It really is better:
Food allergies are time consuming, inconvenient, and expensive as hell, but you are getting a pretty sweet deal as far as your diet goes. Since being on this diet, I have eliminated almost all processed foods. That means a diet that is considerably lower in calories, fat, sodium, sugar, and a multitude of other harmful toxins and chemicals. It's also a diet that will significantly lower my risk of ever getting heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or from gaining excessive weight. Additionally, homemade food just tastes better. Even many of my recipes that end up being a disaster taste better than comparable foods off the shelves. After three years, I no longer crave things like candy, soda, or fast food. If it isn't made fresh and loaded with vegetables, I'm not interested in eating it. Even if I had the option to go back to eating the way I had before, I don't know that I would (at least I wouldn't for most of the time). I like the healthier lifestyle. It's something I can believe in and depend on for the long term, and there's no such thing as too much long-term security.
You gain a new appreciation for other diets and cultures:
Pre-food allergies, if you had told me to go vegan or paleo, I would have laughed in your face and told you to go to hell because there is no way I'm giving up cheese, ice cream, and bacon. Now, I'm going to be that person who suggests the new vegan place down the street, and I'm not taking no for an answer because a giant pile of vegetables sounds pretty good right about now, and no other restaurant in town is going to have a vegetable dish that compares. Many of my favorite foods in our new diet are vegan and paleo. If I wasn't contending with so many allergy and financial restrictions, I'd eat that way all the time.
I've also gained an appreciation for food from around the world. It seems that almost everything in the United States is either made with or cross contaminated with gluten, dairy, nuts, or some other allergen, not to mention corn. Our love affair with meals in a box has really created a difficult terrain for food allergy people to navigate. Trying out meals from around the world has been a wonderful experience, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It has actually been one of my favorite parts of this whole food allergy adventure. I've learned so much about other cultures and have gained an admiration for the effort that they put into making their food as opposed to just pouring it out of a box. Many countries outside of the U.S. also limit the amount of dairy and gluten in their food, which makes it really easy to fix for our food allergy needs as I don't have to modify the recipe nearly as much. The country of Yemen (random I know) actually makes some of the most amazing food I've ever tried (Here's the link if you don't believe me). I also love food from the Middle East in general, as well as Asian dishes (particularly stir fries), Ethiopian cuisine, and a few things from South America that I discovered (Tamarind Chicken anyone?). Many of these foods are things I never would have even considered trying had it not been for food allergies, and now that I have, I'm glad I did.
You acquire new, beneficial habits in other areas of your life:
What started as a quest to find allergy friendly foods has turned into a whole new lifestyle that I never would have even considered had it not been for food allergies. One thing that has come up continually as I research food and allergy alternatives is the impact that our food, and humans in general, have on the environment. Pre-food allergies, I hadn't given this much thought. I recycled when the option was available and ate organic when I could afford it, but I really had no vested interest in reducing my carbon footprint. I also hated exercise, didn't care much for thrift stores, thought gardening was a waste of time, and killed every plant left in my care.
It wasn't an immediate thing, but over time, I've made so many changes in my life that I can be proud of. I am happy to admit that I have become one of those obnoxious, hybrid driving, tree loving, hippies who brings her own bags to the grocery store, recycles almost everything, and advocates for the humane treatment of animals. I still don't have much of a green thumb (my poor artichoke plant has suffered several near deaths before it finally gave out), but I've gotten a lot of satisfaction out of helping my mom with the garden this year. I now love thrift stores and can't remember the last time I bought something new at the mall. Why buy new when you can buy used for a fraction of the cost and help the environment too? I get so much satisfaction out of telling people I paid $7 for my pair of designer jeans at a thrift store. It's even better when the person asking about it is someone who wouldn't be caught dead wearing used clothing (the look on their face really is priceless). I also love my hybrid. I got it just by happenstance when it showed up on the dealership lot for a really good price, but I wouldn't trade back for anything. It makes me so happy to know that I'm helping to reduce oil consumption and contributing to cleaner air in the Salt Lake Valley (something we desperately need). I've even put in a very minimal effort to exercise more. Let's just say we can add it to my future life and health goals.
You find really creative ways to eat the foods that you CAN have:
Pre-food allergies, I really didn't much care for beans or nuts. Sure I liked the occasional bowl of chili or peanut butter sandwich, but I didn't eat those things on a regular basis. Anyone who has ever been on the WIC program will tell you how tiring it gets eating beans, and how they just pile up in your pantry because they aren't anyone's favorite food. When you suddenly find yourself unable to eat any grains, beans and nuts become the alternatives. Although in my case, it was mostly beans because nuts can get expensive. I went from wondering what the crap I was going to do with all the beans WIC was giving me to buying several pounds of them at a time in bulk. If I had space in my kitchen for a 25 pound bag of beans, I might just consider buying one for each kind of bean and lentil that we use. Veggie burgers, soups, socca, tacos, baked goods, and dips are just a few of the things I use beans or bean flour in on a regular basis. We also eat them on baked sweet potatoes with salsa and guacamole. I've used them to make pizza sauce, and my favorite brand of pasta mixes beans and quinoa together to make a surprisingly tasty noodle that goes good with just about anything. I eat beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I never grow tired of them because the ways in which to prepare them are endless. Over the years I've also discovered that I can make pretty descent cheese out of nuts, ketchup out of beets, cream cheese out of coconut butter, and pudding out of avocados (Thank you pinterest). I've even used plantain chips as a breading for chicken (It's even better than KFC). While many of these foods will never quite replace the originals, I have found that most of them are actually quite satisfying, and that regardless of what your food restrictions are, you will always be able to make something interesting out of what you do have while everyone else is eating the same old stuff because they've never been forced to think outside of the box.
There are fun activities just for people with food allergies:
Ok, so anyone can participate in the activities, but they were created with food allergies in mind. Here in Salt Lake, the local food allergy awareness group does an annual food free trick-or-treat and Easter egg hunt. They also do several fun fundraisers to help raise awareness and provide outreach programs to the food allergy community. Additionally, there are many online groups that you can join to get support and make friends with people who are going through similar struggles. Many of these people know more than I do about allergies and have been immensely helpful in providing information, recipe ideas, or just someone to vent to when the going gets rough. It's also reassuring to know that you aren't the only one who is facing this challenge, and that there are other people out there advocating for safe, sustainable food practices that will benefit everyone, not just those with allergies.
You find out who your friends are:
Food allergies are notorious for tearing families and friendships apart. Unfortunately, you will always have that one person shoving your allergy in your face, telling you that it's all in your head, and that a little bit won't hurt you. They are completely ignorant of the fact that just a little bit could make you very sick or even kill you. However, I would like to think that the opposite is also true. While many people will turn away and refuse to even entertain the idea of food allergies, there are also a great many people who will go out of their way to help you out. Even if they fail miserably, the fact that they were at least willing to put in the effort to accommodate your needs is worth gold. And while some people may cease to be a part of your life, you will create new relationships with people who truly care and will be there for you through the good times, and more importantly, the hard times too. These are the people you need to have in your life. Nothing says, "I love you" quite like someone who is willing to take on the inconvenience of walking through the food allergy fire with you, even when they don't have to. I never would have survived food allergies had it not been for those people. My life is truly better for it.