August 30, 2009

Allergies are for Wimps

Since the age of 13, milk has been the enemy. One glass of the stuff and I would buckle over in pain. Oddly enough, bi-products were okay. Cheese, ice-cream, yogurt and small amounts of cream were all fine. As of 8 months ago, my allergy became more aggressive and now a teaspoon of butter is like poison.

When I was living in Sydney, allergies in general (let alone one as common as lactose intolerance), were quite manageable. There are many options for people with my condition, and almost every cafe and restaurant serves an alternative. In essence, life without dairy wasn’t a big deal.

Now I’m in Egypt. Which means my allergy no longer exists. As my cousin so bluntly put it, “allergies are a figment of the imagination… if you believe you are allergic to milk then of course you will be.” Quite a nice theory if you are a Zen master and practice the art of ‘mind over matter.’ In one instance I was told “allergies are for wimps.”

I find these comments quite curious, given the fact that several members of my extended family suffer from the same condition, and yet insist that it is the “weather.” As a matter of fact, the symptoms suffered from food allergies are most commonly blamed on:

1. The Flu
2. Fatigue
3. Lack of health in general
4. Poor diet

Family outings have thus become a challenge, especially when food is involved (100% if outings in Egypt involve food in some way…) When I eat out, I always ask for a non-dairy option. I actually need to list every dairy item under the sun for the waiter and chef to comprehend the meaning of ‘milk product.’ I also need to state that any mistake will result in death. This of course is an exaggeration, but even then can you believe that mistakes are still made? Despite these precautions, I almost always still receive my order wrong. So for all my fellow lactose intolerantinos, here are some tips for surviving a milk-free life:

* Brown bread is milk-free. If you like white bread, always check the ingredients (there are brands that sell dairy free white bread) and if you are buying from a bakery, ‘balady’ and Lebanese bread are also usually milk-free.

* Goats cheese and goat’s milk seems to have little to no effect. Might be different on a case by case basis, so test it first before going crazy!

* Camels milk is rumoured to be a good alternative, although I haven’t brought myself to try it! Anyone who has tried it, please let me know the outcome.

* Many foods are cooked in butter, so make sure you ask the chef to cook it in vegetable or olive oil instead. Don’t rely on the waiter, they usually have no clue and like to make assumptions. Always ask to speak to the chef or at least tell the waiter that it is life-threatening so that he doesn’t forget to ask.

* Soy milk is available in specialty stores – stock up on this at home to ensure you get your calcium intake. Caution: soy milk does crazy things for your hormones, so drink in moderation.

* Take soy milk with you to coffee shops - they have no problem making your favourite latte with it.

* Coptic Egyptians fast during particular times of the year, abstaining from eating anything that was living or a bi-product of living animals. This includes milk and dairy. Thus there are stores which cater to this, from bakeries and sweet shops to mini markets.

* Finally, always give your relatives and friends the heads up when attending dinner parties and lunches. This usually has to be done before every visit, to avoid statements such as “I forgot” or “Do you still have that problem?”

And if nothing works, then just remember - "there's no point crying over spilt milk!"


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  2. You're so funnny!!! Are they still accusing you that it's all in your head!?

    Ahahhahaha... hamdolellah hamdolelllahhhhh, the whole family isn't lactose intolerance

    P.S. Just made chocolate brownies - involved lots of butter and some milk ... lucky I'm way over here in Sydney!! Just playing =P (But no joke I did just make them lol)

  3. How frustrating for you! Come back to Sydney, where life is easy for food-intolerant people of all kinds :D