Allergy 101: My food allergy has taught me how to TRUST others

 Another photo by my sister, Ava Vulopas

Another photo by my sister, Ava Vulopas

What if my food allergy was a real, live person? And what if I could talk to him about what he's taught me over the years?

I’m sitting in the basement level of Van Pelt Library studying for an upcoming finance exam. Mr. A, my allergy, is hovering over me. He’s extra antsy today.

As I'm reading my textbook, he pokes me in the arm with his finger. I look at him and whisper: “Stop.”

He laughs and pokes me again. It’s more like an annoying tap, something you’d expect from a younger brother trying to get your attention.

“I’m trying to study.”

Another laugh.  “Ok. I’ll stop. Promise. Promise.”

“You’ve promised like 10 times already.”

He smiles again. “I guess you can’t trust me, huh?”

I roll my eyes.

Mr. A whispers. “Mistrust equals Havoc. Mistrust equals Havoc. Mistrust equ—”

What?” I say.

Mistrust Equals Havoc,” he says. “It’s one of the most important lessons we learn in Allergy School. Anyway, I’ve introduced you to so many people over the years who let you down, whose trust was shattered because they told you one thing with your allergy but did another.”

I ignore him. He continues to ramble. 

“I remember the one mother I introduced you to at the birthday party, the one who promised your mom that she made extra sure the cupcakes were perfectly safe: ‘No dairy. No nuts. I promise.’ And then, just as you started to feel that tingle, she said, ‘Oooops. I never knew margarine can contain dairy!’”

Mr. A puffs out his chest and continues.  “And how about the worker I introduced you to at Shake Shack, the one you saw put cheese on your sandwich and then quickly take it off, after the manager assured you that things were dairy-free? When you questioned what you saw, the manager got defensive.

“And remember the feeling you had the second your mouth touched that McDonald’s pie? Ooops! Someone put a Boston cream pie in the apple pie container!”

I concede. “Yes, you definitely introduced me to some people who let me down."

He smiles. 

“But knowing that not everyone can be trusted is a fact of life,” I say. “It’s why we lock our doors. It’s why we have computer passwords. Anyway, for that one mother who inadvertently put margarine in a cupcake, there were tons of friends’ parents who over-delivered! And I’ve eaten at hundreds of restaurants in my lifetime… how many thousands and thousands of food handlers delivered safe food?”

He looks shocked.

“Of course I have to be guarded. My life depends on it, and sometimes absolutely tragic things happen. But I won't live in fear, and the truth is, you’ve taught me to trust more than to mistrust,” I add firmly. “That’s right, you’ve taught me how to trust… and trust equals peace and calm and order. Did they teach you that one in Allergy School?”

Mr. A looks disappointed. I smile, swat Mr. A away, and return to studying.