No matter where you are in the world, having a food allergy completely sucks. Depending on what your allergy is and how strong or life-threatening it is, it can have a major impact on your life, including where you go, what you do, and most importantly – what you eat. If your allergy is very severe, you have to constantly be alert and on edge around food, since one wrong move could be the last one you make. You have to cook yourself 3 meals a day in your sterilized kitchen and most importantly, you have to learn to trust no one when it comes to being cooked for.
So, you’ve got your life sorted in your home country in terms of dealing with your allergy. You may have lived with it for several years, and you’ve built up a good amount of knowledge of where you can and can’t eat out, what you can and can’t buy from your local supermarket, and who out of your friends is the best at cooking for awkward people. What happens now you’re moving away? Or, indeed, should you move away? Some may be of the opinion that it’s irresponsible to move away from this safety zone you’ve built up when there is a real chance you’re putting yourself in danger. However, if you’re an avid traveller or adventurer, you’re not going to let your allergy keep you in one place. No matter how severe the allergy, or what it is, there is always a way.
Rule Number 1: Allergies are not understood everywhere
Allergies, in general, are a relatively Western condition. Or at least, most allergies are diagnosed in Western countries, and they seem to be on the rise. The most common ones being milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Travelling to China, you’re going to want to worry about pretty much all of them, but especially peanuts and shellfish. Roughly 1 in 50 Americans are affected by a shellfish allergy, and peanut allergies affect 1 in 100 people in the UK, and 1.4% of Americans. They are two of the most common allergies, and often come with the most severe symptoms.
Because having allergies isn’t common in China, many people won’t understand the importance of cross-contamination and the use of nut oils as being a problem. Be clear and precise with what you can’t have.
Rule Number 2: Do your research
Depending on where you go in China, there may be a limited choice of what you can eat. Make sure to research what you’re going to have to deal with whilst out there, and if there will be anything or anywhere you can eat. Otherwise, bringing your own food is a must. You may also want to invest in powdered meal replacements, either full-time or whenever you feel your food intake is limited and you’re sick of having fries and pizza every day. Western restaurants are going to be your safest bet, but they can be expensive. Take your time to get to know where you can and can’t eat, and bring a Chinese person with you to ask!
Rule Number 3: Carry your allergy kit EVERYWHERE
This should include; Epipen (if needed), antihistamines, and allergy cards translated into the language and checked by a native speaker. Make sure to give precise and clear instructions, and emphasize the severity.
Rule Number 4: Prepare those around you
It is very important that those around you know that you have an allergy, and what to do should something happen. Whether you need someone to administer the EpiPen for you, or you need people to help you keep calm – brief those who you’re often around and let them know exactly what you need them to do in those moments of panic. Show them how to use an EpiPen by practising on an old one and even give them one to carry themselves if you have spares.
Rule Number 5: ALWAYS ASK
No matter how much you trust the place, how many times you have said that you have an allergy, or how many times you’ve eaten there before – having an allergy is constantly on your mind, not theirs. They may be aware of certain obvious foods not to give you but may slip up one day when something is made containing an ingredient you’re allergic to. There is no harm in double or triple checking. You’ll kick yourself otherwise for not asking if you do have an allergic reaction.