Allergies can make gift giving tricky, and alpha-gal syndrome (aka red meat allergy) brings it to a whole new level. If your family has food or personal product gift-giving traditions, AGS can put a wrench in your holiday plans. Sorry Aunt Susan, that meat tray just isn’t going to work this year.
We get it; gifts are personal, and there aren’t many “one size fits all” gift ideas, but we’d like to offer up a few suggestions to help inspire you this holiday season. If you’re feeling especially subtle, show this list to somebody responsible for buying gifts for you this year. If you’ve got something you’d prefer over some of these suggestions, let us know and we’ll add it to the list.
Side note/obligatory disclaimer: We are not endorsed by any of these products, and the links to them aren’t even referral links that give us any sort of kickback. We just want Aunt Susan to stop with the meat trays.
Mini Donut Maker
You know what always makes people happy? Donuts. Unless you’ve got AGS of course, then donuts become an issue of figuring out what sort of mammal nonsense was used in the ingredients. That sweet, sweet donut sits right in front of you, calling, whispering, begging for you to buy it while you chat up the cook or read the label’s ingredients list to find out whether or not you can give the little thing a nice new comfy home in your stomach.
Why not skip that entirely? Finding a safe donut is next to impossible, but if your loved one is handy in the kitchen, a personal donut maker might be just the thing to surprise them with! Mini donut makers are small, easy to use, donut-shaped griddles, and the mammal based ingredients in the batter recipes can easily be replaced with plant equivalents, which makes these a great gift option. In fact, almost any cake batter recipe will work with them. Pair this gift with some organic/vegan sugar, some unbleached flour (we like King Arthur Flour) and/or a can of additive free coconut milk to make a complete package. We have tried 2 models.
Donut Maker Models:
|BabyCakes is just $15-$20 and only makes 4 donuts at a time, but they come out plump and fully rounded. The downside to this one is it can take an hour or more to go through a full batch of batter if you have only one.|
|VonShef, on the other hand, cranks out 12 at a time and runs about $35, but the downside with this one is they don’t plump as well and come out a little bit flattened.|
Ice Cream Maker
You scream, I scream, the alpha-gal folks scream… at the fact that giving up ice cream is so hard. Amazingly, quite a few companies have started offering dairy free and vegan ice creams, but they are extremely expensive and dodging carrageenan can be difficult. Thankfully, making your own alpha-gal free ice cream from scratch is simple with an ice cream machine. People use coconut milk, bananas and a variety of other options to produce excellent results. Giving someone with AGS an ice cream machine is like giving them ice cream itself back; we can’t think of a better way to show somebody you care.
Ice cream machines tend to be overly complicated and expensive, but we found one model that was simple to use, didn’t break the bank, and produced excellent results. Pair this gift with a few cans of additive free coconut milk and some organic/vegan sugar and you have a winning combination. Even better, include some freezer-proof storage containers made especially for ice cream. Tovolo offers several sizes and shapes with easy to use lids that can meet most needs.
If you’re really feeling the holiday spirit, get them the donut maker, and the ice cream maker. Donut. Ice cream. Sandwiches. ‘Nuff said.
Ice Cream Maker Models:
|Cuisinart offers a variety of easy to use freezer tub models, but the 1.5 quart ICE-21 is the most economical and simple option running for around $45 to $60 dollars. Freezer tub models are nice because all you have to do is pop the tub in the freezer overnight and the next morning you can make ice cream. No messy salt or bags of ice to deal with. Cuisinart also sells individual parts and freezer tubs ($30) to make it easy to make several flavors all in a row, the tubs even come in different colors. Hamilton Beach offers a similar model for around the same price ($40 to $50), but ordering additional parts or freezer tubs seems overly complicated if it is possible at all.|
|Hamilton Beach offers a classic ice-bucket style model that makes a whopping 4 quarts at a time. Ice bucket models require a lot of crushed ice and salt during each use and are more awkward to use, but if you want volume they are the way to go. At around $30 to $35 the classic Hamilton Beach 4 Quart Ice Cream Maker 68330N isn’t just a name brand, it’s quite economical. If you get this model, remember to include a bag of salt.|
Are you sensing a theme yet? A big part of managing allergies is learning to make your own treats and processed foods from scratch. Things that let a person make food they previously had to give up quickly and easily makes living with allergies much less stressful. Depending on where your loved one lives, finding safe bread may be easy or next to impossible. A bread machine for any foodie who doesn’t have one is a nice gift, but for someone who can’t eat store-bought bread its a godsend.
