Not Gezellig!

Food blogger, meet food allergies.


The first indication something was wrong with me was when I ate a sprouted lentil salad at a local raw food cafe and I spent nearly an hour in a gas station restroom afterward. I had been sick after eating lentils once or twice before but I’d never made the connection before the gas station incident: I was definitely allergic to lentils. No big deal, though, right? Lentils are easy enough to identify and live without.

Then I noticed whenever I ate Indian food, I would have a panic attack. Or so I thought. Indian food has never been my first choice, so Indian food was usually reserved for dinner with friends who really wanted it. Each time, I thought I must have been especially anxious about seeing these particular friends again, but the last time I ate Indian food, the friend I had dinner with emailed me a photo the waiter had taken of the two of us (in the middle of what I thought was me having an anxiety attack). My face was flushed bright pink, like I’d been sunburned, and my neck and chest were splotchy. So, definitely not a panic attack. Okay, I thought, I’m allergic to curry as well?

I saw an allergist after that. She was, coincidentally, Indian, which was helpful and a little embarrassing at the same time. She listed the typical ingredients in curry, but I knew I’d cooked with almost all those ingredients before — why would I be allergic to them now? Her answer boiled down to well, kid, shit happens, and advised me a.) to keep track of what foods bothered me and b.) call 911 if I needed to. Jesus.

Not long after that, I was at IKEA with my kid, sharing a plate of Swedish meatballs, when the usual allergy symptoms kicked in — nausea, numbness, dizziness, heart pounding — along with a new one: panic. The allergist’s 911 recommendation had stuck with me and now there I was, alone with a 5-year-old, at least an hour from home. I took two of the Benadryl I’d started carrying with me and rode it out. At least now I knew what it was I was allergic to, the only ingredient common in curry and Swedish meatballs: cardamom.

Things started to snowball after that. I ate a big bowl of bean thread noodles and found out the hard way that mung beans and lentils are closely related. After years of feeling sick after eating too many raw carrots, I found out there’s an allergenic protein in carrots that breaks down with cooking. In a brief moment of finding the silver lining, I was almost relieved to find I was allergic to brown rice so I finally could eat white rice without feeling whole-grain guilt about it. But the worst, the absolute worst, was yet to come.

I had made pasta with anchovies and garlic for dinner one night, after not having made it for a while. After two bites, the inside of my mouth went all numb, like I’d just gone to the dentist, which is usually my first sign of an allergic reaction. But it’s anchovies! I thought. I’ve eaten this before! Recently! COME ON! But no. Anchovies, once my fishy friend, were now my body’s enemy. So long, cuisines like Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese that use fish sauce. Goodbye, Caesar dressing, Worcestershire sauce, and salades ni├žoise.

If I stop to catalog even half the foods I can’t eat any more, it makes me so angry and sad, but I think what kills me the most is that my allergies are all SO DUMB. I mean, who’s allergic to brown frigging rice? Does that even sound like something people are allergic to? Not to mention the yeah, right factor in having an obscure food allergy. You tell someone “I’m allergic to peanuts” and people take you very seriously. You say, “I’m allergic to cardamom” and people look at you like pull the other one, sister; it’s got bells on.

I know compared to other food allergy sufferers, I have it pretty easy. I’m not allergic to any of the really big ones: milk, wheat, eggs, shellfish, soy, peanuts, et cetera. But as someone who loves to eat and write about food? It sucks. Really, truly, fucking suuuucks. Eating out, particularly with any cuisine that’s even slightly Asian-ish, now comes with a side order of mild terror. With every bite, my brain is chattering, is my mouth going numb? yes? maybe it’s just spicy? no? should I keep eating? should I stop? shit, was that a bean sprout or a noodle I just ate? FUCK!

I’ve been hanging on to this draft for at least two weeks now, trying to come up with some kind of pithy insight or witty rejoinder — a nice, tidy kicker to close this post. Well, I haven’t got one. I guess like me and my allergies, this post is just how it is and we’re all going to learn to live with it.

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15 Comments

  • kickpleat

    ahhhhgggh, so sorry to hear this! developing allergies has been a fear ever since my friend developed hay fever in her 30s. i had no idea that allergies could just suddenly develop…and one related to food just adds one more worry. bummer.

  • Kristen

    Honestly, there’s a little part of me that thinks well, I developed these allergies, so maybe I can still un-develop them at some point later. I’m still pretty sure I could happily go the rest of my life without eating lentils or brown rice ever again, though.

  • Terry, at Blue Kitchen

    Well, dang, Kristen. Sorry to read this. Regarding lack of witty rejoinder, you just laid things out the way they are, which is a talent all its own. And you made at least this food allergy non-sufferer better understand the problems they cause for those who do suffer from them.

  • sarah

    I just went to the allergist to get tested yesterday. I had a reaction for all kinds of shellfish and I’m still waiting to hear back on avocado and spinach.

    The most frustrating part for me was that there’s nothing you can do except not eat those foods. They pretty much just handed me a prescription for an epipen and said to avoid anything I’m allergic to. The Dr. said sometimes they get better and sometimes they get worse.

  • Di

    We know a guy who is allergic to peas, lentils, brown rice, broccoli, eggs and poultry. For a while we teased him that he *had* to eat bacon cheeseburgers if he was going to survive.

  • Amanda-Beth

    i know weird food allergies suck. Im allergic to olives. If your allergic to not 1 of main foods the look you get is hordous disbelief

  • Joanna

    OMG! I totally feel you. I’m 30 years old and two weeks ago I went to my favorite Thai restaurant. I had my fave coconut milk soup with shrimp, some fish patties with peanut sauce, fried rice and curry. Long story short I ended up in the hospital looking like octomom. NOT CUTE!! The weirdest part was not more than a month before I had 2 of those same dishes the soup and the curry. WTF! Just got the blood panel results back and turns out that after 30 years of enjoying and loving seafood I am now allergic to Fish/Shellfish and slightly allergic to peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat. What gives!!! Waiting to go to the allergist to get more details on all of this. But I share your feelings. Every time I’m about to put some food in my mouth I get panic flashes like wait can I eat this? am I going to react to it? Now I have to carry allergy medication and an EPI pen with me every where I go. UGH!!!

    • Kristen

      I don’t know which is worse: the feeling of “WTF, I just ate this and I was fine!” or the ensuing “frig, can I eat this and not pass out?” panic. Either way, both feelings TOTALLY SUCK IT.

  • Kyndra

    I’m allergic to cardamom too, it gives me seizures. Celery, fennel, anise, licorice, asafoetida and pumpkin pie spice give me seizure problems. Sadly, I don’t consume sausages, licorice candy and much pumpkin pie anymore, and celery is hidden in foods like soups. Oh yes, I stay away from Red 40 too.

    My favorite thing to do in my spare time is baking!! It is hard with food allergies.

  • Bev

    Well I am allergic to CORN (all forms of corn), shellfish, tomatoes, wheat, rice. Do you know how much stuff has corn syrup in it? EVERYTHING! I am also allergic to caffeine! The only thing I can drink when I go out is water & people look at me like I am a cheap skate. And you won’t believe how many functions do NOT have water. I get ear infections & bronchitis after eating these things except for corn where one time I mimicked a heart episode…

    All I wanna do is to eat without worrying for my health :'(