It was towards the end of our shopping trip. We had just begun bagging up the groceries and putting them in the cart. While we were talking, I noticed that she had lost her balance for a moment and began to tip side-ways she steadied herself by reaching out for the cart. This wasn’t the first such incident, but this one is the one I remember best. I suggested that she find a place to sit down for a bit and have a small snack while I finished up. Yet again, the doctors couldn’t figure out the cause. So she did her homework and went on an elimination diet. The first few days were pretty rough, but after a few weeks, her symptoms were gone, her balance was restored, and she had more energy than ever before.
Most people hear the term ‘gluten-free’ and imagine a health-conscious hipster sort of millennial on a trendy diet. Some people might acknowledge that Celiac Disease exists and eating gluten causes serious illness for a tiny percentage of the population. But the idea that people can be sensitive to gluten isn’t something they wholly accept. It’s really easy to ignore food allergies if you don’t have them and you don’t know anyone who does. It’s not so easy to ignore them if they are your reality.
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was a teenager, I should be out there doing something fun! I know that my symptoms didn’t really match up, but I went on an elimination diet. I stopped drinking milk, eating cheese, and having ice cream. Soon I wasn’t sick and tired anymore. I felt great and had a ton of energy. But I also had a problem. There were countless opportunities to go to pizza parties or out for ice cream, but I’d have to be vigilant about my food choices if I wanted to remain healthy. Not everybody agreed with me that I had dairy sensitivity and it was just a fluke that not eating dairy made me feel better. Dairy is delicious and healthy and they believed that I’d feel even better if I went back to eating it so I was told every time I scraped the cheese off of my pizza (I can eat gluten!) The thing is, I still remember what it was like being sick and tired and now that I don’t feel that way, I certainly don’t want to go back to that. The most delicious pizza or temping ice cream really isn’t worth being sick and tired for as long as it takes for my system to banish all traces of dairy in an extremely unpleasant manner.
Christianity sometimes has that same attitude. The ones who have no experience with food allergies can’t imagine the consequences of eating too much of the wrong thing. They say it’s something that people make up – like a psychosomatic symptom. Church potlucks and other meals are usually a source of concern – will an elderly woman make this recipe with flour or milk or cheese? I better not eat it, just in case. Will a regular guy think to check the labels of the ingredients he’s using to see if they contain flour or dairy? I better not eat it, just in case. Sometimes churches can be one the least safe environments to sit down to a meal because of so many unknowns. Usually, people don’t educate themselves about basic food allergy safety unless they have a reason.
“You see,” they explain, “it’s extremely inconvenient for us to have to live up to your laundry list of demands of what you can and cannot eat because you insist on being on the trendy hippie diet. Doesn’t the Bible say: ‘eat whatever is set before you, don’t ask questions?’ It’s a matter of faith – if you believe that you can eat something, you’ll experience no side-effects. If you don’t have enough faith – then your lack of faith will make you sick. It’s not real.” Trust us, if we could eat regular foods without a ‘laundry list’ we would! It should not take a child being rushed to the nearest hospital to try to save his or her life for a church to decide to stop serving peanut butter as a snack. I know that gluten sensitivity and dairy sensitivity don’t carry such a risk with them; but if churches hold true to the idea about love, they had better make room at the table for foods that are safe for everyone to eat.
These statistics show that food allergies affect 1 out of every 13 children as well as a total of 15 million Americans. The increase of food allergies in children is roughly 50% in the last few decades. Every 3 minutes, an allergic reaction sends someone to the hospital. A church that ignores allergies could very easily unknowingly be the cause of a serious reaction. My advice would be to take food allergies seriously, get everybody up to speed about using safe ingredients and the dangers of cross-contamination. Provide alternatives that are safe to eat – if you’re going to throw a pizza party, then provide something that doesn’t contain cheese or flour for the rest of us. Just don’t shrug off food allergies as if they don’t exist – because they do and they can be quite serious.