A quick synopsis of the back story: Minnow is intolerant of dairy, soy, and corn, and since I am breast feeding her, I’ve been on a three month elimination diet. Because of Minnow’s intolerances, about 99% of prepared and restaurant foods are out. The full back story is here.
My experiences on an elimination diet have made me much more aware of what life must be like with a disability. This might sound odd at first, but bear with me for a second. I walk into a grocery store or a restaurant, and I can’t participate in (i.e., eat) most of the offerings. I have to carefully scan the list of ingredients to see if it’s safe. Sometimes despite my best efforts I fail, like the night I ordered a baked potato without cheese, sour cream or butter and sent my salad back because it contained cheese, yet my steak arrived swimming in melted butter. Things that other people take for granted, like being able to buy something to eat in a vending machine or airport, I can’t do. I’d imagine that these experiences are distantly akin to the wheel-chair user who discovers that there is no ramp on an old building or the blind person trying to use an elevator without Braille. More probably, my experiences are closer to that of someone with a hidden disability, dyslexia or autism, say, who appears to be “normal,” yet on the inside is struggling to keep up with the world around him.
I’m fine at home where we’ve got a pantry and fridge full of food I can eat. I’ve learned what snacks to keep on hand (raisins) and which cereals I can eat for breakfast (with rice milk). But I get frustrated at grocery stores, because I see people piling food into their carts without reading labels and I have to walk past whole aisles and counters where I can’t eat a single thing. It’s a harsh reminder that for 99% of the American populace, large categories of food aren’t off-limits. In the same way, I’d imagine that disabled people would be apt to feel somewhat uncomfortable when in situations that remind them of the things they can’t do.
But my tribulations are trivial compared to those of people with disabilities. First of all, my limitations are temporary. Minnow will probably grow out of her intolerances, and I won’t be breast-feeding forever, anyway. Second, being on a strict diet has in no way impaired my ability to do my job or participate in other aspects of everyday life (except eating, of course). Third, no one is avoiding my gaze or feeling uncomfortable around me because I’m eating a salad with no dressing. I don’t have to deal with other people’s reactions to my situation, unless I point it out to them. Most of my lunch mates don’t even notice my weird meals.
In some ways, I’m glad for this experience, because I think it has made more sensitive to disabled people around me. I think I am already more sympathetic in dealing with students and others with hidden disabilities.
I’d be interested to hear from readers on this one. Is there any validity in comparing my experiences of those of a disabled person? Am I using the wrong language to talk about things? Am I way out of line? (I promise not to be offended.)