When Food is Terrifying

Food has long been a major source of pleasure for me. Not in an emotional eating sort of way, (although I’d be lying if I said I’ve never drowned my sorrows in a cupcake or two, or three.) More like: I derive serious pleasure from simple kitchen tasks—grating fresh beets, stirring risotto, massaging kale leaves, and grinding spices. I get joy from the spin of a smoothie in my blender, the heady scent of fresh herbs under my chef’s knife, the sizzle of a chicken thigh in my cast iron skillet. The food and restaurant sections in our magazines are invariably the most dog-eared and fingered; I spend hours poring over them, making lists of restos to visit, dishes to make, recipes to adapt and ingredients to find. Watching my kids sink their teeth for the first time into a juicy summer nectarine—it literally (and I really do mean literally) brought tears to my eyes. Food is my happy place.

Shucking Peas

So when my six month old little guy broke into hives after he voraciously devoured his first scrambled egg, I was upset, to say the least. When the same thing happened after a teaspoon of peanut butter, and then a half piece of whole wheat toast, I panicked. Food allergies?! My kid?! Whaaaat?!

This was not part of the plan. Food allergies were always other kids’ and other parents’ problems. (Except of course to the extent that they stood between my kid and classroom birthday treats. Being a keen baker, I regarded the blanket home-baking ban as more than just a mild annoyance.) The “may contains” warnings on packaged food labels—I always ignored them, and never quite understood them. Peanuts in my pasta? Whatever.

And despite the almost-epidemic proportions with which food allergies arise these days, I figured we were probably safe. I mean hey, I ate real unprocessed organic non-GMO food (a little bit of everything and not too much of anything); I washed my hair with castile soap and cleaned my house with vinegar and baking soda; I birthed my kids the good old way, exposing them to lots of protective bacteria in the process; I avoided antibiotics; I breastfeed exclusively; I followed all the latest and greatest advice on introducing allergenic foods. I was doing it all right. Right?

But the Big Guy in the Sky had other ideas, apparently. I think he probably looked down at my sleepy little food blog and said “pffft….boring! Let’s eliminate eggs, peanuts and wheat and THEN see what you can come up with”.

There is a part of me that wants to retreat from food and cooking altogether, to stand in solidarity with my son. How, after all, can I continue to derive pleasure and joy from something that could KILL my own child? It’s the same part of me that is petrified by every bite that he takes, by every sneeze, cough, eye scratch, and red mark. I introduce new foods with two epi-pens within arm’s reach, ready to inject his fleshy little baby thigh with epinephrine at the first sign of trouble. Yes, there is part of me that is now TERRIFIED by food.

But there is another—and bigger—part of me that is brave, positive and hopeful about this diagnosis.

Brave, because this little guy deserves to love food, to derive pleasure from food just as I do, to share in family meals, to stand on a kitchen chair and roll out cookie dough with his mama and big sister.

Positive, because while there are a few foods that he cannot eat, there are so many delicious foods that he can eat. He loves steel cut oats cooked overnight in coconut milk; fresh ripe mangoes; pumpkin spice buckwheat pancakes griddled in organic butter; chicken thighs braised in Indian spices, ginger and coconut milk; lamb and sweet potato meatballs; steamed green beans; roasted sunchokes; and fresh sliced figs, just to name a few of the things he has tried and enjoyed.

Eating oatmeal, blueberries & figs

Eating chicken, avocado & brown rice

And hopeful, because many children grow out of allergies, particularly allergies to wheat and eggs. And for those that don’t grow out of them, viable treatments are on the horizon. By the time he goes to school, “oral immunotherapy” for peanut and other severe allergies—which is currently being trialled with encouraging results—may at least make food allergic children like him tolerant to traces of their food allergens. Hooray for science!

There are other “bright sides” to our predicament: we have become compulsive food-label-readers and ingredient-Googlers. We get to talk to EVERYONE from the local butcher to the chia-seed-packers about how they prepare, process and package their food. We are learning about how manufacturing lines are assembled, disassembled and cleaned. In other words, we are being proactive, careful and knowledgeable consumers of food products, which we all ought to be—food allergies or not—right?

I know there will be challenges to come: first days of school, birthday parties, play dates, and (gasp) real dates. Our parenting lives won’t be quite as carefree as I envisioned. I may even become some version of the helicopter mom that I swore up and down I’d never be.

But today my son is eating a big juicy nectarine. And I am wiping away the tears of joy.

Eating nectarine

29 Responses to When Food is Terrifying

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  2. Erika December 26, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

    Your post completely speaks to me. We have struggled with food allergies for 14 years, kicked it off with an ER visit when my son was 6 months old due to a barley incident. We thought he had outgrown everything until this past year when he was dx with eosinophilic esophagitis. Basically a slow-burn allergy situation that causes him to swell up from the inside out. This has him on an eight-food elimination diet for the foreseeable future and I am scrambling to find things to feed him. I love to bake and cook but this dx has me failing and learning all over again!! Thank you for the recipes!! Watching him eat something – that tastes good – without fear of a reaction is beyond words.

    • Sarah December 29, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

      Oh gosh Erika I’m so sorry to hear that and I completely understand how tough it is. I look through recipe books and sometimes there is only one recipe in the entire book that I can actually make! It’s frustrating beyond belief. As if cooking for a family wasn’t enough of a challenge, right? But I agree watching my kid devour the safe foods I make to him makes me tear up almost daily. He LOVES his food and at this point has no idea that he can’t enjoy it to the fullest. He’s blissfully ignorant and I’m ok with that. I hope there is hope for your son to grow out of this affliction. But regardless these kiddos will have full and amazing lives, I’m sure of it.

