food allergies are fun (not!)
My current condition reminds me of a recent piece in The Age by Sian Prior. Hard to Stomach, informatively depicts the physical and social downsides of living with food allergies, intolerances and the like. In the end Sian concluded that she’s only eating at home in future.
Once I got out of denial about my dairy allergy (no it’s not “normal” for my gut to do the things it did, nor to get a cold every month and glands to rise and fall like a hyperactive child jumping on a trampoline) and reintroduced seafood into my once vegetarian diet, life got a lot more fun. Sure I missed mountains of melted yellow cheese on a pile of nachos, Philly and homemade apricot jam smeared on pumpernickel and finding comfort in a bowl of chocolate ice cream but I wouldn’t swap it for feeling sick 80% of the time.
The “new” diet has been imbedded for two decades now and it’s so much a part of my life that my relationship with dairy products made it into a birthday rap friends wrote for me a few years ago. I’ve a few more pesky intolerances I have to navigate around but I’ve got the hang of it by now. I don’t go out of my way looking for alternatives or bemoan what I can’t eat, I just negotiate my way through the amazing cuisines on offer in this city.
But there lies the key. You can’t expect the country to offer the same range of foods as the city and when I found myself in the Blue Mountains for the weekend I felt catapulted into a time warp. Katoomba, I soon discovered, is the town that time forgot. For some reason it appears to have got stuck in the 70’s, especially the food and music (James Taylor and Pink Floyd cover bands for your listening pleasure).
It’s difficult to explain, even to a friend, why when the only vegetarian item on a menu is pumpkin soup I get nervous. It means I have to potentially ask three very fussy-eater questions or suffer the consequences. Do you use vegetables stock? Is the stock fresh or powdered (does it contain MSG)? Is there any cream/dairy in the soup?
It can get very embarrassing being perceived as being fussy, attention seeking or worse*. The reality is it’s about survival not pickiness. Lately when I’ve encountered monosodium glutamate (additive 621) instead of only suffering the inconvenience of an insatiable thirst and mood swings (oh boy, don’t take me on a first date to an Asian restaurant!), I now have the additional sensation that a small elephant is sitting on my chest. Feeling like you can’t breath is rather frightening, especially when it’s something that hasn’t happened before. Adrenaline courses through your body as survival reflexes kick in, your mind panics and after the first few struggling minutes you wildly wonder if you are going to die. At the same time I have to restrain myself from ripping of my clothes (“this top feels so heavy, maybe if I take it off I’ll be able to breathe?”) and running out of the restaurant (“there’s not enough air in here, it will be better outside”). Ok, so maybe a dash of MSG could make me a really fun first date after all!
I accept that my decision to no longer eat meat is a choice. It’s one based on what feels right physically, environmentally and ethically but I’m not going to preach about it, it’s personal. But modifying your diet due to food allergies and intolerances is the difference between being well and experiencing a variety of physiological reactions. At this point they are not life threatening, just darned uncomfortable.
But unlike Sian, I’ll still risk eating out, I’ll continue going on holidays and I will eat at friend’s houses. Well that is, if I have any who’ll still cook for me!
* The Age reported earlier in the month that most food allergies are non-existent yet did nothing to clear up the differences between allergies and intolerances. It is true, the majority of people with reactions to foods and substances do not have anaphylaxis. As I noted, my issues don't kill me, just make me feel crap (literally!) for days. The article is worth reading for the comments. No surprises there - we are all a bunch of hypochondriac moaning Minnies.