What does food allergies have to do with homesteading? A lot, in our case.
Take one average American Family that had their normal life turned around in the seconds it took for our youngest to eat a bite of peanut butter dough. I was cooking with Walker, our middle son, on a normal day. Alistaire was just a bit over a year old then. He came by and snuck a bit. It didn’t phase me. I didn’t even think about it. Within a few minutes we noticed his lips were swelling and something wasn’t right. Which led to panicked calls, and a trip to the ER. This was in the Spring of 2013.
(Walker rolling the dough that day)
We saw his doctor the next day, was tested for peanut allergy, and it came back positive. We were given a scrip for Epi-Pens, and off we went. No one thought to look deeper – and worse, I had no idea I should have been asking a lot more about what was happening.
A month later we were back in the ER with anaphylaxis to cashews. This reaction scared me deeply. The picture was taken after an Epi-Pen and over 30 minutes later, as we sat in the ER. He looks almost normal here (outside of swelling). The Epi-Pen stopped most of the reaction almost immediately.
We went from one way of life to the feeling your tin foil hat might be getting a bit tight on the head. And into years of watching his skin never get better, of minor reactions to medium reactions. To being afraid to eat out, to wondering if your “home cooked” meal was poisoning him. As he got older, we were able to test him more. It got even better at 5 years of age, he was able to have a much longer list of potential allergens done on a back panel, and blood testing along with it. Over the years, as we noted reactions, we had him tested for those foods (peas and sunflower being two of them).
He is allergic to peanuts, sunflower, peas, wheat, soy, blueberries and all tree nuts except for pecan. He shows reactions to Jojoba Oil.
- 1 of 13 children in the United States.
- Upwards 6% of children in the United States.
- A rate that is jumping every year.
- In ONE decade the rate jumped by 50% (1999 to 2011).
- The higher your income, the higher your risk your children will have food allergies.
- Many school busses have at least 1 child with allergies riding.
Food allergy symptoms can include:
- swollen lips
- tongue, or eyes
- hoarse voice
- trouble swallowing
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
- mood change or confusion
All this comes from various published items on the CDC website.
Asthma, Eczema, and similar auto-immune issues follow these children. If they have food allergies, they often had eczema from nearly birth on, and asthma follows too often. Fructose Intolerance. GI issues. Learning disabilities, sensory problems. Not knowing the connection, Alistaire’s first few years were miserable with eczema. By 3 months old, he was often slathered in prescription ointments, to heal his constantly red, chapped and delicate skin, that he would scratch at night non-stop. He had scabs often on his head, wrists and ankles. He itched non-stop.
This picture has stuck with me for years – because he is giggling and happy – a little baby, but miserable. His arms are horrible, his face is so bad. When I see babies now, with severe eczema, I ask if the baby has been tested for food allergies. NO BABY NEEDS TO SUFFER THIS! His pediatrician just wrote me scrips for ointments, rather than make the connection that eczema is an auto immune issue related to food allergies.
Remove the allergens: clear skin.
Simple as that. All these crazy skin products sold for controlling or lessening eczema? Learn what causes it first!
But it took me years to realize the connection. Even the allergist doctor doesn’t talk about it. His doctor seems to care about identifying allergic reactions, and knowing what will make him sick. Which, from a Western Medicine view makes sense. You control it. There isn’t a cure for it, so just control it. Hence, avoid allergens, and it will be OK. And apply lots of ointments, and guzzle antihistamines daily. (Which is what we are told to do at every appointment)
Our turning point was when he was nearly 4 years old and we started having issues at his nature (outdoor) preschool. Every week, on one day, he would get sick. Painful stomach aches, blackish poop, and his eczema would burst up. After a few weeks, frustrated, I had him skip the hot meal served at school. That day, every week, was hot oatmeal. The year before I had volunteered at the school, and made that meal most weeks, with no issues to him. However, the head of the school was out on maternity leave, and things were not as tightly controlled I came to find out, as they had been previous. The year before only gluten-free oats were bought, sealed in bags at the factory. That year, they were apparently buying bulk oats. That sit next to bins full of wheat flour, and raw nuts above. Who knows what was in the oats! Cheap food, poorly handled. Once we removed him from eating it, the mystery sickness went away. That was the change: I had watched the tainted oats make him sick, and make his normally controlled eczema blow up. It ended up with us pulling him from the school and finding a better alternative, through our school district, where allergy protocol was handled well.
It drove home that his food allergies didn’t just cause anaphylaxis, hives and stomach aches – it literally eats at his skin.
But why is the number of children growing with allergies, eczema, and asthma? For me, it is a feeling it is not just our food, but rather what is being done to the food supply. Heavy pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and a rampant supply of food we maybe shouldn’t be eating a ton of. From produce that can last for weeks, if not many months, in cold storage, foods that cause inflammatory reactions in the body, to items like tree nuts that we only ate sparingly just a generation ago. Alistaire’s diet isn’t wide and varied anymore. In fact he eats a narrow range of foods. However, what he eats is high quality now. (And this brings home another point…the part about the higher the income, the higher the chance of food allergies may well be due to a wider diet and eating food out of season).
And that was the driving force behind us learning to urban farm. If we wanted him safer, we had to know where and how his food came to be. That is why we came to homesteading in many ways: find ways to live simpler, cleaner, greener and safer.
Look at his skin! Clear and healthy now!
And keep him as healthy as we can – and help heal him more. In the past two years, as we have gone deeper into our homesteading life, we have watched him become healthier for longer periods. As long as he isn’t dosed by an allergen, he is doing so well it is easy to almost not think about it all. Eczema has become a rare occurrence – and literally is a warning sign of being dosed, often by wheat. His GI issues still remain to a point, but his allergist doctor recommended we seek out fructose intolerance testing. His testing will be next month. It takes forever to be seen by pediatric specialists where we live, often a 2 to 4 month wait. Another change is the asthma. If his food allergies are under control, the asthma mostly lies asleep. It only pokes up due to external issues (wildfires were hard on him this summer) & (running too long), or if he gets sick with a cold or sinus infection. Otherwise, no daily meds needed now. Just the emergency inhaler as needed (often less than once a week now). Antihistamines only when he gets dosed with wheat and his GI issues act up. Ointment? The last time we bought it was over two years ago! We have a box for emergencies, but his skin is so clear now, that organic coconut oil treats any dry skin he gets.
And for that…it makes turning the land worth it all.
Eat in season, preserve the bounty. Know what is in the soil, what is used on the food.