Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Raw hot dogs, a lobster murder, and a pistachio

This blog has been a long time-coming. I just never have found the time to actually start it. It won't appeal to everyone, since a third of the focus will be on veganism and animal protection, another third will be on food allergies and atopic diseases, and the final third will discuss where the two will collide: FOOD. But I hope it will be interesting to you, no matter what subject arises.

My transition to veganism began a quarter century ago, when as a young girl, I became ill after eating raw hot dogs. I think that sparked the "ewwww" factor and the dislike of meat smells and textures. Amazing how after that many years, your memory can still replicate the smell and taste. Soon after this episode is when I first learned that the food I was eating was actually coming from animals that had been killed. My five-year-old moral compass was pointing to due "wrong". I started to plague my parents with food refusal.

A few years later, I witnessed and participated in my first and only animal "slaughter". We were living in Hawaii, and I spent my days day-dreaming about becoming a marine biologist, and was introduced to the beauty of humpback whales. One day, my stepfather brought home live lobsters in a bucket of water. Were we getting new pets, I wondered? He started a big pot of boiling water and then told me that they go into the pot while still alive. As I screamed in horror, he thought it prudent to grab my hand and force me to hold the lid down after he put the lobsters in. You really don't get over that. Even though I was only 10, I was well on my way to becoming vegetarian. By age 11, I had learned enough about what foods to avoid in order to avoid eating meat.

I entered high school at a younger age than others, but it gave me the tools to continue my research about factory farming, food ingredients, and health. I soon determined that vegetarian wasn't "enough" and that I must be vegan. At age 14, I ate my last bit of cow's cheese. Soon after, my parents stopped making meals for me and told me I needed to fend for myself (and also required that I research about nutrition). It sounds cruel, but it was better than being force-fed meat. My parents worked in the restaurant industry, and started me working early, so I learned a lot about cooking and baking. Even so, with my busy schedule, I started eating a lot of pasta meals.

[And so began my stomach troubles...]

Throughout high school and college, I would have bouts of extreme stomach pain, bloating, and reflux. I can recall at least 3 times that it was so bad, I just lied down on the side of the road waiting for it to pass.

The first year of college was also the "year of anaphylaxis" for me. After 3 trips to the ER, it was finally figured out that I am severely allergic to latex. I had been working in hospitals and nursing homes, and my hands were flaming red, oozing, and insanely itchy. I was repeatedly told that it was due to the powder, and that if I used non-powdered gloves, I would be fine. Uhmmm....no. Switched to vinyl gloves and my hands finally started healing. The same year, I ate my very first pistachio. My entire life I had avoided them. They were a family favorite and I always thought they smelled like vomit. So while the others chomped down on pistachios, I opted for other treats. Well, under the pressure of friends, I was convinced to finally try one. Within seconds of eating it, my throat started closing and I had a feeling of "this is really bad and I might die". My first instinct was to grab ice cold juice and to constantly drink it so that the coldness would fight the inflammation in my throat and keep my airways open. I started to feel drowsy and drifted off into sleep...

[Note: Signs of anaphylaxis include throat swelling, itching, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, altered consciousness, sense of "impending doom", among others. The ONLY treatment for anaphylaxis is epinephrine. Anaphylaxis to food causes 150-200 deaths per year in the United States. For more information, visit: If I Had An Allergic Reaction - Dr. Robert Wood .]

Luckily, I woke up. I have avoided pistachios ever since, and now am the proud owner of auto-injectable epinephrine.

Fast forward a few years, and I am married with children. Both of my children have eczema, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and food allergies. It wasn't until I had to undergo a total elimination diet while breastfeeding my youngest, that I was finally able to pinpoint all of the foods that have caused me so much pain over the years. I am raising my food allergic children as vegan, which is sometimes tricky and involves a lot more work. Most convenience foods are out: if they cater to vegans, they usually contain our allergens; if they are food-allergy friendly, they are usually not vegan.

I have to be nutritionist, che
f, researcher, gardener, baker, and creative genius in order to feed us.

I am The Allergic Vegan.