TT: Food to Die For

ALAN: Last time you were telling me about your cat Gwydion’s food allergies. I sympathise with Gwydion because I have similar problems myself.

Alan’s Bane

My mother told me that when I was very young, just moving on to solid food, she had to stop feeding me eggs because every time she gave me a bit of egg I would throw it up.

Apparently, my not eating eggs worried my grandmother. “You must feed him eggs,” she would say. “They are good for him.”

“How can they be good for him?” asked my mother. “They don’t stay inside him long enough to do him any good.”

My grandmother was not convinced by this argument and she would occasionally try and sneak bits of egg into my diet when I wasn’t looking. I continued to throw them up, much to her displeasure. Apparently this was a terrible waste of eggs…

It’s been a lifelong affliction. To this day, if I eat an egg, I do a lot of vomiting.

JANE: How can you manage?  Eggs are an ingredient in so many things!

ALAN: It seems to be a concentration effect – the more dilute the egg, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to eat it safely. So I’m fine with pastry and cake and similar things. But feed me an egg au naturelle and I can’t stomach it. Even the smell of an egg being cooked makes me feel nauseous.

JANE: I bet you don’t eat breakfast out very often.  At least here in the U.S., the majority of breakfast offerings begin with some form of egg dish, with your choice of carbohydrates, heavily salted meats, and something sweet.

ALAN: It’s the same here in NZ, so you’d definitely win that bet! But Robin does like her eggs, so we do occasionally indulge ourselves. The restaurants always seem quite happy to feed me just toast and marmalade. But your comment reminds me of something I’ve always found very puzzling. In American books and movies characters order their eggs cooked “sunny side up” or “over easy”. I can guess what “sunny side up” means, but “over easy” remains very puzzling. Can you explain it for me?

JANE: That’s an egg that has been cooked in a skillet, then gently turned over.  There are refinements, but that’s the basic idea.

ALAN: Ah – I think I understand. But you used another unfamiliar word in your explanation. What’s a skillet?

JANE: A skillet is a shallow pan.  It’s also called a frying pan, but I didn’t want to use that term because some people say that an egg over easy should not be confused with a fried egg because, in a proper egg over easy, the whites remain white, not browned.  Partially browned whites are apparently the mark of a fried egg.

ALAN: OK – I’ve got it now. So let’s get back to my food allergies… I did eventually begin to wonder if my reaction to eggs might be more psychological than physical. But one day I had dramatic proof that it wasn’t psychological at all – it was quite real.

Rosemary, my first wife, cooked a meal of schnitzel which looked and smelled absolutely yummy. Unbeknown to me, she had bound the breadcrumbs to the meat with an egg/milk mixture. The food was delicious and I gobbled it up. I had no idea that it had ever been within a million miles of an egg. Nevertheless I spent the rest of the evening worshipping the porcelain god.

JANE: Oh, that’s rough.  So dilution isn’t always the answer, I guess.  I bet Rosemary felt horrible.

ALAN: She was terribly upset and apologetic, of course, but it wasn’t her fault. After all, there really was very little egg involved. But from that day on, whenever she cooked schnitzel, she bound the breadcrumbs with just milk. I think that her schnitzel recipe was probably right on the borderline of what my body could tolerate – the egg was diluted, but not quite diluted enough…

JANE: Are you allergic to any other foods?  I’ve noticed that people who are allergic to one food are often allergic to several.

ALAN: Yes – and again it first manifested itself in childhood. My parents were very fond of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate. And on special occasions they liked to treat themselves to that curious triangular Swiss chocolate called Toblerone, which also has nuts in it. Naturally they encouraged me to eat it as well. But every time I ate a piece, my tongue and throat would start to itch madly…

JANE: Uh, oh…

ALAN: My father was quite unsympathetic. “Scratch your tongue on your teeth,” he said. I tried that, but it didn’t help.

The itching seemed to get worse every time I ate anything with nuts in it. (I later learned that this is quite common with food allergies – the effect often increases with each exposure to the allergen.)

