I’m not allergic to anything. Thank god. My parents probably would have disowned me—maybe just tossed me in a basket and sent me down the Delaware River. In our house, eating what was on your plate didn’t usually present a problem, but if you happened not to like what was being served, Mom had three words for you: Too. Freakin’. Bad. Strangely, Dad has sort of denied the existence of food allergies—especially nuts. Of course, there is loads of evidence to the contrary (and some extremely vociferous parents), but he found an article in the New York Times to support this view, and now it’s pretty much a done deal.
I’ve seen too many kids stuck with epi pens to truly agree with him, but I do find the whole concept annoying. Kids not being able to bring PB&J sandwiches to school under penalty of expulsion, airlines switching to pretzels (when honey roasted peanuts are clearly superior), and people just coddling and Purell-ing the crap out of their kids to the point where they can’t eat anything or spend 20 minutes outside without breaking out in hives.
Mom and Dad let us eat dirt, play in raspberry brambles, build tree houses, and generally be kids, thus we’re reasonably well-adjusted and food-friendly. I do, however, have a few weird food reactions—some of which are cool, others not so much. I like to think of them as quirks, though, so as not to run the risk of getting shipped down river to another family.
Celery: These long, slender unassuming stalks are one of my favorite vegetables. I know, that’s kind of like saying “vanilla is my favorite ice cream flavor.” But, much like vanilla ice cream, celery is a great vehicle for toppings—hummus, dressing, peanut butter and raisins. Its crunchy texture and refreshing, watery blandness is addictive. It’s got something else going for it, too. Celery makes my mouth tingly and my tongue numb. It’s a bit like the good-for-you version of Pop Rocks. I first noticed this sensation at snack time in kindergarten, and I’ve since conducted some very unscientific experiments. It’s taken me 20 years, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s mostly the celery strings that pack the punch. Also, the bigger and greener the stalk is, the number I get.
When I was a kid, I wanted—no joke—to extract and concentrate whatever it is in celery that caused temporary numbness, and market it as an all-natural alternative to anesthesia or novacaine. I’ve since been informed that I am probably just mildly allergic (gasp!) to it. Finding out that a. I had a food allergy and b. that tingly feeling wasn’t universal was more devastating than when Cassie Bowman told me there was no Santa. Losing the magic of Christmas vs. waving goodbye to a scientifically distinguished and financially charmed life that might involve me having a yatch? Even at 8, I totally had my priorities straight.
Milk: I’m lactose intolerant. I swear, it’s not an allergy, it’s an enzyme deficiency! So, partaking of just about anything in the dairy family makes me, well, let’s just say somewhat rumbly in my tumbly. In similar non-scientific experiments—a kind of high-stakes game of dairy roulette—I’ve discovered that milk and cheese are not too bad, in reasonable quantities. (That does not include a large calzone consumed mostly by oneself). Yogurt is absolutely fine—something about the good bacteria helping my stomach breakdown the lactose? Tragically, ice cream is pretty aggressive. Given the consequences, I’ll usually pass on spooning Kirkland brand vanilla straight from the carton in favor of a little Hunka-Chunka-PB-Fudge (yeah, that’s a real flavor).
And you can just forget about milk that has been frothed, blended, or otherwise aggravated. Cappuccinos and smoothies are a risk I am sometimes willing to take. But ordering a milkshake (ice cream and milk all whipped around and frothy) is just like throwing my head back and laughing in the face of certain danger. Ugh.
Spinach: I don’t know if this is a universal thing or not, but spinach makes my teeth feel like they’re covered in a thin layer of chalk. It’s not too bad eaten raw, but when it’s cooked it feels like someone is outfitting my teeth with little calcium sweaters. I recently spoke to a friend about this phenomenon, in was one of those extremely satisfying “you get this too?!?” conversations. So, I am beginning to think it’s not just me. (Phew!)
It’s a seriously unpleasant sensation, and I like a lot of other equally green and leafy vegetables better (broccoli raab, kale, swiss chard), so why do I keeping eating it? Before, the answer was simple, because Mom kept making it. But now, I think I am going to stop (ok, except for spanakopita).