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Feeding The Canary

I haven’t written much about Searyl’s allergies, but yesterday we had a day out that reminded me that it was something I had been meaning to do. They are almost 11 months old now, and as kids are apt to do, they have been challenging me in some of the ways I perhaps most needed and was most resistant to. I have gotten angsty about specific diets, living in a place that has a culture of endemic orthorexia, I start to twitch a little at the mention of a potluck. I also have allergies, I suffer from oral allergy syndrome, which means I have a mild anaphylactic reaction to such seemingly benign foods as raw apples, carrots and beets. Navigating the complexity of allergies, food sensitivities and diet trends had previously pushed me further toward the capitalism supported silo of rugged individualism. On one hand my politics of cooperation, interdependence and food security would lend to me be all about potlucks, but the specifics of sharing food over my and others dietary restraints and preferences led to me eating alone and/or deferring food planning to others.


When Sea was really small, before they started being introduced to solid foods, they had this rash. It was mysterious. Chinese medicine insight said it was their liver or kidneys responding to influences their body understood as toxic. We started with laundry and bath time routines adjusted to be as hypoallergenic and non-reactive as possible, we deep cleaned the house to cut back dust, mold and chemical residue possibilities, and eventually came my diet. I took a week off of dairy and didn’t notice an immediate difference. They were still reacting to something, and I didn’t want to believe that my consumption of cream in my coffee or ice cream during a summer heat wave could be the crux of the problem.  Then the time came where they wanted to start trying solid foods.

Once they neared their 6 months birthday the idea of letting them have a lick here and there of the things I was eating or preparing seemed like a good way to familiarize them to the flavour pallet of our life. They were so excited about food that they would lunge their whole tiny little squish of a body toward things I was eating if they were in my arms. After a couple weeks of taste tests of things, they started having serious reactions. The first 2 were while we were visiting family in the city. Swollen rash, snot fountain, projectile vomiting; very clear response. The third time, when we were back home again, a single bite of the eggs we had just gathered from our hen house here on the land- we were in the car to the emergency room. We were given a series of treatment options, oral benadryl, topical benedryl and an EpiPen jr. We got in to have allergy testing from a allopathic pediatrician. She was only able to do a small panel on the miniscule section of clear skin on their back. But that panel was able to confirm that they are (or were at the time of testing at least), allergic to eggs (whites and yolks), wheat, peanuts and milk protein. In fact the dairy response was notable, she said the strongest she’d ever seen, and it stayed inflamed for a couple hours after leaving her office. That was the last push I needed. I completely cut all dairy from my diet immediately and within 2 weeks their skin was clearer than it had been in months.

I started being able to put them to bed without socks on their hands. They started being able to relax into sleep without being swaddled. They started being able to use their hands and attention for things other than scratching. Short sleeves, which had been a pretty much unexplored wardrobe option, became an option.

I was straddled with a set of responses, dialectic, multiple truths. I am relieved to know that there is a solution that seems effective. I feel a guilt that I had been resistant to this solution and know that a uncomfortable couple of months could’ve been avoided if I’d made a sacrifice earlier. I have a sadness about the potential of a coming childhood that doesn’t include ice cream cones or grilled cheese or mac and cheese; so much of what I have held as comfort foods almost all feature dairy as a central tenant. I worry about our ability to travel in the future, knowing that catering to complicated allergies is easier in some places than others. I hope without hoping too hard that they might grow out of these challenges. I wonder about the tech developments that may come in future years.

I believe that there are additional benefits to them still feeding at my chest, even if there are milk proteins in my milk that still cause a low-level reaction, breastfeeding advocates like the LLL could give you a nice long list of some of those perks that I am choosing. But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered weaning so I could safely have cheese without hurting my kid. These are the questions every parent will roll with in their own way: to feed at the chest? ever? for how long? by who beyond the gestational parent? in addition to? formula? which variety? organic? local? and so on and so forth for a seeming eternity?

