(Super) Mom Jennifer Trenbeth has 4 children, ranging in age from 12 to 1. But only her eldest daughter, Madison, has been diagnosed with allergies to date. A staunch allergy advocate, Jennifer’s education efforts have brought about many positive changes in her community of Owen Sound. Jennifer is also known locally for making customized top allergen-free cakes and sweets… so that everyone can feel safe and included.
AllergyBites: What food is your child allergic to?
Jennifer Trenbeth: All tree nuts and we were also told to avoid peanuts initially. Now she is only testing positive to cashew and pistachio.
AB: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) she had a food allergy?
JT: Her first reaction was at 8 months, when her dad ate pistachios. He washed his hands and face after, but after she lay down on his shirt (where all the shell dust had fallen), her face blew up like a balloon. I used a cold compress and cloth to bring the swelling down, but made an appointment to see an allergist. It was later confirmed she is anaphylactic to nuts.
AB: Has your child ever experienced an anaphylactic reaction? If yes, what happened?
JT: Madi has had a respiratory reaction from playing on a carpet where nuts had been eaten previously. She had to be treated with steroids and a follow-up prescription for “allergy-induced croupe.”
Next, she had to attend the emergency department for a severe skin reaction that was progressively swelling her elbow and knee areas to the point where she could no longer straighten her arms or legs. She had been crawling around on a carpet where nuts had previously been consumed that time as well.
Her last reaction was just a year ago when she ate an item made on shared lines with nuts (not labelled “may contain”) and this caused a biphasic reaction needing epinephrine two days in a row and steroids.
AB: After the diagnosis, what did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?
JT: I am not certain I had an opportunity for a grieving process. I made the decision to stay home with Madison and open a home daycare. I am an early childhood educator already, so it was a logical step. I missed my work at first but loved knowing she was safe. It was around that time that I began my plight to educate the world about how to keep my child safe. It’s now my mission to educate anyone I come across about food allergies
AB: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of a food-allergic kid?
JT: My biggest challenges have been with school, sports, activities and birthday parties. We don’t get invited to many parties these days. That said, we have been fortunate to have finally found some wonderful people who want to make sure Madi is always safe too.
AB: How has your child dealt with her food allergies?
JT: Madi has not been very reliable when it comes to advocating for herself. She has a hard time understanding why one candy is safe and another one isn’t if they look similar. She just finally started to really get it at 11 years old
AB: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?
JT: Before food allergies, we didn’t eat out much. We still don’t and have many restaurants we’ve had to stop going to because of menu changes, staff carelessness, or just plain feeling uncomfortable about the establishment’s policy or their ability to deal with cross contamination.
AB: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto and beyond?
AB: Can you tell me why Montana’s makes you feel safe?
JT: Montana’s makes us feel best because the staff know us. (My spouse worked there years ago, and we also know another manager personally.) They go above and beyond — for example, they offer us apple slices instead of the regular dessert menu so we can keep everyone safe.
AB: What are some fun facts about your food-allergic kiddo?
JT: Madison has not been held back or left out anywhere I could help it. She attends adventure camps where she gets to go rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, portaging and more. She also plays hockey at our local nut-aware arena, takes skating and swimming lessons, and has a wonderful school teacher. Her life is full. This year, she is the student council president for her elementary school. She speaks French fluently and we hope to take her to Quebec some day soon to show off! She has also started the path to modelling, and we hope to see her pretty face on some print ads or in commercials soon.
AB: Tell us a little about the allergy advocacy you do in your community.
JT: In my community, I educate as much as I can. Another allergy mom and I lobbied our city council for a more inclusive space at our recreation centre and hockey arena, and we assisted with the writing of the nut-aware policy they instated. All of our city buildings are now “nut aware.” I’ve also assisted several other moms in approaching their town or city officials and successfully gotten their arenas and other public spaces to become nut aware too!
I have previously approached the public school board in my area about tightening up their policies. But since moving over to the French Catholic board, we have had very few issues with anything. They are unbelievably accommodating. I am our school’s contact for all teachers when they want to bring food or other items out of the ordinary into the school. In these cases, they email me to ask what’s safe, etc. I also run the breakfast club programme to ensure the groceries are safe for everyone, and I coordinate the volunteers for this now.
AB: We’d love to know more about those AMAZING allergy-friendly cakes you’re always baking.
JT: Nowhere in my community do we have an allergy-friendly bakery, so I started making allergy- friendly cakes when Madison was quite young. I can work with fondant, buttercream and other icing types. I have done layered cakes, pinata cakes (where prizes pour out when you cut a slice), and full out cake setups where there are elaborate matching cupcakes too. I have also done a very cute “Very Hungry Caterpillar” cake for a very cute wee boy with several food allergies so he could have his wish for his birthday! Someday, I may even do this professionally.
[Editor’s note: That was my cute wee boy!]
AB: Why did you decide to join the Top 10 Challenge committee as a volunteer?
JT: I joined the Top 10 committee because of the respect I have for Kathleen (the founder’s) work. I also hope to help spread the word about life with food allergies, to continue educating, and to help raise funds for research. If we don’t educate people, they will never gain an understanding of the amount of work an allergy diagnosis takes to manage. And with more knowledge comes compassion.