This episode of ReMade is a lot less fictional than you might expect. I love May and I love writing May, in no small part because she’s based in many ways on my own teenage daughter. But there’s one similarity in particular that means a lot to me. Like May, my kid has a potentially life-threatening food allergy. I’ve also been on medically necessary limited diets. It really sucks.
If you don’t have direct experience of a food allergy, it’s easy to overlook how much it can impact your life and your emotional state. We use food and eating in a lot of ways that don’t have anything to do with fueling our bodies.
Food is a way that we bond with the people we are about, and a way that we comfort ourselves and others. (How many people want chocolate when they’re down, or make soup or cookies to cheer up a friend?) Food can signal who you are and what’s important to you. (Do you have special recipes from your grandparents? Do you try to buy organic non-GMO when you can?) Food is love and belonging. There’s a reason that every culture in the world has celebrations revolving around eating together as families and as communities.
But when you can’t eat just any old thing that someone puts in front of you, this basic need can become a minefield. Again, it’s not just about the food; it’s about feeling excluded and isolated. It’s lonely to be the one person who can’t have the cupcakes at a birthday party. It’s even worse when you’re starving, and there’s lots of food around but you can’t have a crumb of it.
All of this made writing Hungry a deeply emotional experience for me. And that’s before even including the part with the anaphylaxis, which is so close to life that I cried the whole time writing it.
Anaphylaxis is the potentially fatal reaction that can occur when you’re exposed to something you’re allergic to. Some people can get this reaction to bee stings, or peanuts. May gets it from corn. But there’s a lot of bad information in fiction about how anaphylaxis works, and how it’s treated.
Many people with serious allergies carry around an Epi-Pen or other epinephrine injector in case of an emergency, but here’s the problem: even that only buys you about 15 minutes to get to a hospital. It doesn’t stop the reaction. So even if everything had gone perfectly for May, she still would have been in serious danger.
In Hungry I’m writing about my own worst nightmare: channeling all of the emotional energy I have about something I’m terrified could happen to my own child one day. It’s pretty intense. If you have an allergy yourself, I hope you feel understood, and like you’re not alone. And if you don’t, I hope walking in May’s shoes for a few thousand words gives you better insight into what it’s genuinely like for millions of people.