The simple bucket models usually makes square loaves, but the extreme ease in their use and clean up make them ideal for anyone who needs to save on time, which is pretty much everyone who has ever had to cook around allergies. A bag of unbleached unenriched organic flour and some bread yeast pair well with this gift. Or you could go the extra mile and pick out a bread slicer.
Bread Machine Models:
|Hamilton Beach has several bread makers to choose from, but at around $45–$50, the HomeBaker 2Lb. Breadmaker 29882 is a nice 2Lb loaf model because it can also make quick breads and cakes if the household oven is no longer an option. The 29881 is a bit heavier, but considered comparable to the 29882. It is also white rather than black and is only $40–$50. Both models have gluten free settings if additional allergies are a concern. Sunbeam and Oster also offer well-reviewed bucket style bread makers at similar prices.|
|Zojirushi and others offer positively reviewed models that bake traditional long rectangle shaped loaves, but they are quite a bit more expensive hovering around the $250 price point. If your loved one is particular about the shape of their bread, then it may be worth the added investment.|
If your loved one is in a situation where they can no longer safely use their own oven, or need to keep it reserved for the mammal eaters of the household, a convection oven might make a good gift. A personal mammal free oven can help ease concerns about cross contamination, but be sure your friend or family member has a place to put it. How large the space to keep it in is and what kinds of things will be made in it will play a big factor in what model will work best, so if you are thinking of giving one as a gift, skip the surprise and suggest the concept with the person you want to give it. That way they can pick out the model that suits them best.
Low and slow is a cooking technique that can bring out new depths of flavor in poultry and vegetable dishes. If your loved one doesn’t already have one of these cooking classics, this may be a good way to go. Slow cookers are excellent for making one’s own chicken stock too, something that many people with AGS prefer to do themselves just to be sure cross-contamination at broth production canneries isn’t an issue.
Slow Cooker Brands:
|Crock-Pot is the classic brand of choice and they make a wide array of slow cookers to fit all shapes, sizes, and budgets. $15 to $20 will fetch a manual 4 quart, $150 will get you the 5-in1 Multi-Cooker. If you prefer digital, they tend to cost around $10 more than their manual counterparts and mostly have chrome exteriors. Round is the classic, but oval models are nice because they can hold a whole chicken or other long items. Crock-Pot offers a lot of different paint jobs including college and NFL themes, which is sure to make your cooking device of choice even more interesting than Aunt Susan’s.|
|Hamilton Beach is a bit pricier and has less variety than Croc-Pot, but they accel in advanced controls. The iconic “Set ‘n Forget” models aren’t for everyone (if you don’t use the probe they can leak steam), but the meat probe thermometer is great for roast chickens and foods that the cooking temperature should be dropped on once a needed temperature has been reached. A 6 Quart model is around $50.|
|Instant Pot is the leading maker of home electric pressure cookers. While these devices are not slow cookers per se, many refer to them as “fast slow cookers”. When electric pressure cookers first came on the market they were thought to be on par with stovetop models, but it has since been found that they cannot properly can foods and are thus more like an instant slow cooker. You won’t develop the flavor as much with one of these, but if your loved one is short on time, they are a great way to go. Instant Pot offers models 6-8 quarts in size with various features for around $80 – $160. A variety of other kitchen appliance brands also offer similar models; just be sure the safety rating is good on any you pick out. They might not reach the pressures of a stovetop model, but they are still packing a lot of power. (Special thanks to the AGS community for suggesting this addition to the guide)|
Carefully Selected Food and Personal Care Products
If you aren’t already familiar with the steps necessary to ensure the safety of your friend or loved one, it’s best to stick with items other than foods, personal care items, or scents, as these can have sneakily hidden dangers. It takes an incredible amount of dedication to learn the huge number of ingredients that must be avoided in products by someone with alpha-gal syndrome, especially the ones who have had to give up dairy(about 50%). It also isn’t easy to prevent cross-contamination in a meat and dairy filled kitchen (ovens that roast meat can redeposit on those cookies, sorry).
But if you really want to give something that’s edible, a quick way to ensure it is safe is to look for a product that is both independently certified as vegan, and does not contain carrageenan* (see below for more about carrageenan) in the ingredient list. If you are sure the person you are shopping for does not react to carrageenan, just look for vegan (but please them to be sure before assuming it is okay because, again, nobody wants anaphylactic shock for the holidays). Mammal products can be hidden in many unexpected places, even tofu, but by following these simple rules you’re unlikely to hit a snag, even if your friend turns out to be hypersensitive.