My worst attack came when I was in my mid-twenties. I was spending Christmas Day with some friends and they served a trifle which, unbeknown to me, had a lot of nut fragments in it. The familiar itching started and then, frighteningly, my throat swelled up and closed. I couldn’t swallow and I was struggling to breathe. So I spent the rest of that Christmas Day in hospital being injected with epinephrine.

JANE: That sounds horrible. Do you carry an epipen with you now?

ALAN: No, I don’t. Perhaps I should, but I find it very easy to avoid food that has nuts in it. I’ve had no real problems since that long-ago Christmas attack.

JANE:  So you’re allergic to tree nuts.  Are you allergic to peanuts as well?  Peanut allergies are becoming a major problem here in the U.S.

ALAN: I have no problems at all with peanuts. Since you are a gardener, you probably know that despite their name, peanuts are not nuts. They are classified as legumes, and I think they are very yummy. I just have to avoid the things that you described as “tree nuts”.  I’m perfectly fine with peanuts and cashew nuts and similar things.

JANE: I see. So as long as I promise not to cook you a nut omelet when you come for dinner, everything should work out well?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right.

JANE: That’s a relief!  Allergies are becoming so prevalent that I’ve heard people claim to be “allergic” on the slimmest of evidence, as if it’s somehow fashionable.    As for me, I’d be just as happy to do without.

ALAN (sneezing and reaching for the tissue box): Me, too!


9 Responses to “TT: Food to Die For”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I’m allergic to avocados. This, of course, makes me very sad since avocados are delicious. I’ve not met anyone else with the avocado problem.

  2. Dawn Says:

    My worst food allergy is any variety of melons. I loved them as a child. Especially cantaloupe. One summer day, I was 7ish, we were having a cookout with visiting family and I ate a piece of watermelon and I went to my Mom and told her my throat felt funny. She asked how and I closed my hand into a fist. She told me that I was probably allergic and not to eat them any more. So it clearly developed over time.
    In recent years, I had a game night in my apartment and friends brought a melon similar to honeydew and some banana bread. I asked that they be cut with different knives so there was no cross contamination. I thought that would be enough. It was not. Just the fact that is was cut in my home was enough to get in in the air and my allergies went into overdrive. Since then they are banned from any event I host.
    I also have had problems with cross contamination the the con suite at Bubonicon. with so many folks in there it can’t be helped. So I am very careful.

  3. James M. Six Says:

    I sympathize with people who have food allergies or other food related conditions. I really do. I know some folks like that. I would hate to have to live that way.


    …it has gotten so overboard at some F&SF conventions that the only snacks at the con suite are gluten free, nut free, dairy free, salt-free, sugar free, egg free … stuff … that resembles ordinary food but really isn’t. Instead of asking the few people with a specific hypersensitive allergy to stay out the room, or those with ordinary allergies to just not have the stuff they’re allergic to, those of us without food allergies have to NOT eat … or eat the uniformly-textured not-quite-real-food provided so as not to offend anyone. And that’s what it is: offense. People take offense if their food allergy is not respected (whether it’s a real allergy or not). It’s culinary-correctness gone mad. When did one person’s flaw, quirk or dietary limitation begin to trump the desire of hundreds of people without that limitation?

    (I’m going to a science fiction convention tomorrow. I don’t plan on visiting the con suite. It’s not worth the disappointment.)

    • Dawn Says:

      Wow! Con suites going to those extremes are absurd.
      For me I just try to eat things that are not likely to have cross contamination and make sure I have benadryl handy. Just in case.

  4. Paul Says:

    Sometimes when we go out for breakfast, I vary the eggs meal with oatmeal cereal or pancakes. Although, come to think of it, there may be eggs in the pancake mix.

    • Dawn Says:

      I went to one chain breakfast restaurant once with a friend who has multiple food allergies and we discovered that they put pancake mix into their omelettes and scrambled eggs to make them fluffier.

  5. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Well Allan I don’t have complete sympathy the allergy details of such a story but I surely have sympathy about parents being nervous and displeased at the same time with a frequent physical issue because many families don’t know solutions for Epilepsy. So even your grandma displeased about you not being able to eat pure eggs is similar to how many don’t want to eat low carb meal for safety of controlling Epilepsy issues, At least emotionally…….. My mom had no idea what to do but luckily Grandma did.

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