Before college I had little to no experience with the concept of allergies. I mean, my best friend was lactose intolerant so sometimes milk gave her tummy aches, and my grandma was diabetic, so she couldn’t have lots of sugar. . . right? Just as college was the introduction to many culinary experiences of mine, it also introduced me to the concept of honest to goodness a mistake could kill them food allergies. Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Well, for many people food allergies are serious.
We’ve all heard of the nut allergies, I’m sure half of us thought it was just over protective parents, but in many cases it isn’t. Nut, dairy, and gluten allergies are the more serious ones I encountered. This post is to raise awareness. Because my friends raised my awareness. Not just awareness that they could suffer or die based on what I feed them (which, let’s be honest is always a risk with food), but it raised awareness as to what is in my food.
Can you list off the ingredients of what you ate for dinner tonight? Even if you cooked it? Do you even know how to read a food label? Or an ingredient list? What has gluten, what has dairy, is that a vitamin or something else, what the heck is that? If you ever have the fortune of living with someone who has a food allergy, maybe a child, spouse or roommate, your concept of food will completely change. I’m not as good as I was when I lived with my one friend, but I can usually tell you what precisely is in my food. But as important, when I invite people over for dinner, my first question is: Do you have any food allergies or preferences? I want to know if you are allergic, if you’re vegetarian, if you can eat seeds, if the thought of mushrooms make you queasy. Why? Because I’m feeding you, and I care. If need be I’ll swing by with a menu and detailed ingredient list because I know I’m not perfect and may have missed something.
Below are a few tips when facing an allergy, whether you have the allergy, a family member or guest.
- Focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t. It’s very easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed particularly if you just discovered the allergy. All you can think is I can’t eat this, this or this. Life sucks. Gluten for example, suddenly you can’t eat bread and pasta and cake and muffins and cereal and woe is me I will starve to death! Everything has gluten! Far from it. That yummy smoothie, chili, vegetable or bean soup, buckwheat pancakes, fried rice, chicken and rice are all examples of what you can eat.
- Adapt your recipes by omitting or replacing. There are some very complex allergy free meals that jump through hoops to be allergy free. Many times there’s no need. Focus only on the ingredients that are a problem. Substituting or omitting can do wonders. Love mom’s old fried chicken? Well, you can use cornflakes or rice krispies (which I’m pretty sure are gluten free) to coat it. Or that macaroni and cheese would taste amazing with with rice or corn pasta. Allergic to dairy? A delightful cream sauce isn’t far from reach with soymilk. Other times you don’t need to substitute, but can simply omit the 2 tbsp of whatever it is you’re allergic to.
- Read labels. Read, read and read labels. Many times, but far from always, the label will say if the product contains nuts, dairy, wheat, or soy; or if it is processed on a facility with it; or if it may contain trace amounts. Just because it doesn’t list it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. For example casein is a fine example of a way that dairy can slip in, even without the label saying “product contains dairy.” If you’re cooking for a guest, and aren’t to sure have them read over the label to make sure.
- Double Check. Double check your ingredients. I cannot stress this enough. Think through the cooking process for where something might slip in unnoticed: butter to grease a pan or flour to thicken a stew. go over the ingredients, read the labels then do it again. If your unfamiliar with some of the terms or aren’t confident, have the person who has the allergy double check. Even when I was pretty confident I knew there were times I could screw up. Never be offended if someone asks for a detailed list of ingredients–it’s not meant to show a lack of confidence in you, but just a reassurance. become familiar enough with your food and cooking method that you can either quickly pull up an ingredient list or rattle off what you used. And don’t feel bad if you screw up and someone can’t eat your meal (even if its you who can’t eat it)–the effort counts.
- Plan ahead. Planning ahead is amazing. If you’re cooking, not only do you have what you need on hand, but you know its safe. Write out the menu and ingredients and have someone double check the list. If you’re going out to eat, call ahead to find out if certain things have x, y, or z. Talk to the waitress at the restaurant and have them check with the chef. It’s not an inconvenience or something to be ashamed of. Do what needs to be done for a safe an enjoyable eating experience.
Right now that’s all I really have to say. Below are some website I find useful and have referenced and perused at different times:
- Gluten-Free Mom: http://glutenfreemom.typepad.com/gluten_free_mom/
- the Gluten-Free Homemaker: http://www.glutenfreehomemaker.com/
- Celiac Spruce Association: http://www.csaceliacs.org/recipes.php
- Gluten-Free Goddess: http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/
- Glutenfreeda: http://www.glutenfreeda.com/index.asp
- Go Dairy Free: http://www.godairyfree.org/Table/Recipes/
- About.com Dairy Free Cooking: http://dairyfreecooking.about.com/