Fighting Halloween Food Allergies with Teal Pumpkins

If you’ve been Halloween shopping this year for candy, costumes or decor items, you most likely ran into the latest trend on the shelves: teal-colored pumpkins. While these pumpkins might look like the latest holiday inspiration out of a Martha Stewart catalogue, there is a deeper meaning behind this new decoration.

In 2012, Becky Basalone sought a way to make Halloween safer and more fun for her son, who has multiple life-threatening food allergies. Her solution started with painting a pumpkin teal, the color representing food allergy awareness. Two years later, partnering with Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the Teal Pumpkin Project was born.

What’s in a Pumpkin Color?

Now you might be thinking, how prevalent are food allergies in children today? Is it a big enough issue to warrant a change in holiday traditions? Looking back, you probably don’t even remember too many kids who suffered from a life-threatening allergy.

increase in children with food allergies between 1997 and 2007 3 million children are diagnosed with food allergiesCDC

A 2007 study by the CDC explains this rise in food allergies. Their findings reported that between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of food allergies in children under the age of 18 increased by 18%. It also found that approximately 3 million children were reported with diagnosed food allergies, and even that number has risen significantly since that data was collected.

FARE reports the 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergies currently in the United States alone. That’s 1 out of every 13 kids who can’t eat everything the cafeteria serves or even everything that their parents might be able to digest. That’s 1 out of every 13 kids who may not get to enjoy all the candy treats that this spooky holiday boasts.

Food Allergies & the Teal Pumpkin Project

Let’s look at it this way: A parent takes their child trick-or-treating and collects a plastic pumpkin full of candy. This child, in particular, has a food allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, and soy. Using Jill Castle’s helpful candy allergen guide, the child’s parent would have to remove nearly every chocolate candy bar along with Twizzlers, Tootsie Rolls and Jolly Ranchers from the candy collected.

Which is to say, there won’t be a whole lot left in the plastic pumpkin for this child to enjoy. With food allergies on the rise in our youth today, it’s a wonder that we still celebrate Halloween the same way we have for decades. This’s the issue that the Teal Pumpkin Project aims to address.

So how does it work? People who choose to participate in the project display a painted teal pumpkin or any of the logos or items for sale on the FARE website in their yard or on their porch. These markers notify trick-or-treaters that the house offers non-food treats like glow sticks, beaded necklaces, Halloween rings, crayons, or vampire fangs – small gifts that all children can enjoy, regardless of their allergies.

It’s also important to note that families who participate are not discouraged from offering candy to children without allergens. Some families choose to offer only non-food items for every child while others offer both options. If you choose to offer both, I advise you to buy extra non-food items; you will find that many children without food allergies delight in these prizes as well.

The movement has made major leaps in past years with participation from both families fighting allergies and those without. You can now find teal pumpkins sold in stores like CVS, Target, and Michael’s, and if you are looking to see who has joined the movement in your neighborhood, FARE has a participation map to show all the participants offering non-food items this Halloween.

Start of a New Halloween Tradition

Interestingly enough, this effort to protect children from life-threatening allergies could be the change needed to target other life-threatening health conditions affecting children today. Many speculate whether further progression of the movement will lead towards a healthier attitude around trick-or-treating all together.

With childhood obesity rates between 19.2% and 37.7% depending on the state, it would be beneficial to our society to move away from these holiday traditions that glorify consuming high amounts of sugar and binge-eating behaviors. A holiday like Halloween can continue to be exciting and a little spooky without the emphasis on candy treats, and the more people who join the Teal Pumpkin Project, the closer we are to adapting these holiday traditions towards a healthier lifestyle.

If you or someone you know would like to participate, follow these action steps provided by FARE and the Teal Pumpkin Project to get started in this trick-or-treating revolution. With one teal pumpkin on your porch, you can make this Halloween an inclusive one that is safe and fun for all children!