Hey, what’s up, hello, I’m Jon O’Guin, this is Kitchen Catastrophes and today’s post is possibly the least structured thing I’ve written for the site. And I’ll remind you, I have fully copped to being inebriated for the construction of some of the posts on here. But…honestly, today’s topic is something I’ve wanted to talk about for some time, and I thought I’d handle it last week, but there wasn’t space. So…let’s try and set the stage for what, exactly, we’re doing here.
A lot of the mental space that this post takes up comes from an image that has been floating around the internet for some time, in one form or another. This little guy right here.
This could be a map of a lot of things. Like "ability of average person to name a professional athlete" or "Population currently mad at Donald Trump", or, most relevantly "Odds a house doesn't have refrigeration."
If you’ve never seen it before, that’s a map of rates of Lactose Intolerance around the world. And it may cause some sudden revelations in your culinary assessments. Mainly “oh, yeah, I guess there isn’t ever cheese when I order Chinese food/Sushi.”
It’s useful, because it helps us establish a root cause to both of the phenomena we’re going to be discussing: Food Intolerances and Allergies. Of course, in order to properly analyze shit, you gotta lay down some basics. That’s just solid science, bro. And adding unnecessary, sometimes awkward informalities into your speech? That’s how you reach the kids, my main man. So let’s lay down some TRUTH, you dig?
OMG, it’s an Al-R-G.
That title may have made me gag with how bad it was. Either that, or it was the fact that I ate a bowl of instant noodle soup with 65% of my daily sodium at almost 2 in the morning. But I assume it’s the former. Alright, it’s definition time.
1. A medical condition whereby a person’s immune system reacts in an aggressive and excessive manner to a particular food product.
Because it’s a problem centered in the immune system, allergies can have extensive and drastic symptoms. Stomach pains and indigestion are of course options, but allergies can cause skin reactions in the form of hives, respiratory issues by swelling airways shut, fevers, vertigo, and a spree of other issues.
Of course, not all allergies are life-threatening, just as not all Baldwin brothers are deserving of your respect.
Which one's the least bad? The answer may surprise you!
Some people’s allergies are so minor that they live their entire lives without knowing. Site Psychopomp Alan, for instance, discovered well after he started drinking that he’s actually mildly allergic to the yeast used in beers. It turns out it’s very hard to notice when a beverage makes you dizzy, nauseous, and causes you to vomit when those are the symptoms all your 20-year-old friends are ALSO experiencing. (Yes, I know I made that joke before. But I refuse to apologize for it, until Stephen Baldwin apologizes for The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.)
Additional Fun Fact: you may recall my White Girl Tequila Syndrome that I discussed back in March. If not, it’s my term for “I once consumed too much of a given food or drink, and now the idea of it makes me nauseous”, as my broadest example base is the number of white girls I know who ‘can’t stand the smell’ of tequila, after the time they downed an entire bottle of José (It’s always José. I blame the name, it’s just too damn close to Rosé for their basic instincts to pass up.)
Did somebody say "Basic Instinct"?
Well, it turns out that their reactions are not entirely psychosomatic, but, rather, sometimes a form of acquired allergy: you drank a bunch of this thing, and then you got really sick and covered in glitter. Since the human body doesn’t like either of those things to happen to it (CHRISTINA), it can make a sort of biological note: “Hey, the next time you see this shit, back the fuck up!” You can also develop intolerances this way, because why would anything be simple?
Finally, as a quick aside: if you’re the kind of person who claims to be allergic to things you just don’t like at restaurants, let me speak for the cooks and servers of your life and say “Fuck your goddamn face.” Because most restaurants with any kind of standards react with the utmost caution to the statement “I’m allergic to X.” It’s not uncommon for a cook to have to completely replace every part of their cook-station (remove their gloves, clear their stove, wash and sanitize their cutting station, acquire new gloves) in order to minimize the odds that any particles of the offending substance arrives. And yes, sometimes they fail, and some cooks are assholes and don’t believe you, but again: at any place operating with standards and decency, you just added 10-15 minutes of work to the guy who got your plate.
I don’t want to seem intolerant, but…
So, we know now that, just like Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct, food allergies can be lethal, but may not always be so. I’d say “spoilers”, but the sentence is vague, and also, I’ve never watched Basic Instinct, so I don’t actually know if she’s the villain or not.
Maybe it's like Jurassic Park and it's all Newman's fault.
So now let’s take a look at food intolerances, the other half of today’s discussion.
1. (n) a medical condition whereby a person’s digestive system struggles with a specific ingredient or compound, causing varying levels of gastro-intestinal distress.
2. (n) Refrigerator Racism
Since the issues are localized to the digestive tract, food intolerances are almost never life-threatening, at least in the short term. Technically, sufficient prolonged consumption can potentially lead to ulcers, but so can worrying too much about what you’re eating, so it’s not like there’s a big margin for success there.
As with Allergies, low-grade food intolerances can be hard to detect. They can pop up as niche and arcane little “rules” in people’s diets, like “if I drink more than 2 glasses of milk, I get gassy” or “My burps always smell bad after ham sandwiches”. Are those just weird quirks, or intolerances? Hard to say.
That’s part of why that map at the very beginning is less concerning than it may appear at first glance: sure, Lactose intolerance could mean that the person can’t process dairy at all, causing them to purge if they get any cheese or milk, OR it could mean that they get a little more burpy than most people after a Thai Iced Tea.
A drink that, despite sitting smack-dab in Lactose-Intolerance country, is made with sweetened condensed milk.
They’re still nothing to sneeze at (technically, those would be allergies, badum tish), since the upper end can be very uncomfortable, and…let’s politely call it “messy”, for sufferers to endure, but at least they’re not going to kill you. Though, as my recent experience with kidney stones reminded me: a thing doesn’t have to be very damaging to be incredibly debilitating. Sure, my kidney stone wasn’t going to kill me, but it still took three different painkillers to get me to a place where the raw agony didn’t force me to be sick.
And that’s the biggest difficulty with both food allergies and intolerances: the sheer range of results makes them hard to identify, tricky to prove, and sometimes they seem to function under very strange rules. Someone might say “Whenever I have oysters and champagne, I get sick.”, and that’s probably a low-grade seafood allergy: Becoming intoxicated, especially from alcohol or marijuana, produces more histamines in your system, heightening allergic reactions. I myself have similarly low-grade allergy to cats: it’s so far only triggered from one cat I’ve encountered while sober, and that was a rescued feral cat from Mexico. (My great-grandmother had some questionable life choices.) Otherwise, the only time I’m allergic to cats is when I’m fairly inebriated. It actually took me years to work out what was happening, since I smoke so infrequently, and don’t tend to drink in places with cats. For a long time, I thought I was just “only allergic to certain cats.”
"TOP cats, Dr Jones. TOP cats."
Complicating matters even FURTHER is the fact that both issues can be overcome, though the mechanisms for both are poorly understood. For a great example: famed celebrity chef Alton Brown gave himself an intolerance to oysters from over-consumption, meaning for many years he couldn’t eat them without needing medical attention. Recently, however, he’s discovered that his body has forgotten its previous embargo, and now he can eat oysters just fine. Most children with milk allergies (which, before you ask, YES, are different than being lactose intolerant) will outgrow them, while children who are allergic to shellfish probably won’t. Why? We don’t know. Experts think that it comes from very low-grade exposure over time. So for instance, if a guy with the shellfish allergy continually walks past an open air fish market, or eats in restaurants that serve oysters, the PARTICLES IN THE AIR might acclimate him over time. And the reverse can also happen: prolonged exposure can wear down your body’s defenses, and create an allergy.
So that’s the basic understanding of food allergies and intolerances: a pair of medical conditions related to food, that vary wildly in symptoms, but the first can kill you while the second can only make you wish you were dead, that you can develop by over-eating foods, by not eating foods, and by being near foods for long enough. Or sometimes you’ll lose them for no reason. They’re hard to prove, likely to make your life a little worse, and you’ll probably be judged for bringing them up when someone’s planning a meal.
Jesus, that was bleak. I need a good high note to end on…Ummmm. Hey, did you know that, two years ago, William Baldwin made a Christmas version of 17 Again/Freaky Friday/any other movie where the parent and child swap bodies? With Tom Arnold basically playing Chevy Chase’s character from Hot Tub Time Machine? And former Bond Girl Denise Richards is the love interest?
Yeah, that movie looks weird as shit, doesn’t it? And yet, despite the video evidence before your eyes, William Baldwin appears to be the most stable Baldwin brother. No big conversions and tax issues, no really bad voicemails to his own daughter, no history of drug abuse. Somehow, THAT’s the best Baldwin, and the one deserving of your respect.
And before you bring him up, Adam Baldwin isn’t a Baldwin brother. Also, he supported Ted Cruz for President, sooooooo. That’s a choice.
MONDAY: JON BRINGS YOU A HOLIDAY DESSERT FOR CHRISTMAS AND BEYOND, PUMPKIN.
NEXT THURSDAY: I DUNNO, DOG. CHRISTMAS IS KINDA CRAMPING MY SCHEDULE.