Our solid food introduction process was guided by sometimes conflicting recommendations of doctors. Eliminate contact with known allergens, slow and observed introduction of potential allergens, meds on hand at all times. This was easier in our own home, but of course gets more complicated, as anyone with allergies or allergic kids know, as soon as you step out into the world. Watching a kid who is crawling around and prone to sticking most everything in their mouth while hoping that they are just chewing sticks or leaves at the beach and not pieces of their friends picnic lunches is a bit of a brain twist. And, of course, for my own limited consumption and theirs, getting into the practice of reading the labels on everything. The amount of foods that you wouldn’t expect have dairy in them, which do, potato chips, gluten free crackers, the seafood in the burrito at the local taco shop, surprised me even though it shouldn’t have. Before I came to this level of things, I was that guy who would cook everything in butter or bacon fat from the pigs I raised, and when ever the option to add cream to a sauce or drown something in cheese, well, I would. My favourite recipes are vegetable dishes with at least 3 dairy products in them. I shouldn’t be surprised by unexpected dairy, it used to be somewhat of a signature move for me.

So these days I comb menus for menu items that claim to be vegan and gluten free, knowing that those criteria will hit most of the big issues. Restaurants of course, as every person with serious allergies has been saying for years, can’t be trusted to list all the ingredients on their menu, or ensure no cross contamination behind the window. But sometimes I think I have  gotten lucky, and I think I’ve found something safe at some place that seems to take these things seriously. And then mid way through the meal the kid starts fussing. At first I think that they are just over tired, so I pack the rest of the food and hit the road. As we are driving off I take a quick glance over my shoulder to see them scratching their face. They are bright red and they are not fussing towards sleep, they are in pain. So I stop, give them a round of Benadryl and sit at a park watching to observe if the reaction worsens. I pop into the community center and strip them down. I rinse their whole body off in the shower. I throw all of their clothes into my bag and start them fresh in a new outfit. We hang out a bit longer, finding a chill while pretending to drive. We try driving again. They can’t quite get past the itch to sleep. I debate going to the hospital in the next town. I give them the rest of a full baby dose of Benadryl and take them home. They sleep. I check back to them every few minutes, watching their skin return to it’s new normal tone. I make sure they aren’t having trouble breathing, running through the anaphalaxis criteria through my head. When they wake, they are clear skinned, clearly breathing and appropriately out-of-it to be coming off Benadryl.  The whole scenario only lasts a few hours, but worrying about the life and well being of my baby child makes time stretch. On the other side they are playful and snuggly and I hold them that much tighter, with a regained gratitude.

More and more people are having difficulty with the food coming out of our food system. Whether it be increased allergies and sensitivities, irritable bowels, diabetes, or even just the mental health/spiritual complications that stem from a ethically corrupt food stock. Searyl’s allergies really force our family towards a strict menu. But rather than feeling deprived about it, we’ve been working to see it as overall pushing us to what we all need. Most processed foods won’t make the cut, so we are eating mostly fresh local meat, vegetables, whole grains. Simple and trackable as much as possible. We hope that their adventuresome desire to taste the world doesn’t lead them into danger. The growing toxicity within our food structure has acute and present realness. I’m working on learning to be gentle with myself and those around me, finding ways we can all get fed.

I’ve felt for many years that a significant project we must address as a society is healing our food. But now, with an allergic kid, the growing toxicity within our food structure has an acute and present realness.

For the sake of our species and this planet that we need; for the possible future that we hope exists for us together. We have big healing work to do.

Healing the land we grow food in. Healing our relationship with those who produce it for us. Healing the scars of exploitation. Healing the poisoning of watersheds from excessive pesticide use.  Healing the questions “Where does food come from? What is ethical food? What will eat when the trucks stop coming?”. Having a kid who is so dramatically affected by food forces my consideration even deeper. What are the costs we will pay as a species for the rifts we have been a part of and perpetuated between us and our food?

And of course,

What can we do to get in right relationship with what we eat?


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