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No Guidelines, No Guarantees, Just a Love That Lasts

June 16, 2012 •  8 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written By Jen Maidenberg for AllergyKids

When my son was diagnosed with nut allergies at age two, I was sure my life as a mother would never be the same. Almost eight years later, I can’t even remember the ceramic tiled world I was so afraid to drop him on.  The world peppered with choking hazards, and poisonous household chemicals. That world – the one that was dangerous enough already – practically disappeared as soon as food became lethal, and now that my son is almost 10, I can almost laugh at what used to keep me up at night before I had nightmares about food.

I felt so desperately alone in the beginning – excommunicated in an instant from parties and playdates dressed in goldfish crackers and populated by filthy hands. Those interactions would never be a gift to me; they would always be a burden. I also didn’t jump with joy, like the other moms I knew, the first time my son was invited to a drop off birthday party. In fact, I spent the next three years as the mom you could count on to stay behind to help (aka hover), while the others ran errands without a thought in the world.

I miss those days.

Little did I know then that those would be the glory days of parenting a child with food allergies. I remember with fondness when I used to fill out detailed forms, and sign up for meetings with principals eager to know every single last detail about my son’s condition. I sigh with longing when I think about the nut-free preschool I sent him to; the school where he was one of at least ten kids with food allergies. I dream about the nut free camp my son went to for three summers, the one where he could eat anything on the menu and the nurse was especially trained in epi-pen administration. I remember when the convenience store was a place my child had never heard of, and the only cash he handled came inside birthday cards and when straight to his piggy bank.

I miss the days when I thought I was in control.

Now, my son runs around our tight knit community in Israel, with a pack of other kids his age. Kids with credit accounts at the convenience store so they can buy snacks after school. Kids who don’t have to read the ingredients on the candy bar labels, and never do.

Now my son earns money for chores and uses that money to buy candy, the labels of which he is responsible to read on his own.  Now my son goes to birthday parties and field trips without me. Now, he is the one who surreptitiously scopes the scene to see whose filthy hands he needs to steer clear from; which of his friends have packed weapons masquerading as snack packs.

Now my son carries his Benadryl and his epi-pen twin pack on him wherever he goes. He has been trained how to inject himself in the thigh, with that tight fist (the one we hope and pray we will never have to make) and hold for ten seconds.

Now, I hold my breath and wait for him to come home.

I could blame this new generation anxiety of mine on our move to Israel last year, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I wish we had stayed in what I now know was our “food allergy aware bubble” of suburban New Jersey. (I am careful to make a distinction between “aware,” mind you, and sensitive). Sometimes I wish I could return to that imaginary place, the one I thought was safer than the place I live now.

And then there are days when I meditate on the path my son would have taken had we stayed in NJ. I think of the local tweens and teens who used to gather after school on the main street of our small town; who popped into the bagel store or the Dunkin Donuts for an afterschool treat. I think of sleepover parties and overnight camp and all the other normal childhood milestones I would have wanted him to experience. Would it have been much different if we stayed in New Jersey? Would he have gone to a nut-free junior high? No. Would there have been a nurse accompanying the traveling soccer team? I don’t think so.

If we were living in New Jersey now, I imagine this still would have been the year: The year I decided not to hold my breath for the rest of my life.

The year I grudgingly understood I couldn’t protect him forever. The year I reluctantly accepted that this was the world and I, or rather he, better be prepared to live in it. Not carefully walk around it, but live in it.

We aren’t handed a manual along with our newborns, and we certainly aren’t offered a contract to sign; one with guidelines and guarantees. If we were offered a contract, a preview into the future, how many of us would sign?

Ironically, what many mothers are offered as we prepare for birth, are techniques for how to breathe through the pain of labor. It is the breath that allows us to face our fears. Breathing deep and down into our backs and our bellies, maximizing our oxygen intake and reminding our internal operating systems to relax. And exhaling softly and slowly, reminding ourselves we are safe.

No, there are no guidelines and there are no guarantees. And the parental control we think we have is an illusion that lasts only so long.

But I will always have the breath. And from now until the end of time, I imagine I will breathe deep into my belly when my son walks out the door; hold it; and exhale softly and slowly when he returns to me once again. Safe.

Jen Maidenberg is a writer and mom to three kids, two with food allergies and one (sigh with relief) allergy-free, so far. More of her writings can be found at www.jenmaidenberg.com

Diving Into Big Ag and Big Waste

June 6, 2012 •  4 comments.

 •  Blog, News

One of the most compelling promises that the agricultural and biotech industries use to justify the need for their food science and the genetic engineering of crops is that this new technology and the ingredients it creates have the potential to feed the world.

Who can argue with that?

But according to Business Week, it turns out that “after millennia when the biggest food-related threat to humanity was the risk of having too little, the 21st century is one where the fear is having too much”.

Can you imagine?  What if the chemical industry is busy manufacturing demand, using scare tactics, to get us to believe that we need their genetically engineered, chemically dependent products in order to fend off mass starvation?  When in all actuality, we have mass produced their corn and soy to such an extent that a global obesity epidemic has resulted and food waste beyond anyone’s wildest imagination?

It turns out that just might be the case.

According to Business Week, “the issue isn’t so much that we can’t grow enough. Rather, existing food supplies are so poorly distributed that those hundreds of millions have too little for their own health, while 2 billion-plus have too much.”  On top of that, a third of food is wasted worldwide, spoiled and thrown out before  it even reaches consumers.

We are wasting enough food every day here in America to feed the hungry.  And while much focus has been on the obesity epidemic, it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the fact that with advertisements and food access available 24/7, we’ve got more food than we know what to do with.

One of the most insightful disclosures of just how bad this food waste and excess of commodity crops has gotten is documented in the movie, Dive! The Film, a film made with Jeremy Seifert and Josh Kunau, that highlights exactly what goes into dumpsters in America.  And it is shocking what we throw away.

This 45-minute documentary follows Seifert and his friends as they explore the alleys and backstreets of America’s grocery stores in search of good food tossed away because of overly cautious expiration dates. These guys don’t mess around. They suit right up in their bathing suits and dive right in…to America’s dumpsters, and turn up some of the most amazing information.

Americans throw away 96 billion pounds of food every year, or 27 percent of the total amount of available food. That’s 3,000 pounds of food a second.

But it’s not just us tossing those PB&J crusts out, the main line of food waste tends to be coming out the back end of the grocery stores.  And the film shows that a frightening amount ends up being tossed by grocery stores before it can be purchased by consumers.

Now that’s good news for the food industry, as it creates a constant state of demand for their products.

But what if we were to figure out a better business model, designed to deliver all of the food we need without wasting over a quarter of it? What if our taxpayer dollars were used to build a distribution model to get this food to people who need it, like the 1 in 4 American children at-risk for hunger, rather than on farm subsidies which are arguably contributing to this mounting waste?

With the Farm Bill hitting the Senate floor this week, we have an opportunity to actually build a better food system, one that creates less waste and more nutrient-dense foods.  Wouldn’t that be in the best interest in the health of our families, our corporations, our economy and our country?

Cleaning up the food supply is messy business, but it can also be a lot of fun. If you are interested in learning more, please visit: http://divethefilm.com/