On the Difficulties of & Tips for Coping with a Mammalian Meat Allergy
1. ACCEPTANCE AND DISBELIEF:
Explain to relevant persons (family, hosts for meals and waiters in restaurants) the difference between a mild allergy and one leading to anaphylaxis, the various stages this involves and the use of an EpiPen. (If in doubt show the person concerned the EpiPen and then you’ll get a different response, as most have never seen an EpiPen.)
2. ALTERED SHOPPING HABITS:
No longer able to eat the favourite or any meat dishes if anaphylactic to all mammalian meat. Complete re-organisation of the weekly menu and shopping list. More cookbooks bought and received as gifts. It takes me a lot longer to write the weekly shopping list as I pore over recipes and make adjustments. We have new recipes almost weekly to add to MY favourites, and also a second time around adjustment after the by-product allergy kicked in.
Huge adjustments were needed again, just when I loved the Italian dishes with bocconcini and ricotta. Have an understanding husband and family who support you at all family functions and adjust menus accordingly. Immediate family do this but more distant family do not. You are too difficult to feed, in their view. There is a need to think outside the square because if a guest had a heart or diabetic problem, the menu would be automatically adjusted.
3. COOKING AND ADJUSTMENTS:
Eat more poultry, seafood and vegetable dishes. Beware of chilli in some dishes if also allergic/anaphylactic to milk by- products – there is a compounding effect. I have apple juice on my cereal and drink weakened black tea. I have soy cappuccino when available as I can’t have ‘Shape’ or full cream milk.
4. EATING OUT:
Avoid many Asian restaurants as lots of pork is in many dishes, meat stock is used and cross-contamination occurs with spoon handling of dishes, especially banquet style serving. Always inform functions of your allergies if there is a set menu, as with a la carte dining one can usually get by. At functions avoid all finger food, unless obvious, as the waiters do not know what is in the food.
At work I avoid the canteen now, as with a roster system of parents, one cannot expect them all to remember not to cut the salad sandwich that has just also cut the same ham/salad sandwich. The canteen supervisor is meticulous BUT if she is not there and rostered parents take over, don’t expect them to remember. Be wary of packets of potato crisps, burger rings, and cheezels as they contain milk or milk products. (Check the package!)
On planes don’t do the vegetarian option as you only get salad. I tried it but now I find there is always chicken or fish available. If out of luck salad is ok too, but be wary of bacon, prosciutto or feta in salads. In restaurants, check menus carefully and ask for eliminations from a dish if possible OR even a different combination of vegetables; or if in doubt don’t eat!! Be wary of what fried food is cooked in (eg lard or meat fat) or what might also be cooked with it. In a non-English speaking country download your allergies in the local language (there are specialist websites and Google can translate if necessary) and hand it to the maître d’ or chef.
Take your own fish wrapped ‘en papillote’ to avoid meat contamination on barbecues and save the host the trouble of a special meal, because some can’t cope with your allergy. And then both host and guest can relax. Even the most meticulous cleaner of the barbecue plate will not remove the entire meat residue from the hot plate or grill.
To garden in a tick prone area, I spray my clothes with Permoxin, a dog/cattle spray from the vet. This must be diluted with water. Recommended to me by a Mona Vale vet who lives in Avalon. The blowflies love it! Then I spray my body with Rid and bingo it really works. No tick bites but one has to spray thoroughly to avoid bites. I now also use the white disposal coveralls from Bunnings, costing about $3.50.
Carry your EpiPen everywhere and your spare one when travelling. If travelling on planes make sure both pens are in the cabin with you. So far this had not ever been a problem going through security.
When on holidays and travelling, here or overseas take anti-histamine before meals as this will delay and reduce a reaction; but a reaction could be as mild as a gastro attack within minutes of finishing a meal, especially if cross-contamination has occurred.
9. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What happens to you when you have an anaphylaxis?
Can you be de-sensitised?
Will you ‘grow out’ of it?
Have your answers prepared…
10. GENERAL ADVICE:
Remind people of your allergy when invited out as it is such a rare one and meat is in many people’s diets. The host will forget that you are still allergic even if you were entertained 6 or 12 months beforehand. Why? It is an uncommon allergy and they think that it is a one off and that you have ‘got rid of it.’ ‘Have a blood transfusion to get rid of it all,’ I was told, but it is not in the blood but the lymphatic/immune system.
