Boundaries needed for travel ~ Nuts to that!
“Seriously, Xan, you can’t eat at Subway,” my friend said.
I was driving through the Mojave at 2pm, reaching for ways to distract myself from the alarming 120 degrees glaring in the driver’s dash. With the AC blasting, I alternated between listening to Gabrielle Bernstein’s spirit junky lectures, and calling friends. Hoopla sat on the center console leaning up against me for balance, and forward into the cool vent air.
“What would you recommend?” I asked, as another kind of heat rose in me.
“Japanese?” he offered.
“You know I’m allergic to shellfish too?”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.”
I have had the allergies conversation so many times. I have had the thyroid disorder and body weight conversation many times. But I am always surprised when people aim to offer me advice on a diet that is already so restricted. Food is what the Catholic Mass is based on. Food is what we are told will nourish us, and what we are told to limit if we grow too thick. And perhaps as personal as the place you call home is the food you eat. Either way, it’s a choice than no one can, or should make for anyone besides themselves.
On New Years Day of 2016, I went to meet the man I was falling for, and walk around the Mission where he then lived. We’d only known each other a few weeks, and each of us had already planned to host our own New Year’s parties. So, we decided to squeeze in a walk that afternoon. When I greeted him at the door, I got the kind of kiss you always want from your new lover, sweet, deep and vulnerable.
But for me, this kiss was a different kind of vulnerable. Within fifteen minutes, my mouth began to swell up, my tongue began to have a strange internal itch. This is no metaphor; this was the beginning of anaphylactic shock. I have always been allergic to tree nuts, among a suite of other roving, less drastic things. But only after adolescence did the allergy elevate to the realm of epic and life threatening. People don’t know until they see it. And without the super-sensor in his mind, my man had been eating cashews before we met. That day he got a taste of what it means to have a tree nut allergy. He was sweet as could be, ran to the drug store to buy me Benadryl, and when that didn’t work, sat with me in the hospital while the doctors monitored me to make sure I didn’t explode into full-fledged anaphylaxis.
Allergies are common in the USA. Fifteen million Americans have one allergy or another. However, less than one percent of those with allergies have tree nut allergies. Doo-wap ditty doo-wap for me. There are entire aisles dedicated to gluten free foods in most markets I’ve frequented. But for people with allergies as severe as mine, the world is a very different place. Eating new foods, is my number one most anxiety provoking act. Among my foodie friends, trying new foods can be a sensual pleasure right up there with good sex. But I’ll pass – on the food. I have been to the ER upwards of twenty times for severe allergic reactions, and each time it was to an ingredient unlisted, or an ingredient I was told never existed in the dish. My worst reaction came in college, when I was unconscious for a few days, with machines running my body for me, and possibility that I’d get fast tracked to the next life. Tree nut allergies are no joke.
Road tripping with Hoopla, I’ve followed a few rules to avoid anaphalaxis. If I don’t have someone to sit with me at a new restaurant, I won’t go. It’s just too risky. Maybe if I spend more time on the road, I’ll change my tune, but there have been so many times when restaurant staff just didn’t understand the gravity of my allergy. I don’t get hives. I don’t start to sneeze or wheeze. I don’t puke or have food poisoning-like symptoms. I get all of these, and then my throat and lungs swell shut. It’s like drowning in the swollen parts of your own body.
So, I’ve toted around a cooler where I’ve put my salad fixings. My grocery sack has salty items like sunflower seeds and tortilla chips, a jug Jif peanut butter (I know, in a cosmic joke, I CAN eat peanuts) and some English muffins. But when I eat out alone, it’s often fast food. These are chains who’s menus are safe. My favorites lately are In-N-Out, Subway and Taco Bell. And I have no shame here.
For my trip to Tbilisi I packed a duffel bag full of enough food to eat three basic meals a day for my entire journey. My goal is, sadly, to avoid all local food. No, my goal is to stay alive. For most travelers, this sounds like torture.
But, as I drove through the tumbleweeds and sand, I didn’t want to be told which road food I should and shouldn’t eat. To his credit, I had my friend how he’d done this, how he’d stayed sane and healthy on the road for so many years. Beyond the inspiration and wonder of travel, there is a ritual I’m discovering of managing self-care in unique ways. He was sharing his latest discovery: how wonderful he feels when he eats all organic raw foods. It’s commendable. When I have an controlled environment, I might do the same. But at this juncture, when so much of the rest of me is opening up, I feel wonderful when my throat doesn’t swell shut.