Food Allergy School CANpaign: Cafeteria Control


Food Allergy School CANpaign: Successfully managing food allergies in the school cafeteria has a lot to do with knowing what you can control. That’s my experience, at least.

For me, success in the cafeteria (being safe & feeling safe) didn’t happen overnight. I had a few bumps along the way. But it happened. Once I realized just how much control I had over my safety, I realized that I could enjoy lunch like everyone else. 

When I was in second grade, I sat at the allergy-free table. I’m not opposed to allergy-free tables, but the allergy-free table at my school was in a conference room IN THE MAIN OFFICE. That’s right. My lunch table wasn’t even in the cafeteria. Some days, if they happened to pack foods that were safe for me, my friends would sit with me. Many days I sat alone. 

I tell you where I started because it makes the ending even better. By the end of my schooling, I looked forward to lunch just like everybody else. I looked forward to sitting with my friends and to enjoying all the great social stuff that defined lunch. Sure, I was always “allergy aware” while in the cafeteria, but I wasn’t anxiety-ridden. I was safe and I felt safe. I went from dreading lunch to embracing it. 

Throughout my schooling, I packed lunch everyday. In the cafeteria, I surrounded myself with friends who were responsible and who I could trust. I chose my seat at the table wisely, took basic precautions to make sure my area looked safe before I sat down, and had a plan in place with the school just in case something would go wrong. (I also had a change of clothing in the nurse’s office in case something spilled on my clothes or I inadvertently sat in something.)

And my parents and I regularly reviewed what I could and couldn’t control...


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 and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.