Food Allergy 101: My Grill. My Space.
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? Every Thursday, I get that chance...
The charcoal starts to ignite, as a cloud of smoke wafts into the air. It's the first time I'm lighting the grill this Spring. Fifteen minutes later, I begin placing the burgers on the heat. As I'm doing it, I see Mr. A., my allergy, walking through my yard.
"What are you cooking?" he announces aloud as he approaches me.
"Burgers," I say. "Want one?"
"A bland burger?" he says. "Can you put some cheese on it?"
"And ruin a good thing," I scoff. "Cheese has never been on this grill."
Mr. A stands just behind me as I grab a spatula. I am blaring music. I'm savoring the moment. My grill. My space.
"You know, this is a bad idea," Mr. A yells, his voice fighting to be heard over the music. "You shouldn't be working with food."
"Food is dangerous," he says walking around to the front of the grill. "You should be scared of food. All kids with allergies should fear food."
I roll my eyes as I close the lid to the grill.
"Fear food? Nonsense," I say. "My parents empowered me to see food in a different light by showing me all the things I CAN make."
Mr. A shakes his head.
I continue: "I remember the day my dad and I went to the hardware store to buy this particular grill. He had retired his old, rusted gas grill. 'I think I'm going to get a charcoal grill,' he said to me."
Mr. A. looks over the grill and gives an odd look.
I just smile: "We assembled the grill and then spent the rest of summer watching Youtube videos on how to use it," I say. "We called ourselves 'Grillmasters.'"
He shrugs me off. "Grillmasters?" he questions. "Sounds lame to me."
"You don't get it," I say. "Part of having an allergy is realizing that you can enjoy food. You can savor the smells and the tastes and the textures. In a strange way, Mr. A., you've introduced me to the art of grilling! You've opened my eyes!"
I reach for my bottle of special BBQ sauce.
"You sure that's safe?" he asks.
"It better be," I say. "I made it myself. Look."
Mr. A leans his head over the grill to examine the bottle. Just then, I remove the grill's lid. A heavy cloud of smoke quickly emerges and begins to chase Mr. A. away.
My grill. My space.
JJ Vulopas is a rising 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. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter @thelandofcan.