Thursday, May 23, 2013

this food may cause your body to self-destruct

Do you fear food? I do. What a strange and sad thing to admit. But it's true. This new-found fear started a few months ago with a scrambled egg, of all things. 

But I wasn't always afraid of food. In fact, if you know me, then you know that food-love factors largely into my life. I work at a food magazine. I attend my farmers’ market religiously and seek out new food products and restaurants obsessively. I bake. I cook. I feed. I eat. (Who doesn't?)

I grow an herb garden and have a veritable relationship with my plants that flavor so many of my meals. The old lavender who comes back year after year—her roots are so deep and gnarled into the earth, I can count on her steadfast loyalty. My rosemary is more fickle, but I annually make room for him (or one of his kind) in the garden—so special and unmatched is his flavor, I cannot resist. Fresh chives season my salads from the first thaw to late into the fall.

Speaking of gardens, it was in the garden that I first developed my love of food. Growing up, when there was nothing to eat in the cupboards, there were always sun-warmed cukes in the garden. My mother used to make crab-apple jelly from fruit-bearing trees in the yard. She'd bake up rhubarb crumble from the weeds growing out back. We picked black raspberries at our next door’s neighbor Paul’s house. Paul was an old-timer Quebecois who didn’t speak any English, but he had the most wonderfully overgrown berry bushes that had taken root around an old rotting wood pile. Paul welcomed us to pick as many berries as we could and so we would, coming home hours later with stained fingers, scratches aplenty and sweet black raspberry grins.

I could go on an on about my food memories, but I won’t. We all have food memories, don't we? Food is such a basic aspect of human life, but the culture of food, the experience of food, colors so much of who we are as individuals.


I tend to wax poetic about these things, but it's not all good stuff, is it?

I mean, too much food can caused sickness, obesity and disease. Too little can cause starvation or eating disorders. But I've always assumed the dangers of food to be largely human shortcomings. It's not the food that is the problem, it is the abuse of food that is the problem. 

I always thought: everything in moderation, focus on fresh, wholesome, local ingredients and you should be okay.

But those naive assumptions were challenged one night last fall when I fed my 9-month old baby a scrambled egg (from my parents' darling hens, of course).

She broke out in hives.

It was a mild outbreak, but I was a new mother and it scared me. It was to be the first of several episodes of hives, so we finally met with a food allergy doctor to do a scratch test. 

The egg test came back positive. My little baby girl was not yet a year and she already had an epi-pen. 

It was a sad moment: how could she go through life without ever trying my farmer's market quiche or devouring an egg sandwich on the way to go snowboarding? But I was hanging on to this small ray of hope: the doctor said that egg allergies in small children are fairly common and that our girl might grow out of it. So I filed the diagnosis away in my mind as "not a real food allergy."

Even though, we have to carry an epi-pen, which is scary as hell.


Two weeks ago, we had another episode. This time, it was so scary, we went to the ER. Later, after more  testing, we discovered that Amelia might also have allergies to tree nuts and flax seeds. We're still waiting on the final tests results, but even now, days later, I'm feeling somewhat floored.

I mean, eggs, ok. But flax seeds? And nuts?

How could a food so natural and so wholesome as an almond cause a little person's body to self-destruct?

The epi-pen, Benedryl, Zyrtec, prick tests, blood tests, emergency medical plan and the ER—these are not the sorts of things I envisioned in our little girl's life. And certainly not in relation to food.

I want my daughter to be an explorer, to be able to extend her palate as far as her curiosity can take her. But how can you feel a sense of freedom and excitement and curiosity when trying something new carries the risk that your body will reject it?


I still do love food, of course. And so does my daughter. I realized this tonight as she was chowing down on flatbread with sun-roasted tomatoes, garlic scapes and oyster mushrooms. 

And I'm trying to use our new reality as an excuse to actually expand our food horizons. But I will never look at food again in such a rose-colored way as I did before.

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