I was just thinking about posting something about our experience with food allergies, and it turns out it’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, which makes it seem like I have a plan, you know, like, ever.
Anyway, I’ve posted stuff before about our first exchange student, Saara, and her multiple food allergies. To recap: Saara is allergic to fish. As in: call-the-ambulance-and-grab-the-epi-pen allergic. Her throat closes up at the smell. She’s also not supposed to eat wheat, oats, barley, dairy and there’re some produce on the list as well. And chocolate.
Girl’s allergic to chocolate.
While she lived with us, Jack was grocery store guardian. He delighted in announcing in his most nine year-old, outdoorsy voice: “Mom, there’s really STINKY FISH over here. Right HERE,” anytime we were in the vicinity of the seafood aisle
…Which is kind of near the beer aisle, so you can imagine how often my kid got to practice his fish warning.
He also started reading labels on granola bars and snacks before offering to share with Saara. He was probably less concerned about the liability we could incur as her host family than he was just plain smitten.
I’m sure there are easier ways to get your kid to read labels, but for us, having a pretty sixteen year-old Nordic girl move in was the ticket.
I’ve also blogged about Jack’s status as the token type B personality in our type A family. There were years when his lack of energy was even more pronounced. The year following Saara’s stay, I started to wonder if Jack’s desire to play “let’s take a nap” was weird for his age, so I dragged him into the doctor’s office, demanding tests for low blood sugar or thyroid problems.
“Or leukemia,” the doctor added in a way I’m sure he thought was helpful, but which made my insides gurgley.
So, Jack’s skin was pricked and his blood was drawn. He didn’t have leukemia or low blood sugar or thyroid problems. Nor did he have any allergies from an immunoglobulin E standpoint (the initial blood screening for antibodies).
But the doctor agreed with me that Jack’s perpetual sleepiness was outside the norm for a nine year-old, and suspected a reaction to something he was eating. He gave us a book on the allergy elimination diet, complete with illustrations of stick figure people eating steak.
I’m not sure how stick figure people keep their figures eating so much steak, but it was a quasi-medical text, so I went with it. Maybe they’d already “eliminated,” but there weren’t any pictures of that.
For two weeks Jack’s diet was supposed to exclude suspected allergens, including dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, wheat, fish, citrus fruit, red meat, sugar, corn and maybe a few other things that I forgot when I noticed the list included tobacco, alcohol and caffeine.
These are not items you want to see on such a list after you make a family pact to all go on the same elimination diet for two weeks.
So we did what any loving family would do when one member must give up all his favorite foods for any period of time.
We sent him to bed early so we could cheat.
Over the course of two weeks we diligently gave up everything on the list, making an exception for beer after 8:30 pm. Colin was allowed to have regular hot lunch at school, which I’m pretty sure has been tater tots and mustard every single day since first grade, anyway. Those weren’t on the list of potential allergens.
Giving up prepared foods that have corn (including corn syrup), wheat, soy, or dairy means eliminating pretty much everything in the middle aisles of the grocery store, anything that comes in a box, bag, bottle or can, or from a drive-through. It quadruples the time it takes to prepare a meal. Everything must be made from scratch: granola bars, ketchup, salad dressing, soup.
Since we were used to eating what these days might be considered the anti-paleo diet to begin with (I totally coined that term. Use it in good health), this abrupt change in our diet caused a physical reaction. We all felt like we had a touch of flu after a couple days: achy and nauseated, and still not looking at all like those damn stick people.
All through the process, Jack kept looking forward to the days we’d reintroduce the allergen-suspect foods, one at a time, to determine which were the bad guys. At some point he convinced himself that there was to be a day where he would reintroduce sugar by dipping his tongue directly into the bowl.
He was pretty hopeful the biggest allergen would be something he didn’t dig anyway, like citrus fruit. I sympathized. Citrus fruit makes me tired just thinking about it.
But before that happened, if, after two weeks, Jack didn’t experience any change in energy level, we would have to go on the caveman version of the elimination diet, which meant that we’d have to reduce our menu choices to lawn clippings and heaping spoonsful of air.
If that didn’t result in a change, we’d probably have to put him down.
Ten days into the two week period, Jack skipped home from school. He deposited his backpack and ran out the door to piano practice. Two minutes later he returned, having forgotten his piano books. Then he ran back out.
I was stunned. Jack had the saunter-thing down to a science, but he almost never ran anywhere.
This is how, four years ago, after reintroducing suspected allergens, one by one, we discovered Jack has a fairly pronounced reaction to wheat.
It’s also a prelude to the story about how later, when we discovered Mike is allergic to beans, nuts and about a bajillion other things that come in boxed, bagged, bottled or canned foods, we were already shopping on the outskirts of the grocery store, and ready to deal with it.
As chief food-burner around here, I’m just super grateful I don’t have to find a way to make grass clippings taste good.
I’m all about the silver linings.
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photo by: rick