Dave Monks, Lead Singer of Tokyo Police Club, Discusses His Peanut Allergy, Part II
Dave Monks, vocalist and bassist of the indie rock band Tokyo Police Club, discusses his peanut allergy and how it has affected him when he's on the road with his band and in day-to-day life.
In Part II, he talks about traveling with a peanut allergy, what steps to take when eating out at a restaurant, and shares his best advice to parents of kids with peanut allergies.
Have you ever had a really bad allergic reaction?
Everyone deals with their allergy in their own personal way. What no one may know is what’s normal or what’s common when it comes to their allergy. I have no idea if I’ve had a normal amount of reactions in my life or if I’ve had more than your average person with an anaphylactic peanut allergy.
I have had a bunch of experiences. One of the scariest is when I was in Japan with my band. We had just landed, and we were playing a show. I knew I had two EpiPens with me, but one of them was expired. I had brought the other one with me just in case. I knew the expired one was in my suitcase, and the good one was in my pocket on the plane. Then, when I got off the plane, I noticed that the EpiPen was missing from my pocket, and I assumed it had fallen into the crack of the seat on the plane. They wouldn’t let me back on the plane, so then I was just thinking to myself, “Oh great I’m in Japan for a week with only an expired EpiPen.”
I went to my suitcase a night before we went out for dinner to grab the expired EpiPen and found that I’d mixed them up and by some sort of luck had the good EpiPen. Then we went to dinner, and our translator was there but somehow something came out on the table that had been fried in peanut oil or something, and I had been told that everything was safe on the table because I had specifically communicated that.
So I ended up eating this thing that had peanuts in it, and I was there at the table, and everyone was speaking Japanese, and I was thinking “Wow, I’m having a full-on reaction.” So I told my band mate, "We have to go to the hospital now!" I started calling the ambulance, and we were in the times square of Shibuya, like the Lost in Translation kind of part, so it was densely crowded.
When the ambulance got there, none of the doctors spoke English. Also, they don’t really use EpiPens in Japan. It’s not a legal medicine; they just use steroids instead. So at the hospital, I had my one EpiPen with me luckily, and I went on a steroid drip that worked, thankfully. It was just an uncomfortable situation in a really strange setting.
Do you carry an Epipen with you at all times, even on stage? Have you ever had to use it?
Yes, and in the summer I always wear my favorite jeans, where the pockets are too small to put the EpiPen in, so it’s always sticking out. But, yeah, I bring the EpiPen everywhere. I wouldn’t go out of the house without it, even if I didn’t have a bag or anything. It’s just a habit I have. I think that’s the kind of stuff you can really do. You can try to be prepared for the worst, and I know when I have my EpiPen I don’t get the same anxiety.
As part of a band, you inevitably have to travel extensively. How do you cope with your peanut allergy when traveling on planes?
The plane is, in my mind, the scariest place you could have a reaction. So few airlines give out peanuts on a plane now, and I’ve been flying frequently for the past six years and it’s gone down a lot since a few years ago.
I guess I should be more proactive about going to the flight attendants ahead of time, but in cases where peanuts are handed out on planes, I’ve just been told they won’t hand it out to the row in front of me or behind me.
People can get surprisingly bothered by the fact that they can’t have peanuts on the plane, but a lot of it is just getting used to being the target of distain. Even at a pub or getting a burger and fries, I still have to ask if the fries are cooked in peanut oil because that’s a common thing. People will say, “It’s just a burger and fries man. Chill.” But you still have to ask - you just constantly have to be doing that. And then, people say, “Oh well, if you have an allergy, we can’t guarantee anything.” Then they start assessing the risk for themselves and deciding if they’re comfortable with it. Those are the things I always have to deal with.
Are your friends and bandmates understanding of your allergy?
My whole band is really supportive, like when we travel we’re all in really close quarters and peanuts are off the menu and they stock up on pb&j sandwiches before they go on tour. They’re always really cool about it. The same goes for my family. What people don’t understand is what the risk is and how personal it can feel. Once they get that, it’s not really an issue for them to help make you comfortable.
Do you ever get worried, when you are around so many fans and people, that something will trigger a reaction?
If you’re at a restaurant, or on the subway or around a lot of people, that’s out of your control, you just can’t worry about stuff like that. I just try to not be anxious about that.
Being in a band, you must eat out a lot or have a lot of food catered. When at a restaurant, do you take certain measures to protect yourself
I usually just say I have a peanut allergy and I leave it at that, as opposed to getting into more. I used to ask if they had a certain kind of oil in the kitchen, and they would answer that question, when really I should just tell them I have a really serious peanut allergy and I need the kitchen to know that. Then they’ll take all the necessary precautions. I think there are also certain foods that I would just stay away from. I don’t go to Thai restaurants and try things. I’ll just stay away completely.
What are some of your favorite peanut-free recipes or meals?
Peanuts aren’t really an essential food to me, and I even just recently added almonds and other things like that to my diet. Before I wasn’t even eating any nuts. It wasn’t like I needed a substitute for peanuts. Other than that, I really like chili, but that’s not really relevant.
Is this the first time you have discussed your peanut allergy? Have you been involved in any other outreach efforts?
My mom used to be part of a group in town, and I went and talked about it one time, but I was only about 14. But this has been kind of cool because it’s something that I don’t always check in with myself about and ask “Hey, how am I doing?” It’s just an ongoing thing, but that’s my peanut spiel.
Do you have any advice to parents of children with peanut allergy or people who suffer from peanut allergies?
You can’t eliminate risk. It’s more about being prepared than being overcautious or cramping your lifestyle. You don’t have to be a boy in a bubble. You can be a pretty regular kid, and just be ready because the risk is always there and you’re never going to get rid of it.
For parents, you can’t protect your kid from things that are out of your control. What you can do is give them the tools to deal with their allergy in a smart way on their own and to feel confident about explaining their allergy to people and knowing how to navigate it.
A special thanks to Dave!
To check out Tokyo Police Club's website, click here.