It’s That Season Again…Not Holidays, But Horseradish

First of all, sorry for the TERRIBLY LONG OVERDUE post. Seriously. So much has changed since I’ve last blogged, and I’m sorry I’ve been too busy to keep you all updated. The food challenges are going well (yes, I will recap them, no I haven’t any failures as of late!), and life is generally good.

But I’m inspired to blog tonight because I’m frustrated with my body, and blog and body share two of the same letters, so I figured this was the answer.

I’ve decided I’m entitled to a handful of “woe is me” posts a year, so consider this the (hopefully) cap of 2013’s.

It’s horseradish season again. I remember this starting last year in February, and I was all mentally prepared for that — the halting of grocery shopping, the need to rely on others, not really eating half the foods I can eat because they’re too close to horseradish in the supermarket, the fear of impending death every time I went into Whole Foods. That was February Cindy’s problem…or so I thought.

On Thursday night, I went to Whole Foods to buy an eggplant, and they were next to mushrooms and on top of lettuce, and I called my mom asking how to navigate the situation when I noticed that diagonally under the eggplants was my enemy: HORSERADISH. Like, a ton of it. Where it usually isn’t, at least not in that abundance.

So I ran. I ran away from the offending root toward the fruit section where I saw pomegranates that I’m mildly airborne allergic to and ran farther and started to cry.

I didn’t leave the store with an eggplant. I figured out how to make eggplant/zuchinni parmigiana, though, so WIN! (I’m trying so hard to be peppy and positive. Probably helps that I just slayed Superbass in my totally sane “rap to see if you’re breathing well” diagnosis).

Anyway, I cried about the horseradish and its early resurgence into my world for a while. Not just horseradish, but this reminder that the littlest things can be so hard for me, for all of the people who have food allergies, especially airborne allergies. That going to regular places is a life-risk. It’s not like, “Oh let me grab some groceries.” It’s “Oh, I need to grab some groceries, hope I make it out okay and can spend the rest of my day as planned and not in bed, or worse.” Plus, sometimes I just want to eat. And when my airborne allergies make it harder to eat the things I can eat because of their proximity or my getting sick, it’s just horrible. I feel helpless and hungry.

Tonight, I wanted to spend time with a friend who was hungry, and I accompanied her to a restaurant. I was fine staving off my own hunger to join her where I couldn’t eat. That’s par for the course, and I’m fucking Tiger Woods of this restaurant golf metaphor. But then I wasn’t fine. I could feel the avocado and lettuce of her salad on my tongue. I’m usually okay around those if the space is big enough, but those allergies are the kind that you don’t know until you know, and I knew. We moved outside where I could get more air and less avocado. But to no avail. My tongue was prickly, my throat was hurting, my thoughts slowing down. I felt like I had at the moment before my doctor stopped me at my avocado challenge way back when.

So I came home. In tears. Because I wanted to hang out with her. I wanted to then come home and eat dinner. But I have to wait for the Benedryl to kick in first so whatever I eat next doesn’t get conflated with the previous poisons. Because my body does that. It loves to have allergic reactions all the livelong day to foods that are generally fine because it lives on the tipping point. If my body were a Lady Gaga song it would be “The Edge of Allergy.”

I should be able to be around my friends when they eat without dictating their diets (and making them feel guilty for something they didn’t do wrong — J, you are TOTALLY entitled to your dinner, and if you feel bad for even a second I will feel worse). I should be able to have normal social interactions. I should be able to eat dinner when I damn please and grocery shop, too, and get along just fine. And 99% of the time, I do.

But it’s horseradish season.

And I’m the one who has to hibernate.*

*I may be overdramatizing. But hey. It’s a good closer.

Tips for Friends Who Have Friends Living with Food Allergies (via Epipen Princess)

Loved this guest blog on Epipen Princess’ blog about how to be a friend to someone who has food allergies. I feel very blessed to have the friends that I do who take caution in what they eat around me, who offer to help me buy groceries, who cook for me when I need them to, who offer to pick me up from the doctor’s office. It’s sometimes scary living alone 3,000 miles away from my family, but knowing I have friends who are there for me makes it all that easier.


Food Allergies and Communal Meals, Rant 1: Hosts

A hot topic lately has been the role of the guest vs. the host in a communal meal, when the guest has dietary needs. The New York Times covered this issue in some respects in this article and there’s a great blog post about the perils of potlucking that I discovered in September’s Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival.

That, and the never ending Jewish holidays that have been cycling through, has got me thinking about this issue – does the host need to accomodate the food allergic guest?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not much in the way of etiquette, and I believe “to each his own” and I’m always grateful to dine with others. I mean, keeping kosher in Hollywood essentially means I’m left out of meals half the time, and I’m totally cool with that. I don’t expect my friends to bring in kosher food (though it’s extra nice when they do) and I’m comfortable bringing my own food to restaurants, parties, and homes.

