...btw, the chocolate-pumpkin “cheesefake”at Thanksgiving was good.
Having celebrated my own birthday a little over a month ago (and enduring over 30 food allergies and sensitivities), I had to read poet Sandra Beasley’s autobiography, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from and Allergic Life. Birthdays can be difficult when you can’t eat dairy, eggs, and soy and when you start throwing in beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamia, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard, day-to-day living can be a tightrope. Sandra tackles the subject with a “that’s life” attitude, detailing serious allergic reactions that derailed family plans, adventures in eating out with friends, and the various food substitutions her mother tried over the years.
I can relate to the experience of going somewhere and having to quiz the parent, friend, waiter, hostess, chef, cook, etc. with the eternal questions, “what’s that and what’s in it?” We follow her through childhood (she was initially diagnosed when she was a toddler), high school, college, and up to her current professional life. Along the way, she learned what happens when you aren’t careful at parties or special events (e.g., a wedding in Italy); what treatments and allergy medications have (or have not) worked and the “Russian Roulette” attitude that many have towards their allergies and treatments (e.g., what happens if you take six Benadryl at a time); how the restaurant industry avoided dealing with but is beginning to accept (sort of) their allergic customers; how to be a food critic and provide a credible restaurant review, and how the patience, understanding, and helpfulness of her circle of family and friends have helped her survive. When she takes a cooking class with her boyfriend, she gets a messy crash course in navigating her way through a recipe and in being able to find people that can live with her allergies, too.
While much of the book focuses on her allergy-afflicted adventures, Sandra also discusses her education about allergies – what they are, what causes them, how they have been and are currently being treated, why people with the same diagnosis have different reactions (or seemingly none at all), and what is the future of testing, diagnosis, and treatment. She reads about clinical trials, talks with parents of newly diagnosed children, and attends industry conferences to find out what’s new on the allergy front and what is actually working. And she, like me, has discovered that living with allergies endows you with an obsessive-compulsive need to stay in control and an opportunity to keep discovering what’s important in life. After all, would you ever try to learn how to make gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free chocolate-pumpkin “cheesefake”? (I’m made it for Thanksgiving – ask Eileen how it was.)