Say it isn’t so. I’ve just been to a new doctor, a phenomenal doctor, who has concluded, at least tentatively, that I might have food allergies. She says it would explain the inflammation I went to see her about, as well as some other fun symptoms I’ve been having, and even – get this – my daily migraines.
To misquote an annoying country song, she picked a fine time to tell me. Here it is, the beginning of the Sugar Holidays, and I don’t know what I can eat. I have a feeling that handful of Halloween candy my dentist (!) gave me is off the list, not to mention the pecan pie at Thanksgiving and the truckloads of cookies I’m going to be offered at Christmas. Even after the last New Year’s bonbon has been digested, there’s more. Take Valentine’s Day. Please. And Easter. How is it that even as adults, we find ourselves urged by family and coworkers to have “just one” chocolate bunny, just one Cadbury Creme egg, just one jelly bean?
I guess we don’t want to grow up. After all, the adults – even the men and women with professional library master’s degrees! – at Carnegie Stout wear costumes on October 31st. Great costumes! Zombies with books stuck in their heads! Cowgirls with chaps and spurs! I Love Lucy wearing a charming apron! I’ll bet she had candy in those big pockets. I’ll bet she gave it away to good little library patrons.
And that’s just the candy. What else is usually on those Forbidden Food lists? What else that I love and don’t want to live without? Let’s start with bread. Real bread, made from real wheat. What foodstuff is more All-American than wheat? Sing it! “From the mountains, to the oceans, to the prairies, ripe with grain”? That’s wheat growing on those prairies! What do you mean, that’s not how the song goes? I have to eat it; it’s my patriotic duty! No gluten-free anything for me, please. That’s like sugar-free pie. Spare me.
For months, I’ve been having trouble talking – I know, hard to believe – so I went to yet another doctor. He said something about “false vocal cords,” and other stuff you don’t want to hear about. I ended up taking voice lessons, and learned about the whole list of things singers can’t eat or drink before a performance. Now, I’m no singer (I don’t even hum), but I was told these things are going to give me a hard time talking, too. Things like chocolate, and milk, and chocolate milk. Things with caffeine in them, like tea, not to mention Starbucks Mochas, which are, come to think of it, the grand trifecta, containing coffee, and chocolate, and dairy, including, one hopes, a good squirt of whipped cream on top.
What else? Well, alcohol. I can’t drink that anyway, what with the instant migraine. Anything spicy. Have I mentioned how much I love Indian food? And also Thai, and Mexican, and every other genre that doesn’t taste like Cream of Rice? But wait, there’s more. Acidic food, like citrus. Does this rule out lemonade? Of course it does. And also nuts and snack foods that leave little remnants in the throat just as you’re gearing up to yodel “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Or to talk. Or to just be inflammation- and headache-free. In other words, healthy. How is it, I wonder, that we’ve managed to come this far, to the end of 2012, eating pretty much whatever we want to? How is it that restaurants and cooking shows have flourished, and cookbooks keep getting published on Baking with Whole Grains or Sweety Pies (an actual, wonderful book of pies by Southern women which stands among the library of cookbooks in my kitchen).
What will I do, once I’ve been tested for food allergies, with all those cookbooks I bought when Borders (sniff) was going out of business? Give them away? Hardly. I enjoy reading them as much as I do cooking from them. Make substitutions? Like what – sawdust instead of wheat? Carob instead of chocolate? Brown rice instead of everything? I’m old enough to say I’ve been there, done that, and bid a not-at-all-fond farewell to the macrobiotic fad. There are people today eating only what they call “live” foods – sprouts, carrots pulled straight from the dirt two minutes ago, and I don’t know what else. The urge to solve all problems via diet just won’t die.
I grew up eating food, all kinds of food. And not just junk. Sure, my mom served dessert every night, almost always homemade. (She made chocolate éclairs from scratch! Can you believe it?) But also pot roast with root vegetables, and lentil soup, and hand-kneaded bread (she even made hamburger buns!), and poached eggs. I’ve always believed that everything in moderation is the key to good health. The very idea of shunning an entire food group, be it dairy or grains or fats or carbohydrates, makes my skin crawl. I know, I know – if you eat something you’re truly allergic to, it might give you a rash, and if that’s not the very definition of crawling skin, I don’t know what is. But all I get is . . . inflammation, which hurts. And chronic migraines. Still, if the choice is good bread and chocolate or pain, you’ll have to give me a minute to decide.
Some of my favorite people are on restricted diets, because if they eat certain things, they feel like they’re going to die. Other people, it seems, put themselves on weird diets just because they want attention. All I know is, I’m not going down without a fight. And I’ll be clutching a dark chocolate Kit Kat as I go.