Nothing quite says “happy holidays, I care about you” like a frozen meat collection that you can’t even eat. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but it’s awkward all around when this mistake is made, kinda like that relative you only see once a year that gives you a gift card to a store a few hours away from you.
Not all hope is lost though, many thanks to exotic meats! A variety of tasty meats that people with AGS can enjoy are readily available and go way beyond chicken, just make sure they don’t have any added ingredients and you’re good to go! So what are these magical meats? Why emu and ostrich of course. They’re not quite the other-other white meat because, well, they’re red (in color anyhow), but they’re on the safe list!
These 2 large bodied birds are free from the alpha-gal allergen but taste almost identical to beef. Buying from a local producer is best and you may be surprised to find it carried by local shops if you ask about it, but several online sellers can also be ordered from depending on what part of the world you call home. Duck, pheasant, goose, quail and other game birds are also options if your friend or family member is into cooking poultry. For more adventurous loved ones, alligator, turtle and other reptiles can also be found in some areas, just in case emu and ostrich just aren’t adventurous enough for them.
Online Meat Retailers:
|North America: Amaroo Hills, Blackwing Quality Meats, Cajun Grocer, Fossil Farms, Louisiana Crawfish Co., Ostrich Coop of Iowa, Marx Foods, Northfork Bison and Valley View Emus|
|United Kingdom: Osgrow and Oslinc|
|Australia: Something Wild|
Dairy Allergen Free Vegan Certified Chocolate
While processed food is generally best avoided as a gift to someone with allergies (there are just too many trace sources and cross-contamination risks to make it feasible), specially selected chocolate may be the exception. After all, the highest quality chocolates contain nothing but chocolate solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. Anyone who is on the sensitive side of alpha-gal syndrome will have reactions very frequently to regular chocolate, even when the ingredient list looks clean. This is due to poor cross-contamination control in chocolate production houses. Just look at how many undeclared milk recalls are made each year, every one of these cases came about because someone was made sick enough to call it in, and there is no telling how rampant the problem truly is since most people with allergies stop attempting to eat normal chocolate. However, there are companies who have seen this problem and created products to address it. Such elite chocolates are usually too expensive to justify buying for oneself, which makes them the perfect gift for chocolate lovers with alpha-gal syndrome!
It is important that the chocolate is independently certified as vegan or that it also makes direct claims about being “dairy free”. Double check any “vegan” chocolate you find for milk allergy warnings as a few shady companies will make one claim on the front and then cover their legal backs with the allergy warning on the back. Dedicated vegan shops that never use mammal ingredients are also likely to be okay. While some chocolates labeled as “organic dairy-free” may also be fine (the sugar will not be processed with cattle bones), they need to be checked for other mammal ingredients and that makes them more difficult to pick out. When buying vegan certified chocolate, the only ingredient to watch out for is carrageenan* (and its other names, see below), which shouldn’t show up unless the chocolate has some kind of filling. The best way to find a safe chocolate is to get one that is organic, certified vegan and dairy free, something not all that uncommon in a single bar. Below are a few brands we found that look clean**.
Online Chocolate Producers:
|Certified Vegan: Charm School Chocolate, Enjoy Life, PASCHA|
|Dedicated Vegan Shop (Uncertified): Dear Coco, Lulu’s Chocolate, Obsessive Confection Disorder, Raaka, Rescue Chocolate, RX Missionary Chocolates and Wei of Chocolate|
Vegan Wine, Beer, and Liquor
The hidden mammal contamination of alcohol makes it very similar to chocolate in that it is a luxury item many people with AGS give up out of frustration or expense in finding mammal free products, so it is an excellent gift idea for the enthusiast. You wouldn’t think wine would contain mammal byproducts, but it turns out they sometimes use bone meal, blood meal or gelatin in a process called fining. This is done to remove cloudiness from wine that doesn’t turn out as nice as usual so they can still sell it. This process is also done to clear fruit juices and the fact that these products have been used is not required to be on the label. How about some fully-transparent label laws for a gift? …Please?
Other alcohols can have a variety of obscure mammal ingredients for any number of reasons. Since alcohol makes allergic reactions even more severe, it is vital that any alcoholic beverages given are truly mammal free, but if you have a tradition of exchanging adult drinks, worry not because you have lots of options. Barnivore is a website dedicated to tracking the vegan friendliness of countless alcoholic products around the globe, over 4,000 of them. Just bring your phone along to the store and look them up on the fly; you’re sure to find one that works eventually. If you find one that’s really good, give us the gift of letting us know in the comments so that we can get some ourselv- .. for our loved ones too.
