Day to day, I’ve found that my food allergies have become tolerable. Not enjoyable, not something I’d choose, but something I have learned to work around and to tolerate. I cook at home, I deal with the challenges, I have several restaurants I trust, I surround myself with people I trust, and I work to widen my circle of trusted foods and restaurants as I feel comfortable. This tolerance is thoroughly tested when I travel.
I swing the car door shut with a “clunk,” turn on the ignition and go through the checklist with my co-passenger, A, as we turn from our familiar streets and onto the highway. Clothes, swimsuits, flip flops, library books, sunscreen… check. Snacks… check. Homemade wraps for the nervous, food-allergic driver… check. We are ready for vacation and a half hour into the drive by the time we’ve finished going over everything.
An hour into the drive, we start hitting billboards. Now, I have become immune (mostly) to the smells of the restaurants in my neighborhood and the television commercials for the latest greatest food trend. When the commercials involve jalapenos or other hot peppers (some of my main allergens), I feel relieved that I don’t even have to think about eating there – and make a mental note to avoid that restaurant until the spicy trend has left its doors. When they involve the juicy burgers and bacon I love, I change the channel, or, thank you DVR, hit the fast forward button.
When I leave the comfort of my bubble, though, I’m hit from all angles with foods I cannot have. I’m assaulted from the billboards of the highway every five miles, and they always seem to pop up when I’m at my weakest. I don’t travel all that often, so I am not calloused or prepared when my stomach grumbles and a giant sign with a breakfast sandwich or spicy curly fries appears in the convenient periphery of the highway.
By the time we’ve reached our destination, I’m exhausted and irritable. “No, I don’t mind you getting a hot sandwich while I eat my homemade wrap” turns into “I just want to be able to EAT NORMALLY.” My graces and my defenses weakened and my own kitchen far away, I – and anyone near me – begin to suffer the consequences of grouchitis (an unfortunate state of grouchiness).
On the most recent long trip, this billboard-assault was followed by a trip to the local vacation grocery store, where I discovered an old favorite food now contains paprika, a lurking allergen. Not exactly how I wanted to start off vacation.
With many problems, awareness of the problem itself can be the first step to dealing with the problem. Let’s hope awareness of the impending grouch may be my key to beginning to handle said grouch…