I am JJ: Food Allergy 'Problem' or 'Opportunity'

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I am JJ: Food Allergy 'Problem' or 'Opportunity'

During Saturday’s food allergy podcast with my parents, we talked about how living with a food allergy creates opportunities for a child.

“I wouldn’t wish this adversity on anyone,” I said during the podcast, repeating a phrase often repeated to me. “But if you’re facing it, you might as well make the most of it.”

Making the most of things is at the core of what it means to live in The Land of Can, especially when you live with food allergies. It’s easier said than done, of course. That’s why a child with a food allergy needs others to help. That’s where educators come into play.  In my life, I was fortunate to have teachers and school administrators who constantly were reframing my food allergy problems as opportunities.

“JJ, I normally do a lesson with M&Ms,” my elementary teacher said. “You’re super creative. Can you work with me to create a safe non-food lesson that’s even cooler?”

“JJ, can you join the dance committee so you can make sure we get some safe snacks and offer fun challenges that can include everyone?”

“JJ, the PTO is meeting this week. What about talking to them about food allergies?”

As I entered high school, it was my homeroom teacher who suggested I should run for student government. “Then you can be one of the decision makers.”

My senior year, I was a member of the district’s food allergy committee at the request of our assistant superintendent. 

When a teacher overheard me tell someone that there were no books in our library about food allergies, she suggested I write a young adult novel. Then she worked wth me on it. 

After a failed milk challenge, my science teacher worked overtime to find a science fair project that would help explore food allergies. “Since your body doesn’t seem to be growing out of it just yet,” she said, “maybe your mind can help you solve it.”

Throughout my schooling, I was surrounded by educators who helped me to see that some problems could be reframed as opportunities. They also gave me the tools, the space — and the inspiration! — to try to solve them.


JJ Vulopas is a senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.