Written by Joella Almeida
Living in a household with someone who has severe allergies has always felt like a bit of a privilege to me. I spent over 18 years not knowing a single person with allergies or having to account for it. Living with Amanda for two years has opened my eyes during University to this new world of being cautious and careful and watching what you eat, where you place it, where and how you dispose of it, and what you cook it in.
Amanda has been one of my closest friends for many years and I’ve seen her allergies as a unique definition of who she is. Having to cook her own meals from a young age and relying on herself to be her own ‘safe mom’ has honed her into a very independent person in life.
Sometime during the winter holidays, I went to spend the weekend with Amanda at the cottage. While I was on this staycation I ate almost everything she did. And I want to describe my experience because sometimes people and friends sound like it’s a complete bummer that they can’t have peanut butter or ice cream around her and well, it’s not so bad. Think of it like a quick weekend fast from very specific foods.
For breakfast, we had eggs fried in olive oil with salt and pepper, hash browns, and bacon.
For lunch, some chicken wings that were barbequed with a basic BBQ sauce off the grocery shelf, again on the grill, which were divine! And for dinner we had a classic Persian meal courtesy of Amanda’s beau, Brandon. This included a Persian-styled rice made with saffron.
To accompany it were lamb skewers that were also barbequed on the grill outside and of course a light salad served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. As sides, there were roasted red peppers, as well as gorgeous plump tomatoes charred just enough for that lovely warm comforting smell as you munch into them.
As you can tell, none of the above required milk, cheese or legumes and still made for a great weekend. I’ve noticed she still manages to get her calcium from other sources like Rice Dream milk and her iron and vitamins from all the vegetables and salads she’s constantly preparing. It can be a complete lifestyle overhaul if you are not used to it.
Somehow from the time we are young, we are gradually thrown into the world of candy, sweets and chocolate and of course chocolate milk. They turn out to be staples through much of our childhood and even early teens and we don’t really pay attention to much about what goes into all the foods we eat unless we have cautious mums. Or some aunt/uncle/close family friend spring into a motherly discussion about the levels of pop and candy we consume and freak our parents out. What I’m trying to get at, and miserably failing to, is that we are consumed by this culture of food from the time we are young. Kids are associated with indulgences that you can only afford when you are a kid and have no weight issues, cavities or serious health problems and risks.
Growing up with serious allergies doesn’t make you a healthier kid but it does make you more aware and alert about what is going in your food and more importantly your mouth. And it becomes who you are. It has always surprised me if I hear someone say to Amanda, ‘oh it sucks you can’t eat cheese, you are missing out!’ or Ben and Jerry’s is to die for. While she may have to forego certain foods that are beloved or popular, I don’t think you need to make someone with allergies feel bad about a big part of their life. This big part of their life has helped them become the person they grow into. And sure she may never get to taste smoked brie or some flavoured ice cream, but she can make a hell of a meal that could leave anyone mouth watering.
(p.s.- Ben and Jerry’s just released dairy free ice cream!)