By Liljia Polo-Richards
Over the coming weeks and months I will be talking a lot about the concept of inclusiveness, what it means to me and what I’d like it to mean to more people as someone who has a son with a nut allergy.
Starting Allergy Companions is not something I have done because I want to become a successful business-woman, or rich and famous. I started Allergy Companions because I deeply believe in making a difference to a community that often feels excluded and at times even embarrassed to speak up.
My son with a nut allergy, Francesco is the real drive behind my website, and the little truths he talks about in his plain yet clear language is everything I need to give me clarity of thought in what I want to achieve, both in terms of the website and the messages I want to give to my community of people and businesses.
We recently attended his friend’s 4th Birthday party – her parents, who are also friends of ours, were lovely in the way they picked the party venue and made them aware of Francesco’s allergy. We were all looking forward to celebrating together and having a great time. Then the truth about taking our allergic son to a kid’s party suddenly became apparent: to the owner of the cafe, organising the food for a group of children where one child has a nut allergy, simply meant throwing a couple of sandwiches together and a bit of fruit that one child could have, while all the other children would help themselves to the cakes and treats on display during the party. I also had a look inside the other kids’ lunch boxes, and they had chocolate brownies, which Francesco couldn’t touch.
Whilst it was our friends’ party and gathering, I couldn’t help but ask the owner why the food served to all the guests was not also safe for my son, and the simple answer was “we were told there was only one child with the allergy” so we only needed to have safe options for one person. I was horrified and upset, but it definitely got me thinking that clearly people don’t get it. They don’t understand that people with allergies, and especially a child, don’t want to be left in a corner at a party, they don’t want to be told they can’t touch or eat the food and certainly don’t want to sit at the “allergy table”.
Francesco is a sweet and caring child, with a heart of gold and many loving people in his life. I do not want him to grow up in a world where he feels different and excluded, simply because he has a food allergy. I am not accepting that. There are options available to people with allergies, so why not change the narrative, and make food safe for everyone, not simply for one person?
We recently went to visit family in Amsterdam, and before we travelled Francesco asked me “is uncle and auntie’s house nut free?” and when I said yes, his answer was “yes, so we can all sit at the table and share food together”. This boy knows how to make his Mum cry, but he also knows what he wants without really saying it. Francesco LOVES being around friends and family, sharing food and precious moments in his life with them.
Food is one of the best things that life has given us, so perhaps we all need to rethink how we want to be treated and treat others. Inclusiveness does not mean “I understand you have an allergy and I’ll be nice to you”; inclusiveness means that we are and feel included in every sense of the word. Nobody wants to sit at the allergy table, so let’s make that dining table a little bit bigger and a little bit more inclusive.