Dairying to be Different

How did I overcome an obstacle that I thought had the potential to ruin my life?

Dairy products crushed my dreams. My pediatrician delivered the terrible news: she said that my constant stomach aches had been caused by a dairy allergy that had, until recently, lain dormant. This development would be a tough pill for any milkshake and cheeseburger-loving person to swallow, but it hit ten year-old me especially hard. As the daughter of someone in the restaurant business, I had enjoyed a childhood full of zesty food adventures. Instead of chicken fingers and tater-tots, I opted for curry and spanakopita. Food was my passion. Whenever someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “a chef.” Or at least that’s how it was until my fantasies of baked brie and crème brûlée came crashing down in the form of a milk allergy.

The first few days were ugly. I was not only without my favorite foods, but my cooking aspirations were also crumbling in my hands like flaky piecrust. My parents, as fellow food aficionados, were sympathetic, but reminded me that I needed to move on. In an effort to help me do so, my mother came home from the grocery store one day and excitedly proclaimed that she had purchased dairy-free cheese. Yet after cooking and attempting to eat a grilled ham and fake-cheese sandwich, I seriously questioned the credibility of the corporation that had produced that yellowy-orange rubber and labeled it as “cheese.” Again and again I was disappointed when my favorite meals were less decadent than they had been when dairy products were included in the recipes. I spent years marinating in misery over my breakup with creamy, buttery, cheesy foods.

Everything changed one morning, when I finally traded my self-pity for measuring cups and oven mitts. I decided to pull out a cookbook that had gone unopened since being gifted to me during my days of sulking. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World was a goldmine of dairy-free recipes, as well as a starting point for my reentry into the cooking community. After baking pumpkin cupcakes without dairy, and whipping up some buttercream frosting using neither butter nor cream, I realized that my love of cooking didn’t have to share a grave with my tolerance for milk products. This truth has allowed me to reinvent many of my favorite recipes, substituting dairy ingredients with allergy-friendly ones. Even though I can no longer join my family in dining adventurously, we continue to share in our mutual love of food while enjoying delicious, homemade, dairy-free meals.

When people find out that I’m allergic to milk, it is not uncommon for me to hear something like, “How do you survive without ice cream?” or, “Life without pizza must be awful.” At one point in my life, a comment like that would have catapulted me into a series of bitter complaints about my unfortunate situation. However, my outlook has matured drastically. I would be lying if I said that I never crave a buttery croissant when walking past a bakery; I am all too familiar with this provocation. Yet I have come to realize that a life without challenges means a life without tolerance, fortitude, and humility. Every human being has at least one hardship on his or her plate. My biggest struggle in life is simply that I lack the option of putting butter on my bread or milk on my cereal, and for this I am very grateful. Learning not to cry over spilled milk was not the only lesson I took from this experience. Adapting to my allergy and finding the good in a crumby situation has improved my outlook on life and prepared me for future trials.

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