I love food! There. . . something else you know about me now. I mean, I love it so much, I have a degree in culinary arts. Food and I have seemingly gotten along well for quite some time. I’ve eaten from all ends of the spectrum (spectrum ends are yummy, especially when you burn them a little on the grill). Junk food, rabbit food, hippie food…you name it, I’ve probably tried it.
About eight years ago, we were moving into our second apartment, and I stopped unpacking to have a snack. I grabbed a bag of pistachios and started munching away…that’s when it happened…I had an allergy attack from hell. My throat was sore, my eyes were watering, my nose was stuffy and runny, and I just felt miserable overall. I chalked it up to all of the dust I had been exposed to while packing and cleaning up the old apartment. Then one night, I made my daughter’s favorite side dish with dinner- sweet potatoes with pecans. They made my throat itch. Tried pistachios one more time, and again, they made my throat hurt. Okay, so this wasn’t an allergy to dust any longer, this seemed like something more. I remembered all the times I had been experiencing this discomfort, and traced it back to tree nuts every time. Well, that sucked! I loved cashews, pecans, oh, and those caramelized cinnamon almonds they sell at the Renaissance festivals, nom nom nom. Yes guys, I’ll say it, I loved nuts!! Go ahead, you can insert whatever innuendos you wish.
I figured I would cope with not being able to eat tree nuts because of one simple fact… I could still eat peanuts! Peanuts are technically legumes; I started eating Butterfingers, mmmmmmm, crunchy, salty, chocolaty, and they were making me not care that I couldn’t eat the other nuts anymore. That was short-lived because my stomach started protesting. I decided to stop testing my tolerance to these foods, and just cut them out of my diet completely. This is easier said than done, because even if a processed food does not contain nuts or peanuts, it can still be processed on the same equipment or in the same facility that processes nuts or peanuts. I learned quickly that food could not come into contact with the culprits without making me sick or giving me a bad asthma attack.
Oh, I forgot to mention that to you… the good ol’ asthma attack. One night, before I removed tree nuts and peanuts from my diet, I ingested something that had come in contact with one or the other. My throat itched, I started clawing at the skin on my neck, due to the incessant itching there too. Then I started coughing and wheezing, until I passed out on the couch. At the time, I would have told you I was sleepy, and that I had voluntarily closed my eyes to take a little nap, but now I know that I passed out!
I mentioned all of this to my doctor the next time I saw him. He didn’t run any tests, he took my word for it, and wrote me a prescription for an EpiPen. I wanted to know if it was unusual to start having food allergies late in life, and was told that I’ve always had the allergies, but just not as severe. So years went by, and I had still been having allergic reactions to other foods, like bananas and avocados. It was time for an official allergy test, especially since my health insurance was changing, and the test costs about four hundred dollars on the new insurance. I dropped fifteen bucks on the copay, waited about two hours, had two nurses try to find a vein for ten minutes (Fun!) then was told the results could take two weeks.
I was at work about two weeks later, if not longer, when a nurse from the doctor’s office called. I grabbed a scrap of paper and prepared to jot down a couple of things. She started by saying, “peanuts”, yeah, okay no surprise there; I had been validated. She continued, “milk”, wait… what? Oh she wasn’t done, “corn”, she was on a roll at this point, and I knew she wasn’t stopping after corn, yet she could have, and it would have been bad enough. Now, the next word out of her mouth is something I would never have guessed. I would not have wished it on the cattiest of women, and I might have even blacked out for a moment after she uttered this word… “chocolate”. Yes, sadly, chocolate. It makes my soul weep a little to think about it. She finished off with, “dogs, cats, dust, mold, some grasses, some fungi, and some trees.” I thanked her, and hung up the phone. I sat for a moment in thought; truly it all made sense. I announced my list to the guys that sit next to me. I think we joked around about how it would have been easier if the nurse had given me a list of foods that I could eat.
I thought it was hard to find food that I could eat before, pffffft, now it is almost impossible. A positive point, however, is that I can now eat tree nuts, as long as they are not processed on equipment that processes peanuts. Guacamole too, because avocados weren’t causing my allergic reaction, it was the corn tortilla chips with which I was scooping the guac’. One night, soon after I found out, I rummaged through our pantry looking for a quick snack. “No, that won’t work, it has milk in it, that has maltodextrin (a corn derivative), the Girl Scout cookies are coated in chocolate, oh wait…Frosted Mini Wheats!” That was my last option, and I like Mini Wheats, but I read the ingredients and couldn’t stop myself… I drop-kicked the whole damn box across the kitchen. “High fructose corn syrup!!” Son of a biscuit eater!!
So now I have to shop at the health food store every week. Fast food is not really an option anymore. You may think it’s not hard to cut out those foods, but corn is almost literally in everything. I believe now that corn syrup is the root of all evil. It’s in soda, candy, bread, lunch meats, hot dogs, beer, and about all baked goods you can buy at a typical supermarket bakery, and yes… cereal. I was a dessert freak in the past, but now I’m reduced to “Gluten-free, peanut free, dairy free” animal-shaped cookies made with pea starch; that even sounds gross! I can also eat ice cream made from rice milk… not the same as Blue Bell Vanilla Bean… not even close! Cheese is a bummer too, because cheese alternatives don’t really melt, and they are expensive. Did you know that you can make cheese out of almond milk? Hell, did you even know that you could milk an almond?
I always carry the EpiPen (Epinephrine injections are used for the emergency treatment of anaphylaxis.) around with me in case I accidentally ingest any foods that may contain an item on my list of allergies. Oh, I almost forgot! Toilet paper, paper cups, plastic bottles, and plastic ware can also contain corn!! So, I had to tell my coworkers where I keep my EpiPen, because I want them to know where it is just in case I’m incapacitated. Funny thing though, is that any time I tell a guy about it, they joke about how they hope they get to use it on me. Maybe that’s because of the scene from Pulp Fiction where the guy gets to stab Mia Wallace in the chest. So I actually tell them to stab me in the butt cheek or leg (while my pants are on) instead of my chest, just to be safe. Guys have been known to bicker about which one of them would get to stab me if needed. I don’t know if that’s weird or just sad.
It has been over a year since I cut out all of these foods, and it really has helped me. I do not get sick to my stomach nearly as much as I used to, and I cannot remember the last time I had an asthma attack. Another downside to my allergies though, is that I love to bake, but I can’t even taste-test what I make. You would think that a little bit of one of these foods would be okay now and then, but the longer I abstain from them, the less it takes to make my body react to it violently. Sure I could have kept on eating those foods, but with food allergies it’s tricky. One day the result of consumption could be an upset stomach, and the next it could be death. That reminds me of a bit that Eddie Izzard did about the options that the Church of England would give their prisoners: “Cake or death?!” Well, how would I answer that? Would they not be one in the same for me?
I have to ask myself why though. Why do I have to be allergic to the most prevalent ingredients in today’s foods? It almost seems like a punishment, but I know that God wouldn’t do that. Or maybe it will save my life someday, like the little boy on the movie “Signs” that had asthma, but because he had it, the alien couldn’t poison him. I don’t know. It could be a “Job thing” from the Bible. In which case, I’m sucking, because I’ve griped about it a lot. I bet Job didn’t drop kick anything across his kitchen!