Allergy versus Intolerance

As mentioned, I read an article recently that left me thinking about labels and how they help us communicate. In the article, the authors was very clear that she considers her issue with gluten to be an allergy. That’s fine — she knows her body best.

(This article has inspired two pieces from me as there were two key points I took away. Here’s the other one, where I discuss communicating with restaurant staff.)

In the article comments, there was a lot of interesting back and forth (yeah, I broke the “don’t read the comments” rule, but this is a topic that interests me!), but there was one comment that really took me by surprise. One person took great exception to the author’s labeling her gluten issue as an allergy.

The reason the commenter took exception? Because her child has serious allergies, and the commenter felt her child’s allergies were being trivialized by another person’s description of her issue as an allergy, which the commenter decided was really an intolerance. As a lifelong allergy sufferer, *I* took exception to this commenter!

Seriously, I’m allergic to just about everything except chocolate. My hay fever season is year-round, I can’t touch other peoples’ cats or dogs (or, heaven forbid!, birds), and I live in fear of being within five feet of poison oak. I will end up in the emergency room, looking like something out of a horror movie, within an hour.

Collectively, my allergies are not life-threatening, but they are a serious part of life. And for the woman who has an allergy to gluten, well, losing weight, constantly racing to the nearest bathroom, and generally being sick all the time? That’s pretty serious. If you’re reading this, chances are these symptoms are pretty familiar, and I doubt you think them trivial!

It doesn’t really matter if it’s an allergy or an intolerance when the result is a threat to your health, right?

I feel for the child who must be exceptionally careful about what he or she eats. It’s hard when you’re young, especially when you don’t fully understand the consequences of your actions. It’s even harder when all the kids are doing one thing, and you know you can’t, but you don’t fully understand why.

The science behind celiac versus gluten intolerances versus gluten or wheat allergies is still developing. I am convinced those of us with gluten issues all fall on a celiac spectrum, where, wheat allergies excepted, we are all celiac, with different manifestations of the disease.

There is no game revolving around “my allergies are more serious than yours”. Malnutrition may not be a fast process, but malnutrition is exceptionally serious. Just as the child with the serious food allergies has multiple tools available to stay healthy, anyone with gluten issues has one big tool available: avoid all gluten.

Sometimes that’s easier said that done, but it works.

Tip of the Week

While you cannot accommodate every person’s dietary restrictions when hosting an event, I strongly believe in the “do unto others” principle when it comes to my guests. This includes making sure there’s a vegetarian (or even vegan) option, a meat option, and even one or two dishes where I’ve dialed back the heat level for friends who can’t tolerate spices.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

Speaking of vegetarian meals, I’m enamored of shaksuka-style dishes these days. This Middle Eastern dish traditionally includes a spiced tomato-based sauce, lots of red pepper, and an egg. It can be a side dish or a meal — it’s a perfect breakfast dish! In Italy, eggs in purgatory are a variation of this dish.

Because I’m Californian, my palate is geared more toward Mexican flavors, particularly tangy tomatillos. I love cooking a bunch of greens in a tomatillo-sauce, then adding eggs. I’ve served this at parties and for brunch. Very satisfying.

Since bread isn’t an option, serve this dish with tortilla chips or corn tortillas.

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