An Ode to Food Allergies (and Julia Child)

I remember joking with a friend years ago, saying that I was looking forward to the day scientists invented a food-pill so I wouldn't have to waste time eating. “That’s so unromantic,” he said. But there was a to-do list to get through, a world to conquer — who had time for culinary romance?

A few years after that, a visit to the allergist made eating even more... complicated. I came home diagnosed with 10 food allergies. Dairy, eggs, beef, pork, soy, apples, strawberries. I was allergic to basically my entire grocery list.

When I got home from the allergist, I went through my pantry looking for something I could actually eat without consequence. By the time I was done, I was staring at bare cupboards as my stomach groaned. It was so overwhelming I started to cry.

Most pre-made foods had ingredients I was allergic to, so the harsh reality hit me: I needed to learn to cook. With the exception of simple stuff — like macaroni from a box or a pumpkin pie from a can — I’d never really prepared food. I was terrified.

So, I started following blogs dedicated to allergen-free cooking, flipping through cookbooks, browsing Pinterest. The recipes felt like they were in another language. My search history became a list of basic cooking questions: “What does it mean to mince something?” and “How much is a pinch?” I felt frustrated and embarrassed by my burned dinners and allergen-free substitutes that just didn’t work.

Then I stumbled upon Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France. It’s a collection of letters, many of them describing what it was like for her learning how to cook. Child’s approach to cooking was funny, real and inspiring for me. She wrote in one letter, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

I took her advice and slowly got more comfortable in the kitchen. Eventually, I tackled a cooking feat I never thought I'd master — roasting a chicken for the first time. But after the chicken was done, I scarfed it down in my usual hurry. “That was such a waste of time,” I said out loud. I’d spent all evening in the kitchen and I had nothing to show for it but a dirty plate.

Julia helped me on that point, too: her love of food extended beyond the kitchen. For her, eating was an experience. She didn’t spend hours in the kitchen just to have something to inhale distractedly while she worked. The food she made was something to savor. And if I was going to spend time making dinner, I figured I should probably enjoy it, too

I started eating slower, making time to appreciate what I’d cooked — even if I was just eating by myself. Eventually, I stopped multitasking while I ate. I made myself sit at the table and really taste my food.

Don't get me wrong: The allergies are still rough. But without them, I'd probably still be making boxed macaroni without an ounce of appreciation for my food. Sure, cooking can be time consuming — especially when you’re new to it and navigating food allergies. But slowing down my meals helped me realized what I was missing, and that's something I can savor every bite of the way.

August 24, 2018
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An Ode to Food Allergies (and Julia Child)