My Complicated Relationship with Food

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school is getting married! I’m also incredibly excited because I am one of her two maids of honour (couldn’t break up a trio of high school best friends!).

Big events involving food, however, are often sources of fear for me. Having had anaphylactic food allergies for my entire life, weddings, graduations, and parties are all synonymous with that big question: will I be able to eat anything? And if that question seemed anti-climactic to you, I will have you know I am an extreme foodie and would probably weigh six hundred pounds if I didn’t have my food allergies.

On a more serious note, this question is an important one. The risk of eating anywhere—but particularly at large events—can be increased by so many factors, including carelessness, honest mistakes, and misunderstandings. Personally, I find choosing to eat anywhere outside of my home rests on the amount of trust I am able to place in the people making the food. However, I never fully trust anyone; I’ve had too many close calls.

I’ve had allergy attacks in strange places: the tallest building in China, rural Peru at 4000 meters of elevation (no they don’t have 24/7 emergency rooms and yes the elevation makes it hard to breathe to begin with), a corn maze, and my own kitchen (sadly true on more than one occasion). Although the locales, circumstances, and the severity of reactions change, the emotional burden remains fairly consistent. Being in my twenties I have developed a system of monitoring my physical symptoms, but emotionally staring death in the face is never an easy thing. While allergy attacks can become severe quickly, especially if you have anaphylaxis, I often feel like time slows down. The back of my throat starts swelling; then if my entire throat begins to swell I know I need to reach for my Epi-Pen and call an ambulance. I continuously swallow in order to judge how worried I need to be about the quick arrival of the paramedics. All the while, at the back of my mind I know that I can die within minutes.

This may sound dramatic to you, but it is my reality. Recently, my fellow maid of honor in the upcoming wedding has been diagnosed with celiac disease. Although celiac disease and allergies affect bodies very differently, living with celiac and allergies is very similar. With her recent diagnosis, my friend has been experiencing frustration with those who do not understand her condition, along with frustration at coping with her food restrictions. Hearing her experiences makes me reconsider how I cope with my food allergies. While I’m pretty used to receiving comments such as “wow, having allergies must really suck” or “wow, so what do you even eat?”, they continue to be difficult to respond to. Yes, having allergies sucks, but I’ve learned to live with them. Yes, I do eat food besides lettuce.

Luckily, understanding and tolerance of food restrictions has grown significantly in recent years. I am very fortunate to have friends (like my friend getting married this upcoming weekend) who are extremely careful with my allergies. I am also very fortunate to live in a country that understands the importance of universal healthcare, thereby giving me the ability to acquire an Epi-Pen for significantly less than $600 (a cruel act of capitalism my allergy brethren in the United States are currently facing).

I thought this blog post would be particularly fitting for October; Thanksgiving is next weekend, and Halloween will soon be upon us. If you know someone with a food restriction, please be mindful of that. If you have sincere questions about a person’s dietary needs, just ask. If—Heaven forbid—someone has a reaction, call the ambulance immediately. Also, a bonus to calling the ambulance is that you will get to see attractive paramedics: my favourite part (although I always look like complete shit by the time paramedics arrive when I have allergy attacks; lack of oxygen will do that to a girl).

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and happy (safe) eating!