So you may have noticed that I have tossed around the phrase “food allergies” here and there on the good ol’ blog. As much as I’d love to call myself a true foodie (in some ways I think I am), I do have limitations when it comes to trying any dish that is placed in front of me. Chances are I’m the girl in the restaurant that will modify her order to her own personal liking while trying to maintain the original essence of the dish. But let’s start at the beginning.
I didn’t always have food allergies. At least, I didn’t think so. I ate relatively healthy as a kid, but would also enjoy the small bag of cheetos in my sack lunch from time to time. As I moved away from home and started college, I noticed my health was beginning to suffer as well.
Naturally, I assumed it was the college lifestyle – lack of sleep, lots of booze, and cafeteria-style food loaded with who knows what kind of preservatives. As I entered my senior year, I began eating “healthier” by making my own frozen lean cuisine meals at home and attempting to get a decent night’s sleep. But I began to notice that after most meals I was feeling ill – from sushi to pizza and even certain cereals. A dozen doctor visits later and they still couldn’t pinpoint what was going on. “It’s just stress” they would say.
Enter post-college life. Working a 9-5 (really 7) job that I didn’t enjoy, and decidedly feeling worse and worse after pretty much every meal that I ate. It wasn’t until I spent a night in agony after eating a slice of cornbread from Whole Foods that I knew something was up. My older brother has food allergies, so I figured I might as well get tested too.
Low and behold, I discovered that I was allergic to corn, soy, and walnuts. While this may not sound like the end of the world (and it’s not) it did force me to re-evaluate and examine my diet. You see, being allergic to corn and soy doesn’t just mean corn on the cob and soy sauce. It encompasses all derivatives of corn and soy which includes such items as high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, corn flour, soybean oil, soy protein, etc. etc. I found myself reading the back of cereal boxes and was shocked to find that they were loaded with some of the offending ingredients listed above. No wonder I felt so sick after my morning breakfast!
Needless to say, I wiped it all out of my diet and started with a clean slate. I began to navigate my way through the supermarket, reading the backs of boxes and containers to make sure no offending ingredients were listed. Gone were the days of frozen meals, it was up to me to cook my own stuff now (which wasn’t a bad thing).
Restaurants naturally became more of a minefield, and ordering a simple dinner usually resulted in a waiter running back to the kitchen to verify an ingredient with the chef. Annoying? Perhaps. But at least I’ve only had a small handful of allergic reactions from dining in restaurants.
So that brings me to today. And this blog. In a way, I do consider having food allergies to be a good thing. It forced me to not only eat healthier, but it has also increased my awareness of what really goes into our food. I try to shop as organically and locally as possible, and love discovering restaurants who pride themselves on preparing food with fresh and natural ingredients, not ones loaded with uncessary preservatives.
This is where the idea for the blog came in. Why not seek out restaurants that make their food from scratch and serve only the freshest items out there so everyone can enjoy? I give a restaurant top marks when I can sit down and order from their menu and NOT send the waiter back to ask what xyz ingredient is in a particular dish. I’m determined not only to find great eats, but to find eats that will accomodate ANYONE with special dietary needs. Just because you can’t wolf down a processed frozen pizza doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy good eats like everyone else right?
Ok, so that was a bit of a long post, but now you know a bit where I’m coming from and a bit more about my OC restaurant quest. And for all those allergy sufferers out there – you aren’t alone!