Tell people you can’t eat anything that comes from any mammal (effectively, any animal with 4 legs) but you can eat 2 legged birds or anything that lays eggs or lives in the sea. Tell them you can’t eat vegetables cooked with meat or with a beef/veal/lamb stock.
In my case no 4 legged by-products, especially milk, cream, soft cheeses; but hard cheese is OK. Lindt chocolate will also cause facial and upper body redness, lasting for several hours. Avoid ice-cream too.
Remind people that 4 legs includes: salami, sausages, prosciutto, processed meats, speck, pancetta, bacon, ham, pork, beef, veal, lamb, (and kangaroo, goat, rabbit, venison etc), stocks , bonox, lard, suet and soft cheeses including mascarpone, ricotta, feta, goat’s cheese, blue cheeses, camembert, brie and everything else that is yummy. Cream, sour cream, crème fraiche, double cream and milk included. Desserts are a real test!
Use only RED UTENSILS and separate plates in the kitchen for your meat loving spouse/partner/family to avoid cross-contamination AND use different oil for cooking meat dishes.
Use a special chopping board only for meat and not for any of your food.
Accept you have a problem and avoid the foods that have caused it. BUT some hosts might think a little bit is OK and that one would not notice if beef stock was added to a soup or sauce; BUT my stomach would within minutes or within the hour with a gastro problem and it could linger for longer if more serious food handling contamination had occurred, usually in the food handling process in the kitchen.
People find it hard to entertain you with your limited menu (OR avoid you!). Some will accept your offer to bring your own food; others will happily bend over backwards and adjust their menu to include you. Some will cook a meat roast with separate vegetables and serve only that. And that is OK too. There is a huge variation to the reaction of no red meat, including the old saying that pork is a ‘white meat.’ Mammalian meat is now a more accurate term.
People need reminders that you are still allergic to meat as over a period of years they forget or think you are ‘over it.’ It is ‘out of your system.’
If for some reason a cross-contamination of utensils/food has occurred you will have a stomach upset within the hour or less, despite your best efforts to avoid this.
Before my mammalian meat anaphylaxis I suffered for about 3 years with frequent gastro problems, maybe 6 to 8 times daily, until finally an anaphylaxis occurred to ONE 5cm, bite size piece of beef to test if a casserole was cooked. 70 minutes later I was anaphylactic to this one bite size piece of beef, but did not know the cause until a RAST test confirmed this.
Limited choices in many restaurants. When I look at a menu my friends say, ‘What can you have?’ And usually at luncheon cafes only 1 or 2 things.
Not a vegetarian option anymore for me: too many soft cheeses.
DO I MISS MEAT?
Not any more after 7 ½ years BUT perhaps occasionally roast lamb or barbecued sausage would be good ……..but I’m not ever tempted! The reaction is just TOO severe.
12. TO COPE: TURN YOUR LIFE UPSIDE DOWN!!
Accept that you just can’t change what has happened and get on with the enjoyment of what you can have and there is still PLENTY of choice. (For now as I still have margarine, butter and all hard cheese) Hopefully this will not change again. All poultry and all seafood are on the menu – and that gives some good choices if not combined with bacon or other Mammalian by-products..
AND for those people who remember about your allergy, they ask if you are well, in such a manner, and when you say that you are well, ‘Really. Are you?’ And ‘Do you still have it or have you got over it?’ as if it is an illness that will get better, like a common cold! Sometimes it is just too hard to explain as others can’t comprehend the change in lifestyle or find it unbelievable and strange or that I’m ‘freakish’ and it can monopolise a conversation as it is so unusual. This happens at gatherings or conferences when my meal is different from the others on the table, or it comes first, so one can’t avoid the discussion as it is different again from the vegetarian option! It is in the ‘too hard basket’ for many and perhaps a non-acceptance sometimes.
Some mention the seven year cycle and regrowth of cells, thinking maybe that the allergy has gone. I have not been bitten by ticks for almost 8 years but from 1995-2005 I would have had at least 1,000 bites, with weals measuring 14cm by 11cm, sometimes 10 or more at any one time.
Finally, be positive. There are so many other nutritious dishes to ENJOY!