Courtesy of Beaver’s Pond Press
Courtesy of Beaver’s Pond Press
FORT COLLINS – Stasie John’s career as an author came about more than three years ago when she and one sad little boy talked on the ride home from school about why it was that he couldn’t eat cupcakes like the other kids in his class.
That little boy was John’s then-preschool-age son, Ryan, who, with his older brother, Vance, shares a long list of allergies to gluten, dairy products, eggs, peanuts and more. And it was discussions about proper eating with her “two little food-allergy warriors” that prompted John to share with the world the challenges those with allergies face in her book, The Gluten Glitch.
What started as a “crude” PowerPoint presentation turned into a book released in early April. Her story follows an elementary school-age boy named Gideon who can’t eat foods with gluten, a protein found in foods made from wheat and related grains such as barley and rye.
Similar to the John boys, Gideon learns that his intolerance started during infancy and that eating cookies, breads and other gluten-rich foods gives him a rash, makes his tummy hurt and causes headaches.
“That’s me,” 5-year-old Ryan John said on a recent morning, sitting on the floor in the living room of the family’s Loveland home, pointing at an illustration of Gideon’s physical reactions in his mother’s book.
But it’s also about the other estimated 5.9 million U.S. children who have a food allergy, according to a 2009-2010 survey by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. The AAAAI also found that between 1997 and 2009, the prevalence of food allergies among America’s children rose 18 percent.
As food allergies have become more commonplace – John and others credit earlier, better diagnosis and awareness – so too have special, allergen-free foods.
“The market has just taken off,” John said, “and I think it’s because people recognize these as allergies.”
Whereas five years earlier, John scoured specialty stores in search of gluten-free puffed rice and other goodies free from dairy or eggs, the hunt has been made easier by an influx of choices. Even mainstream stores such as King Soopers and Target have options for her sons, John said.
The John boys attend Namaqua Elementary school in Loveland and eat lunches bagged daily by their mother. That way, it’s easier to know what they’re eating, rather than taking a chance on school lunches. However, similar to the Thompson School District, services in Fort Collins’ schools can ease the logistical challenges for students living with a food allergy.
It’s not enough for a child or parent to tell their teacher or lunch server that they’re allergic to x, y or z food, said Terri Macha, a Poudre School District child nutrition supervisor. Students must obtain a note from their doctor that details what their allergies are, their side effects and ways to treat the child, should he or she have a reaction.
Most common are allergies to peanuts, dairy products, shellfish, corn, gluten, tree nuts and eggs, Macha said, noting an uptick during the last six months of the number of children diagnosed with celiac disease – an autoimmune disease of the small intestine that prevents digestion of gluten and related proteins.
Most schools have peanut-free tables and none use bulk peanut butter, to avoid contamination issues, Macha said. That’s why children are served packaged, pre-made PB&J sandwiches.
Children with allergies are registered in the system, and when they go through the lunch line at school, a notification flares on a computer screen to remind those serving of the allergies. There also are ingredient lists posted in the lunch lines, Macha said, to help students navigate their culinary options.
But at the end of the day, should a child’s allergies come with too many challenges, parents are asked to cook at home, to avoid potential harm.
The John family has always done so, and the boys even bring their own snacks to birthday parties.
Although Vance and Ryan may get a few questions from curious classmates, they don’t feel deprived or too different from anyone else, if they know a Popsicle or one of their mom’s homemade, gluten-free strawberry cupcakes is right around the corner.