SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Australian gourmand and author Suzanna Paxton has always taken an interest in food, but it was her two children, who suffer badly from allergies, that made her keep a stricter watch over what enters her kitchen.
According to medical data, one in 20 Australian children suffer symptoms of food allergies ranging from hives to death, prompting Paxton's cook book, "Allergy Safe Family Food."
A registered nurse and midwife, Paxton started collecting recipes from friends and family after her son and daughter were found to be allergic to 7 of the 8 foods that cause problems: nuts, eggs, milk, soy, sesame seeds, wheat, fish and shellfish.
The children have outgrown some of these allergies, but Paxton says everybody, including people who can eat everything, needs to be aware of what goes into their meals.
She spoke to Reuters about cooking meals that look good, taste good and don't cause reactions in the family:
Q: How relevant are food allergies today?
A: "Australia has the highest incidence of allergies in the world, with 1 in 20 children and 1 in 3 people suffering a food allergy. Allergies are a lot more prevalent than people think, and they are on the rise, and it breaks my heart whenever I hear about kids dying because of this because it is really quite easy to avoid with the right know-how. Yet there are 10 to 20 deaths a year from anaphylaxis, which is a severe, life-threatening response to an allergen, and they tend to be adolescents and young adults. I hope this book will help provide a safer environment for my kids and other kids."
Q: What prompted you write this book?
A: "This book is a product of my own experience with my two children, who were diagnosed with severe allergies, and also of the interest from other people in our community. It began when my son was diagnosed with food allergies at 8-months-old. My husband and I are such foodies, we love all types of food, and we loved to go out and entertain, but my son's condition altered all that. I tried to look for books and went online to get recipes for foods that would suit him, and I also asked friends and family. My mother-in-law helped a lot, giving me recipes that were from a time when food was a lot simpler. When my son was in kindergarten, I put together a few of these recipes, along with advice, and sold it for charity, and then there was a lot of interest. Last year I was approached by the publisher to put a book together."
Q: The book has 185 recipes. That's quite a range, especially as most people think food allergies can be very constraining.
A: "My goal has always been to put together a meal that's good for my family, that doesn't cost the earth, that looks good, tastes good, is easy to prepare and is safe. And once you've been diagnosed by a doctor and know what you're allergic too, there are a range of substitutes and also ways of getting around it. Every recipe is coded, so you quickly see if it contains something you're allergic to, and also there is a shopping guide and information about anaphylaxis. I wanted to make information easily accessible."
Q: Will people with no allergies benefit from the book?
A: "Yes, of course. Children who don't have allergies are likely to have friends like my kids who do have allergies, and this will help them to prepare foods for playdates and parties. People used to be afraid to invite my children over because they didn't want to harm them and it broke my heart. I hope this guide will help them understand better."
Q: Why do you think allergies are becoming so common?
A: "Science can't put a finger on why these allergies develop. It could be because we are mixing up a whole conundrum of herbs and spices and other ingredients from other cultures' diets that we're assaulting our immune systems."
Q: Do you have any advice for people who also have to live with food allergies?
A: "If your children have allergies teach them about their condition and talk to them to make sure they understand what to avoid and how to use their emergency medication. Children are very resilient and clever. And even if your children do not have allergies, being around kids who do will raise their awareness about it and then they will teach other people and there will be a culture shift. Hopefully, by the time my children are older, they'll be regarded as normal."
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith