We were not always this way: a food allergy family. Joey and I have always been interested in, concerned about, and in love with food. One of the first things Joey did to win my heart was to make me dinner (pasta with cauliflower, pancetta and sage. The next time? Seared Ahi Tuna steaks with a sesame seed crust. This guy can cook.) Real, slow, whole, non-GMO and organic were buzz words we paid attention to before food started turning on us. Now we pay attention to allergen labels too, things like contains milk, gluten free, made on shared equipment with [insert allergen here], and contains peanuts and tree nuts. It’s made things even more complicated around here–and expensive.
Our food allergies include: peanuts and tree nuts (cashews and pistachios specifically); dairy/casein (in all forms–from a fresh cup of milk to lactic acid starter culture hidden in things like salami), sunflower seeds (and the ubiquitous oil used in so many ready-made food products out there), and Tuscan melon (that pretty scalloped cantaloupe whose sweetness puts the regular variety to shame. Alas, how I miss it.). To make matters more complicated, gluten does really bad, painful things to my body, and while I am not allergic to it, per say (meaning, I won’t go into anaphylactic shock from accidentally ingesting the stuff), my body reacts to it so badly to it that I am gluten free for the long haul (ulcerative colitis is no picnic). Negotiating our family’s disparate food allergens and sensitivities was not easy at first. I cried myself home from the grocery store every time I went in those early days. I would just start to get a handle on how to steer clear of one taboo food when another offender popped up out of nowhere. Frustration turned into anger, anger turned to sadness, and sadness turned into despair. I felt singled out. Attacked. Jealous of other normal families who didn’t have to treat food like a foe out to destroy them. (Clearly, I didn’t deal with the mounting pressure very well.)
I cried. I prayed a lot, not for healing exactly, but for answers. I demanded, “Why, God? Why us? Where did these things come from? Why does gluten wrack my body with pain? Why do peanuts dot my little girl’s face with splotches, red and hot? Why does cow’s milk make my baby boy sick and swollen? Aren’t these foods you made? Why are they suddenly turning on us?” God didn’t give me a clear cut answer, but He did sustain me through those early days. The more I prayed, the more I learned, and the more I learned, the more disillusioned I became with the Standard American Diet, so the more we started bending toward clean eating.
Let me be clear: our diet is not perfectly clean. Sometimes I buy my little guy a tub of over-priced dairy free yogurt because his heart explodes with happiness over such a treat. I don’t freak out if my kids enjoy a lollypop when they find the hidden stuffed animal at Trader Joe’s. The kids eat Cheerios now and then. I’ve traded in my frenetic attitude toward food for a healthier perspective (most of the time). I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got while continuing to pray the Goobies outgrow their allergies, all while bracing myself for the long haul. I’m thankful to be at a place where we are not floundering under the weight of it anymore, but goodness I remember those early days as being really, really hard.
Your family might be struggling with food allergies too. Or maybe you’re disillusioned with the Standard American Diet like I was and are doing the best you can to feed your family well in spite of it too. I won’t pretend to have all the answers here, and really–I probably can’t offer much other than a sympathetic shoulder to cry on and a glimpse into our family’s food world. I get it–I really do. You feel separate and left out, and sort of feeling like you want to scream at the top of your lungs and ask, “WHY US?” (Don’t deny it. I know it is true because I have been there.)
I don’t know why some families are struck with food allergies and some aren’t. I don’t know why some kids are prone to food allergies and some aren’t. I don’t know why some folks suddenly find themselves scrambling to figure out what’s making them so sick in adulthood, like I did. What I do know is figuring out how to feed ourselves and our families well is important, and you are not alone out there, though it may feel that way. I’m here, limping through the grocery store right along with you. Welcome.
A Tale of Gluten Freedom: My Story
On Kids’ Food Allergies
Finally Feeling Like a Parent, and Broccoli Cheese Egg Cups (A Story about a Peanut Allergy Diagnosis)
All Is Well, and Dark Chocolate Almond Clusters (A story about repeat scratch tests, disappointing news, and continuing to believe for healing)
Learning to Weather the Storms, and Creamy Coleslaw (A story about clear communication with loved ones, and about educating them about what living with food allergies really means)