SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The Top 10 Challenge is a Canadian food allergy awareness campaign leading up to May — Food Allergy Awareness Month. Participants in the Top 10 Challenge experience a “day on the plate” of someone with food allergies by avoiding any number of the top 10 food allergens for one meal, one day, or the full 10 days until May.

The campaign aims to raise $25,000 for a research grant through the Canadian Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Foundation. Created by Kathleen O’Hagan, mother of a three-year-old with multiple allergies, she was inspired by a similar Top 8 Challenge started by Sarah Gray in Australia.

Food allergies impact about seven to eight per cent of Canadians. According to Health Canada, priority food allergens include eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, shellfish, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree nuts, and wheat. An allergic reaction can vary in severity, from mild symptoms such as hives to anaphylactic shock — a life-threatening reaction requiring immediate medical attention.

Though prevalent in North America, a 2015 report found that 49 per cent of 1,031 American adults surveyed lacked knowledge regarding food allergies.

O’Hagan wrote in an email to The Varsity, “My hope is that by having people live a ‘day on the plate’ of someone with food allergies they might have a bit of an ‘a-ha!’ moment and finally get what we have to do every day to keep our children safe.”

The effects extend beyond the danger of an allergic reaction. O’Hagan listed “triple-checking labels, cooking from scratch (a lot), not having the freedom to just walk into any restaurant and order anything off the menu, being excluded from social events, living in fear of unknown foods,” and others as negative impacts on everyday life.

Lisa Hung, U of T PhD student researching food allergies and Top 10 Challenge committee member, wrote to The Varsity, “It’s also important to stress how much we still don’t know in the field of food allergy. We don’t know why people get allergies or how to predict how they might progress, let alone how best to treat them. We need funding now more than ever because there’s so much to be discovered.”

A clear message of this campaign is that empathy and awareness will lead to change. “I think once people understand that food allergies are not only life-changing, but life-threatening and absolutely NOT a choice, the empathy drawer in their brains might start to open little by little,” wrote O’Hagan. “There are still too many people who think their snack is more important than a person’s life.”

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