Over four years ago, I realized my dairy allergy. Adjusting to the massively food-limiting restriction was rough. One of the biggest issues: how to handle holidays.
I dropped all dairy just before Halloween 2013. Bad timing for my taste buds — as I only enjoy chocolate candy and dislike fruity treats — but appreciated by my waistline. It was a hardship that first Halloween learning to abstain from all of the fun-size goodies, but I did. I knew it’d get easier with time. And it did.
Then came Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pies, green beans, corn, rolls, even the turkey are more likely than not to contain dairy. Around the holidays, milk/butter/cheese/cream/whey is in everything. I mourned missing out. It was a death, of sorts. I thought Thanksgiving was dead.
At first I adjusted by making and bringing some of my own dairy-free versions of traditional dishes and — my then-omnivorous self — asked for the turkey to be made dairy-free. My family kindly obliged. However, despite all loving intentions, I got inadvertently dosed with dairy that year. It was awful; a holiday meal wasn’t worth a week of suffering, especially when I had an infant and a toddler to wrangle.
A month later, Christmas came and I tried my approach again. Fail! Dosed yet again, I decided from then on not to attempt others’ contributions unless the cooks, themselves, were dairy-free.
The next year, I made more side dishes to bring, ate beforehand, and stuck to my meal offerings. No accidental dairy dosing! I had my new holiday survival technique. This was key, now that two of my children accompanied me on the dairy-free journey.
Three years later — now a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I will absolutely maintain my tried-and-true holiday survival technique. It’s my safest route.
Is it hard not being able to eat everything? Not really, anymore. Once I shifted my focus from food to people, it made a world of difference. The day after a holiday, I won’t look back on the celebration remembering how the green beans tasted or how the squash was flavored. I’ll reflect on the people, the experience, the laughter (and eye rolls… because what’s a family gathering without that balance?) And that’s where my focus should be.
So what do I bring? This year, I will bring herbed green beans sauteed in olive oil, baked squash (delicata, butternut, and acorn) seasoned with herbs and Earth Balance, and a garlicky lentil-mushroom dish. Often, I bring dairy-free rolls and herbed carrots. Usually my belly is too full for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m too busy wrangling my tiny trio while helping with dish clean-up to indulge, but if I did want to bring a sweet to enjoy it’d probably be this.
When it comes to food allergies, there’s no dish worth risking a reaction, no matter how delicious. It is hard at first but, like any adjustment, it gets easier. Life is about so much more than just food.