AllergyBites: Tell us a little about yourself.
Kyle Dine: I’ve had my allergies since I was about two years old and have gone on a real allergy roller coaster. When I was young, my parents did a great job at keeping me safe. As a teenager, I let my guard down and took many risks with my allergies. After a very severe reaction at age 21, my perception about my allergies was turned upside down as I was truly scared of ever experiencing an anaphylactic reaction again. I’m very proud that I haven’t had a severe reaction since then.
AB: What foods are you allergic to?
KD: I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, and mustard. I’m in the process of testing for seafood allergies and crossing my fingers that I’ll be crossing them off my list.
AB: Can you describe the first time you truly understood you had food allergies because they impacted your life in a meaningful way?
KD: Fortunately, I remember very positive moments. I’ve never been too hung up on food and never really felt too left out due to allergies. I remember in grade 5, I had a teacher who always left the birthday student a donut on their desk. It was always a big deal, and everyone wanted to know what flavour that student got. I was dreading my birthday as I didn’t want the attention, and especially that awkward moment when I’d have to give it away to someone else. My birthday came, and sure enough, my teacher left an Archie comic book on my desk. All the kids thought it was so cool that I got something different – something special. I was beaming, and I remember thinking that even though I have allergies, I won’t let them bring me down.
AB: Have you ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction? If yes, what happened?
KD: Yes, my most severe reaction happened when I was offered a brownie square and was told it was safe for me to eat. I take the full blame as I never get to eat brownies and thought that this was too good to be true. I didn’t double check and simply ate it. I paid a heavy price as the reaction was quick and severe. 911 was called immediately and an EpiPen helped save my life.
AB: How were your parents when it came to letting you participate in everyday activities?
KD: My parents were great! My allergies were not a barrier for them, however it was more for myself. I was a real home body and never had a desire to go to summer camp, for example. I stayed home and played baseball all summer long. Hard to say if this desire was allergy related, but I generally felt more comfortable at home during my childhood and wasn’t too adventurous when it came to food or food-based activities. My parents had a very healthy perspective on not letting my allergies stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. We just took precautions.
AB: In retrospect, is there anything you wish your parents had done differently?
KD: I wish I was introduced to someone older who had food allergies who I could talk to. Someone to give me real and honest information about what it’s really like in the years ahead. This info is impossible for parents to know, but really valuable for someone growing up. This is why I love Food Allergy Canada’s Allergy Pals online mentorship program.
AB: Have you ever thought about what your parents’ grieving process looked like? Do you think they ever reached the “acceptance” phase?
KD: No, I’ve never thought about a grieving process with my parents. We have family and friends who have much more debilitating conditions than food allergies. I think they accepted very early that this is a manageable condition, and to make the most of it. However, I do know there are still worries (e.g., having EpiPen always on hand), which I try to alleviate through reassurance.
AB: As someone who grew up with food allergies, what’s the #1 tip you’d like to share with other parents trying to keep their little ones safe?
KD: Perspectives and attitudes towards one’s allergies are typically learned. You don’t want to brush off allergies, as a child can learn to become too cavalier. You also don’t want to be overly anxious, as this can be passed along too. The key is finding the sweet spot of being careful, not fearful.
AB: Any tips for young adults navigating life with food allergies?
KD: Step up! As a teenager, it’s typical to want to be more independent from your parents, but it’s up to you to prove that you’re ready for it. If you want your parents to stop nagging you to remember your auto-injector, then show them that you’re really on top of it. Communicate with waitstaff at restaurants for yourself, research safe products, note your epinephrine expiry date, assist with trip planning. By proving you are responsible, you are essentially starting to take the reins on managing your own health condition and gaining your independence.
AB: What were your biggest challenges as a ‘food-allergic kid’? Now that you’re all grown up, have those challenges evolved?
KD: Being confident with food allergies. It can be really hard to find your voice and be assertive in certain situations, especially if you’ve been made to feel like a burden with your food allergies. Sometimes I would simply choose to be silent and go hungry if it meant I was scared of a confrontation. Nowadays I’m much more confident, but I wouldn’t say I’m at the point I’d like to be. I still unfortunately encounter negative responses towards food allergies in general, and it does have an impact on my psyche.
AB: How often do you eat out?
KD: When I’m on tour doing allergy assemblies, I dine out nearly every single day. Normally though, it’s around once a week. I have many safe spots that I stick to again and again.
AB: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto (and beyond)?
KD: I haven’t lived in Toronto in years so am not too comfortable making recommendations. However, I do love The Keg and appreciate their efforts for providing safe meals. I recently visited Hype Food Co. and it was wonderful! In my hometown of Kingston, there is none better than Days on Front. It’s an independent restaurant where I believe the owner has a family member with an allergy.
AB: Can you tell me why The Keg makes you feel safe?
KD: The Keg has a procedure in place from the very moment you utter “I have allergies.” I love that there is a formal process that you can expect them to follow every time you dine there. They are very thorough in laying out which menu options are safe for you, and will discuss cooking methods that you are comfortable with. They have pan fried my steaks in the past (due to my seafood allergies) to avoid cross contamination.
AB: What led you to become a food allergy educator/entertainer?
KD: It’s certainly a niche path that I stumbled upon through the combination of having allergies myself, being a songwriter, working with kids at a summer camp, and having a mom who was a school principal. After starting to write a few songs about allergies with kids at camp (to get some of our emotions out), my mom planted the seed about sharing my knowledge and experiences in schools.
My program is an entertaining mix of music, games, and puppets. It’s heavy on educating children about the basics of food allergies, but in an age-appropriate manner. My goal is to empower kids to support each other. I try to cast the topic in a positive light that emphasizes that we can all make a true difference in a few simple ways.
AB: Tell us about your Allergy Translation Cards
KD: I started Allergy Translation Cards in my final year of university, after experiencing great difficulty communicating my food allergies on a backpacking trip to Europe. The cards help bridge language barriers by allowing travellers to create cards that list their allergies in any of the 43 languages available. Allergy Translation Cards have been crucial for me when travelling – especially to countries where English wasn’t so prominent.
AB: Your latest adventure is just what food-allergic travel lovers have been waiting for. How did it come to be?
KD: The other big issue I had with travelling with food allergies was finding complete and accurate information on destinations. It was typically fragmented across multiple websites, forums and searches. Allergy Travels gives a more comprehensive overview of what countries and airlines are like when it comes to food allergies. It provides essential information (e.g., emergency numbers, links to food labelling laws, etc.), and also first-hand user reviews from others in the allergy community who have been-there done-that.
AB: You’re generously providing AllergyBites discount cardholders with a discount of 20% off your 2 CDs: “You Must Be Nuts” & “Food Allergies Rock.” What did you see in the AllergyBites program that made you want to team up with us?
KD: I think the AllergyBites card is a novel approach to setting up newly diagnosed families with a set of really helpful resources at a reduced price. Many people don’t know where to turn in the early days, and this card makes it easy to gain support, education and awareness. Plus, I love that my music is gaining new fans as I believe it is so important for a food-allergic child to feel empowered.
Friendly. Supportive. Encouraging.
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