Food for ThoughtOct/Nov 2012 Issue

Trick or Treat

© Jupiter Images/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

There is no greater treasure hunter than the child with food allergies on Halloween.

Before I embarked into the wilds of suburban cul-de-sacs, my parents would gather together my essentials: trick-or-treat bag, flashlight, inhaler, epinephrine.

At each front door, I would paw through my neighbor’s outstretched bowl, taking far longer than any other kid. Was there something I could eat? No dairy, egg or nuts. If fruit flavored, I looked for an explicit taste, such as cherry or lime, instead of some ambiguous “tropical” blend that might include forbidden mango.

Life Savers, Double Bubble Gum, Smarties. These were my gold.

Ring Pop? The Hope Diamond.

A box of raisins? A lesser copper but still a find.

If no allergy-friendly treat was in sight, I moved on to searching for Almond Joys—my mother’s favorite—or Mounds, my father’s.

If not those, I chose whatever had the fanciest package. These were my glittering jewels: gorgeous, exotic…and inedible.

When I got home, I emptied the loot out on our living room’s carpet and the counting began. Like so many kids with severe allergies, I was a careful girl, detail-oriented beyond my years. I took joy in the taxonomy of candy. Sweet versus mint, dark chocolate versus white, wafer crunch versus gooey center. Although they stayed in their wrappers and far from my tongue, this was my annual chance to survey the commodities that inspired fierce trading wars among my playmates.

If my parents were nervous to watch me sort the goods, they kept quiet beyond making sure I washed my hands afterwards. They knew that I’d be de-cookie-ing birthday treat bags and peeling Hershey’s Kisses off well-intentioned Valentine cards for years to come. There was no point in cultivating fear.

Instead, they took the opportunity to teach me about hidden allergens. A Tootsie Pop was not a simple lollipop, my mom explained. Although it looked the same from the outside and the first few licks might seem safe, inside waited a milky bite that could make me sick. I could scarf down the plain popcorn we made at home on movie nights but the caramel popcorn balls lovingly Saran-wrapped by the grandmother who lived down the block were held together with butter.

We skimmed treats I could eat from the batch and bundled the rest in a bag I’d give away to friends. For most kids, November 1 is anticlimactic. For me, the day marked the annual height of my popularity.

If you worry the allergic child feels left out on Halloween, you must not have seen me triumph over the “haunted coffin” that scared away others from the neighbor’s yard or my delight as I fitted every finger with a plastic spider ring. Maybe you missed the time my mother sewed the elastic on perfect cat-ears or the year she fitted the gossamer wings to my Flutter-Pony shoulder blades.

Beneath those costumes, she was dressing me in the most important outfit of all—that of Just Another Kid on Halloween.

Sandra Beasley ( is an award-winning poet and author of the memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl, Tales from an Allergic Life (Crown). She lives in Washington, DC.

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