Food is our common ground, a universal experience. ~James Beard
I follow George Takei’s highly amusing Facebook page which is actually staffed by others besides just him. I enjoy its humorous take as well as its vocal support of those less privileged in our nation. However, recently someone on the staff felt it was ok to poke fun of those with food allergies and sensitivities. They shared a post that was far from funny. Most open-minded people wouldn’t consider putting up a post that made fun of braille signs or wheelchair ramp signs, but our society is unfortunately still at a point where food intolerances of any kind are seen as a joke, not a potentially life-threatening problem. As the poster on the left states, food allergies are not a punchline.
My children and I have all dealt with food sensitivities; they are fall out from “leaky gut syndrome” and Lyme Disease. While not true IgE allergies, food sensitivities still have the potential to make someone feel horrendous. They can cause migraines, reflux, digestive woes, fibromyalgia flares, eczema, rashes, and more; for some people it’s so serious that even skin contact will cause a major reaction (as indicated by the gluten free soap sign). Yet as my kids and I dealt with these issues, many people including family members chose not to believe that our food sensitivities are real.
My kids and I observed (and one child and I still observe) strict diets so that none of us would be miserable from the side effects of foods that bothered us, but we would occasionally find people who wanted us to have “just one bite” of whatever was being served. They were trying to force food on others for reasons that didn’t make sense. We were not starving. We were politely opting not to eat what was served, and in many cases we brought our own food so that the host/ess did not have to worry about accommodating our eating needs. However, many took it personally that we wouldn’t eat their food even if it would have made us sick. Why? I think Cesar Chavez had it one of our culture’s notions around food correct when he stated, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart.” By refusing other people's food, they were taking it personally that we were also refusing them. Unfortunately, that’s a maligned perspective. Those who love you unconditionally wouldn’t ask you to cause yourself bodily harm just to feed their egos.
So why is there so much animosity about food sensitivities? There are many possible reasons. Quite a few people believe that IgG food sensitivities don’t exist. Part of this comes from the fact that Western medicine doesn’t have an approved and statistically reliable test to diagnose them nor are there any treatments for food sensitivities that can be billed to insurance. Until there is a drug or insurance covered treatment to help with the food sensitivities, most mainstream allergists will see no reason to deal with them. Money unfortunately drives our health care system more than patient welfare.
Others see food sensitivities as part of the current gluten-free fad diet. They think people are making a choice not to eat gluten, when for many, it’s not a choice. For those with celiac disease who can’t even have trace exposures to gluten or for those with anaphylaxis to other allergens, abstaining from certain food items is a hassle and a frequent struggle, but it’s what they must do to live safely.
Some people object to food sensitivities from a very narrow-minded and selfish point of view because they feel the dietary needs of others inconvenience them. When sensitive friends won’t go to the restaurants they prefer because there are no food options that those with allergies can safely eat, those without allergies can feel put upon. When sensitive friends don’t eat the food that is provided at social events, the same people may see it as an insult. Rarely have I heard of those with food sensitivities or allergies who ask their hosts to cater to their needs: It’s too much work to ask of someone, plus it’s too easy for someone who isn’t familiar with cross-contamination and hidden ingredients to accidentally put something into food that will cause a reaction. It’s easiest and safest for those with food issues to just bring their own food. Likewise, many parents bitterly lament nut-free policies in schools or classrooms because they see it as an inconvenience when packing their picky-eating children’s lunch. However, it’s much more inconvenient for the kids with anaphylaxis to nuts to stop breathing.
Some naysayers see it as attention seeking behavior. I had some very mean things said to me while my kids were little, and I was accused of Münchausen syndrome by proxy by one family member. Really, if someone wants attention, food sensitivities and food allergies are not a great way to get it. They make one’s life much more complicated, and they create a situation in which you are excluded things which you might normally enjoy, such as having a slice of delicious looking birthday cake at a party.
This brings up another major reason for some of the resistance: Our culture is definitely built on food. Until you face food sensitivities or food allergies, you don’t truly realize how obsessed our society is with certain foods being served at certain events or how most holidays are centered on food. Once you have to change how you participate in those events, your view changes as well. Elsa Schiaparelli has noted that, “Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.” Suddenly, you aren’t participating in that pleasure in the same way others are.
There’s also the possibility that people who are resisting against the concept of food sensitivities and allergies and how they impact others is merely hiding behind their own fear. To quote William Shakespeare, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." These people are afraid of the truth and the reality that foods they love can truly be dangerous for others. However, their own fear is not a good enough reason to degrade or humiliate others who are limited in their food choices by their sensitivities and allergies. Perhaps some are also fearing that their own health issues might be caused by food, and they are terrified by the possibility of losing some of their favorite things to eat.
Some people will rudely and dangerously “test” a friend’s food sensitivities or allergies by putting the offending item in the person’s food to see if they notice or if this is all just a psychological problem. This is not ok. It can result in violent vomiting, migraines, or even death. Even if the person doing the “testing” doesn’t see the results, that doesn’t mean that the person with the sensitivities didn’t go home and spend the next two days in agonizing abdominal pain with horrible diarrhea but was too polite or embarrassed to mention it to the host. Please don’t “test” the allergies and sensitivities of those who have them. Just trust that they know what is best for their bodies.
Regardless of naysayers' opinions, food allergies, food sensitivities, and other conditions such as celiac disease are true health problems. They can cause a great deal of misery and even death for those who must deal with them. These issues are not a lifestyle choice. They’re not a desire to make everyone’s life a little more confusing or difficult. They’re not an attempt to be rude. They’re a harsh reality that the sufferers and those they live with must cope with every day whether it’s convenient or not.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance