Passion Pit's Xander Singh Discusses Living With A Peanut Allergy, Part III
Xander Singh, the keyboardist for alternative rock band Passion Pit, discusses his peanut allergy and how it has affected him when he's on tour with his band and in daily life.
In Part III, he talks about eating out at restaurants with a peanut allergy, his mom's famous nut-free carrot cake, and advice he has to both parents and kids with food allergies.
Are your friends and bandmates understanding of your allergy?
We don’t have any peanut butter or peanut products on our bus. On the first page of our writer, the document where we have food back stage, in massive, bold, red letters it says no nut products or kiwi, because I’m also allergic to that, and you find that popping up in fruit plates all the time as well.
Everyone has been very accommodating, and when you surround yourself with friends and good people, they don’t care at all about not having peanuts around you when they realize how severe it is. I think, especially with them all witnessing what happened in Mexico, that if they didn’t understand before, they certainly do now!
I do often kind of feel bad. At times, with growing up my family, I just didn’t have peanut products ever, or a girlfriend can’t eat peanut butter because if she kisses me then I could die. Sometimes you feel bad about it, but then you realize that there’s nothing more important than your health.
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?
Generally, I do have a routine. And generally I just absolutely avoid Thai restaurants. I just don’t eat Thai food because most every dish, if it doesn’t have peanut sauce, will be sprinkled with peanut dust. And there are certainly dishes at Thai restaurants that don’t contain peanuts, but that’s just something where cross-contamination in the kitchen is a very real possibility, so I just don’t go to Thai restaurants.
Any other restaurant, I’ll walk in and look at the menu. The first thing I’ll do when I want to order is I’ll look at the menu and see if what I want has peanuts in it. If it does, then obviously I won’t get it. Then when the waiter comes around I’ll say, “I just want to let you know I have a very severe, life-threatening nut allergy.”
Then, I'll ask them what kind of oil they use, and then I'll also ask if I order anything, or if anyone else at the table orders anything that uses nuts or nut oils, if they could please check and let me know. I don’t tell my friends they can’t order anything with nuts. But just in case someone says, “Hey! This is really good. Try this!” or if you’re sharing appetizers, you just want to make sure you know that if there is something on the table with nuts that you don’t eat it or share the same utensils with people.
I think the best thing you can do is just be really straightforward. Make sure the staff understands that it is a life-threatening allergy, and that you’re well-informed about what you’ve ordered and what everyone else at the table has ordered. And, of course, make sure that you have your EpiPen with you.
What are some of your favorite peanut-free recipes or meals?
I’m not much of a cook at all, and I’m not home often enough to do big grocery shopping trips, so I eat out a lot. A general favorite meal for me is just a classic cheeseburger and French fries. That’s one thing that, since I eat it so much, I have encountered times when the fries are cooked in peanut oil and I can’t have them.
But I do have a kind of funny story. I grew up and my favorite dessert of all time was carrot cake, and my mom would make that for every birthday I had and special occasions. She made a carrot cake and it was just my absolute favorite thing ever.
Then I graduated high school and left home and still had this love for carrot cake, and the only kind I had ever had was my mom’s carrot cake. You know, very rarely do you go to restaurants and see a slice of carrot cake for dessert. I feel like it's something your mom makes you or that you buy at a bakery.
I remember my first birthday after I left home, my mom couldn’t make me a carrot cake, but it was tradition so I went out and bought one at a local bakery and there was walnuts all over it. I forgot to ask – I would never think that carrot cake had walnuts on it! Little do I know that literally every carrot cake in the world, except for the one my mom makes, has walnuts all over it.
So now I can never have carrot cake, and it always pisses me off so much that my mom made me fall in love with a certain cake that, little did I know, she always made specially for me without walnuts. So, you know, I wish I could learn how to make my mom’s nut-free carrot cake, but every time I go home I get some of it. That’s the one thing I wish I knew how to make.
Is this the first time you have openly discussed your peanut allergy? Have you been involved in any other outreach efforts?
Yeah pretty much. I often share my experiences with friends, especially because I have a few friends who also have peanut allergies, and we always swap stories and talk about it. It’s like you have some camaraderie with your friends that have peanut allergies, or if I ever just meet someone randomly and they have a peanut allergy, I get really pumped and then we high five and bond over our shared struggle.
I’ve never been too involved with outreach, but it’s certainly something I’d like to be more involved in, especially now that I’ve grown up and have that somewhat unique experience of traveling all around the world and dealing with having a food allergy. It makes me more excited to talk about it and help people be more informed when they go to a foreign country or certain things like that.
Do you have any advice to parents of children with peanut allergies?
For parents with children, I’d say that’s most important is to make sure that you give some sort of responsibility to the child, so they don’t grow up complacent or uncomfortable with the fact that everytime they’re in a restaurant their mom will have already asked the waiter if they use nut products.
Or if your mom or dad orders special chocolate from a company that doesn’t use nuts. Then you can grow up thinking, “Oh! Chocolate’s great! Chocolate doesn’t have nuts!” For instance, when my mom found this company called Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate she used to order a whole bunch at Easter, and I'd get the chocolates. But she always told me, "This is a special brand of chocolate made for people like you, who can’t have most chocolate."
You have to instill some sort of responsibility in your child that makes them realize that you're helping them through it, but they need to realize why you're asking what kind of oil the kitchen’s using to cook their food. You have to make sure the child is aware of that, because one day they will be on their own, and they will have to ask those questions.
I think that’s the biggest thing. Aside from keeping yourself informed and keeping others informed, you need to teach your child about their allergy and how they can deal with it. It’s the same kind of principle that, if you grow up and your mom’s always doing your laundry, when you grow up and are on your own, you’re never gonna do your own laundry. So you need to not only teach yourself about your child’s allergy, but teach him about it.
What advice do you have for kids with food allergies?
I’d say the most important thing for kids with food allergies is to realize that you do have to look out for yourself. Also, the biggest thing, is to never be embarrassed about having a nut allergy or any other kind of food allergy.
I definitely grew up with a sense of embarrassment about it, and it definitely did make me feel like there was something wrong with me or that I had a weakness. But, you know, you have to understand there’s nothing you can do about it. It just happened, and you have to learn how to deal with it as best you can. And it’s certainly not something you should ever be embarrassed about.
You should never be too nervous to ask if the kitchen in a restaurant is preparing your food with nut-products, and you shouldn’t be afraid to go up to kids in your school who don’t understand how serious your peanut allergy is and who bully you. You need to not only talk to them, but also tell a teacher, because maybe the teacher can sit your class down and do a 10-minute lesson on food allergies and how you need to be careful around people with food allergies.
But, you know, that’s the big thing for young kids is to just realize that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and also you need to make sure you yourself are informed about how to best deal with your food allergy. There is never anybody who is going to take care of you better than you are. You are always the best line of defense, and you need to make sure you’re always aware of your surroundings and don’t get complacent and lazy, like I have sometimes!
A special thanks to Xander!