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Please pass the soy margarine and lactose-free gravy….

November 24th, 2003 · No Comments

I appreciated this article in Sunday’s Seattle Times Abundance reconsidered describing celiac disease as well as food allergies, intolerance and special diets. Writer William Dietrich asks questions:

“Why, after a 20th century that saw the average American lifespan lengthen by more than 25 years, does there seem to be a precipitous rise in allergies such as asthma (which has doubled in Great Britain in just 20 years) or autoimmune diseases like celiac? ”

and he comes up with an array of answers.

He describes what it has been like for his family and for other families, after being diagnosed with celiac disease.

I could relate to his family’s recent change of diet and lifestyle. Ted was just discovering his lactose intolerance when I first got to know him, fourteen years ago. In fact, we got together twice for ice cream in those early days of our friendship, once even independently selecting the same two flavors to enjoy (grape nut and banana orange, I think they were, at Toscanini’s) I don’t think Ted would touch ice cream – or even Tofutti – with a ten foot pole now. He’s lost his interest even in the lactose-free alternatives. Creamy foods and textures are foreign to our family. Alfredo sauces, cream of mushroom casserole, cheese souffle, milkshakes and macaroni with cheese are not served in our home (unless Ted is away !).

Dietrich writes: “Those affected live in a world of inadequate food labeling, indifferent grocery stores and uninformed restaurant owners.”

Between Ted’s lactose-intolerance and the effect MSG has on me I learned to read labels – and we eat little processed food. There are only certain brands of soup I buy, certain kinds of potato chips. It’s been difficult at times living in a lactose world.

Whenever we go to a restaurant, we scrutinize the menu. I play Food Police, often asking questions or being suspicious of entrees that are not completely described. “Is there milk in that?” I wish menus had more details and specifics. Sometimes though even the servers aren’t aware of all the ingredients, or garnishes. Sometimes we’ve had to ask servers to take back a dish that had cheese sprinkled on the top of it, a surprise topping that wasn’t in the description. I remember at least one restaurant where we had to cancel Ted’s order, after realizing it came with a cream sauce: I think they got upset at us. At potlucks I play Police as well, advising Ted to steer away from certain dishes, although he is pretty good now at recognizing dairy himself.

“Such a transition is difficult, however. The flours are more expensive, and most convenience foods are off-limits, meaning more time has to be spent cooking. It becomes more awkward to entertain, to eat at someone else’s house, or dine out. ”

Eating at someone else’s house can be an adventure. When we are invited, I try to politely mention that Ted can’t have dairy products. But once in a while we forget to mention it, or the hosts forget Ted’s dietary needs. Once, years ago, we were served lasagna by friends who did not know about Ted’s condition: we had forgotten to tell them. My husband, being polite, ate a piece. Our friends, seeing that Ted had eaten his piece, offered him another one. The next thing I remember about that night is how Ted sped home at 80 miles an hour, feeling quite ill….Since that time, we’ve tried to make sure we mention Ted’s lactose intolerance. We try to ask questions “is that made with milk?” trying to be trusting and polite but also cautious at the same time…

“My wife, who is a great cook, essentially had to start over. Wheat-substitute recipes are so varied in taste that finding what you like is a matter of trial and error. Alternate flours don’t rise like wheat. Temperatures are different. Baking pans are different. Rice and corn grow in importance. Pasta substitutes exist, but each brand is different.”

Unlike his wife, I did not try to do any alternative recipes. Maybe once in a while I’ll make frosting with soy milk. But instead, we cook more Chinese cuisine, keeping to our family heritage, or meat and potatoes style meals. Ted’s lost his taste for dairy so I don’t bother, although I know other friends who like soy sour cream and other soy goodies. In a sense, though, for me, marrying Ted and cooking for him was like starting over: I had to learn new recipes and meals. Making the adjustment to living without lactose – along with all the other adjustments of newlywed life 🙂 – was difficult for me. I grew up eating generic American cuisine: pizza, macaroni with cheese, grilled cheese, lots of dairy, and I liked that familiar diet. A good cookbook or two has helped!

“Besides, just as people learn to live without tobacco, alcohol or caffeine, life goes on without milk or sugar or gluten. Most find a suite of recipes that work, and the Thanksgiving my wife will host Thursday would fool even a Pilgrim.”

Life does go on without milk. In fact, lactose tolerant people are a minority in the world. The ability to digest cow’s milk after childhood is Northern European trait. Millions of people around the world live happily without milk in their meals. And so do we.

Although I have to say the girls and I eat yogurt for breakfast (Ted has scones), cheese sandwiches for lunch (Ted has ham) and milk to drink. When we were first married, I ate the diet Ted did, but then my nails started to crack and weaken. Once I tried to add more dairy to my own diet, they got stronger.

And at the holidays this year, I might be tempted to have a slice of pumpkin pie with whip cream. I think my sister might be making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I’ll make an apple cobbler for Ted. Yea, Apple , that seems appropriate for him :).

Tags: food