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When food attacks

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published May 6, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

Big Guy “helped” bake his daddy’s birthday cake, dumping flour in the mixer and spooning sugar into measuring cups. He licked the bowl afterward, smearing batter roughly from eyelashes to toenails. He watched me ice and decorate it, picking colors and testing frosting repeatedly, to “make sure” it was all right. He begged for cake all afternoon.

When it came time to dig in, he eyed his plate suspiciously. “This looks like an egg cake,” he said. “I’m not going to eat it.”

I’ve never been so proud and so heart-broken in my life.

Big Guy, you see, is allergic to egg. Deathly allergic. The last time he had egg – roughly three bites of a shepherd’s pie that had one egg in the recipe – he was 10 months old. We called an ambulance.

He’s also deathly allergic to peanut. When he was about 14 months old, a girl at day care who had eaten peanut butter an hour earlier touched his teddy bear. She didn’t even have peanut butter visible on her hands. Big Guy in turn touched the bear, then touched his face and broke out in hives.

He’s also deathly allergic to garlic. The last time he had “real” pizza, at a Halloween party at school, it was jerked out of his hands when tell-tale red speckles formed around his mouth.

At his allergist’s recommendation, I also eliminated red dye 40 and yellow dye 5 after the Halloween incident. From what I’ve read, they’re not “true” food allergies, but they can exacerbate asthma. His symptoms lessened dramatically.

No wonder he’s such a picky eater. For longer than he can even remember, food’s been attacking him.

Blame it on bad genes. Mine. I had 24 food allergies at last count, though only three (pork, shellfish and some other fish) are life-threatening. The rest are merely annoying, though chicken and rice are getting worse. If I’m stupid or starved enough to eat them at the same meal, I can’t get to the Benadryl quickly enough.

But I’m a big girl. I can handle passing on the pizza with pepperoni or sausage. I can deal with drooling as my husband gorges at Fisherman’s Warf – I haven’t always been allergic to seafood, and I used to love shrimp.

Big Guy, though, lives in a world full of goodies he can’t have, and I know it gets to him. I remember sitting at the kitchen table when he was 2 and offering to share cookies. He hung his head and said quietly, “No cookies for me. They have egg in them.”

I’m thrilled that he gets that. He’s been “reading” labels for almost two years, and he’ll cross-examine even me about ingredients. I’m sad that he has to get it.

I manage to work around most complications, thanks to a couple of good cookbooks – <A href= http://www.amazon.com/Bakin-Without-Eggs-Delicious-Food-Allergic/dp/customer-reviews/0312206356 target=_blank><FONT color=#0066cc>Rosemarie Emro’s “Bakin’ Without Eggs”</FONT></A> is excellent – and a network of family and friends who look out for recipes.

I scour the Internet for safe treats. I was thrilled to stumble on <A href= http://panhandlepremium.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&amp;Store_Code=PP&amp;Category_Code=PFO target=_blank><FONT color=#0066cc>Panhandle Premium</FONT></A>, a Washington state company that imports chocolate from the only peanut-free operation in North America, a Nestle plant in Canada. The biggest find there: Smarties, which are close enough to M&amp;Ms that Big Guy feels less deprived. I also love <A href= http://www.yummyearth.com/ target=_blank><FONT color=#0066cc>Yummy Earth</FONT></A>, which makes dye-free organic lollipops that are way better than anything I’ve ever tasted.

The hardest allergy to handle is garlic. Virtually no commercially prepared or convenience food comes into my house, because most either have garlic or aren’t labeled adequately. Food manufacturers don’t have to list garlic as an ingredient, so they usually don’t.

Take ketchup, for example. Unless it’s homemade, I bet there’s not a garlic-free ketchup in the world. You won’t see garlic listed on the label though – it’s lumped under a generic “spices” listing. But I know it’s there, because Big Guy had mild reactions to ketchup before the big pizza reaction sent him back for more testing.

Yes, I have to make ketchup. And salsa. And virtually everything he eats. I haven’t found as much as a canned soup he can have in the post-garlic-allergy days. Campbell’s soup and a Crock Pot or Reynold’s cooking bag used to be my best friends. It kills me.

But that’s better than killing him.

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