Till about a year ago, I'd never been particularly obsessive about anything. I've regarded this allergy experience as a cross between a scientific experiment where I am both subject and observer and a guessing game with some nasty consequences for losing. About a year ago I fully gave up on making myself sick with the food I love[d].
Many years ago, a doctor had said about a vitamin I poisoned myself with (it said corn free on the label), “If you don't know what the heck is in it, don't put the darn thing in your mouth.” Smart woman.
Now, if I don’t make it I don’t eat it. My food comes from a nearby organic farm, grown by an amazing group of farmers. It's local, in season, from people I trust.
There are a few exceptions to that rule, currently readily available are a few canned organic soups, milk, spices and a box of rice crackers. The rice crackers may be on their way off the safe list; they never were the most appealing food, but made a good emergency backup to keep in the car. This is all in the past tense, because somehow I poisoned myself with one of my safe, lovely, bland crackers this afternoon. While snacking on one during a coffee break, I was hit by an odd thought. “Wow this tastes great! Kind of like a Sun Chip, a little sweet, crunchy, tangy...”
In the microseconds it took for that thought to form, alarm bells began clanging in my head. “Wow, this tastes great!” has often been a phrase that precedes a reaction for me. Internal strobe lights streaked across my brain, Warning! WARNING! Get it out!! OUT! Finally my reflexes kicked in and I, oh so gracefully, spit the chewed up cracker into my hand. Since the allergy lifestyle involves experimentation, I had to look to see if it was different somehow than the rest of the crackers. Nope. Not that I usually examine my food when it is in bolus form, but it the color and texture seemed normal.
For a second, I though I had done pretty well not to swallow the cracker, till I felt the warning tingle in my lips and nose and the real emergency response kicked in. GET IT OUT was echoing around my skull as I ran for the bathroom to rinse out my mouth and brush my teeth. Not fast enough to keep myself from needing meds, but good enough to avoid the Epi-pen.
Now I’m dizzy, nauseous, achy and about 2 seconds from crying because I’ve lost some convenient crackers from my set of safe foods -- I can barely stand to be around myself when I get like this. In the grand scheme of things, there are so many worse things that could happen; no one is shooting at me, there are no tigers waiting to eat me and I am far from starving. As MTB would say, “Time to cowgirl up and get over it.” I’m just going to have to be more vigilant about the If I didn’t make it, I don’t eat it rule. I may not want to cook every day, but that is just too darn bad, do it or be hungry.
There is still a choice available, eat what is safe or don't eat. Amazing food from a wonderful farm comes once a week through the CSA, I'm fortunate enough to know the incredible people who grow my food and know that it is all safe for me to eat. They are kind, concerned and careful with my food. Why bother with something that may or may not be okay? Why even support a food system that is not safe for me or anyone else who needs to know what is in their food?
Two statements that really resonate with me when I think about our food choices:
We can still decide, every day, what we're going to put into our bodies, what sort to food chain we want to participate in." - Michael Pollan, Omnivore's Dilemma
"How we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is used." - Wendell Berry
If you have a severe corn allergy, the general American food system is not safe for you. The shipped green, waxed, gassed to ripen, processed and packaged food that is so very convenient and so easily available is poisoned with corn derivatives through and through to keep it fresh, keep it shiny, retard the growth of e-coli or make it smell good. Ick. The corn used in packaging and processing is not required to be disclosed on the label. Double Ick.
It took years of trial and error, truly years of poisoning myself, for me wise up and make a choice. It took more time, more research, and more frightening experiences than I would wish on anyone for me to get to the point where my safety and health outweighed my desire for “normal” food. Now my cravings are for understanding, adaptation and safety. The fact that this allergy resulted in my eating fresh, local, delicious food is a great bonus. I owe my health and quite possibly my sanity to my farmers. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Do you know where your food comes from? If you don’t, are you really managing your allergy?
That’s the question I’m going to ask myself the next time I’m temped to go for convenience.