Sunday, February 23, 2014

On Food Sensitivities

About 5 years ago, I was one of those people who scoffed at the seemingly ridiculous explosion of food sensitivities and allergies.  I worked in a hotel kitchen at the time, in the bakery, and my co-workers and I had to deal with special food requests on a daily basis.  Vegan, dairy free, gluten free, nut free, egg free, kosher, no strawberries, etc.  The hot side had to deal with the savory special requests like vegan, vegetarian, no seafood, no dairy, gluten free, kosher, etc.

Every time we got a rather lengthy or unusual dietary request we tended to make fun of the person, who we believed was simply getting on the gluten free trend for non-health reasons, or that they were just extraordinarily picky.  If we had a concerned parent requesting we make a special batch of cookies that had absolutely no possible contact with anything that had peanuts on it, we would do so, but with the warning to the parent that we legally could not guarantee it would be 100% peanut free.  It was probably 100% safe, but legally we could not say that it was.  Understandably, those parents never liked that.  If we had a customer request a gluten free substitute for our scones, we scrambled to come up with something, searching the interwebs for something we could make with the ingredients we had on hand.  And then we complained the whole time about the extra work.

It was about this time that my mom embarked on a journey to better health inspired by a book she had read about the most common food allergens.  She shared this information with me, and it sounded really interesting at the time.  I was pregnant with my first child, and the thought of testing to see if I was allergic or sensitive to any of those common allergens was a little bit appealing, but I thought I should wait until after the baby was born.  Besides, if I turned out to be allergic to gluten, what the heck was I going to do about my job?  I was a pastry chef!  Talk about a career killer.

Fast-forward 3 years:  my oldest daughter was approaching her third birthday, and had had kind of dry scaly skin on her cheeks for a long time.  Then she came out in small random spots of excema on her tushie and the backs of her thighs.  By this time I was more on the crunchy lifestyle movement and decided to take her to a naturopathic doctor to get her tested for food allergies and sensitivities.  I had since learned that food sensitivities can manifest in skin rashes, and I suspected she was reacting to something.

I will never forget that follow-up appointment to go over the test results: the utter shock, combined with relief, sadness, and overwhelming feelings of "what do we do now?".  She had tested positive for gluten, eggs, peanuts, whey, oatmeal, and soy.  Jeez, you mean all the foods she likes to eat?  Great!  What is she going to eat?

Since then we have made many small changes over the last 2 years, to gradually get her (and the rest of the family) off of those foods, and made the extra jump to a Paleo diet.  The Hubby is not 100%, and neither are the kids, but I do try to.  Since learning of Big Sis's food sensitivities I discovered my own, as well as Lil Sis's.  Yep, I do not work as a pastry chef anymore, but not because of gluten.  That is a story for another post.

The biggest thing that I have learned during this whole experience is this:  don't judge other people by their food choices.  You have no idea why someone chooses to eat certain foods, or chooses not to, and it isn't really any of your business either.  Maybe they would be willing to share why if you ask, but please don't make fun of them, either to their face or behind their backs.

In the last two years, so many more people have been diagnosed with food allergies and sensitivities, it isn't as hard anymore to eat out with fear of being ridiculed or the cooks spitting in your special request dish.  The food industry had to jump on the allergen friendly wagon if they wanted to survive and compete in the business.  This is a great thing!  Well, the dining options I mean, not the health issues.

At any rate, I am looking at these food sensitivities as a blessing, and am grateful every day for my culinary background.  It has made the transition to a new diet so much easier for our family.  I can hardly imagine what it would have been like if we ate TV dinners and never cooked at home.  So thankfully The Hubby and I both love to cook, and I also love to bake, so we have weathered this diet change pretty darn well.  We eat even healthier than ever before, and I can definitely say my kids eat more vegetables now than ever, as well as a variety of other foods that most kids wouldn't touch.

                                 Who says allergen friendly cake isn't good?  Not this kid!

Now, all we have to do is gear up for packing school lunches in the fall and start dealing with all the food allergy issues that will come up in school.  Can't. wait..........not.