On Friday night, Tufts students received yet another security alert from the university. Yet unlike the usual stories of students in danger while walking off−campus, this security alert detailed the possible attempt of a Tufts student to attack a female by triggering her food allergy. Yes, Friday was April Fool's Day and it may have seemed funny to pull a prank on someone. Yes, the perpetrator was later found to not present a credible threat, according to the Tufts University Police Department. But food allergies are serious and the repercussions of the near−prankster's actions could have been as serious. While I cannot attest to the potential victim's peanut allergy, serious food allergies generally can lead to anaphylaxis, an intense reaction in which an allergen causes anything from vomiting to breathing trouble and, in cases like mine, can be deadly.
To put it simply, this security alert scared me. I have had severe food allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts since I was born. When I was two, I nearly died after eating a hot dog that contained milk as a binding agent. Since that near−death experience, my family and I have taken every precaution imaginable to ensure that something similar never happens. Years later, I still get nervous whenever I eat a new food. The knowledge that anything I eat could trigger a deadly reaction continues to be difficult to deal with. At the same time, I'm prepared for such a reaction — I always carry multiple EpiPens and my MedicAlert medical identification card with me.
Food allergies are a daily hassle for those who have them. When I was little, I remember being upset at every birthday, including my own, when I couldn't eat the birthday cake. As a college student, the difficulties are only magnified. I do not have the luxury of eating at on−campus eateries beyond the dining halls, which have worked extensively with me to accommodate my dietary restrictions by providing foods free of milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. This means that I must either stay on a meal plan or commit to cooking literally every meal I eat.
Off campus, the prospects are even dimmer. Because of my many allergies, it is very difficult to eat in restaurants, and when I do, I risk having a reaction that could land me in the hospital or worse. What makes having a food allergy worse is that it is a hidden disability. People cannot tell you have allergies by looking at you, which only makes it worse for those with allergies who are sensitive to the smell of foods, as I once was.
Beyond the day−to−day implications are bigger ones. As I prepare to study abroad next year, I face the likelihood that I will have to cook every meal for myself, and I may not be able to travel around Europe as many other students do. For me, this recalls the fears I had coming to Tufts. While I knew I would be accommodated, I still worried. To some extent, I was afraid I would not be able to eat anything or have the same experience. After all, eating food is often a social event. I never get to enjoy a late−night pizza from Pizza Days or a sausage from Moe's.
In short, having life−threatening food allergies is no fun, nor is it fun for others. When I hear stories like those presented in Friday's safety alert, I wonder if I can ever feel safe. It reminds me of when I was younger and had my own food tainted with things I was allergic to "as a joke." For me, it has never been funny. My life has been defined by allergies and will continue to be until a cure is found. Events like these don't make it any easier.