Writing about food allergies from a pediatric allergist's perspective

Food Allergies and a Side of Humor

AllergyHome proudly presents Sloane Miller (food allergy counselor, author, and consultant).  Sloane has had an amazing voice in our community and has been a great role model and leader for so many. Thank you Sloane for sharing with us!

Humor and food allergies may not seem like a natural pairing but for me, it’s as normal as having blue eyes or brown wavy hair or food allergies.

The facts of food allergies and anaphylaxis are clear: food allergies are real and serious; have an emergency plan, carry your emergency medications on your person at all times and epinephrine autoinjectors are the first line of defense in a severe, life threatening allergic reaction.

When I say humor and food allergies can work together, I’m not suggesting it’s “ha-ha, let’s not take food allergies seriously” time. This is about how humor can be a valuable lens to look at yourself and others; it can soften your interactions or even help you connect to others and others connect to you in surprising ways.

Here’s a recent example. I’ve been taking musical improvisation comedy classes for the last two years – so fun! It’s where we make up an entire twenty-five minute musical based on a suggestion from the audience. Nothing is planned or rehearsed; everything is created on the spot in front of the audience’s eyes – from the songs, melodies, lyrics, to the characters and plots, the dénouement and the big finish.

Recently, an improviser I have seen perform many, many times, Jon Bander was subbing for our teacher. Impressively agile in creating story lines, funny characters and musical wordplay, I was excited to learn from him that evening.

During our class break as we were all milling about, Bander smiled at me and extended his hand, saying “Hi. I’m Bander. What was your name again?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he had been snacking on a vending machine bag of nuts and raisins; it looked like cashews.  That hand, laden with nut dust, was now extending towards me for a greeting.

I’m certain I have clasped hands with hundreds of people after they’ve eaten nuts without knowing it and without incident. But watching someone eat nuts and then want to shake my hand seemed worth avoiding. How to avoid without offending my teacher, someone whose talent I admired and who it would be lovely to get to know better? Yes, you guessed it. Humor!

“Hi! I’m Sloane I said and I’m severely allergic to nuts so I can’t shake your hand right now.”

“Oh, oh!” Bander’s eyes grew wide. “I had no idea. I’m so sorry, I’m SO sorry.” He closed the bag and whisked it to the other corner of the room, placing it gently on a windowsill away from where our class was singing. He returned, not extending his hand and continued to apologize, saying he had no idea.

“Of course not. We just met. In all likelihood nothing would have happened or I just would have washed my hands after talking with you but I figured better be safe than sorry.”

“I eat nuts all of the time,” he explained.

“So, basically, I won’t ever touch you.” (Big laugh.)

After class was over, I was outside talking with a classmate when Bander and the accompanist walked out.

“I was so worried about you during class thinking, ‘Did I kill Sloane? Is she alright?’”

We laughed again and I thanked him again for his conscientiousness and reassured him that I was totally fine.

“I’m allergic to shellfish,” Bander said.


“Yes, the first time I had shrimp when I was 19, I ended up in the hospital.”

Bander continued to tell me about his food allergy experiences and how he takes care of his food allergy needs. I’ve find this every often: when I tell someone about my experience, it gives them a natural opening to talk about theirs – and more often than not, these days, someone has a food allergy experience to relate. I don’t think Bander would have shared his harrowing story of his first food allergic reaction if I simply refused to shake his hand and walked away or if I had shaken his hand and then rushed to the ladies room to wash my hands without telling him why and having a laugh. Sharing my food allergy needs in a softly humorous way allowed him to share something personal about himself and a new connection was formed.

Flash forward to this past week. I saw Bander after his brilliant set with his team Aquarius at The Magnet Theater.

He motioned to hug me saying, “I haven’t had any nuts today.

“Then, let’s hug it out,” I said.

Humor provided an undercurrent of ease and lightness, which allowed for a new connection. It may not seem like something as serious as life-threatening food allergies and humor could/would go together, but being able to laugh at yourself or the situation, having certain lightness or softness of attitude while advocating for your needs, can be another a useful tool for navigating the world safely and effectively with food allergies.

Allergic Girl photo by Kenneth Chen

copyright Kenneth Chen

Sloane Miller, food allergy counselor and author, is founder and President of Allergic Girl Resources, Inc., a consultancy devoted to food allergy awareness. She consults with private clients, the healthcare, food and hospitality industries, government and not-for-profit advocacy organizations. Ms. Miller earned her Master of Social Work at the New York University’s Silver School of Social Work and her Master of Fine Arts in Writing and Literature at Bennington College. In 2006 she started Please Don’t Pass the Nuts, an award-winning blog for and about people affected by food allergies. In 2011, John Wiley & Sons published Ms. Miller’s first book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well With Food Allergies, the definitive how-to guide. Ms. Miller combines a lifetime of personal experience and passion with professional expertise to connect with people about how to live safely, effectively, and joyously with food allergies. For more information, please visit Allergic Girl Resources, Inc. on the Internet at www.allergicgirl.com.


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