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January 19, 2016

The Poisoned Pantry

Peppers? Tomatoes? Citrus? Wine? Who Knew What Culprit?
The first time it happened, I was on a weekend getaway up the coast in Big Sur. After an evening in front of the fireplace enjoying a pizza and a few glasses of good red wine, I said my good nights and off I went to snuggle beneath an impossibly thick down comforter while the ocean roared in the distance.

Romantic, I know, but what happened instead was anything but, for at some point in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke from a fitful night's sleep and could barely open my eyes. They felt swollen, dry--sore.  I could tell that something wasn't right, so I gathered my wits and off I went to the bathroom.

The bright lights were blinding, but not nearly as much so as my own reflection in the mirror. My face had doubled, almost tripled in size, my complexion was a deep red and my eyes had swollen so much that I could only see myself through two small slits; my tongue felt immense, my joints ached, and to top it off, I had hives all over my face, neck and upper torso.

After nearly half a pack of Benadryl and several days, my face slowly deflated to a somewhat normal state, but, not before my skin peeled off in sheets. Though I'd never experienced anything similar, I instinctively knew that I'd had an allergic reaction, but who knew the culprit?

Had this been a one time event, I likely would have forgotten all about it or turned it into a funny story to share over cocktails, but over the course of the next year, I had not just one, but five episodes of anaphylaxis, a few far worse. After numerous emergency visits to the doctor and with no plausible answer, I began seeing a specialist, someone who hopefully could tap into my wacky immune system and figure out what the heck was happening.

Soon, I was off for tests and as I impatiently awaited for the results, I turned my eye to my pantry. No stranger to food, I've long tried to follow a healthy path by embracing meatless Mondays and eating as much locally produced food as I could find at my neighborhood farmers market, but I wondered, what if the root cause lie in my diet.

 Hippocrates' oft quoted words, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," rang through my brain as I started to take a closer look at what I was putting on my plate. Early on, I adopted an elimination diet, certain I'd quickly discover the cause of my allergic response, but no such luck and after each test came back negative, my allergist looked at me and said, "It's not uncommon, you know, to never discover a reason."

There were times over that long year when I threw caution to the wind, enjoying thick burgers and generous glasses of red wine, hunks of aged cheese--even a foray--or, two--into the land of junk food where preservatives, artificial colors and dyes, and genetically modified foods topped the ingredient list and as you can well imagine, sometimes, my tempestuous behavior had consequences. Unfortunately, there were never any similarities between one reaction and another, so instead of tempting fate, I decided to follow another path.

So, as 2016 kicks off--though, as usual, I'm a few weeks late--I've decided to take my palate on an adventure and explore a more plant-based diet. Not one to go to extremes, I'll never not have butter in my refrigerator--or, cheese, for that matter--but, I do believe that Hippocrates was right in his assessment.

Here's to a new year exploring a new world!





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