Exclusionary Health Food

I have some food intolerances – specifically gluten, dairy, and for some reason apricots. My mother attributes my complete inability to consume apricots without feeling sick to the fact that when I was three, I polished off nearly a whole case of them over Christmas and made myself violently ill. Whatever the reason, I can’t have them now.

And boy is a problem with apricots a pain. I have to be very careful about what moisturizers and body-washes I use, because a surprising number of them have a little stow-away called apricot oil. Whenever I question a salesperson, to the tune of ‘Is there apricot in this? I’m allergic to apricots’, they assure me that external use won’t affect me. Yes, well, years of rashes and red blotches say otherwise, pal. Fortunately for me, the cheapest stuff is usually apricot free, so that’s handy.

And then there’s snack foods. Go ahead, try finding a muesli bar (I think they’re called granola bars in the US?) that’s free of gluten, chocolate and apricots. I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing or not, but the ‘healthy’ version, the one without the chocolate chips or yoghurt dips, is almost always full of apricot pieces. It’s a good thing I like nut bars and plain corn-flakes, because even the gluten-free muesli is frequently full of little orange land-mines.

Gluten and Dairy seem to have some kind of mutual exclusivity deal going on, too – one or the other of them stake out most products. I was trying to buy a korma sauce yesterday – I make most of my sauces from scratch, but have not yet mastered the curry family – and couldn’t find a single one that wasn’t loaded with either dairy, wheat, or both. Add in the fact that my husband is allergic to onion, and there’s a reason that I have to make all my sauces from scratch. Onion is scary ubiquitous (and delicious, and I miss it).

I am told by vegetarian friends that stow-away meat essences and fish sauces are legion, by a friend who’s allergic to eggs that they hide everywhere, and none of us can buy canned soup. We all spend hours carefully reading ingredients lists, and enduring the occasional upset stomach when something innocuous turns out to have something dreadful lurking inside it. And we all have to endure the frustration of foods that only omit one thing. Can’t eat gluten? Let’s load it up with dairy! Or soy! Or eggs! Or apricots! And then there’s the ‘health’ foods that feel that healthy = mushy and tasteless.

My intolerances aren’t that severe. Though I’m usually careful about gluten, a little dairy doesn’t bother me too much, so I can at least eat the cheap chocolate. And it’s getting much easier to get gluten and dairy free foods. But I still walk by displays of ‘health’ foods without sparing a glance, because I know they all have milk solids or wheat or apricots or all three. I still know that the Woolworths store brands are actually more likely to be safe for me to eat than the ‘good’ stuff that prides itself on healthfulness. And it bothers me that in my lifetime, hippie child that I was,  ‘health food’ has gone from meaning ‘healthy food’ to meaning ‘expensive macrobiotic crap that doesn’t give a good goddamn about allergies or intestinal health’.

I miss being able to go into health-food stores for something other than vitamins. I used to like it so much when I was a kid.