At a Bat Mitzvah I attended in eighthgrade, an encounter with some seemingly innocent Japanese cabbage -which I did not know was marinated in peanut oil - produced anunparalleled wrath. After putting just one spoonful in my mouth, I wentinto anaphylactic shock. This taste of hell enveloped my body inquarter-size welts, sent excruciating pain up and down my spine,inflated my eyelids and lips (making me resemble a blowfish), andvirtually made me unable to breathe. It is not a hyperbole to call thisa near-death experience. The maximum dose of Benadryl was a life-savingintervention, pacifying the reaction enough to prevent the need for anEpi-Pen injection or a visit to the emergency room.
A trait thatseparates me from most of my peers is my severe allergy to nuts. Nothingelse could garner the bewildered examination of my Medic-Alert braceletas people try to guess the identity and magnitude of the medical anomalyengraved on it, or the sophomoric chuckles at the sound of“nuts.” I take the jokes in stride, but few understand theburden of living with this dietary restriction. Scrutinizing ingredientlabels is irksome, while the punishment for slacking off can be fatal. Ilearned the hard way how imperative it is to investigate food that isnot pre-packaged, since many dishes contain nuts or nut products.
Living with a severe food allergy has caused me to mature morequickly. I have faced an arguably daunting task - finding the words todecline certain foods without insulting one’s cooking. Mylimitations have undoubtedly sharpened my awareness and increased mytolerance of others’ food sensitivities. Moreover, whether someoneis lactose intolerant, or from another country, I empathize with theirfeeling “different.”
No matter how careful I am inmonitoring my actions, there is an inevitable margin of error that canonly be avoided by sealing oneself within a protective barrier, á laBubble Boy from “Seinfeld,” which I refuse to do. I can onlyrely on myself for protection. Depending on my parents’ vigilancewhen I have a lapse in judgment, food-related or otherwise, is no longeran option. More importantly, others may not be as sensitive to those whoare different as I am. I may have been deprived of peanut butter andjelly throughout my lifetime, but I possess an allergy that - despiteits negative aspects - has constantly reminded me to be open-minded andrespectful of others’ differences.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.