About Food Allergies in Israel

I love peanut butter. I love Skippy peanut butter so much, I should be their brand ambassador. During my “single 20’s,” I used to imagine myself as this almost June Cleaveresque Mom who would feed my children peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches – crust cut out and sandwiches shaped like dinosaurs or daisies – with glasses of milk. I thought about candy bags for birthday parties filled with snack bags of peanut M&M’s and Hershey’s milk chocolates, like my Mom used to make for us when I was a child. As an Ashkenazi Jew, my fondest childhood memories are tied to food. Jewish holidays meant tables groaning with delicious fare: stuffed cabbage, chulent, jelly donuts, chocolate coins, matza brie, chicken soup with matza balls, potato kugel, sweet raisin challah, etc.

But that imagine of the Mom I was going to be was extremely American. Yet, right before my 30’s birthday, I moved to Israel where I met the love of my life and decided to settle down. My Israeli husband wasn’t used to the American comfort foods of my childhood so I started discovering new and exciting cuisine inspired by the people who had come to Israel before me. Hummus became a daily staple, and I stopped making kugels and roasted chicken and started making spicy moroccan carrots and pomegranate molasses lamb shoulder.

And, as a foodie, I was really looking forward to introducing my children to an array of interesting, exotic and nutritious food. We joined a local CSA and started getting weekly boxes of organic vegetables, and after working with an American kosher cheese company, I fell in love with the rich and decadent cheeses that you can find here in Israel. I adjusted my Mom fantasy and, instead of the PB&J, imagined breakfasts of goat and feta cheese omelets, with olives, pita, tahini and hummus spreads.

So, when my eldest daughter was born allergic to all dairy, it was a big shock. Aside from seasonal hay fever, my husband and are not allergic to any food. For the first 24 months of her life, our home was strictly pareve, which means there was no dairy to be found. My husband had to drink milk in the office with his coffee. We met with our allergist, Dr. Bar-Sela, and with a repeat prick test at 24 months, rejoiced in the fact that she had outgrown her dairy allergy. That night, we ate pizza for the first time in 2 years.

Three years later, and we’re pretty sure she is still allergic or at least sensitive to dairy.

I thought a child with a dairy allergy was rough, and then our second child was born. She screamed for the entire first year of her life and, as a nursing Mom, I took myself off of gluten, dairy, cruciferous vegetables, and anything else that I thought could make her uncomfortable. At 6 months, we went to Dr. Bar-Sela for the prick test. My heart sunk when it came back positive for peanuts, oats, egg white, and sesame. Because of FPIES, she also couldn’t eat rice, which we discovered when she vomited violently after feeding her rice crackers and rice cereal.

I cried in the car ride home, convinced that there was no way I could safely feed this child in Israel.  Sesame and peanuts is almost a staple of “Israeli” cuisine! That meant no bamba, the Country’s favorite snack, no tahini, no hummus, no bourekas, no halva, etc. We started carefully reading all food labels, we bought bottles and bottles of Benadryl in the States, we ordered special Food Allergy warning stickers and labeled her clothing, sippy cup, knapsack, and anything else that went to Gan (day care) with her. We spoke to her gannenet and the administration at her school and I created a giant poster that hung in the kitchen, explaining what happened when she ate certain food and which foods to avoid.  During the year, we also discovered she was allergic to penicillin and sulfites, which was manageable but another thing to put on the list.

At 24 months, we repeated the prick test and once again, we rejoiced that it came back clean. Our allergist proclaimed that we could feed her everything and anything. So that night, I went out and bought the first bag of bamba that I could find. And I will never forget how happy she was to finally be able to eat what the other children at gan were eating.

But then, last month, she had an anaphylactic reaction to an actual peanut, and now we are right back where we started. Only this time, in addition to the Benadryl and Fenistil, we now have Predinsone and an EpiPen in our home. She is going to take a RAST test soon and hopefully, it will shed some light as to what she is now allergic to. In the meantime, my eldest daughter developed an allergy to walnuts, and our 8 month old is exhibiting signs of being allergic to dairy.

So, I decided to start this blog as a way to keep track of what I’m learning as we go down the rabbit hole of food allergies. There is a lot that I have to learn, and  I’m hoping to use this platform to share what I’ve discovered: whether it’s a food allergy friendly brand or a food allergy friendly restaurant.

Join me on this journey to feed my children – and anyone with a food allergy – safely in Israel.

 

 

 

 

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