I used to think I was "lucky" that I had a child who, nearly three years in, hasn't exhibited any food allergies. I really felt for fellow new mothers who were painstakingly and scientifically cutting food groups out of their own diets as they struggled to figure out what in their breast milk was adversely affecting their babies. I quaked over the stories of Urgent Care visits and EpiPen deployment that were required to deal with surprise vomit attacks, hives, swelling and breathing issues. And while other mothers sought out allergen-free crackers and cookies, snacks and meals, I bought whatever I wanted. With all the stresses that motherhood brings, going blind reading the cramped and excruciatingly tiny-fonted list of ingredients in order to make sure I don't send my child into anaphylactic shock wasn't one of them.
And I felt lucky.
However, something in what Rebekah Denn wrote for the Seattle Times ("Should we go further to accommodate food allergies?") hit me hard. I'm not sure what exactly it was. It might have been the entire piece, complete with the horrifyingly intolerant comments from readers. (Which: shut up forever, Internet.) But I think that it was the tear-jerking line "...the times I've seen a kid at my older children's parties eating a lonely gluten-free cookie rather than sharing in a birthday cake" that, when coupled with my recent visits to prospective pre-schools, really brought everything home to me.
I feel extremely embarrassed by my short-sightedness up to this point and I'm actually beating myself up a little bit for not thinking long term. For not realizing that there would be a day when I might have to bake something that doesn't have flour or eggs or nuts or dairy. I got as far as realizing that one day I'd have to make a concerted effort not to send Bug to school with peanut butter sandwiches in his lunch, and that's where I stopped.
Because I felt lucky.
But as a matter of fact, in an admittedly twisted way, it's the parents who have been living with the allergies all this time that are the lucky ones. (If you overlook that "could die from exposure" side of things, of course.) They're the parents who, with every flare-up, with every emergency doctor's visit, with every dose of Benadryl or jab of the EpiPen, have been in allergen-free training. They're shoulders deep in the mindset of how to avoid certain ingredients, and some of them, like my friends Jeanne Sauvage and Shauna Ahern, have been seeking out and even developing recipes. They've been figuring out the science, and testing out textures and flavors, and telling us about it. They're the ones who have been practicing.
It's already pretty well-documented on my blog how terrified I am by my own baking attempts, but it's an entirely different level of baking fear with which I now approach allergen-free baking. When I went to culinary school, I learned the chemistry of how the egg and flour and yeast and baking powder/soda interact. It didn't make me any more comfortable with baking, but at least it was something I could depend on. Now I feel like some of the steadying rules of science have been removed, and that makes me even more nervous. But, fear or no fear, I have to try. With Bug getting ready to enter the school stream where he will have multiple friends and classmates who have allergies, I need to step up and start learning a few allergen-free recipes.
Carol Blymire already taught me so many things I didn't know about living with celiac disease. Like how gluten can be present in shampoos or medications or vitamins, and how it doesn't have to be ingested to result in a bad reaction. I learned how just touching bread with one hand and touching another food with that bread-infected hand is enough to contaminate the food for a celiac. Because of Carol I'm gaining knowledge, and now it's time to put knowledge into practice.
Jeanne's got a cookbook coming out in the fall called Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays: 60 Recipes for Traditional Festive Treats and Shauna's got several books on her gluten-free approach as well a gluten-free suppers book with a good dessert section coming up. It looks like it's time to temporarily lift my cookbook embargo.
So while it's true that gluten-free, peanut-free, lecithin-free isn't for me, it is for Bug's friends and classmates. It's for the kids who would otherwise feel left out or live in fear of foods that could really hurt or kill them. And it's for the parents who are trying so hard to raise those kids, keep them safe, and make sure they get their fair share of happiness.
That's what we're all trying to do, isn't it?
Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a Bay Area food writer and editor. Her first book Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate is a humorous non-fiction narrative and exposé on the lives of picky eaters. It releases from Perigee Books July 3rd. Read her at The Grub Report and follow her on Twitter @grubreport
Image Credit: Jen Maiser, used by permission.
[ BlogHer Food '12 will bring food bloggers together to learn, share, inspire, and of course, to EAT! Whether you're new to food blogging or an old pro, you should join us in Seattle, WA on June 8-9, 2012 -- register now!]
BlogHer Food '12 will bring food bloggers together to learn, share, inspire, and of course, to EAT! Whether you're new to food blogging or an old pro, you should join us in Seattle, WA on June 8-9, 2012 -- register now!]
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