Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eating While Standing on My Head

A wrench has been thrown into my happy culinary game plan. My poor six-month-old son, who has been suffering from horrible eczema most of his very short life, just recently tested positive for a long list of allergies. Faced with the choice to either eliminate all of his food allergens from my diet in order to keep nursing, or putting him on soy formula, I opted for the former. So, I am now neck-deep in diet overhaul, eating while standing on my head. My son's allergies include: dairy, wheat, eggs, and cashews.

It's now been about a month since we learned of his allergies, so I've gotten used to the alternatives, a bit. I'm disheartened by the fact that his eczema, while considerably better, is still not clear, and he scratches himself to a bloody mess if I don't give him Zyrtec every day. These things lead me to believe that there are undiscovered allergies, so perhaps more testing will be in order soon.

Eliminating so much from my diet all at once did do a number on my digestive system, I admit. And unfortunately, since most of these foods are among the most common in any dish, finding substitutes often means eating things that I've generally regarded as un-foods - something developed in a lab, not grown on the land. So, perhaps it is the addition of these un-foods that negatively affected me, rather than the elimination of the real things.

Life without breads or pastries is much more unbearable than I thought it would be. Initially, I was sure that I would miss cheese the most, and I do miss it, but not nearly as much as wheat products. Every Saturday morning, I used to make pancakes, and I'm still stumbling through that one. So far, I've tried a few gluten-free mixes, but they're just dreadful. For bread replacement, I've been eating brown rice bread, which is cakey and sweet, nothing like whole wheat bread. I also sometimes eat 100% rye bread, which can't realistically be used for a sandwich, since it falls apart so easily, Nonetheless, it still tastes pretty good. And if you think eating Asian food is a good idea, think again! Soy sauce contains wheat, and many restaurants marinate foods in soy sauce, so you can't just ask them to leave it off.

To replace eggs, I've yet to settle into a routine. There is a powdered product (a definite un-food) that is called egg replacer, but it really doesn't resemble eggs in the least, and doesn't seem to perform well in baking. I've had more luck with simple oil, or even a banana for moisture and binding. Oddly enough, pan fried tofu is a pretty tasty alternative to scrambled eggs (but nothing can replace my Sunday morning over easy eggs).

For the dairy, I've given up on most of it. I can't understand why most veggie cheese actually still contains milk ... that's just baffling! The one variety of non-dairy "cheese" that I found tastes inedibe ... again, un-food. I do eat some soy yogurt, maybe once or twice a week, and that's just to have something to mix granola and fruit into for breakfast. Sometimes, I also eat wheat-free cereal, and for that and for some cooking applications, I've needed a milk replacement. On the recommendation of a friend, I tried hemp milk first, which was just short of unbearable. I know I don't like soy or rice milks from having tried them in the past, and frankly, I don't want to overexpose myself to either of those, since soy and rice replace almost everything else in my diet. One of the few nuts I have left to eat (between my son's cashew allergy and my daughter's peanut allergy) is almonds, and I've been eating them often, so I thought adding almond milk might also be overkill on that front. So, that left me with one more option: oat milk. Thankfully, I can stand the stuff. It's also fortunate that of all the milk replacers, it's one of the least expensive.

Speaking of expense, sheesh! All of these un-foods cost a fortune! This is going to take a serious toll on our budget! I've resolved to find ways to make a lot of very unfamiliar things myself to spare our bank account and my stomach exposure to so much unhealthy stuff. So, lots of these sorts of recipes are soon to come.

I'll leave you with this last bit of wisdom that I've learned over the last several weeks: My relationship with food has changed so much since I started eating unnatural things. I think about nutrients more than I care to, always worrying that the un-foods I'm consuming are not providing for me in the ways that their true counterparts did. That worry isn't unfounded ... my diet is no longer comprised entirely of actual food. I'm filling my stomach, but I'm not always doing so in my body's best interests. Such is the case for most Americans, who consume un-food unknowingly on a daily basis, and are not meeting their bodies' basic needs. For me, there has to be a better way.

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