Let me confess something: I don’t have any food allergies.
This is something I have mentioned in the past that I feel it’s important to continue to acknowledge. I am married to someone with a gluten intolerance, and have many friends with varying food allergies, intolerances, or other restrictions, but I, Ashley, am not allergic to anything.
Why would I tell you this?
May is food allergy awareness month, as you may have gathered from some of our other posts. Part of our discussion this month is the process by which our contributors, and some of our guests, became aware of food allergies. As someone without food allergies, my process of awareness was quite different than those who discovered a personal allergy. Let me give you three vignettes:
As a child, I went to school with someone who was allergic to peanuts. Even peanut dust in the air could send him into anaphylaxis, so at the beginning of the year all of the parents were specifically contacted so they would not send us to school with something that could kill my classmate in minutes. My understanding of food allergies at the time? I wasn’t allowed to eat something peanut-ey at school, and I was sad for the boy who would never try my mother’s peanut butter cookies.
As a college student, a friend of a friend was allergic to gluten. I found out when someone mentioned in passing that this woman had resolved some health issues she had been having by cutting out gluten, and therefore deduced that she was allergic to it. It took some questioning to figure out what exactly that meant (and to be honest, I still didn’t get the concept of “gluten versus wheat” for a little longer), because although a different friend had been put on a very restrictive diet to resolve some health problems, it was a temporary restriction rather than a lifelong reality. My understanding of food allergies at the time? Still that they were incredibly sad experiences for those who had them, and really limiting for all of the activities that college students normally do.
As a graduate student, Elizabeth began to experience the whole range of things that ultimately led to her discovering the celiac disease, corn allergy, and other grain intolerances. This time, I had a personal connection to someone who was in the thick of discovering their food world was changing. I watched her go to endless rounds of appointments, sat and empathized with the feelings and fears, and sat in solidarity as she made countless inquiries of restaurants in order to grab a ‘simple’ meal out with friends. Her journey became part of my journey to awareness.
My understanding of food allergies after all three of these formative experiences?
I stick with my childhood self when I say that food allergies are a sad reality. No, they are not a life sentence to “never enjoy food” as my elementary school self thought. But it is a sad reality that somewhere along the way our foods or our bodies changed in such a way that these foods were no longer edible. I have to believe it wasn’t always like this.
I also stick with my early adult self when I say I find them restrictive. They are. Not only do they restrict the actual foods one can eat (with surprisingly far-reaching impacts), but also the activities that so often are paired with food. For example, baking cookies spontaneously at a friend’s house — how many friends are fully stocked on allergy-friendly products? Not many.
But now, I also find them a call to creativity and sensitivity. With the incredible challenge of restructuring a lifestyle and culture of food comes the opportunity to build and create. There are new recipes to make, new skills to learn, and new (or sometimes very old) foods to utilize. Also, there is the opportunity to be sensitive to the many ways we are different from one another. We live in a time where difference is receiving more and more attention in the news, in social media, and in everyday life. Maybe the sensitivity we show towards eating – a basic need – can also be extended into these other areas of difference too.
- 2 C. mozzarella
- 2 C. fresh basil
- 1 C. cherry tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Cut the mozzarella into cubes.
- Slice the cherry tomatoes in half.
- Chiffonade cut the basil.
- Toss all the ingredient in a salad bowl.
- Top with a bit more of the basil.
- Serve before your main meal.