Alpha-gal syndrome is no laughing matter, but if your family has a tradition of gag gifts and your target has a strong sense of humor, there’s no harm in lightening the mood with some silly jokes related to allergies. Since half the fun of gag gifts is the surprise, we’ll keep descriptions to a minimum, just in case your loved one is sneaking a peek at our article.
|The Tick: The Complete Series is a live-action adaptation of the classic comic that was canceled much to the dismay of humor lovers across the globe. The DVD runs about $7. A second live-action series is also available on amazon prime.|
|The Tick Vs. Season One is the first DVD in a series of animated adaptations of the classic comic and runs about $18. Vs. Season Two is also available.|
|Giant Microbes Ixodes Scapularis is a fun plush version of the dreaded deer tick you can pick up for around $10. Or perhaps a plastic Ixodes Ricinus (castor bean tick) is more your thing. 3B Scientific offers them for around $18. A generic dog toy tick can also be found for around $6.|
|Cafe Press has a variety of items that may fit the bill. We are especially fond of this $16 one.|
|Etsy is filled with craftsmen that can make you that something special… like this, or this, or this, or this, or even these! Or if you happen to know how to crochet they have a pattern that might be of interest.|
If your loved one is terrified of ticks, we don’t necessarily recommend the above (unless you’re that kind of person), but we hear that donut ice cream sandwiches are absolutely divine.
Let’s get serious for a second. The holiday season is about showing you care.
As corny as it may sound, the biggest gift anyone can give to someone with alpha-gal syndrome is emotional support. There is a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the condition, and gatherings with extended family and friends can be especially stressful. A person who has just developed AGS may not know how to approach or manage the social pressures at gatherings and become overwhelmed. They may feel isolated or might not even be invited to events. Be aware that even if someone can’t eat the food at an event, or can’t even attend the event, it means the world to still be invited, and most will find a way to attend even if they can’t share food. The worst part of a condition like AGS is the social repercussions, not the diet change itself.
If you overhear someone downplaying the need for strict mammal avoidance, including cross-contamination, stand up for your friend/family member and educate the culprit by reminding them of the stark realities of AGS, that it can change suddenly and send a person to the hospital if not the morgue in a flash. Do this and you’ll be a hero, even if the person downplaying it and taking risks is the one who has AGS. Social pressures can cause lapses in judgment that can never be undone. Worst case scenario they laugh it off as “they aren’t even close to that sensitive yet”, but more often than not they will stop their recklessness and thank you for standing up for them, something that may be too difficult for them to do alone. There is no greater gift than love, support, respect, and thoughtfulness, and the fact that you are here, reading this, speaks volumes. So from everyone who has ever had to confront alpha-gal syndrome and whoever will: Thank You!
If you have thought of additional gift ideas that might be good for others with AGS, or found a specific brand to be especially nice (or not so nice), please tell us about it in the comments!
While you’re here: We’re creating a game to help those with diseases like alpha-gal syndrome to create better habits in a way that’s both educational and fun. Shoot us a message on our Facebook page (or click the icon below) to get to be one of the first to play. It’s totally free, and you’ve got no obligation to stick around if you don’t want to – but you might just change somebody’s life with your feedback.
*Carrageenan By Another Name: algea, algea extract, algas, algue rouge marine, carrageen, carragenina, carraghénane, carraghénine, chondrus extract, eucheuma, extract de mousse d’Irlande, gigartina, iota carrageenan, irish moss, irish moss algae, irish moss seaweed, kappa, kappa carrageenan, kappaphycus, lambda carrageenan, mousse d’Irlande, red algae, red algae extract, red seaweed, sea vegetable, sea vegetable extract, seaweed, seaweed extract, vegetable gum (makes you glad you don’t have to learn all the names for mammal products, right?)
*Somewhere around 25-50% of people with AGS are thought to react to carrageenan, so you may want to ask your friend/family member where they stand before shopping. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid it when buying vegan products.
In a recent survey at an AGS support group around 25% of people with AGS reported reacting to carrageenan, roughly 25% were confident that they did not react to it, and the remaining 50% or so we’re avoiding it just in case and thus were not sure one way or the other.
**Alas, we have not personally tried all of the chocolate brands and products listed, please view their allergy info pages for up to date details on the safety of their products.