Before Food Allergies Were Food Fads
When I was 11 I was diagnosed with just about every food allergy under the sun except for nuts. Wheat, cow and goat dairy, eggs, barley, rye, canola oil, banana, beef and garlic were some of the big ones but there were more. Right as I began middle school, my life as I knew it ceased to exist. No more pizza Fridays, something that was a family tradition as far back as I could remember. No more sandwiches for lunch, cornbread with my chili or bites of Italian Beef that actually included the loaf of bread. Those were hard ones to swallow but of course as a young teeny bopper, what I would miss most was what I always wanted, all the sugar and sweets in the world. As a rule of healthy thumb, my mother also removed everything containing sugar from our household as our Holistic doctor diagnosed us with yeast overgrowth, a very real and serious thing. You see, sugar is yeasts favorite thing in the world and when it gets some, it multiplies like crazy. The old fashioned refined stuff I had, very naughtily as a toddler, snuck into the cupboard to eat spoonfuls of in the early morning hours was tossed into the trash without second thought, beyond the point of return.
Needless to say, I was absolutely crushed.
This Is The End
The year was 1999 and I was diagnosed shortly before Christmas. My mom decided that we would finish out the year with a bang, indulging in anything and everything we wanted. We ate desserts for dinner, prime rib with a horseradish cream sauce, our favorite pizzas and “the works” breakfast spreads. We ate out, which we knew would be a luxury after we switched. We savored what seemed like our last tastebud memories with our favorite foods. Christmas Eve was a smorgasbord of homemade cakes, cookies, cheese, mashed potatoes and steak, a meal I remember thinking was fit for royalty. We finished the Millennium with a trip to Medieval Times, where we drank carbonated beverages laden with high fructose corn syrup, ate turkey legs seemingly the size of my own and celebrated our last night as old-fashioned Americans eating a diet that, at the time, seemed completely normal. In just one night we would become abnormal, something that was hard to stomach at my delicate age.
We based everything we knew off of our diet from books, talks my mom attended and what our newly found Holistic doctor told us. In the year 2000, the internet was merely a baby, search engines were namely an unknown tool and websites were just starting to evolve past the big brand names. There weren’t nearly as many ways to educate on these topics as there are now. There weren’t blogs and websites fit with hundreds of recipes that fit with what we were doing. Even Whole Foods and Wild Oats, our new go-to grocery stores, had maybe one or two options for what we could eat . Gluten-free was a fairly new concept and companies were just beginning to develop their products. We had boxes of food frozen in liquid ice sent to our houses from the more progressive West Coast states just so we could try and finds breads that hit that spot like they used to. None of them did, and we were left to either suffer through mealy rice concoctions or make our own. So that’s what we did.
I think back on this time and have one of those, “I wish I knew then what I know now” moments. Because as I started to experiment with lactose-free, gluten-free, egg-free, yeast-free, sugar-free baking, I really should have documented what I was doing. I didn’t and I wouldn’t even hear the word blog until I entered college 7 years later but that thought still lingers from time to time.
Instead of becoming the first recipe blogger under 13, I started accompanying my mom on as many grocery trips as possible so I could begin to gather my research. I scoured labels, seeing what I could and could not work with. I gathered baskets of flours, egg substitutes, rice milk and fresh produce, tossed it on the conveyor belt with the rest of our groceries and excitedly danced in my seat until we reached home. I would help my mom put away all the groceries, leaving out my stash and would begin my work. For my recipes, I referred to the small collection of cookbooks we had accumulated or based them off of the regular old-fashioned ones we had been using for years. My first plan of attack was to master muffins. Then, at least, my mornings would be covered. I mixed and measured flours, prepared the eggs substitutes, poured the rice milk, the arrowroot powder, added gobs of maple syrup and fresh produce, spooned it all together, poured it into cups and plopped it in the oven. And just as fast as my little heart had filled with excitement, the first taste brought with it a ballooning feeling of disappointment. This wasn’t at all as I had remembered it. The texture was dense, not light and fluffy. The taste was all off, always being more bitter than sweet. And there was always this other flavor, this aftertaste, that could nearly bring me into fits of rage. And just as fast as I said to myself, “Well, that won’t do,” I was onto making the next batch and filled with promise yet again. I knew that eventually, something had to work. Basic mathematics was on my side.
Anyone who knows specialty diet baking knows this process. It’s the truest test of trial and error. It takes patience, it takes money and it definitely takes time. In the end, I came up with some great products. I perfected this chocolate cake with a vanilla tofu frosting that was seriously to die for. And as time went on and my middle school years turned into high school years, we started to find more and more options that appeased our diet as much as our appetites. Whole Foods was carrying more because they demand for it was going up, including awesome baking mixes. We started to indulge every now and again on organic cheese, eggs and cane sugar. Corn chips became our new best friends. We perfected the best turkey chili recipe out there and the stir fry became a household dinner item, sometimes being made 3-4 times a week. It was around this time that my love for the pastry arts evolved into a love for the culinary arts, an adoration that carries through to this day. I discovered that there was so much more that could be done. Finally, after years of tastebud torture, I could be set free with food.
Now as a 26 year-old pre-grown up, I have made my own adjustments to my diet. As previously stated, I do not eat fast food. I don’t buy all organic but I do stay away from the worst stuff—the hydrogenated oils, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, BHT, aspartame and the like. I’ve happily embraced a life of moderate gluten, dairy and eggs. I’ve figured out, for the most part, what makes me feel bad and what doesn’t. Some things like bananas have stayed on the list unfortunately, coconut got added and garlic and beef were dropped and accepted with open, drooling arms. I’ve learned what makes me feel good and what doesn’t and unless it causes me pain, brain fogginess or general discomfort of the mind, the body or the soul, it’s fair game.
I’ve gone gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and sugar-free on and off in the last 5 years as I see fit. Sometimes I do it as a personal challenge, sometimes it’s to feel lighter and look better and sometimes it’s just because. But what I learned most about the way I grew up was not only an affinity for the culinary arts but the challenges it can present. I learned self-restriction, control and a whole lot about how food affects the body. My mother, who cheats every now and again too, has taken it further by eating primarily vegan and raw. Her power inspires me and the topic we usually talk most about is food. It has become something that my entire family has bonded over deeper and deeper over the last 14 years as we all explore this beautiful, vast universe and our places in it.