Teal is the new pumpkin

October 13, 2015

I like Halloween. I don’t love Halloween. I’m not one of those people who decorates for it year round or waits with bated breath for Halloween season to roll around, but Halloween and I, we’re cool.

I’m looking forward to my first Halloween in my own house. This being the first, and a Saturday no less, I have no idea what to expect. I don’t intend to go out with my 15 month old. She’s not walking on her own and is not going to be eating the candy, so we’ll stay home and see what the day brings. Will we be swamped, have a slow trickle all day, or nothing at all, I wondered nervously as I picked out a bag of 150 assorted chocolates, supplemented with a bag of mini Reese’s peanut butter cups and another of Smarties (yes, I buy the things I like so that leftover candy isn’t a tragedy). Will well over 200 pieces be enough? I sure hope so.

The Teal Pumpkin ProjectI also picked out a few packages of Halloween pencils and multicolored packs of glow bracelets, because this Halloween, there will be a teal pumpkin on my front porch.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was launched last year by Food Allergy Research & Education. A teal pumpkin outside a house denotes a location where trick or treaters can request a non-food treat. For most kids this may seem like nothing…I mean, why wouldn’t you want candy? But for the ever growing portion of the population that has food allergies, this can put the fun back in Halloween.

Imagine walking from house to house with your friends or siblings, shyly mumbling “trick or treat” and graciously accepting candy that you know you can’t eat? For a little kid, that’s a bummer. Kids with allergies to nuts, gluten, dairy or a variety of other ingredients are largely left out of this tradition. The Teal Pumpkin Project is aiming to create an inclusive atmosphere for all children.

When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know many kids with allergies. I had one friend who was severely allergic to milk, so allergic that she couldn’t touch Elmer’s Glue without having a reaction (d0n’t ask me the science, just trust me that it happened). Her mom would send her to birthday parties with little pre-packaged non-dairy snacks and a caution to not even taste the birthday cake or any other food served at the party. She dealt with it because she had no choice, but she was clearly the odd man out, the one that can’t do what everyone else was doing. I remember sitting at a long table at a party in 4th grade or so, watching cake being passed out while she slowly opened the plastic wrapper on her pale, nondairy twinkie-looking cake.

As an adult, having worked in the school system and now hearing about friends’ children, allergies are much more common than when I was little. There’s dairy and gluten allergies, corn and nut allergies, kids allergic to preservatives, food coloring and all sorts of things. Some don’t have traditional allergies, but sensitivities or odd reactions to these ingredients and let’s face it, it’s not worth the suffering or risk.

Constantly watching what you eat and worrying about reactions can be grating for an adult; for a kid, it must be really nice to feel included. So that’s why I have my two orange pumpkins sitting outside, and another little one in my kitchen waiting to be painted teal and set out for Halloween.

You can learn more about The Teal Pumpkin Project online, print free signs to place outside with your pumpkin, or get involved in other ways. Halloween trick or treating is supposed to be fun, and I’m okay with spending a couple of extra dollars and minutes to make a local child who may be feeling left out smile behind his or her Halloween mask.

The TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT and the Teal Pumpkin Image are trademarks of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).

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