Several years ago, my father and I were texting about the upcoming holiday (I believe Thanksgiving,) and trying to coordinate family dinner plans. I threw out the question as to how he was planning dinner with my vast array of food allergies and then my younger brother’s newly diagnosed diabetes. He reassured me we would be fine. I apologized for our crappy genes. He blamed our mother.
My father has been great with accommodating holiday meals for two adult children with overactive [read: crappy] immune systems. With my brother, at least his meals are more easily catered with carb and sugar avoidance. My soy, wheat, gluten and peanut allergy narrows the menu from there.
It has made both of our holiday food experiences, well, more unique. I can’t speak for my brother, but I’ve had my fair share of interesting encounters since.
My first Christmas with my diagnosed allergies, I was quite reserved with food anywhere. We had to make a call prior to our attendance at our family Christmas party not to bring or have out any items with peanuts. Luckily as it was my Italian family, there wasn’t too much of a problem with this, but the notice was still necessary.
So when I arrived, as I expected, there wasn’t much to eat, and I resorted to just enjoy the company. However, a cousin of my father’s noticed I hadn’t had a plate of food through the evening.
“Why are you not eating?” she said. “There’s nothing for me to eat,” I replied. “Hold on.”
She disappeared on a mission for a few minutes to ask around for ingredients to things and walked me through each dish. Not able to eat anything, she resorted to the fridge, where she went through and pulled out every and any item she thought I may be able to eat. She landed on an unopened block of cheddar, of which I could safely consume.
She cut up the entire block of cheese and placed it on a plate for me. “Eat this!”
Now, eating the entire block of cheese was not really in my best interest for obvious reasons, but I ate a sizable portion and was able to make it through the party without being famished or offending my Italian family.
Through the years and holidays of my diagnosis, friends, family, people I’ve dated and some acquaintances have made great attempts to stay educated about my allergens. They try to make dishes that won’t result in a miserable or deadly reaction when visiting. They have me send sheets of ingredients to avoid, or they text me pictures of ingredient labels to read through and reassure them of their choice.
Now, this last Christmas at my boyfriend’s mother’s house for lunch, I wasn’t accomodated.
Although his mother was somewhat aware of my allergies, she had never inquired regarding what I could eat. I arrived on Christmas to awkwardly eat a plate of undressed greek salad as none of the other food was edible or safe for my consuming.
On our way to my father’s (who had prepared a “Lita-friendly” Italian feast I could fill on), I mentioned to the boyfriend in passing how I was a little offended.
“In all my years with my allergies, I’ve never had anyone not try or attempt or not ask to make something that I can eat.”
He was surprised on that note, and apologized. We have since then resorted to bring our own food to visits. And over the last year, his mom—she having her own sensitivities—is understanding my complicated diet a little more.
I don’t blame her or anyone for not tackling my food issues. The list is daunting, and I endured several cries the first couple years myself in frustration, trying to decipher just what I could and couldn’t eat (and because I really missed donuts.)
It does make one approach any get-together or event differently, as I constantly try to keep in mind what I’m eating or bringing to places for fear of making some other human sick like I’ve been.
Which lends me to leave you with a thought. When bringing or making dishes this holiday season, take a minute to ask if there is anything attendants can’t have in the house or in their diet. Even beyond food allergies, we are in a world where FODMAP, food sensitivities and allergies, celiac, diabetic, etc. are too common. It’s messy and you won’t be able to accommodate everyone, but even asking will let them know you care. And from one food- issue individual, I can tell you that in itself is greatly appreciated.
Safe eating & cheers to the holiday season!
Lalita Chemello is a Detroit-born writer newly displaced to the west side of the state. She’s written/edited for New Roads lifestyle magazine and Panorama. Her other passions are photography, motorsports & screenwriting. You can also occasionally find her around town on her vintage two wheels.