A question I have pondered recently: are my deadly food allergies (peanuts) really a blessing in disguise?
My first thought, it has given me strength to be different. Standing out, not participating with the group, is regularly required for my survival. A common experience, as long as I can remember is being in a room, usually a cafeteria, full of people eating peanut butter infused food. Peanut butter rice crispy bars were a frequent treat at Santaquin Elementary School. Something I have just realized, these foods that I was unable to eat were considered a treat by most everyone else. I can only imagine my avoidance of the food was even more strange to other people. “Why in the world would I avoid eating a treat?”, they were probably thinking. Getting strange looks and harassment was common.
Living with a life threatening allergy has also increased my ability for attention to technical details. From a young age I needed to ask for food ingredients and how the food was prepared. This is something I took for granted. Until recently I didn’t realize that this was a strange thing to do. From my perspective it is and has always been perfectly reasonable. Like looking both ways when crossing the street. Both cars and peanuts are deadly to me. Avoiding getting hit by a car is common among people, but a deadly food allergy is not. Looking back, I can see that I did realize this on an unconscious level. I learned to avoid asking what was in all food, sure it is risky, but I learned to categorize food. Thinking about the categories, they are: high probability of being safe, probably safe, risky, and high risk foods. The foods with a high probability of being safe, like fresh fruit, or other food where the ingredients are clear, I didn’t need to ask about their ingredients or how they were prepared. Other foods, like anything with chocolate, are high risk for peanuts and peanut butter, those I would ask or just avoid, not being worth the risk. People’s methods of food preparation are also risky, like using the same knife to spread both the jam and the peanut butter on a PB&J sandwich. If I don’t know that a jar of jam hasn’t been contaminated, I don’t even risk eating the jam.
I have discovered that paying attention to details and being OK with looking strange in a group setting, both are useful for eating healthy!
I’ve started eating a wider variety of healthy food the last few years. I’ve never wanted to try Panda Express but my wife enjoys their food, so I thought I’d give it a try. I went into the restaurant and saw how they dished up the food, there is the possibility of them using the same spoon to dish up the peanut food with the non peanut food. Seeing that I decided not to risk eating there. I used to love milk shakes, but peanut butter ingredients are regularly mixed on the same mixer and I have been exposed a few too many times. I now avoid ordering milkshakes (it helps that milk now also gives me congestion and stomach issues…).
Realizing that I was used to this (apparent) strange life of being picky and inquisitive about what I eat, I decided to use it to my advantage and eat more healthily. I currently choose to eat whole grains and avoid sugar based foods. Sure it’s a little awkward turning away cookies, donuts, pie, cake, and candy at social gatherings; but, for me it’s not that weird, I’ve always turned down peanut butter cookies, rice crispy treats, snickers, butter finger, peanut butter sandwiches, and many other foods mixed with peanuts!
Perhaps peanuts will be the death of me someday, but hopefully heart disease and diabetes will not! So it seems, I can look at this allergy and challenge in my life as a blessing and not a curse.
How about you? Any challenges that you could say “why me?” – that seem to have no benefit to your life? Could they really be a blessing?