Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Giveaway! Sandra Beasley's Don't Kill the Birthday Girl

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl, a memoir about food allergies written by TWC workshop leader and board member Sandra Beasley, will be published by Crown on July 12th. To celebrate the occasion, TWC is going to do a raffle to GIVE AWAY one FREE copy of the book. Here's how you can participate in the raffle. Visit and "like" TWC's Facebook page. Then post your response today's status question. On Monday, I'll randomly generate a winner from the thread of comments. That person will get a free hardcover copy of the book. Sandra will also be reading from the book on Saturday, July 23 at Politics & Prose book store here in DC. Click here to get more info on that event.

I asked Sandra a few questions about the book to give us some insight. At the very bottom you'll see her book trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. It's very well done. Check it out after reading the Q & A.

Kyle: I'll start with a confession: I have no allergies. When you're at a restaurant asking the waiter whether (insert x food here) or (insert y food here) is something you can eat, do people like me--those who can eat anything without consequences--make you mad?

Sandra: I am amused by the ways in which people voluntarily restrict their diets; when I was younger I was slightly disdainful, considering such choices a luxury of privilege. Having grown up with only two categories of food, i.e. "safe" and "deadly," it didn't occur to me until I was a teenager that I could even choose to -dislike- a food, much less veto a whole category such as meat. But that's a personal right, and watching my sister choose a vegetarian diet forced me to confront my own prejudices. (Or as she might phrase it, to get over myself.)

The only thing that makes mad is when people falsely claim a food allergy because someone doesn't like a food ("I'm allergic to cilantro"), or is on a diet ("I am allergic to chocolate, I swear"). If that person puts a kitchen through the precautions of adapting a dish to accommodate someone's "allergy," but then ends up ingesting that "allergen" to no ill effect--whether by accident or by cheating on your diet with a cookie at the end of the night--it damages the credibility of everyone with legitimate, life-threatening allergies.

K: Allergies seem to be in the media more these days than when I was a kid, especially peanut allergies. Are people more allergic today? Or is it like everything else in our media-saturated world: the more you see it the more it seems to be true?

S: The numbers don't lie: there has been a catastrophic rise in the incidence of food allergies in America, particularly among children, and we do not know why. Where the media veers toward sensationalism is in their fixation on peanuts (which are not the bad guy--dairy allergy, for example, is just as vicious and pervasive), and their perpetuation of the idea that airborne exposure to minor amounts of an allergen, such as pulverized peanut bits escaping from a bag opened on an airplane, is likely to cause anaphylactic shock. Where the media is missing an alarming and important story is in their lack of attention to the increase in children with not only one major food allergy, but several. Take me for example, allergic to five of the "Big Eight" allergens: in my case dairy, egg, shrimp, soy, and some tree nuts. Such conditions greatly compromise the potential for desensitization and other treatments.

K: Can you give us a sneak-peek into what readers can expect to find in Don't Kill the Birthday Girl?

S: I tried to balance a substantive, interesting look at the science of food allergies (from prick tests to epitopes) with the quirky realities of managing them in the everyday. Hives from a kiss? Yep. Stunt-eater friends who sit next to you at weddings and make your dinner plate look like you had a few bites, so as to not offend the bride? Yep. Having a mother who tries to keep you safe by packing your suitcase for every trip with a loaf of "Sandra-friendly" bread and the knife to slice it with? Yep. You can bet how surprised the security guard was to pull an eight-inch serrated blade out of my suitcase on my way to Disney World with my high school choir.

I hope the book gives people something to think about, because these issues are serious and of national impact. But I also wanted to have a little fun along the way. As I say in the introduction, "This is not a story of how we die. These are the stories of how we live."

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