I have a confession to make. I’m quite intolerant.
Not of people, I hasten to add. No, my intolerance is dairy. Cow’s milk. The creamy nectar of the bovine.
Well, to be really specific, Baby Girl is the one who’s intolerant. It’s just that I breastfeed her, so her intolerance is my own for the time being. And to be really, udderly (Oh god, I’m sorry. I tried hard not to do that) specific, it’s casein that she reacts to: the protein in cow’s milk, as opposed to the fat. So, she’s not lactose intolerant, which is an important detail in a world that is suddenly full of lactose-free (but still poisonous to us) milk products. There is also a dazzling array of milk substitutes available, which I can report mostly taste of watered-down llama spit.
To give you some background, when Baby Girl was brand new we noticed two things.
- She had acne that would rival the most pustulent of hormone-riddled teens. Cooing strangers would lean into her pram, then see her skin and stop short, gagging in horror.
- She hardly ever pooed. Like, days and days between dirty pants, then suddenly and explosively: what seemed like litres of newborn poo would arrive in a single straining nappy. This pattern came as a surprise to us, given that her brother had cheerily pooped before, during and after every feed. Her record was twelve days. TWELVE DAYS – can you imagine what a nervous wreck I was from about Day Nine (her previous record)?
After six weeks or so of various professional and non-professional opinions along the lines of ‘that’s normal, the acne will clear up in another week or so, and breastfed babies sometimes don’t poo very much because breastmilk is so efficiently digested’ (a factoid that really didn’t account for the sheer volume of poo that was eventually being explosively delivered), a lactation consultant finally suggested I give up dairy. She warned me to eliminate casein completely, and to give it at least a month before deciding whether it was working, since the protein would hang around in both our systems for a while. Within a few DAYS, Baby Girl’s skin was soft, smooth and luminous, as an infant’s should be. Within a week she was pooing every day or so, and – bonus – the wheezing and snuffling we’d thought was just newborn breathing had also disappeared. Needless to say, I stuck to the crazy fad diet. Some suggested I save myself the trouble and wean her, but what would I wean her onto? Hideously expensive non-dairy formula? Bone broth?? No thanks, given my budget, my understanding of gut health, my mistrust of both formula companies and celebrity chefs, and the fact I’d have to modify her diet once she started solids anyway.
And so, for the last couple of years, I’ve been that person everybody hates. Holding up the line in the cafe asking about ingredients in the sauce. Bringing my own pretentious tupperware of goats’ milk to a coffee playdate. Sending a plate back and delaying a group lunch because even after I specifically asked for no sour cream on my meal and explained why, it came out liberally garnished with cheese. Ordering a ‘decaf soy latte’ like a complete tosser, causing everyone within earshot to involuntarily roll their eyes skyward. Lord, there’s nothing worse than being stuck behind that customer, is there?
Oh, wait. There is one thing worse.
Being that customer is worse. I hate being that customer. I hear myself quizzing waiters about whether they make their own mayonnaise on-site, and cringe at the wankery – but if I don’t, I’ll either have to eat a dry sandwich (no butter either, remember?) or risk eating packaged mayonnaise with skim milk powder through it. I don’t like either of those options, so I’m left with grilling the staff for info and enduring the impatient sighs of nearby patrons. It’s excruciating, but not as excruciating as watching my daughter trying to squeeze out a poo three days after I’ve ingested some dairy (yes, she still reacts. Yes, I check every so often). And that’s still not as excruciating as it would be if she had an allergy, instead of just an intolerance. A friend’s daughter scored an ambulance ride from daycare one time because she’d surreptitiously tasted another kid’s lunch and gone into anaphylactic shock. I can’t even imagine the anxiety of living with this as a possible adverse reaction to food.
So, yes. I’m that pain in the arse. And I come from good, pain-in-the-arse stock: my Mum has coeliac disease. In fact, she’s a total hipster, in that she was gluten-intolerant long before it was cool. Her own father was a coeliac sufferer years before THAT, when nobody had even heard of the
condition. So in contrast to the scores of self-diagnosed modern bloaters she a) has a genuine and painful reaction to even the slightest exposure to gluten – using a tainted spoon to stir her gluten-free meal is enough to make her ill within the hour – and b) actually knows what gluten is and how to avoid it, as opposed to the ‘Silly-ac’ sufferers out there who will gullibly buy expensive ‘gluten-free milk’, or claim to have had a reaction to glutinous rice (pro tip: gluten is a protein found only in barley, rye, oats and wheat, so ordinary old milk is always gluten free. And ‘glutinous’ rice is so called because of its gloopy texture, not because it is full of gluten).
The faux-intolerant fad-dieters out there have a lot to answer for. Yeah, we all get bloated after we drink a 2L milkshake. That’s not an intolerance: breaking out in a rash and not pooing for five days afterwards IS. Yeah, we all feel a bit sluggish after we eat lots of bread. That’s not coeliac disease: crippling pain within an hour of consuming one crumb IS. Yeah, some of us get a tingly mouth when we eat peanuts. That’s not a nut allergy… actually, yes it is, you should probably get that checked out, and nobody seems to bung on reactions to nuts and shellfish anyway, do they? Must be because they’re so tasty – nobody would voluntarily go without them unless they had a genuine reason to avoid them.
These posers aren’t intolerant. They’re just insufferable, and they’re giving the rest of us a bad name, because it makes us look like we’re being as precious as they are. They’re the reason that ‘gluten-free’ and ‘dairy-free’ have become buzzwords, synonyms for ‘healthy’ when that’s really not necessarily the case.
They’re the reason I’ll often get a cheerful run-down of the gluten-free items on the menu when I’ve actually asked about dairy, as if intolerances could be swapped and changed on a whim (‘Oh, nothing dairy-free? That’s too bad. How about gluten? I’m feeling a bit gluten-intolerant tonight, now that you mention it.’). They’re also the reason it’s so easy to poke fun at food intolerances, which is HILARIOUS until it actually genuinely affects you or someone you love, and then it’s kind of not anymore. Trust me, I’m just one slice of orange and almond cake away from madness here.
More than anything else, as far as I’m concerned it’s just WRONG and OFFENSIVE that anyone would voluntarily give up cheese and chocolate without a damn good reason (like horrific cramping or a constipated toddler) forcing them to. I mean, it just makes a mockery of all that is good! It’s almost as WRONG as the fact that Oreos, everyone’s favourite chocolate-cream biscuit are, as it turns out, dairy-free.