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Food the best thing about teen camp

By Mark Madden-Snoad

Allergy Today Winter Issue 125 — The inaugural Allergy New Zealand Youth Camp kicked off on Friday the 9 May at Carey Park in Henderson, Auckland, with 14 teenagers and 12 parents. Preparation for the camp had been extensive and challenging. The most telling comment came when the camp chef received the final list of campers and the foods they could not eat. “But there are more allergies here than people!” he exclaimed.

Yes indeed. For this was a camp for teenagers with life-threatening food allergies. And it was a camp where everyone would be eating the same food, in the same dining room, cooked and prepared by the same staff. So the word ‘challenging’ is probably an understatement when describing the task of catering for camp. And it was a vital task in more ways than one.

The teenage years can be tricky at the best of times. Most teens want to be accepted by their peers. They want a strong sense of belonging to their peer group and to not stand out as being different. But having a food allergy creates a clear point of difference. So for camp we made a conscious effort to do everything, especially eating food, together.

And the food was outstanding. The chefs planned the menu with help from Allergy New Zealand volunteer Jill MacFarlane, co-writer of the New Zealand Food Allergy cookbook. The roast pork dinner and apple crumble desert on the Saturday night was a highlight.
The work put into ensuring that all food was safe had a real impact on the teenagers present. We had lots of fun and did great outdoor activities, but these were not commented on when describing the best thing about camp. The most common response to being asked what was the best thing about camp was all about food. It was being able to eat the same food as everyone else.

This seemingly small matter, something which most of us take for granted, really had a profound effect on the teenagers. They were somewhere where having a MedicAlert bracelet and an EpiPen was normal. And so they could relax, enjoy themselves and participate fully in the programme.

And it was a full programme. We kept the teenagers entertained and engaged with activities such as abseiling, rock-climbing, confidence course, flying fox, Burma trail and fun evening games. And packaged tightly around these activities were informative and educational sessions, for teenagers and separately for parents, run by experts on the subject of allergies.

Dr Penny Fitzharris discussed allergies and anaphylaxis. Nurse Pauline Brown gave individual EpiPen tuition including the chance to set off an expired EpiPen into a couch. Dietitian Anna Richards talked about healthy diets without foods like diary, egg and nuts. Allergy New Zealand’s Sara Jane Murison discussed the importance of reading labels and ways to eat out safely. And psychologist Barbra Bulkeley discussed how we tell others about our food allergies.

The final word goes to a parent, “You have all done an awesome job of putting together a really fun and informative camp for both teens and parents. It has exceeded all expectations I had.”

Kimberley and Mark Madden-Snoad coordinated the Allergy New Zealand Youth Camp.