The writer in this particular case had avoided Burger King ever since "the incident", even though the ingredients of the food in question were safe and there were few chances of cross-contamination. Her child had eaten the food, gotten sick, and an association — whether true or not — was formed.
The post caught my eye because the experience was so familiar. To be blunt, my son was a barfer. The littlest thing could set him off. We were NEVER sure what was really going on. Was it a food reaction from cross contamination where the amount just wasn't enough to tip him over into a big reaction? Was his stomach just sensitive, perhaps as a result of whatever damaged his intestinal wall and caused his food allergies in the first place? (Just a theory...but an interesting one.) Was it perhaps a fever-less virus?
That process is called food aversion. It's one of the strongest responses humans have, thought to be a holdover from the days when something that made us sick was likely to be poisonous. We are trained to avoid like the plague (literally!) foods that make us puke.
The problem with this is that we can back ourselves into a corner with avoidance. To torture the Paul Simon lyric from which this post derives its name, we move from incident (the meal) to accident (the illness) to hint (was it a food allergy?) to allegation (it was! it definitely WAS! We'll never eat THERE again!).
As David Solot notes in his wonderful blog post about food aversion:
Sound familiar? Food allergies are nebulous beasts. When our child is suddenly ill, especially when it involves vomiting, we immediately link the incident to whatever novel food was last eaten. Sometimes, if nothing else will stand up as scapegoat, we'll even knock an old favorite off the safe list. Plus, we have the added reinforcement of knowing that the wrong foods have caused dire illness in the past, so we're primed by the very nature of food allergies to suspect everything going into their mouths as potential poison.
To give you a personal example, when my son was little, he took a gymnastics class. After the class, I bought him Skittles from the candy machine. He had an immediate and serious asthma attack within minutes of eating them. Now, my son a) does not typically have exercise-induced asthma and, b) has reactions without hives.
The label was safe. I gave him an inhaler and shrugged it off, best I could. The next gymnastics class, same thing: exercise, Skittles, asthma. Yikes! I called the manufacturer - they told me no chance of peanut/milk/soy contamination, dedicated plant, no reports of other reactions.
My son has not had Skittles since. It's been 13 years.
Does this make sense? Probably not. But I learned to associate this candy with the fear of dealing with an asthma attack or, possibly, allergic reaction. The rational mother would trot out the probably-totally-innocent Skittles and do a challenge at some point. The human, fallible mother (that's me) is still phobic about those killer candies.
Each of us has episodes like this, and each of us develops a variety of avoidance behavior to deal with them. We all have a touch of "magical thinking" when it comes to allergies and it's natural to want to validate that experience.
Does it help to know how the food aversion process works and how we FA moms are primed to fall for it because of the food = sickness connection? I don't know. Skittles are still not in our cupboard. But I'm hoping I'll get the guts to put them there sometime soon.
It's time to put them on trial, declare them guilty or innocent and finally close the case.
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