My oldest son just celebrated a birthday. Having graduated from college last May, he is now working his first real job in an office setting and living on his own. I laughed when he said, “Birthdays just aren’t as much fun when you’re a grownup.”
No matter how old you are, birthdays aren’t as much fun when you have to pass on the birthday cake, too. College Grad is allergic to dairy and eggs. Of course, there are plenty of treats he can eat, but the office is small and they are evidently unaware of the nearby allergy-friendly and vegan-friendly bakery with cupcakes like the one below.
A few years ago, for a short time, I worked in an office. I didn’t know back then that food was making me sick. I’d buy a sandwich on wheat bread or bring one from home and spend the rest of the day doubled over. Fortunately, the company allowed me to work at home often, but I became so focused on figuring out what was wrong with me, I resigned. My husband likes to say I quite my job to be a blogger.
That experience, and now having a son with allergies in the working world, has made me empathetic to those who must manage food restrictions among co-workers who don’t alway understand. Even my younger son in college experiences challenges managing his celiac disease while interning for companies. Both sons developed allergies and celiac disease as young adults, so they had to learn to speak up for themselves; a teacher or a parent wasn’t always there to ensure their food safety. Still, when you’re young and interning or starting your first job, it’s not easy to ask your manager to wipe the cookie crumbs off the counter or explain to the company CEO why you can’t eat the cheese pizza he just bought for the staff.
One of my friends, a project manager who developed anaphylactic reactions in her thirties, told me how she had to train her staff to use an epipen. Can you imagine? Who wants to stick a needle in their boss’s thigh? A man I recently met shared how uncomfortable it is to have a reaction among co-workers and be the center of attention. He worried that others would view him as weak.
Whether you’ve grown up with food restrictions or reactions are new, you must learn to speak up for yourself and be proactive in managing your dietary needs. Christina Griffin, who blogs at Bubble Girl Happily, and Alice Enevoldsen have written a terrific guide Managing Food Allergies in the Workplace. This manual is for both food-allergic folks and for their employers. FARE also has useful information.