarrassed when it was time to eat. I felt guilty when my friends would apologize for not having foods to cater to my needs. I did not want my friends to worry about me. I didn’t want to be the reason that my friends could not enjoy the celebration.

My hostility towards birthday parties turned into a greater displeasure at going out to eat in general. I grew up having to conform to my dietary constraints, especially when going to restaurants. I had to constantly ask clueless waiters questions like, “Does this have any dairy, eggs or nuts, ” or “Could you make it plain, with no _______?” or my favorite, “I have severe food allergies, please make sure none of the other foods touch it or I could die.” This often resulted in servers returning with a confused look and a salad with croutons and cheese.

I feared eating foods with hidden ingredients that were not stated on the menu, or eating at restaurants where the waiters don’t understand English because special ordering is an even bigger struggle when there is a language barrier. I am comfortable eating at a few selected restaurants because I know exactly what is in their foods without having the awkward interrogation session with the waiters.

My allergies are the slim difference between life and death in my fight for survival in the jungle that is a dinner at every new restaurant.

However, as the years went by, I have learned to accept the challenges that come with my allergies and even see the positives that come with my situation. Being allergic to all these foods has driven me to learn how to cook and bake foods that fit my needs, perfecting recipes that fool people into thinking there is nothing different about the ingredients.

My allergies have taught me to make the best of difficult situations. It is disappointing that most of the birthday parties I attend aren’t Hello Kitty themed anymore, but I am now able to sit down to enjoy the conversation with my special egg-free, dairy-free desserts and join in the celebrations.

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