Food Allergy Can Opener: My cousin, Ivan!


Blog Post #160 — Do you have a family member who goes above and beyond for your allergy? Nominate that person today! 

My 9-year-old cousin Ivan Gatti is a Food Allergy CAN Opener. When it comes to understanding my food allergy, the fourth-grader simply gets it! 

Every Summer my family takes vacation with our extended relatives. Aunts. Uncles. Grandparents. Cousins. We usually rent a big house at a beach location, and the three, four or five different families come together for a week and have a blast. One thing that my relatives have always done since I was a baby was keep the entire house milk and tree nut free. Every meal we make in the house — and we make many amazing meals — is safe. All snacks are safe. When we do go out to eat, no one brings back any leftovers. 

Because of my internship, this is the first summer that I was unable to attend. Of course, there was no need to keep certain foods out of the house. 

My aunt relayed this story about my cousin, Ivan. While they were driving to the beach, Ivan was getting hungry. Since they only had a few miles to go, my aunt said.

"Maybe when we can get to the house, we can order pizzas for everyone."

Ivan immediately reacted. "Mom, we can't get pizza with JJ."

"Ivan, JJ won't be there, remember?" my aunt said. "He's in New York, and it's OK for us to have pizza this week."

Ivan sat back in the seat, thought for a moment, and then responded. "I'd rather have JJ there than a cheesy pizza!"

True food allergy advocates care more about the person than the food. For a hungry 9 year old to say what Ivan said speaks volumes about his heart and about how much he cares for me. He's an advocate, and that advocacy will serve him well over his entire life. It also speaks volumes for his parents and older brother, who obviously have raised him to think in such a caring way. 

Thank you Ivan! I appreciate you. I love you. May your story of advocacy inspire others!


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 Follow him on Instagram and on Twitter @thelandofcan.