Monday, May 20, 2019

Aware

I caught in my Twitter feed the other day that the High Level Bridge was being lit up for Food Allergy Awareness Week. My eyebrows furrowed; there's a Food Allergy Awareness week? (Of course there is.)


I've become more aware of food allergies and sensitivities recently than I ever wanted to become. Something in my system short-circuited last year, and I now find myself allergic to gluten, dairy, egg, and soy. ...Plus a handful of intolerances on top of that.*

So when it comes to food these days, I'm aware of everything.

I'm not quite out of the woods yet in this journey, but I'd like to share a little bit of what I've learned with you. Let you into a bit of my reality. Because increased awareness of any cause or condition doesn't just come from lighting a bridge in pretty colours. It comes from the shared stories of the people who live the experience.

I am fortunate that my new "health condition" isn't debilitating or life-threatening. But it is chronic. And nevertheless life changing. My heart breathes a sigh of relief when I hold out my laundry list of allergies and am met with empathy.

May this shed light on how you might be that person to others as well.

So. Some thoughts on [my] food allergies in no particular order:


No, I can't cheat.

Allergies are an immune response. Every time I consume an allergen, it stresses out my immune system, thus putting my health at risk. Also, just because my allergies aren't life-threatening doesn't mean they don't make me uncomfortable. Stinging and watery eyes, congestion, heartburn, headaches, shortness of breath, lethargy... sure, that sounds like tons of fun; said no one, ever.

The intolerances are, in their own way, worse. With those, some foods don't get broken down like they should. Worst case scenario, molecules run the risk of passing through my intestines into my body and blood stream not fully metabolized--which could seriously damage my gut over time. Best case scenario is the molecules bypasses digestion and land in my colon, where they are glutted upon by my gut flora, causing uncomfortable bloating and/or socially embarrassing flatulence** for up to twelve hours.

So no, I'm not going to cheat.


No, there's no going back.

I've had people ask if I'm back to eating regular food yet. Here's the thing: I likely won't ever be going back to "regular" food. With the support of a registered dietician, I went through a rigorous elimination and reintroduction process.

But unlike so many eliminations these days, mine was not a fad cleanse.

It was a test.

Most foods passed the test. Several did not. And while allergies can disappear, my understanding is that it's more often the case with childhood allergies that people outgrow. Not sure how long it would take to "outgrow" allergies that start in one's late 30's, but I'm betting it's not anytime soon.


You're right, it is expensive.

I have heard the lament of those who are required to occasionally purchase allergen-free food for someone they know (I used to be one of those people). "Do you know how much it costs to buy the gluten-free kind?" Yes, yes I do. I pay nearly twice as much for 3/4 the amount of food than I did in my pre-allergy life. I also now shop at three different grocery stores, just to have the same variety in my food choices as those without allergies (no store seems to want to carry the same allergen-friendly brands as others; what is up with that?).

It takes extra money, time and energy, just do to the groceries. Consequently, if you are one of the people who have gone out of their way to buy or make me a Gina-friendly snack or meal, know that I absolutely love you.


Eating out sucks.

There is no clearer way to put it than that. For one, I now run the risk of coming across as "that person" with my litany of questions for the server, and the double-triple-checking I make them do. Turns out self-advocacy takes effort and courage--every single time.

In terms of actual eating, the only restaurants I have found--yet--where I can eat with 100% confidence is Freshii and Chopped Leaf, because I can make a custom salad.

But, you guys.

I am so. tired. of salad.

It seems to be all I can order in any mainstream restaurant. And even then, I generally need 2-3 ingredients removed or substituted. I am a salad connoisseur these days; not a title I ever anticipated having.


Travel is stressful.

Because of that eating out thing.

I am so grateful to live in a large urban area where I have at least half a chance at restaurants, as limited as my options may be. Cities also afford access to alternative-style restaurants that cater to diverse dietary requirements (I still have to modify whatever I order, but I feel less judged there. As well, staff at alternative restaurants seem to thrive on the challenge to make me a safe meal, rather than see it as a burden to have to modify the dish). However, when I travel, it generally involves passing through small towns where the definition of salad is iceberg lettuce with tomato and cucumber. That's not going to sustain me.

And even when I find a restaurant that is willing to accommodate, there is always just a hint of worry--what if they miss something? What if my symptoms are worse than before? It's one thing to experience symptoms and just go home; it's another to be out of province and feel crummy.

I'm a bit of a snack-hoarder these days when I travel; and yes, I do pack breakfast in my suitcase--one less meal to purchase is one less meal to stress about.


There was a grieving process.

It took me about four months to realize what I was feeling, but I've experienced legitimate grief in this whole process. I don't like cooking. While I would sometimes try making new dishes, I relied on a collection of easy go-to recipes, mixed in with the occasional convenience meal (e.g. frozen pizza). In addition to now having to make ev-er-y-thing from scratch, suddenly most of the recipes I'd curated over the last 15-20 years were not even an option.

I grieved the loss of this way of being; this routine; this familiarity.

Even more so, I grieved the loss of recipes that I not only enjoyed, but were associated with memories of being shared with others. I can't share those recipes again.

