By Andrea Pyros
If you've got food allergies or care for someone who does, dealing with the day-to-day challenges of eating safely can feel tricky at best -- and at worst, grueling and isolating.
So Sandra Beasley's memoir, "Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life," comes as a welcome relief. The author, an award-winning poet, has severe food allergies, to dairy, egg, soy, mustard and shrimp, just to name a few. Although the book is filled with scary tales of allergic reactions in far-flung locales, it's also funny, touching and ultimately courageous. After all, how many of us can say that we place our lives in our forks each and every time we eat?
We spoke with Beasley and asked her what sets her book apart from other current literature on food allergies. For one, she explains, "It's a first-person, insider perspective, not only of the child but also the teen and adult experience. Those have barely been discussed."
By writing this memoir, the author said she hoped her story would appeal beyond those with food allergies and their families because, though she realizes that "there are a number of things that can kill me every day," she adds that "that's true of every person walking around," allergies or no.
Although Beasley scoffs when she's called brave, she does say her parents raised her to never allow her food allergies to define who she is. She's traveled abroad, been a restaurant critic (seriously) and even taken a class on how to make an omelet -- maybe not the wisest course of action but certainly bold. Now when she meets another person with food allergies, she'll tell them, "Food allergies are not the story of your life. They will be a footnote but not the defining thing."
The latest research shows that 8 percent of children in the United States have food allergies, which means that even if your kid can eat her weight in PB&J or egg salad, she'll probably have a friend who can't. Here are some tips from Beasley on how to host an allergy-friendly kids party:
1. On party invitations, mention up front if there will be a food-centric theme, such as decorating your own pizza or assembling gingerbread houses.
2. If the parent of a food-allergic child contacts you before the party, offer to put out a "safe" dish (prepared by the parent and dropped off with the child) amid buffet items.
3. Choose dishware that comes in a variety of colors instead of a uniform print. This will help an allergic child avoid accidentally using someone else's tainted cup or fork.
4. If traditional cake is being served, don't make a big production out of cutting and handing a slice to each guest. If ice cream is being served, have a nondairy fruit sorbet on hand that can be substituted without drawing attention to the milk-allergic child.
5. If crafts will be a focal point, beware of common allergens that might be ingredients in art supplies, such as glue (milk), modeling clay (wheat) and tempera paints (egg).
6. Giving out goody bags? Be sure any food you include is thoroughly wrapped. Crumbs from a cookie or chocolate's oils can contaminate the toys bundled beside it.
If games are being played for prizes, always have the option of a nonfood prize.
Andrea Pyros lives in New York's Hudson Valley, where she raises her two kids and writes for http://www.RetailMeNot.com -- the No. 1 coupon site in the world.