It's a Happy Easter Even When You're Allergic

It's a Happy Easter Even When You're Allergic

The milk chocolate bunny used to leave out a host of Americans. Vegans don't want the dairy, those with nut allergies can't risk a rabbit made in a factory that processes nuts, and did you know most chocolate contains gluten? You might as well write the celiacs right off the Easter Bunny's list.

Or maybe not. The mere thought of a bunny might send you into a sneezing fit, but there's good news for the highly allergic this holiday: A select group of chocolatiers have your back.

Crafting the critters in nut-free facilities using dairy and gluten-free recipes, people like Lori Handler are giving Easter back to the allergic masses.

Handler's company, Divvies, in South Salem, N.Y. was born of a desire to offer Americans with dietary restrictions a choice of holiday treats. Handler's son Benjamin was born with severe food allergies; by the time he was three, he was being left out of the nursery school parties because of his inability to share the snacks. "It really pained me to see that he felt so excluded particularly in regard to celebrations," Handler says. "And I realized, there are 12 million Benjamins in this country. They all deserve a chocolate chip cookie of their own."

Today, Divvies does a brisk business between vegetarians and vegans (who make up anywhere from three to nine per cent of the American population, according to surveys) and the more than three per cent of Americans with a food allergy.

But Handler says it is noteworthy that a host of customers, who eat a more mainstream diet too call up Divvies, especially during Easter. "Everyone knows someone who has a dietary restriction," Handler says. "It's so nice when our customers are calling and tell us they just want to have something on hand in case a friend drops by."

Of all the things people react to, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network lists just eight foods that account for 90 per cent of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S. Among them are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Weed those out, and you can make the holiday a good one for just about everyone.

"People tell us they're excited to find us because they can give 'real' Easter," says Tolina Browne, administrative assistant at Sweet Earth Chocolates, a gourmet shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Sweet Earth specializes in fair trade and organic chocolates, but more than half of their offerings are vegan, with no dairy products used in processing. Many are soy-free too.

"A lot of people are looking for one or the other in terms of organic or fair trade, but throw in the food allergy thing and it's like icing on the cake for people," Browne says.

Or is that ears on the bunny?