Why then, am I less comfortable doing so when the issue isn’t kosher, but rather my food allergies? To rephrase: I am comfortable bringing my own food places — and I had to until very recently, doctors orders, etc. — and I’m grateful for any invitations to co-dine, and grateful when people make food I can eat even if the entire menu isn’t suited to my needs. But I’ve been noticing an interesting trend lately, and it’s got me thinking about how people tend to host.

See, almost every communal meal I’ve participated in as of late has involved a host who has been super nice about my food allergies. BUT, the host almost always asks if he or she can make a dish I am allergic to and serve it as well, or the host agrees to cook food for me, but to cook other food for the rest of the diners.

That’s fine. That’s nice. But…I don’t quite get it. The reasoning is twofold: 1, will there be enough food, and 2, what if they make a mistake?

I sort of buy the first reason. My diet isn’t what people want to eat, but they enjoy my company, so they invite me over. It’s nice and I’m grateful, though I do sort of wish people would be more creative in their kitchens — it’s fun! And then I don’t have to be uncomfortable or scared but too polite to say anything!

I don’t really buy the second reason. If you’re scared you’ll make a mistake, wouldn’t it be better to only cook food I can eat? Making two separate meals is extra work, more expensive, and doubles the likelihood of cross contamination. So many people have opted to do this when hosting me, though, that I feel like I’m missing something. As Carre Bradshaw would say: I wonder, is the fear that you will make a mistake, or is the fear that the food I can eat won’t taste good enough for the rest of the guests?

Look, I’m totally fine eating special food, not sharing, and delighting in delicious food other people are too scared of. Good company is more important anyway. But I feel like there’s a disconnect. People think they can’t make the right food for people with food allergies. I don’t believe that. A friend of mine’s mother once said, “Look, there are a lot of things I say I can’t do that I know I could do. I just don’t want to. Do I think I could learn how to work the thermostat? Sure, I’m smart. But would I rather just put on a sweater? Yes. So I say I can’t use the thermostat. It’s just easier.”

I think hosts feel that way about food allergies. Trust me, it’s not that hard to cook differently. It’s annoying, it’s daunting, but it’s not hard. Making green beans isn’t any more difficult than tossing a salad — in fact, it takes less effort! But if you always make salads, branching out to green beans seems hard and intense. We’re creatures of habit. We don’t like to break molds.

People with food allergies — and I’d venture to say, especially parents of kids with food allergies — are good at adapting because we have to. We learn to cook for ourselves and for others. I try to accomodate every dietary need of anyone who comes to my home for a meal, even if it’s a diet for fun/weight loss/choice/etc. I’ve almost always succeeded, and in the cases where I haven’t been able to, it’s been the rare instance of my allergies mixed with a squash sensitivity mixed with Paleo. Maybe I could have done it, but considering this was back when I was on the super duper strict diet and basically only eating squash, I didn’t have enough foods to avoid corn for the paleo eater. But with allergies, sensitivities, diabetes, and new babies, I find I’m able to make a menu work. Yet, I can imagine that someone who isn’t used to making substitutions would find the task too difficult.

I don’t know whose responsibility it is to prep for the food allergic person — I think it is the food allergic person’s, because you can’t ever trust that someone isn’t going to make a mistake, and you always need to be prepared to a)get sick and b)avoid foods. It’s best to eat a little bit in advance if you’re attending a meal elsewhere, just in case you discover your host totally forgot about your onion powder allergy, or can’t quite remember the ingredients to the sauce but thinks they used the bottle in their trash and nothing else, maybe, but the ingredients in said bottle are cryptic and involve words like “spices.” Plus, if you don’t look out for you, you can’t expect others to.

However, I think it would be cool if hosts took on food allergies as a challenge and tried to make a meal that works. It’s not like the food allergic person is moving in and eating every. single. meal. with you. It’s one meal where you have to adjust your menu. Maybe you’ll find something cool. Maybe now isn’t the time to show off your really cool cod in mushroom sauce with praline topping dish that’s become your signature. Maybe now is the time to explore your kitchen and show off your creativity.

A friend recently had me over for a meal that only involved foods I could eat, except for a non-organic veggie platter and one kind of chicken (though she just happened to be making two kinds of chicken anyway and no one was going to eat both kinds). She appreciated that she got to play in the kitchen and make side dishes she would never have thought of. And they were delicious — everyone thought so. It would be cool to see more hosts try their hand at that exploration.

Though, I’m still grateful to be included, and still willing to bring my own food. Because ultimately, a meal isn’t about the food that’s served. It’s about the company that’s kept, the conversations around the table, and the joy of being together. Breaking bread — gluten free or otherwise — is just a way to keep our hands busy.