I live (mostly) by Michael Pollan’s advice to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” But Halloween is an exception. We live in a Sesame Street-like townhouse neighborhood in Washington, DC, so my kids can easily hit 100 houses while trick-or-treating. The candy haul is epic.
My food-allergic son has always been great about sorting out the candy he can’t eat, but the night can still be stressful, knowing that peanut butter and almond confections are in his bag.
So we, along with many other food-allergy families, embraced a new idea this year: the Teal Pumpkin Project. Started by a food-allergy mom in Tennessee, the idea is that you paint a pumpkin teal (the theme color of FARE, the largest U.S. food-allergy advocacy group) and place it on your porch to let people know that non-food treats are offered at your house.
We had a bowl of candy and a bowl of glow sticks, parachute men, Pokemon cards, light-up rings, and other leftovers from past birthday party treat bags (I knew that stuff would come in handy some day). Most of the kids, especially the younger ones, chose toys over candy, which made my anti-high fructose corn syrup heart happy.
Mainstream and social media lit up with stories about the Teal Pumpkin Project that weekend, but two stories from my own online food-allergy support group stood out to me:
I just thought I would share with you that my Halloween night was made when a girl (aged 8-10) and her dad (whom I did not know) came to my door, noticed the FARE Sign posted on my window and front yard, and asked for a non food treat. I showed her my basket of non food treats and Divvies bars, bats and ghosts, and mentioned that if she has food allergies these chocolates might be safe for her. (She was allergic to egg, peanuts, and tree nuts). Her Dad’s face lit up when he saw the Divvies bars and she happily selected a Divvies chocolate bar!! Can you imagine trick or treating at a stranger’s house and being able to eat a chocolate bar! What a wonderful thing FARE has accomplished by publicizing this so successfully!! And, of course, it is a brilliant idea this wonderful woman in Tennessee came up with.
Next year, I think many of my neighbors will catch on and paint teal pumpkins. I had the sign laminated and stuck it in the ground next to the teal pumpkin in front of my house.
Although there was only one trick or treater out of dozens and dozens who came to the house, it was well worth it! In fact, I might have been even happier than that little girl!
What a wonderful story! We were touched by the kindness of two of our
neighbors who chose to participate in the teal pumpkin project, even though
they don’t have food allergic children themselves.
One neighbor even came running after us when her husband forgot to offer the non-food treats when we came to her house she had bought dollar store puzzles for my boys (all 3 of whom have food allergies) and she wanted to make sure they received
We put a teal pumpkin & sign out at our house as well. Both a candy
bowl and non-food bowl were left on our porch while we went
trick-or-treating with our boys, and when we returned home the non-food bowl
seemed like it was just as popular as the candy bowl. I really think that
lots of kids, whether they deal with food allergies or not, enjoy the
non-food treats for a change sometimes! 🙂
I have observed that food — particularly what people feed their children — can be as sensitive a topic as religion and politics. People have said more thoughtless and unkind things to me about food allergies than about anything else in my life. I think that’s why the Teal Pumpkin Project meant so much to me and other food-allergy families. We weren’t banning candy or trying to change anyone else’s holiday. We were providing an alternative, shining a light on a more inclusive path. And, for the most part, people loved walking it with us.
Wendy Sue Swanson says
Thanks for this story. I adored this effort and opportunity for change offered up by the FARE campaign. Brilliant concept and IMO outpaces the efforts of another walk or 5K run for fundraising — this was a chance to DO something and change culture while changing awareness at the same time. Inclusivity and kindness — what could be better at Halloween?
We gave our spider rings and angry bird pencils in addition to gummy bears. I think children without allergies were delighted, too, and certainly migrated to the toys >>> candy.
But what hit me was the reality that we were the only house in our neighborhood with a teal pumpkin. As a pediatrician and spokesperson it was such a part of my 2014 Halloween, I expected it to be a part of others’ too. But clearly the campaign here had limited penetration (my lens so skewed thinking everyone would have a teal pumpkin). I felt that our communities would want to celebrate the opportunity to support children with special medical needs, too. A do-good, feel-good, solve-good solution.
Will work harder next year on promotion. Please keep in touch on how I can do that (this year I did a blog, sent tweets, did a Facebook status update, and did a segment on local TV).
You (and your precious community) teach this pediatrician so much. Thank you, as always…
Susannah Fox says
Thank you! It did seem, to me, like “everyone” was talking about it on Twitter, but that is the filter bubble for you. We are playing the long game, though, and I’m hopeful that more people will participate next year and the year after that thanks to communicators like you!
Thanks for sharing Susannah! I love this campaign because it relates to all the things that matter to me: Food allergies, social media and a community creating health! Great example of #makehealth for http://www.healthdesignby.us/ !
Susannah Fox says
And craftiness! That’s something I know you’re good at, too.
We just slapped some hardware-store paint on our pumpkin but I saw some gorgeous examples online — glittery teal, striped teal, gold stems… There’s always next year!
Amy O. says
Fantastic share! Loving the idea of non-food too. While the T1D community majority needs only carb counts (rarely printed on ‘fun-sized’), an ever growing population is concerned with Celiac and food allergies to wheat/gluten. Awareness is key and once the word is out, the sensitivity will follow. 🙂
And who doesn’t love a crafty pumpkin painting party?
Susannah Fox says
Thanks, Amy! One thing I love about the Teal Pumpkin Project is that it does hold the possibility for expanding the umbrella to include not only people with life-threatening food allergies (FARE’s members) but people who have sensitivities, who are food-aware or sugar-averse, etc.
And yes, next year I intend to get much craftier with my painting 🙂
Lovely blog post, Susannah! Thanks for spreading awareness and sharing our stories!
Susannah Fox says
Our list serve is a huge source of information, resources, and, most of all, kind camaraderie. It’s an honor to share a bit of it here. Thanks for giving permission!
PF Anderson says
I also had not heard about this project! I clicked on the link because, in my world, the word “teal” is linked to Ovarian Cancer, and that’s what I was expecting – another teal initiative for ovca awareness and support.
I wish there had been something like this when my son was little. He loved going trick or treating, but the usual thing was that he’d come back with his friends, everyone would lay out their stash, and trade. There were always things he couldn’t have that no one would trade for, so we’d have another bag of candies that were safe for him, and we’d make the trade. We tried also the UNICEF idea of trick-or-treating for funds for charity, but frankly, that wasn’t a big hit with him. Eventually he just got used to the idea that he couldn’t have the treats. This year we put out gluten-free chocolates, but some of them had nuts. I LOVE the idea of putting out small toys!
Susannah Fox says
I’m so happy to spread the word about this idea of substituting small toys when people usually include candy. I’ve done it for birthday party treat bags — no candy, ever, which was somewhat unusual — and for pinatas. The downside is that toys are more expensive than candy, particularly if you try to get stuff that’s kind of interesting or won’t break within the first two minutes.