in which beef is what’s for dinner

Some years back, an allergist diagnosed me with a severe allergy to beef. Severe as in a life- threatening, multiple- ER visits, epi-pen carrying, anaphylaxis– style allergy. My allergist hypothesized that my allergy was probably a reaction to a hormone or antibiotic used in commercial beef, but that didn't help much; I certainly couldn't afford organic beef or buffalo, and why would I want to take the risk?

I had to take some pretty stringent precautions to avoid exposure, because beef, beef fats, and beef extract (eew, there's a gross idea) is in a LOT of American foods. It changed the way I ate- I focused on acquiring protein from vegetable sources, I got flexible with what my idea of a full meal looked like, and I ate a lot less junk food. Eating anything I didn't prepare was a leap of faith. Asian and middle eastern foods became a safe place for me- Indian, Thai, Lebanese- because they didn't usually include beef, and when they did it was very clearly marked.

My allergy, compounded with my sister Megan's severe food allergies, lead me to look into how we as a culture eat, where our food comes from, and what happens to it before it gets to us. Pretty much everything I learned during that course of ongoing research was 100% horrifying. Our food is sick, and sad, and wrong. Our food is usually far from fresh yet full of chemicals to convince us otherwise, or to convince us not to care (salts, sugars); it is produced as cheaply as possible at the expense of nutritional content and taste. It is shipped great distances. It is, in a word, unhealthy, and most Americans eat altogether too much of it, too. The meat production industry in the US is repellent, and I say that as a non- vegetarian.

Coming to Afghanistan, I knew I'd have a limited diet; there was a huge risk of cross- exposure in foods, and without access to a kitchen I would be at the mercy of chow hall workers. Still, months passed without any reaction, no matter how small. I had some Afghani meat dishes cooked by some of the local interpreters who- due to our language differences (Dari vs Urdu) could have been mistaken when I asked if they had given me lamb or beef. It smelled good, I ate it. Nothing happened. Well, no: I deeply enjoyed some incredible Afghan food that didn't taste like lamb at all, and didn't get sick, that's what happened.

It made me feel daring. I tried just a little well- done beef; I'd found my reactions are lessened the further from raw the beef was, which always pointed towards my allergy being to chemicals in the meat, rather than the meat itself.

So I tried a little something. Nothing happened.

I tried a little more. Nothing. I got really daring, and ate some medium- rare- looking beef; still, nothing.

I'm not sure what it means. I know I was diagnosed by an allergist using a scratch test. I know I've needed epinephrine injections in the past. I know this meat is American beef and I'm about 100% certain it isn't fancy superfresh organic beef, either.

I know it is lovely to have options again.

I don't intend to base my diet off of meat when I return to the States, no matter how much I've missed beef- but that I am grateful not to have to live in fear every time I eat outside of my home. I can and will integrate small quantities of high quality, local, organic beef into my cooking, and that's just thrilling. I'll have Sam pick up the ingredients to a real French onion soup before I fly home, for certain; oh, I've missed that.

I have no idea how this happened. I know Megan is no longer as allergic to everything as she was as a girl, although I'm pretty sure she still has issues. I'm more than half- afraid it'll come back, so I keep my epi- pens and try to pay attention to my body. People have made comments about detoxing, about this being potentially tied to health changes I've made in the last 9 months or so, but I wonder about that. It sounds too tidy.

And really, who cares? It's happened, and it's lovely. For now, I enjoy my kabobs and look forward to French onion soup, a real fillet on our grill. A little more diversity in the kitchen and an absolutely thrilled husband, to boot. I don't see myself taking ground beef up seriously- turkey has done so well for so long, and it's not nearly as greasy- and I've always preferred lighter meats. I'm just pleased to have the option.


And in case you'd been wondering- about the Swear Jar? I haven't given up all together. Billy and I will be taking that up again when he arrives- a sort of mutual challenge. Poor Jason won't know what to do with us, but I'm looking forward to giving it a try again.

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