This week I found myself explaining to my 15-year-old what life was like before the Food Allergen Labelling and Protection Act of 2004 law took effect in 2006. The explanation was precipitated by teenager finding, then eating my husband’s Kashi Indigo Morning Cereal. I know, you inhaled, right? Exhale. She ate it after I called the CSR and a nice young man (yes, I’m middle aged, I can say that now) said to all of my allergen questions, I am so glad you asked that! Exclamation mark and all. He did, it turned out, have all the right answers. She, on the other hand, through eye-rolling and a high pitched “allergy mom” voice, made mention of the fact that she thinks I’m over-reacting. Although she does remember eating foods that were contaminated with her allergens (and reacting) a few years ago, she is, after all, a teenager, Queen of All Things, Knower of All.
I’ve been reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and I’ve been fascinated by his theories. Having to change my shopping, cooking and baking habits fourteen years ago, another habit I formed is purposely avoiding all of the big cereal brands that in 1998, had added gluten, barley malt and had included other scientific names for wheat, dairy, egg, gluten, and more to their 30-item or more ingredients lists. This made it ultimately time-prohibitive and frustrating for this allergy mom to research all of those names. While Kashi wouldn’t immediately be on anyone’s “big brand” list, anything that I could find at my local drug store shelves was, in effect, on our self-limiting list due to my new habits. My habits had yet to get caught up with the Food Allergen Labeling and Protection Act of 2004. Except this week. This week, the Food Allergen Labeling and Protection Act of 2004 proved that it has done what it set out to do – forcing manufacturers to list, test for, and be mindful of the Top 8 Food Allergens as Defined by the FDA. Said simply, food manufacturers must always list the top eight allergens if they are present in their food. Our child successfully ate the Kashi Indigo Morning Cereal. Once, twice, yes, three times…
Inspired by our recent success with the Kashi cereal, with some trepidation, and a little bit of elation, I ventured into the long cereal aisle at Target on Flatbush and Avenue H in Brooklyn. If you’re in Brooklyn – seriously GO, it’s HUGE and has a large selection of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Back in the cereal aisle, I was lulled and lured by all of the large, new “gluten free” labels on the Chex Cereal Boxes. (Chex – there’s a throwback to the last century if there ever was one). Could it be that my soon to be college Freshman could walk these aisles without me at some point and grab cereal off of the shelf at a local Target or large grocery store? (If you’re reading this as a non-allergic mom or person, you may be confused at my happiness, but remember, there are few packaged foods that are OK for our cabinets). I put in my basket what I thought would make our fifteen-year-old happy, a bright green box with an animated boy on the front – the Apple-Cinnamon Chex. The ingredients looked perfect for her. All it would take was one call to the 800 number on the back of the box to verify.
On my way home, I rehearsed what I was going to say to her, and how I had found this cereal. I rehearsed telling her how the labeling laws had changed since she was a baby. I planned on telling her how I wanted HER to call the CSR and explain herself what her allergens were and if the cereal was going to be safe. Once home, I presented all I had purchased that day and saved the Chex box for last. After I said everything I wanted to say, she listened, and paused. She was actually, at that moment, in the mood for real food – so we put the package away, for now.
Food restrictions create different feelings in all of us. Some of trepidation at trying something new. Others, like me, create new self-limiting habits of looking for foods that will be alright for us to replace the old. We walk a fine line between being rational, and irrational, questioning ingredients list as if we were the inquisition. As our teenager knows, I take on most of the worry on her behalf. Growing up is hard. Even for moms.
If anyone can weigh in on the success (or not) of the Chex Gluten-Free Cereal Line – please chime in! Do you have a new product you’d like to try? What is it?
* disclosure; I purchased the Kashi & the Chex cereals locally in Brooklyn and have no affiliation whatsoever