Food Allergy 101: Let the awareness begin
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...
From across the room, I see Mr. A, my allergy, walk into the crowded coffee shop.
"There he is," I call out, jumping to my feet and pointing in his direction. "Everyone, take a good look at Mr. A!"
Mr. A waves to the customers as he approaches my table.
"What are you doing?" he says.
"I'm shining a spotlight on you," I say. "I want everyone to know about you."
He smiles and puffs out his chest.
"A lot of people have been doing that this week," he says, his voice filled with energy. "Everywhere I go someone is talking about me."
"It's Food Allergy Awareness Month," I say.
"What?" he says. "A whole month dedicated to me?"
"Yep. They have informational posters and awareness campaigns and statewide proclamations planned. Cities around the world are even turning things teal, which is the color of Food Allergy Awareness. In fact, on May 14, they're even turning the lights on the Ben Franklin Bridge here in Philly teal, too."
"The whole bridge?" he asks. "I didn't realize so many want to know me."
"Of course we want everyone to know you," I say, as my smile dissipates, my voice slows and my tone harshens. "We want everyone to know you so we can destroy you."
Mr. A is shocked by my remark. "What? Destroy me?"
I continue: "We want everyone to know how bad you are, how dangerous you are, so they can advocate for their friends and make change. People fear what they don't understand. They make fun of what they don't understand. They dismiss what they don't understand. So we need to educate them so that they can understand. And make no doubt about it. Once people begin to understand just how terrible you are, they will despise you. And once enough people despise you, they will work to destroy you."
Mr. A bristles.
"So go take your bow there big guy," I say. "This month you are Public Enemy No. 1. When you try to hide, we'll track you from the sky with a teal spotlight. When you try to outrun us, we'll run even faster in our red sneakers. This month, the eyes of the world are on you. And you can be certain that those of us who know you best will take every chance to tell everyone just how despicable you are."
Mr. A is silent, and that is OK by me. His voice doesn't matter. Our voices do.
JJ Vulopas is a junior 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.