Unlike cooking, I quite enjoy baking. But still, I had to grieve the loss of recipes made for myself and others that could not be adapted, or did not adapt well when I tried (and oh, I tried). While I have started to find new and successful recipes for baked goods, my baking game is still not quite where it used to be. For many reasons, I am still searching for lost joy in this activity.

That being said...


You don't need to feel guilty about eating different food than me.

Okay, I can't actually tell you how to feel. But please know, I don't feel tempted or jealous, nor do I grieve, as you all eat your Hawaiian pizza with double cheese, and I enjoy herb chicken over rice. It's true, I know what I'm missing food-wise. But I also know what I'm missing symptom-wise. And while I'm still on the hunt for a few good alternatives to favourite dishes (like pizza), I am not lacking for good-tasting food overall. Especially as I can still have wine, and dark chocolate, and bacon...


I'm trying not to talk about it all the time.

Really.

I know it worms its way into the conversation every time food makes an appearance. I know it seemed like it was all that was on my mind at first. It was all that was on my mind at first.

It means a lot that you ask how I'm doing. I'm trying to get better at giving a meaningful but concise update; I'd like to get back to regular conversation around the table too. But for all the gains I've made in a year of trial, error, testing, adapting, changing, it still consumes a large portion of my thoughts and routines.

I don't need a bridge to remind me to be aware of food allergies; I'm never not aware.

I see others who've had adult-onset dietary conditions for much longer than myself, and they seem to engage relatively confidently with food. I know I'll get there. I so appreciate the patience and grace that is continually extended.

There is light at the end of this teal tunnel.

Maybe it's that pizza.


Spring Evening Skyline by Gina Blank on 500px.com








*The intolerances have been simmering for years; they just finally seem to have reached the tipping point.
**Like, I don't even want to be in the same room as me.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

Can You Afford to Have Children?

As someone who is intimately involved with the Early Learning and Child Care pilot project here in Alberta (aka "$25/day daycare"), I often follow related posts on Twitter, and I inevitably read some of the comments.

I am careful to pick who I engage with--choosing to respond to those who seem like they have legitimate questions, concerns, or thoughts. ...And occasionally the wildly ignorant person who needs a quick slap of education.

However, one refrain I see in response to tweets related to the topic of universal childcare runs along the lines of, "if you can't afford to raise children, then don't have them."

This statement irks me to no end, but 280 characters does not even scratch the surface to respond appropriately. I've learned that for some, "raise children" means not putting them into child care at all. These individuals don't seem to understand that child care is not just glorified babysitting; early learning and child care centres are rich learning environments, and educators deserve way more respect from society than they often get. ...But that is a different post, for a different time.

However, I think most are simply implying that parents who are raising children should include the cost of child care in their budget if both parents choose or are required to work.

If you are one of the misinformed (or ignorant) who have made such statements as outlined above, then this post is for you.

First, let me come clean and admit that I have been guilty of making such statements. I acknowledge that I was young and naive, though those are explanations--not excuses--for such narrow-minded thinking.

I soon landed on a career path that involves working closely with families, and my eyes were quickly opened to the nearly infinite definitions and functions of family. We are long past living in the world of "mom and dad and 2.5 kids." Perhaps that's why the statement irks me so much. In addition to lacking empathy, such a statement fails to understand the complexity of families and life in general.

"Parents who can't afford to raise children shouldn't have them," you say?


  • What about the family that decides they can afford to raise one child, then ends up with twins?
  • What about the family whose child is born with an unforeseen disability? (Hint: it is often more expensive to raise children with disabilities)
  • What about the family who thought they were done having children, then accidentally gets pregnant?
  • What about the young woman who gets raped, and instead of aborting, chooses to keep and raise the child?
  • What about the two-parent family who endures the death of a parent, and now lives off one income?
  • What about the family who is required to relocate for work, to an area where the cost of living is higher than expected?
  • What about the refugee family that had children in their home country before knowing they'd need to ask asylum out-of-continent?
  • What about the family who ends up dealing with a chronic illness and its associated medical bills?
  • What about the family who loses everything to fire or flood? (that never happens in Alberta)
  • What about the parent in a family who unexpectedly loses their job?


...I could go on.

Perhaps you're feeling defensive now, thinking, "but that's different--those are exceptions." No. They're not. Each one individually, maybe. However, many of those hypothetical situations are not rare, and collectively, they make up a sizeable amount of the families that live and grow in Alberta.

Some families are able to easily make the decision for one parent to stay home, or to have other family members help out with child care. If that's your family, and you have that luxury, go for it. I advocate for healthy families as much as I advocate for quality education.

However, for the parents that choose to, or are required to, put their children in child care, it should be quality and affordable--regardless of financial state.*

Knowing that life can change in an instant, can any family truly afford to raise a child outside of the present moment?

I'm not so sure.



*For further reading on why universal childcare might be beneficial to society, click here.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

SOTC 318/365

Curls (SOTC 318/365)

SOTC 317/365

Compliments to Dandy Lion Confections for letting me photograph their delightful desserts!

Macaron Rainbow Tower (SOTC 317/365)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

SOTC 316/365

It's been a long, cold winter. Finally risking coming out of hibernation like...

From Behind the Pink (SOTC 316/365)