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Living with Food Allergies

One bane of being an Ashkenazi Jew is all the food allergies that seem to run rampant through my bloodlines. As many others of Eastern European descent, I’m highly lactose intolerant, and I have recently been diagnosed with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (in fact, it is supposed that many people with IBS actually have some type of undiagnosed gluten intolerance/sensitivity). [I fondly refer to myself as a lactard/glutentard.]

Living with food allergies can make things difficult, especially when it comes to Shabbat. Of course I love eating Shabbat meals at the homes of my friends, but it’s always quite a dilemma for me. If they don’t already know the ins and outs of my dietary restrictions, do I tell them?

Being dairy-free isn’t too much of a problem (usually), since most of my friends serve meat for Shabbat meals, and most Jews are used to cooking parve (neither meat nor dairy) items. It’s the gluten-free restrictions that are the buzz-kill.

Here’s the problem–the list of things I shouldn’t eat pretty much negates typical Shabbat foods: Challah (made with flour). Cholent (because most people use barley, which contains gluten). Kugel (usually made with flour or matzo meal). Soup that has matzo balls or noodles. Schnitzel (breaded). Meatballs (bread crumbs as a binder). Most brands of soy sauce contain wheat gluten. You get the idea.

There are pretty much two scenarios for me when it comes to my dietary restrictions (scenario 2 happens more frequently):

  1. People ask me or I tell them in advance what I can and cannot eat, and they proceed to freak out because they can’t make any of their normal Shabbat dishes. I cause them an inordinate amount of stress which makes me feel bad.
  2. I don’t tell them in advance because I don’t want to cause any undue stress, and I can usually eat enough at a meal, but then my host/hostess feels bad because they made things I can’t eat even though I’m really okay with picking and choosing.

Now for those who know me pretty well, they’ve adapted to my eating habits and don’t think twice about experimenting with new dishes, and even ask me for ideas. But when I make new friends or am invited by people who don’t know me as well, it gets complicated. To tell, or not to tell?

Do you have friends with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance? Here are some great Shabbat recipes for the next time you need them:

Gluten-free cholent

Gluten-free side dishes

Gluten-free chicken dishes

Gluten-free beef dishes

Gluten-free muffins (great for desserts)

Do you have food allergies? What has your experience been like?

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4 Responses to “Living with Food Allergies”

  1. Chana Says:

    I’ve been vegetarian for years now, and I’ve coped fine with all the inconveniences and awkward social situations. But man, gluten is the hardest! It’s everywhere! I have not been diagnosed gluten sensitive, but I’m getting tested soon. I’ve been having GI problems, and didn’t even consider the possibility of gluten sensitivity until this past Pesach, when I pretty much went gluten-free instead of just replacing all the chametz with matzo–all my problems were gone for the week! Even if the tests don’t agree, I’m just going to avoid gluten because it makes me feel better. But I don’t think I’ll ever give up challah. Thanks for the recipes!

  2. Cyndi Says:

    My daughter and I have a variety of food intolerances, including dairy and gluten (though traces of either are not a problem, thankfully). She is allergic to all traces of eggs and chocolate and I don’t eat meat by choice and get ill from preservatives and other additives.

    I do tell people because usually there is at least one dish they can feed us if they only know in advance. Salad or vegetables (or meat for my daughter). So if they just know to leave the eggs, croutons, or dressing off the salad, we can eat it. I go for the company, not the food.

    Most of my friends have food intolerances themselves (never quite the same set as ours) and we always end up with wonderful creative meals.

    And, Chana, I make lovely gluten-free challah. Pamela’s Bread Mix braids up nicely and tastes great. And I make one from masa (dough used to make tortillas, hard to find but it’s just corn and lime (calcium carbonate), or I make it). I add a bit of oats so we can pray over it (note: most oats are contaminated with wheat so not suitable for someone with celiac or most gluten intolerance, but you can find certified gluten-free oats, Bob’s Red Mill makes some). Oh, also keep in mind that the blood tests for celiac will be negative if you are not eating moderate or larger amounts of gluten every day for weeks (or sometimes months).

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