It was a pimply rash spreading across my round infant face. It was my small body curled into itself, laboring with pain. It was eggs or milk or both. But because I was a happy baby and didn’t fuss much, and because we were poor and food was food, and because the rash that mapped across my face would recede, and because I kept down most of the milk, and because in the early 80s food allergies were not well-known, those foods remained part of my everyday diet.
At ten, it was palm-sized oval kiwis — their soft tan peels and kaleidoscope green insides — eaten one right after the other. Three slid down my throat in sweet, wet bites before the wheezing started, my esophagus and tongue slowly swelling.
And then it wasn’t food. It was my intestines moving too slow, episodic asthma, sensitive skin, and gas.
And then I was an adult and it was food. Milk, then no milk, then lactose free, then non-homogenized, then the prescription for an EpiPen from the allergy test that showed a pulsing red mound on my back where the milk-laced needle punctured my flesh. Yet the nearby site for egg remained pale and flat. Within hours I sat in an all-day-breakfast restaurant, eating two sunny-side-up — the yellow yolks creaming the sliced tomatoes and bacon. I remembered the salty tang of egg, a distinct taste only forgotten after years, as I let each mouthful linger before swallowing. And then I remembered the tingling throat, the heavy chest, the numb mouth, the thin breathing.
Allergies are hard to discover, the doctor said. Tests only tell us so much. Our bodies know better.
My body knows this: no more beef, cow’s milk, soy, egg, peanut, pine nut, grains and grasses, kiwi, mango, and white potato.
My body knows food as nourishment. Food as energy. Food as family, culture, connection.
My body also knows food as segregator. Food as toxin; slow poison, or maybe quick. A table spread, dark-burdened with the possibilities.
Ellee Achten is a writer and editor in Southeast Ohio. As a magazine journalist, she is now exploring the world of creative nonfiction. In 2015, she will be attending the Master of Arts program in creative writing at Ohio University.
Though tests say she is allergic to cocoa, Prince will readily confess to daily consumption. So far, so good.