03 October 2012

I want a DIVORCE from my body!

Dear Body,

I said this out loud, looking at my body and pointing at it with my index finger, while standing with Brian in Malibu. I was 75 miles from home and had spent way too much time trying to fill a soy chai latte craving. 

Have you ever broken up with someone- or gotten a divorce? You know how the fight that breaks up a couple, is never the real reason they broke up?  It's all the things that led up to that last fight that break them up. Well finding a plain (no vanilla) soy chai latte was what did it for me, the last straw, but unfortunately it was not my last battle, my body!   

The back story: Brian was visiting from London, the theme of his trip was MUSIC & FOOD. (The perfect holiday, right? What else is there?) I felt confident I could help provide this experience, and was very enthusiastic about participating. Then the reality set in, I was married to a body that seemed to reject the idea of fun. The nerve! I am forced to be married to a body that acts like an 80 year old.  Music and Food are two of my most favorite hobbies in life! Add traveling through unknown lands, speaking multiple languages, taking photographs, dancing and singing- I would attain my version of heaven! The problem is I got married to a "new body" 10 years ago. Well at least that is when I met the body I have now. The body I thought I was married to- decided to do change and we were growing apart and not together. 
So poor Brian (you could insert any one of my family or friend's names here as well) was sacrificed to the food gods as I had to work my way through compromising every meal with my stupid food allergies. Alas, very little sharing of food went on, even though he did a great job putting up with me. 

I dream of sharing every great meal with friends, partners, family, and clients when they come to visit, as I know just about every restaurant within 100 miles of my house. My favorite thing in food is finding new places and exploring new territory- (i.e.the hunt for the best pickle (Denver 2003), the best soul food on the west coast (2009), try every restaurant in Belmont Shore in one summer (2006). Going out to eat is one of my most favorite pastimes, especially as a foodie. Brian and I has agreed to share everything while he was visiting so we could try more food at more places. Sadly, in recent years my food allergies have increased in severity as well as the different varieties of foods I am now allergic to. 

Food allergies are embarrassing. If someone eats 3 meals a day with you at a restaurant for any length of time- they become exhausted. They hear the same repeat thing time after time after time again- "I am allergic to.......... so could you check the.......... and see if I can safely eat that....... Then the meals comes and it's a constant recheck, so this is the meal that has no....... are you sure? It taste like it has sesame... is there tahini on this?"  I am greatly limited in restaurants "safely" eat out. While I apologize profusely for having food allergies, I cannot control them and to date there is no cure for them. I leave the table now to go quietly explain my food allergies so everyone else can enjoy their conversation and meal ordering without me having to take 30 to 45 minutes to get through the process- people are usually finished with their meal before I even get mine, otherwise they have to wait a very long time.  

When I was married to my old body, I was disgusted when someone wanted to change or alter a meal. I now, have no choice. I have to alter a meal, request ingredient list, etc.

I have done everything to "control" the way my body feels. I have been making changes (SACRIFICES) to my food habits and food favorites for 10 years, and still my body fails me. I eat "healthy" for my needs and yet still my remaining kidney collapses and the food allergies kick in. After ingestion of certain foods, I have weeks to months of discomfort, pain, wheezing  swallowing difficulty, rashes, welts, cyst... It's not fun. In some cases I've gone into an instant seizure from anaphylaxis shock. (Talk about embarrassing and uncomfortable. Not to mention, "way to ruin a fun afternoon or evening out.) 

I rarely feel safe eating out anymore because the majority of restaurants lack sensitivity not to mention education on food. I have been "poisoned" (accidental exposures to food I am allergic to) several times eating out. I have had waiters tell me, "It's a proven fact, food allergies are all in your head." I've had owners tell me, "You should learn how to cook at home because we can't cater to everyone walking in our door with a food allergy."  I know how to cook, and very well I might add! In fact I love to cook! However,  when I want to be social and enjoy outings with my friends and family, why do I have to sit at a table with no food on my plate or risk being "poisoned" because of the ignorance in the food service/hospitality industry. By the way, because of my enthusiasm for travel- it's very hard to cook when I am far from the safety of my kitchen. I love how restaurant owners are so willing to give up business. 

Dear Body, Give me my divorce due to irreconcilable differences! Sincerely, Me. 

My testimonial to my body for the record: 
I am sick and tired of going out to eat and explaining 9 food allergens and what that means and how the cook can preserve the taste in the food I'm being served. (Because most of them think- bland is better???)  I am tired of reading every label when I shop in the market- I even have to read the labels of the lotions and conditioners. I am tired of feeling like a third class citizen when I go out to eat. I am exhausted with my body when it quits working. I don't choose this disease, I don't do this "allergen thing" because I want to lose weight or be like "Lady GaGa." This is not a choice someone gave me to make- for me, this is life or death. I miss my cheese plate of heaven and my buttered artichoke, an occasional gelato treat and being able to order one of everything on the menu just to experience it all. (In case you are wondering, I don't have a stomach the size of Texas, but I like to try it all.) I am tired of saying, "No, I can't eat there. No, I can't go out to eat. No, I can't attend that dinner party with 12 great friends, because I don't want to inconvenience the rest of the group. No, I can't go to the holiday party because it's food based, and I won't be able to eat. I'll meet you after dinner, so I can cook at home. Sorry, we have to go to another restaurant because there is nothing on the menu here or the chef isn't in. " I want a divorce from my body so I can be the food adventurer again and have trips filled with the best food and music. 

The only redeeming thing I have found in the last year is that there are 150 Million people in the world just like me, all saying the same thing, I am. So I can say I am not alone- but darn it, it is lonely! 
I was in a conference break out session with 50 other adults with food allergies and each one of us cried, sharing similar stories and experiences about food and eating out and going without little pleasures, like birthday cake.  Imagine if bakeries, restaurants  and other commercial kitchens could serve our group- talk about customer loyalty and revenue increase. Food service wants to know why numbers are down, it's not just because of the economy, it's because you won't take the time to educate on food (that includes allergies). Consumer trends and demands show the more transparent the menu- the more people spend at a restaurant. (Sure there is a group of people that don't care- and they don't have to know, that's fine- just don't ask, no one will tell.) 

In the last 2 years,out of demand from many of my close acquaintances, friends and family in the food service business, I finally took all my research and studies and developed a Food Allergy Consulting practice dedicated to help commercial kitchens handle the food allergic & intolerant (that includes gluten free).  This is why I started the food allergy consulting practice, while it doesn't solve my problem, it certainly aims to get us (the 150 million food allergic or food intolerant)  enjoying living away from our kitchens and socializing safely again. Spread the word, keep asking restaurants for allergen friendly menus. Keep asking grocery stores and bakeries if they serve to special needs diners. Keep asking for kitchen certifications. Keep being nice about your food allergies. Be patient, laws are in place and more are coming to help us (THE FOOD ALLERGIC) get back to enjoying life again. 

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