I always wondered why certain people would choose to cut amazing food groups out of their diet. Vegetarians, vegans, the “I don’t have a gluten allergy but I go gluten free for the health benefits” crowd. I used to say often that if I was allergic to peanuts, I would lose my mind. I love food that is worthy of the highest critical praise and I love a greasy basket of fried nonsense from the state fair. Eating surrounds so many events in life and it’s best to go in with zero restrictions. Or at least it was.
In early August of 2015, I was diagnosed with severe lactose intolerance and a milk allergy. I can’t even eat something that “may have” come into contact with dairy without getting horribly sick and feeling miles south of the worst hangover I’ve ever had combined with what I imagine the human body feels like after falling off a cliff. Farewell pizza, cheese curds, most baked goods and alfredo sauce. Hello soy cheese and almond milk and butter made out of oil. Forget casually going to a restaurant and ordering whatever sounds good because half the time, there’s some milk product hiding away in the meal that keeps me from getting close to it. Hell, I washed dishes the other day that had sour cream on them and got a godawful rash on both of my arms. Things are very different for me now.
What I’ve noticed more than anything is that the world isn’t friendly to people with dietary restrictions. Order something without cheese and be prepared for people to look at you as if you have leprosy. It’s not fun being THAT person who has to turn down birthday cake at work or pizza parties with friends or Halloween candy because your body will reject it in all sorts of fun ways. It’s difficult to avoid allergens when it seems that virtually everything is processed in a factory that also processes food items with nuts and milk and gluten. I won’t even get started on how expensive it becomes to find things that are acceptable and safe.
At work, people look at me with sad faces when I turn down certain foods and give them an honest reason why. When I don’t feel like giving a reason, they look at me funny, as if I’m a freak of nature for declining an 8am doughnut. Dealing with this for the last month and a half has made me very confused about why there is barely any focus on dietary restrictions. I have to make separate shopping trips to get what I need because stores just don’t carry it. I don’t expect the world to cater to every individual need, but lactose intolerance is hardly a rare thing. Mine may be more serious than most, but it makes me wonder why such a large population of people are left without reasonable options. My goal is to find a way to get more options; I just need to find the starting line.