Growing up with Food Allergies
You can't help but feel optimistic after talking to Josh Bass. Living with severe peanut, tree nut and shellfish allergies has given him a strength that is evident in the way he talks about his experiences and in the way he gives back to the community. We asked him where we can buy the ‘secret sauce' of being Josh — because we're ordering it, stat. Hear what he has to say about growing up with food allergies, the challenges he has faced, and how he outshines it all.
You've found a sweet spot when managing food allergies — what is it?
I try not to let anything hold me back. I'm very cautious with my food allergies, but I also embrace every opportunity. I am definitely assertive and always communicate my allergies, but I'm not aggressive. For example, when I eat out at a restaurant I need to feel confident that the kitchen understands my allergies and takes me seriously. If I don't feel like a restaurant has the proper protocols, then I won't stay. You never forget the places and people that go above and beyond.
Any standout experiences?
When I was younger, my family and I stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui. Everything I ate or drank was hand-delivered to me by the manager. They even had a picture of me posted in the kitchen with a list of my food allergies so all the staff knew me and did everything to take care of me. These are the kinds of experiences I am so grateful for and want to share with everyone I know that has food allergies. Sharing in the Spokin app is the perfect way for me to do that.
Not every experience is positive — tell us how you turned a negative one into a project to benefit kids?
It all started one night when I went to a restaurant that was well aware of my allergies. My family and I would go there on a weekly basis, but that night the restaurant made a mistake. I knew immediately that I had to get to the hospital as my throat was closing up. After I was admitted to the ER, a nurse brought me books and DVDs to help occupy me. Later when I was rehashing what had happened, I found myself focusing not on what had gone wrong but how appreciative I was to have had those books as a distraction.
I decided there should be more resources like these available to patients, so I started a book drive that turned into a project called Pass on the Gift of Reading. I raised awareness with the media, hosted the drive in a parking lot, and collected over 20,000 books and DVDs. Since then I've gone back to read to kids in the hospital — it is my way of turning a bad experience into something positive.
You have had so much support, how do you get people to rally around you?
My best advice would be that food allergies are not what defines you. It is a part of your life but it is not who you are. I am not coy about my food allergies, I am very assertive about informing those around me and always cautious about what I eat. One of the first things I do when I meet someone is to tell them about my allergies, in appropriate context. If we’re heading out to a restaurant, I’ll steer my friends to one that will work for me. I’ll say things like, “Let’s work around this when we’re ordering.” I find people are very receptive.
My parents have been my inspiration. They have always been extremely supportive of me in everything I set out to do and have always been my advocates. It was because of them that my school went peanut butter free, which was unheard of at the time.
Best advice for parents of teens?
Surround your teens with people who will look out for them. Everyone in my inner circle (roommates, teachers, etc.) has practiced with an expired EpiPen in an apple or an orange and truthfully, they think its fun!
Dating with food allergies — what should we know?
As early in a relationship as possible, I bring up my food allergies whenever food comes up. I explain my situation and request that they adjust their diet. I have only had a super receptive response, and they've been cautious.
We know you love traveling — how do you manage food allergies on the move?
In college, I wanted to study abroad so I chose Florence, Italy because they don't use a lot of nuts in their cooking. I could walk to the local coffee shop for breakfast and grab a pastry everyday and never felt unsafe.
Before I left for Italy, my mom had allergy cards made for me in almost every language. They are so handy — I would highly recommend taking cards along with you that you can give to waitstaff. In addition to Italy, I’ve visited Spain, France, Greece, Budapest, Israel, Mexico, Ireland, The Netherlands, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos.
What do you love about the Spokin app?
First, I enjoy sharing recommendations because it feels like you’re giving back to people. It is like an NBA assist so that people can discover a new place and enjoy a safe experience.
Second, Spokin filled a giant gap by building this community in the food allergy world. Everyone wants to belong to a community they can empathize and identify with. We all want to feel like there are people around us who share the same tastes and experiences — managing food allergies together makes it more meaningful and worthwhile. Talking with Spokin and knowing you are working to help me was almost therapeutic.
You've given so much, how do we help you?
I am going to South America with friends this summer. I'm also hoping to visit a friend in Japan and would love recommendations from anyone who has been to either of those places.
If you have traveled to South America or Japan with food allergies please recommend them in the Spokin app to help Josh!
Download the Spokin app today!