Her kids’ food allergies inspire Huntington Woods mom Leslie Berlin to create a children’s book explaining the malady.
As parents gleefully greet the coming academic year, roughed up over the course of summertime entertaining and extended bedtimes, there are many families that know the next few weeks could be filled with peril for their children who are afflicted with food allergies.
Sending their little ones back to the land of classroom birthdays and unsupervised lunchtime can be nerve-wracking, having to rely on teachers and school administrators — and even the children, themselves — to make safe choices about exposure to allergens.
Newly published author Leslie Berlin of Huntington Woods knows those families, as she is one of the millions of parents forced to become an expert on the subject of food allergies, triggers and triage, should the worst happen. For herself and those walking in her shoes, Berlin, 40, penned OK 4 Me 2 Eat — My Food Allergies, a 28-page illustrated book on the subject.
“This came out of my experience” says Berlin, whose two boys battled multiple food allergies for years. “Sam, my 10-year-old, was allergic to milk in infancy; things didn’t get really scary until preschool, when we discovered he was also allergic to eggs, fish and tree nuts.”
Her other son, Eddie, recently outgrew his own milk allergy, she adds.
After Sam was first diagnosed, Leslie explains how she and her husband, Jon, threw themselves into researching life with food allergies. They also joined food allergy support groups and spent countless hours online learning about the condition and its suspected causes.
“There are many theories about why food allergies have been on the rise,” says Berlin. “Some researchers suspect that they may be linked to the over-processing our food goes through today. Others think it has something to do with our cultural obsession with cleanliness.”
The advent and proliferation of anti-bacterial products, including the ubiquitous sanitizer found in nearly every purse in America, could also play a role in the increased number of children suffering from food allergies.
“They think we’re using so many sanitizing products today that we’re actually reducing our bodies ability to fight off disease,” Berlin, a certified food allergy trainer, says.
When a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs, an emergency treatment is an immediate Epinephrine injection using a pen-sized EpiPen device.
Berlin studied economics at Michigan State University before teaming up with Berkley artist Kirsten Brieger to create the fully illustrated children’s book for ages 4-8. The two women met at the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park and decided to collaborate on the project.
“I love Kirsten’s illustrations — they really make the book. It’s been used in several local schools, and the kids who hear it feel like it’s about them,” says Berlin.
The driving motivation Berlin had for writing the book, beyond communicating about the very serious medical condition that affects upward of 12 million Americans, was to educate other parents about life with a child who has food allergies.
“I think the hardest part is that it’s a very generational thing,” she says. “Those of us in our 30s and 40s are the ones really experiencing what it means to parent a child with food allergies. Our parents and grandparents don’t always understand the severity of it.”
Berlin’s book is scheduled to be featured at the Jewish Book Fair at the JCC in West Bloomfield this November.
“If there’s a child with food allergies, I want them to be able to eat safely anywhere.”