Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food Allergies in Novels

by Kelley Lindberg

I just finished reading Her Fearful Symmetry, the new novel from Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

In the course of the book, one of the sisters ends up having to go to the hospital. The admitting nurse asks the healthy sister the usual admitting questions about her sick sister, including: “Allergies?”

The healthy sister answers, “Tetracycline, mould, soy.”

Now I realize 92% of the people who read that line won’t even give it a moment’s consideration. But when I read it, guess what I thought to myself?

I thought, “Soy? She’s allergic to soy? Why that’s in everything. Why hasn’t she had to deal with this allergy in this story? She’s just moved to London from the United States, so she’s faced with finding new grocery stores, new restaurants, new products that will be safe for her…This is HUGE!”

Yeah, I got a little sidetracked from the story. I love that the author threw in a food allergy, making her character topical and typical, since food allergies affect so many people now. But of all the food allergies she could have chosen, it seems to me that only wheat/gluten would have been harder to deal with on a day-to-day basis than soy, since soy products appear to be in even more products than milk.

To those of us who deal with food allergies, a food allergy to soy (or milk or wheat or nuts or anything else) becomes a rather significant part of our grocery shopping, dining out, and cooking. So to see it treated so casually by fictional characters is a little jarring. It’s as if the character said, “And oh, by the way, she’s missing a leg or two.” What? Missing a leg? Well then how does she get up and down all those stairs to her flat in London? Does she have a prosthetic? Crutches? A wheelchair? How does she hop on the Tube and get lost in the crowd so quickly? Does her new boyfriend have a problem with this? And what about….

Yep, you’re right. I’m over-reacting again. Normal people would have just read that line and moved on, enjoying the story. And I have to remind myself that the longer we live with our food allergies, the easier it gets, and the less we let it affect our lives.

So apparently the soy-allergic sister just went through all of the adjustments of dealing with food allergies in a new country off the pages, and she quickly became familiar with her new routines, and I don’t need to worry about her.

But I still wanted to tell her new boyfriend to check the ingredients label on the bread when he made her toast. You can never be too careful, you know, even if you’re fictional.

1 comment:

juliea said...

I love it! That is so true!