15 December 2014

Overcoming Fear in Food Allergic Living

To a multiple food allergic person, finding safe foods or places to eat is like going on a scavenger hunt for a California license plate in Georgia. They are out there but it's not a frequent, easy find.

I try to never give up the hunt. I alway find new places and most of the time I am willing to ask, "Do you have any special menus?" or "What's in your product? How is it made?" "Can you cater to someone with 15 allergens?" "What's new and unique about your place? Have you thought about becoming a food allergy certified restaurant?" The questions provoke thought and let owners and managers know people are looking. Don't give up.

I walked over to a new local market to meet a neighborhood friend for lunch. The market is in a great spot, nestled just off the Atlanta Beltline between O4W and Inman Park. It's taken awhile to get up and running but there were all sorts of fabulous speciality shops inside with a very upscale "food court." But not the kind of food court you would find inside of a mall. The kind where every shop is different, unique and a little bit higher end. No 'Hot Dog on a Stick' kind of places. There are mostly local business owners, many of whom are getting their start now.

The clean, modern lines of the building represent a certain level of much needed hygiene that is important to me in my shopping/eating experience.

The food adventurer in me wants to go try everything. The food allergic side of me proceeds with great caution and is only mildly hopeful I will find something good to eat.

I walk thru this beautifully eclectic building that was once a warehouse and then converted to a movie studio that now resembles a 1920's old factory complete with conveyor belts and stumble across a butcher, a florist, a chocolatier, a soap maker, a pastry shop and a handful of restaurants. "This is how I like to shop," says the gal who hates to shop. 

I can actually go to a place like this, ask the questions I need to and get answers without them having to phone into corporate or them coming back to me saying, "sorry we can't." I can actually make a soap, a lotion and a conditioner that is safe for me, right here in my own backyard without setting up a chemistry shop at home.

A few doors down I see chocolate. I am willing to take the risk because a few times before in my life I've actually found smaller chocolatiers making simply good chocolate that is safe. And BINGO, there it was XOColATL. Finally a safe chocolate bar with just two ingredients but with hints of apricot and cherry on the back end. Life was getting better by the second.

As I round the corner, my friend points out the owner of the Spotted Trotter, the butcher shop located at the front and I run into the owner of the Luminary as well. They are all very engaged in running their businesses, but everyone is greeted with a smile.

Popping up on the backside was a BBQ spot, a mediterranean shop and then:
"Fred's Meat and Bread," caught my attention. 

I loved the simplicity of the name. I watched as the food came out of the large open window that was counter height so I could still see them preparing. (This also helps bring a level of comfort to me. I like to see what's happening in the kitchen).

The meals were simple and fresh and looked super delicious. I would not call this "health food" even for a second, as it was American burgers with a global influence, from a vietnamese to italian twist. But I certainly needed a healthy dose of food that day- so to me it was "healthful."

I asked, as I took a seat at the counter, "Do you think you can create something for me with these food allergies?," as I pulled out the long list. My main concern was where was the bread from and did it have dairy, soy or sesame in it?  Of course it's only responsible to go thru the entire list of allergens with them, just in case, but honestly the chances were slim that other allergens would be present.

My dining partner was actually more concerned than I was, which was somewhat refreshing, as he took care to ask about everything from the Ketchup to the pickles (which usually I have no issue with). "Fred" reported back that the buns were made onsite and did contain dairy and sesame, which made me not want a burger as badly but he convinced me to go bunless and order the fries because the burger was delicious made of 3 kinds of meat.

He had me at 3 kinds of meat and french fries, so I ordered. Despite not being able to have a bun and really go for the "Fred's Meat and Bread specials-" it was the best burger I'd had in ATL...

I left perfectly satisfied and eager to further explore the Krog Street Market further in future, knowing I may have stumbled on a place where I could actually enjoy the goods being produced.

As multiple food allergics we often fear and dread going outside of our homes on food adventures. In fact many of us have let fear itself consume us therefore we deny ourselves these social experiences.

I'm not insensitive to this at all. I have personally experienced anaphylaxis shock more than once in my life. I know it can be scary. I have also been sick for weeks because I was fed or consumed something that ended up being unsafe. It's a yucky, angry feeling of betrayal sometimes.

I also know I have an Epi Pen and prescription antihistamines and lotions in case an allergic reaction should start.

I refuse to live a bubble, because that's just not living at all.

I want to live my life and go explore still, even if that means I have to take a food break and run home to feed myself or pack safe snacks from home, it's worth trying because you never know what good you may stumble upon.

We must find it in ourselves to not allow the fear to consume us but instead use that same "OCD" paranoid skill and apply it to being prepared. It's okay to be ready when you need to be, I recommend it in fact, but don't let this disease control you. You be in control of your thoughts, choices and decisions and reactions but go explore. Live your life. It's totally worth it, in the end. I would rather say that I did something than I thought of something.


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