Monday, July 28, 2008

It's a War Out There

Most of us grow up thinking of food as a good thing. It’s healthy, tasty, comforting, expected, needed, depended on, craved, enjoyed, shared, loved. We never expect it to turn on us. But then, in the blink of an eye – or the pop of a hive, or the wheeze of a constricted airway – a once-benign food betrays us and we’re left reeling from the shock.

No longer our friendly companion, that food has suddenly become “the enemy.” We begin to see that, like any enemy, that food has infiltrated all corners of our lives. It lurks in every snack, every meal, every social gathering. Its insidious influence invades our schools, our entertainment, our church, our homes. We can no longer trust that our world is protected. This bad food has infiltrators – okay, so most people call them allergens – in every aspect of our lives, and we no longer feel safe. Our innocence disappears faster than a tax refund.

Discovering my son’s peanut and tree nut allergy was just this sort of betrayal. As for myself, my three favorite vices are potato chips, margaritas, and a good cup of coffee. Discovering that I have diabetes put a big dent in the first two, and an irregular heartbeat has just put the kibosh on the third one. Granted, all three were vices I’m probably better living without, but still, they were MY vices, I was kind of fond of them, and as vices go they certainly could have been worse. Why couldn’t I have suddenly developed an allergic reaction to, say, cleaning toilets or a health condition that could only be cured by moving to a tropical paradise? No such luck.

It takes a long time to build up our defenses after they’ve been breached by a double-crossing food. We have to teach ourselves new ways to cook. We must retrain our families to live without foods they’ve trusted all their lives. We put our allergic kids through food training boot-camp, trying to convince them that they have to give up foods they used to love, so that they can once again be safe. We build an arsenal of new recipes and EpiPens.

It often feels like a silent war we’re waging. From the outside, perhaps we look fairly normal and in control of our lives. But within the borders of our hearts, we know the battles we’re waging and the victories we count (and the losses we try not to).

With time, patience, and determination, each of us eventually reduces our all-out war to a peaceful truce – where we secure a safe home and some trusted allies in the form of friends, family, and schools. We still might find ourselves with the occasional border skirmish on our hands, but over all, we come to understand the enemy, find ways to limit its affect on us, and build healthier lives without it.

And while we must always remain on guard against our new food enemy, eventually we make our worlds secure enough that once again we can turn our attention to the more fulfilling parts of our lives, like enjoying a soccer game without fuming over the post-game snacks, or watching a great movie without mindlessly downing a giant tub of popcorn, or enjoying all the fun of a birthday party without pining for a slice of refined-sugar, fat-laden, cardboard-tasting birthday cake.

In short, we get to “make life, not war.”

This week is my blog’s anniversary. I started writing this weekly blog one year ago, and it’s been an eye-opening, fulfilling year. I’ve learned a lot about food allergies, and shared a lot with all of you who read this each week. Thanks!

Here’s to another year in the trenches with you.

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