• Sophie

Comparing and Contrasting: The reality of being in and out of the top eight

Since March, along with my food allergies, I’ve been unable to eat sugar, gluten, or dairy. I had thoughts about how I thought this experience would be for me since I’ve lived with food allergies for so long, but I was wrong on a few fronts. I thought it would be a lot harder to find gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free than it was in reality. Additionally, I was hesitant about how good the food would taste, but it wasn’t half-bad most of the time! Overall, it’s been quite an exciting experience, and I’ve learned a lot from it, both about my food allergies and the impact that the top 8 allergens have on the food industry.

Gluten seemed like the easiest one to avoid. Gluten-free has been popularized for a while, whether through intolerances, allergies, or diets, so I assumed it would be easy. And for the most part, it has been! Gluten-free pasta was everywhere, and popcorn has always been an option as a snack. I’ve been able to still eat throughout the whole thing. However, bread was what got me thinking. Bread has always been a constant thing of annoyance and stress for me in relationship with my sesame allergy. If the bread didn’t have sesame, if it was cross-contaminated, or the bakery made bread with sesame, or I just wasn’t comfortable. There were already so few types and brands of bread that I can eat that I thought it would be impossible to find some that are gluten-free. I took a closer look at the bread I had already been eating, and it turns out that it was gluten-free as well. This really got me thinking about allergies and how they are interconnected.

It’s surprisingly easy to find gluten-free or dairy-free products in a grocery store. They are clearly labeled and I know that whatever I’m trying to eat is safe. However, when I look for sesame-free products, it’s quite rare that it’ll be labeled ‘sesame-free.’ If a product is known for being sesame-free, it’s most likely from a company like Made Good which is a brand that does not contain many common allergens. This realization was super fascinating to me because sesame is the number nine most common allergen, only one away from the top eight, yet ’sesame-free’ isn’t a normalized label. The simple answer to that is, of course, it’s not. It’s not in the top eight and not required to be labeled. It’s been a while since the top eight allergens were censused, and according to some research, if it were to be re-taken in 2020, sesame would be in the top eight. That would have made this whole experience a lot easier for me, as I could have had a much easier time finding foods that I could eat.

Overall, these past months have been a really interesting and exciting experience that has brought forward a lot of thoughts about the food industry and their relationship with food allergy labeling. Maybe in the next few years, the top eight will legally change, and it’ll be awesome to see what changes come along with labeling.