  3. Chrisitna September 23, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    I have not started BLW yet as my baby girl will be 6 months at the end of this month. However, my biggest challenge is getting my family on board. Everyone wants me to start with cereal and I just love the BLW concept! I am hoping once we start, she really enjoys it and everyone in our surroundings will be more comfortable with feeding her this way!

    • Sarah September 23, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Yes, I think you are right Christina. Once your family sees a baby eating real food, they will be hopefully just be so amazed that they will forget about the cereal thing :-). My mom was a bit unsure in the beginning but now boasts to all her friends about what her grandson eats. I’m sure they are super excited to hear about it too, ha ha. Not so much. Good luck. You will win them over!!

  4. Sarah September 18, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Sarah! Please come to my house and cook for my kids!! lol 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this with me, I love connecting with other moms who are in the same boat as me, especially on the allergy front. Looking forward to finding tons of good recipes here. Sarah http://www.shineonmom.com

  5. paula schuck September 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    I often wonder why there are so many food allergies now. I used to be really food sensitive and couldn’t eat a wide range of things. I was super thin but I had a really small list of items that didn’t upset my stomach A LOT. Thankfully I feel a bit less adversarial with food now. Crohn’s does that too you. I mean when food is painful then you eat a lot less. So I kind of get the sentiment at start of the post. I hope your little guy outgrows his food allergies.

  6. Randa @ TBK September 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    My sister had so many food allergies when she was little and grew out of all of them. As for me? I’m late to the game, I just got my food allergy list yesterday and there are 125 items – yeah….

    It’s going to be interesting from here on out.

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

      Ack! That’s a lot! I didn’t even know there were 125 foods :-). Good luck and I will look forward to sharing allergen-free recipes with you!

  7. Gingermommy (@Gingermommy) September 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Food allergies are so scary. Especially at such a young age. Hopefully things get easier

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

      Thanks…here’s hoping 🙂

  8. Christine September 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Oh my goodness! So adorable. I love this post and love the pic with the peach with a side of broccoli! I’m going to spend the weekend catching up on your blog posts.

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      He could be onto something with the peach/broccoli combo, eh? :-). Thanks for visiting and commenting, Christine! Definitely do check out other posts if you have time. Hooray!

  9. Jenn September 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    There’s nothing like a peach with a side of broccoli! lol I never truly understood the food allergy thing until I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Its not just the avoidance of the allergic item that is the problem it is EVERYONE ELSE around you!! Good luck on your struggle and I hope that the kids grow out of it!

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

      Yes, that’s exactly it Jenn! Easy enough to adapt our diet…harder to steer clear of all the egg, peanut and wheat hazards out in the real world :-).

  10. Angie @ FridayCakeNight September 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Your little guy is so sweet! Love the pictures of him shoveling in the food! I only wish I looked that cute doing the same 🙂
    Way to go on focusing on the positives!

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      Ha ha…wouldn’t it be awesome to just shovel in delicious food by the fistful? :-). Thanks for visiting and commenting, Angie!

  11. Ceecee September 5, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Beautiful photos. I feel for you – dealing with allergies can be daunting! But you’re right – many kids out grow them. Good luck

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

      Thanks Ceecee! Crossing my fingers he outgrows at least some of them :-).

  12. Bonnie Way September 5, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Aw! Food allergies are so hard. We don’t have any (thankfully), although I went through a period when my youngest had a bad rash on her face and I wondered if allergies were causing it (it cleared up before we figured out the cause). Good luck with this! I hope he outgrows it. 🙂

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

      I hope so too! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Bonnie!

  13. Sondi September 5, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    I feel for you – allergies can be incredibly stressful, especially when they’re your child’s. I love the positive spins you put on your situation. It really is more about what your son can have – which is an abundant amount of foods – than what he can’t. Keep that mindset and I have no doubt that your son will develop a love of food that is equal to your own. And that picture of him eating the nectarine is adorable!

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      You’re right, Sondi…would be much less stressful if they were my allergies! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  14. carole nelson brown September 5, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    this was a huge fear of mine back when my son, now 15, was first starting to eat. I remember feeling like he was the king’s taster with every new food introduced, potentially about to blow up like a puffer fish at any second lol
    He had a few mild allergic reactions but nothing serious and he outgrew those by the time he was starting school, thankfully. I have watched many of his friends outgrow various food allergies and sensitivities over time and now that they are in high school, almost all of them are fine to each just about anything.
    If nothing else, it forces us to be more mindful of what we are putting into their bodies and that is never a bad thing, right?

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      Wow, that gives me lots of hope to hear that about your son and his friends. Thanks so much, Carole!

  15. Holly Botner September 5, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Beautifully written. Love the angle of the photos! So glad FBC is hosting this get to know your neighbors.

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Yes, so awesome to get an opportunity to meet other FBC-ers! Thanks for visiting and commenting, Holly!

  16. Eva September 4, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Beautiful post. He has quite the palate! I love the last pic.

    • Sarah September 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

      Thanks, Eva! He does have an adventurous palate…or maybe he’s just a huge hungry boy who will eat anything you put in front of him :-).

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