October 12, 2011

Interview: "Food Allergies Rock" musician Kyle Dine

Kyle Dine became the world's first and only dedicated food allergy musician in 2006.  With catchy, clever tunes like "Epi-Man" and "Able to Read a Label" and a voice reminiscent of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, Kyle has created songs that resonate with kids living with allergies.  His upbeat music also educates non-allergic peers and adults on what it looks like and feels like to manage food allergies.  

Kyle performs at approximately 50 school assemblies and special events throughout the year.  Hailing from Ontario, Canada, his tour has taken him as far east as Halifax and as far south as San Antonio, Texas.  Get Allergy Wise is honored to have Kyle at our Food Allergies Rock Event for his first San Francisco Bay Area performance!

We had an opportunity to interview Kyle to find out more about the multiple-allergic man behind the music:

(Get Allergy Wise) What were you allergic to as a child?  What food are you allergic to now? 
(Kyle Dine)  I was initially diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, and penicillin.  Since then, I’ve only outgrown my dairy allergy, but have now added fish, shellfish, and mustard to my list.

Food allergies are a lot more common these days than they were a couple decades ago.  What was it like for you growing up with multiple food allergies?
I am amazed at the job my parents did in keeping me safe, and making me feel normal despite the fact that I did not know anyone else with allergies.  I also realize that I am lucky that I did not suffer any serious anaphylactic reactions while growing up in a time that did not have today’s food labeling regulations.  This was before precautionary labeling was used (e.g. “May Contain” statements) making it very difficult to know what packaged products were safe.  We ate mostly home-cooked meals and stuck with the basics.

How did you become a food allergy singer?  Tell us about the first food allergy song you wrote.
The idea first came to me after writing a song with a child at summer camp.  I was teaching the boy guitar when I noticed that he was carrying an auto-injector.  I found out that he was also allergic to peanuts and we started writing a silly little song together about peanuts and how we are just fine living without them!  That little ditty was the basis of my first allergy song, “That’s a Peanut”.

Excellent story of how it all began!  You mention auto-injectors.  You sing a song (one of my favorites) called "My Epineph-Friend".  Have you ever had to use your Epi-pen?
Isn’t that song fun!  I love planting the idea in kids’ heads that they should name their EpiPen.  It’s just like a friend after all, right?! 

I had to use my EpiPen once, but should have used it on a few other occasions but, stupidly, did not.  The one time I was offered a square by someone I knew and trusted, but unfortunately they had nuts in them by accident.  I used my EpiPen right away as the symptoms were quite severe within minutes of ingestion.  I went to the hospital where I required more medicine, but ultimately I was okay.  I learned a very valuable lesson that day in that I should always ask as many questions as possible when offered food and never eat something unless I’m 100% sure it’s safe.

Glad you are okay and all the wiser.  Congratulations on your recent wedding, by the way.  I read that your wife has Celiac disease.  I wonder if your shared challenges around food created an instant connection when you first met.  I know I feel a sense of closeness with parents of food-allergic kids. 
Gee thanks!  We’re really happy and riding high these days!

As much as I would love to promote “inter-allergy/intolerance dating”, my wife and I are both aware of the extremely high odds that our children will have allergies or intolerance.  I often joke that they will be “tall, dark, and allergic!”  At least we will be prepared.  There was an initial sense of understanding between us, but I truly think that a true partner will be able to learn how to keep you safe whether they have an allergy/intolerance or not.  The biggest benefit I find is the support which comes directly from her level of understanding.  If I forget a detail at a restaurant, she is quick to jump in and have my back.  Through all of these years of living with her, I have learned so much about gluten and its sources and try to be the best advocate I can for her.

Do your wife and you cook separate meals or do you accommodate for your combined food allergies and intolerances?
We mix it up between cooking separate meals and joint meals.  It helps us cut costs with our groceries and have our own treats, but we are very stringent in the kitchen and have color coded utensils, plates, cutting boards etc. etc.

So tell us the story behind your song, "Food Allergies Rock!"  What to you is the best thing about having food allergies?
I have never had an easier time writing a song than “Food Allergies Rock!”  I really wanted to write a song that encapsulated my views on having food allergies and the overall message I try to project in all of my songs.  This was reinforced when I read a conclusion on a research paper on quality of life in children with food allergies.  It really promoted that having a positive attitude about allergies will actually have a great impact:

“Clinical experience suggests that children who adopt a negative attitude toward their allergies (e.g. focus on limitations and differences from peers) may be more likely to experience distress than children who adopt a more positive perspective (e.g. emphasize strengths and coping strategies).” (link to study)

My favorite thing about having food allergies is the knowledge it brings you.  My experiences and stories can go so far in helping out others with allergies, as well as educate non-allergic people.  I’m amazed at the number of parties I’ve been to where a group of people stood around me wanting to learn more about allergies and anaphylaxis!
What do you think is the hardest thing about having food allergies?
I think a lot of parents assume that it’s the feeling of being left out.  I’ve talked to many kids and teens with allergies, and the most common answer I hear for this question is “being a burden”.  I feel the same.  I’m a pretty low-key guy and have never wanted to inconvenience anyone because of my allergies.  I don’t like them being a huge deal in social situations.  If I can’t eat something, no problem.  I will find a safe food, it might be as basic as a salad with no dressing, but I am fine with that and do not feel comfortable with people fussing over me.

How does it feel to be a rock star in the food allergy world?  Have you had any moments from touring that have especially inspired you?
It’s humbling. People tell me that I’m doing a really great thing.  But truthfully, I’m having so much fun doing this and am amazed that “allergy music” has impacted so many families across North America.

There are so many feel-good moments from touring I can’t name just one.  When kids come up to me showing off their EpiPens proudly and compare their MedicAlert bracelets with mine, I feel incredible. These kids are on the right track and are empowered over their allergies - something that didn’t happen to me until I was in my twenties. 

I am so lucky to do what I do.  I do not take it for granted, and document it all with a giant overloaded scrapbook with memories that will last a lifetime.  I certainly didn’t dream of being a food allergy musician in high school, but am I ever glad that’s how it turned out!

Come meet and hear the talented and gracious Kyle Dine in person at our November 6th Food Allergies Rock event

For more information about Kyle and his music, check out his website and blog.  FAAN members can receive a discount on his CDs through the FAAN online store.

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