40 Days with Food Allergies

I wasn’t going to share my Lenten observance publicly. Most years, it has been something that was work, requiring some change in my life, but admittedly, seldom gave much food for thought.

This year was different and gave me a new perspective on something that I thought I understood already. My Lenten practice this year was to eat as if I had the same food allergies as Olivia, my eldest, who is allergic to animal milk, eggs, most tree nuts, and peanuts. I didn’t think the practice would be that hard. She’s in second grade. We’ve been dealing with this for a while now. It was amazing how eye-opening this experience has been. I did horrible at it too. If I was actually allergic to these foods, I would be dead right now. First, we made an early concession. She eats a lot of grains for breakfast (cereal, toast, etc), which are a recipe for me to double my weight in a week, so it was acceptable for me to eat eggs for breakfast. Then another concession: I’m not in charge of food for the house and Olivia isn’t home for lunch during the school week. Vanessa wasn’t keen and I wasn’t apt to push her to make sure lunches were Olivia-friendly. Huh, this is already harder than I thought it would be. Dining out was interesting. With O, we would generally tell her what singular option she could eat, since often there is only one or two, and that’s her meal. I never realized, at least coming from the perspective of having the menu before me, how limiting that really is. Don’t feel like the chicken? Too bad. Don’t like that entrée? Tough, unless you’d rather not eat. Or, if there were other options, they were smaller items that left me hungry. All in all, I didn’t faithfully follow it. I cheated all the time. Not because I wanted to cheat—I didn’t sneak food one night because I was craving it—but it is so hard to live with food allergies. Did I want to be that guy that grilled the wait staff about what was in each menu item? When I asked someone if it had dairy and they replied “Eh, I don’t think so”, do I push them on it? I do it for my kid, but we also naturally gravitate to the places we know are safe for the family now. It is one thing to show up somewhere and realize the only thing your kid can eat is the fruit salad and toast when they’re two. It’s harder to get away with that when they’re seven. Before going some place new, we need to check out their menu online, verify if they have allergen information on it (or at least see if their menu even suggests something might meet her needs), then call ahead to verify. I realized in a fresh and new way how mindful she has to be of food constantly. I vented a bit about it on my daddyblog. To follow this Lenten practice, it wasn’t just keeping sweets out of the house or not buying soda at the store or something relatively isolated. To fully follow it, I would have to transform how I think about food and expand how often I think about it. It radically changed how I think about Olivia and food allergies—this is after growing up in a home with a mom allergic to tomatoes and being co-responsible for Olivia’s food for seven years. I truly thought I understood better. As the sunsets on Good Friday and Lent 2017, while I’m very eager to eat without thinking about milk, eggs, or nuts, it is going to be a long time until I stop hearing this new voice

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