What's scarier than ghosts, goblins and zombies? Snickers, Reese's and Peanut M&Ms.
On Halloween, it doesn't matter if you're dressed as Superman or Wonder Woman; if you're living with life-threatening food allergies, candy is your kryptonite.
For 15 million Americans -- including myself -- Halloween candy is dangerous because it's filled with six of the eight most common allergens including peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, soy and egg. These allergens elicit reactions of the highest severity, threatening breathing and blood circulation.
If I were to ingest a candy containing peanuts, tree nuts or soy, my body would enter a state of anaphylaxis -- a potentially fatal reaction that causes difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, drop in blood pressure, gastrointestinal symptoms and loss of consciousness.
Needless to say, Halloween has always been a tricky holiday (pun intended).
As a child, I loved to dress in costume, but there was a nervousness I felt as I went door-to-door collecting plastic-wrapped allergens.
At every house -- at every candy bowl -- I knew I was coming face-to-face with my own personal villain. From Butterfingers to Almond Joys to Reese's Pieces, these candies were sugarcoated reminders that I was different.
I was the awkward one, forced into the center of unwanted attention as my friends told the candy-givers, "She can't eat that... she'll die."
I hated being looked at with pity. I hated making a scene.
For one night, I didn't want to be the girl with the EpiPens and the allergies; I just wanted to be Pocahontas... or Tweety Bird... or Regis Philbin. (Yes, as an 11-year-old girl I truly dressed as Regis Philbin, face mask and all. The show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was REALLY popular at the time.)
But my costumes couldn't shield me from my allergens; they were everywhere.
I had to balance my desire to partake in trick-or-treating with my safety. I didn't care that this meant giving 90% of my candy away to friends at the end of the night. I just wanted to feel included. I just wanted to be a kid.
This Halloween, I'm proud to support a campaign that is designed to promote inclusion, safety and respect of all children and individuals managing food allergies: The Teal Pumpkin Project.
Launched by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the Teal Pumpkin Project is an easy, low-cost way to show support for food-allergic children (whether you're affected by food allergies or not).
Here's how you can make a child smile:
Step 1: Paint a pumpkin teal (the official color of food allergy awareness).
Step 2: Pick-up some non-food treats from your local dollar store or party supply store. Ideas for non-food treats include: glow sticks, vampire fangs, spider rings, crayons, bubbles, bouncy balls and stickers. Be sure to keep these treats in a separate bowl from your candy!
Step 3: Place the teal pumpkin outside your door along with a free printable sign from FARE to indicate that you have non-food treats available for trick-or-treaters.
This small act of kindness is a symbol of compassion; it shows that you care about keeping Halloween a fun, positive and safe experience for everyone (and you can still give away candy to those without allergies!)
So go ahead! Transform one of your pumpkins from orange to teal. If I was your trick-or-treater, I'd appreciate it more than you'd ever know.
Learn more about the #TealPumpkinProject here: http://www.foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project
Have a safe and happy Halloween!