by Colleen Earp
In this season of hot cocoa and warm cookies, I am feeling a bit hopeless.
Earlier this fall I was diagnosed with a severe alpha-gal allergy, also known as a mammalian meat allergy. In my case, I’m also sensitive to all mammal products, including gelatin, butter, milk, and cheese. This doesn’t cause a little bit of indigestion; this causes reactions ranging from hives to anaphylaxis. I was already a vegetarian, but kicking dairy has been heartbreaking. It means most baked goods are off limits this holiday season. No chocolate chip cookies. No pumpkin pie. It means no warm, gooey macaroni and cheese after a long day of working outside in the colder weather. It means I can’t have the wonderful cream cheese pastries I make with my grandmother every Christmas.
This allergy is caused by a tick bite (specifically from the lone star tick). Tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and yes, alpha-gal allergy, are on the rise in the United States. Overall, warmer winters allow for longer life cycles for these teensy arachnids, increasing the likelihood of them carrying and spreading diseases. This is just one kind of public health side effect of climate change; heat related illness, air pollution, severe and lengthy seasonal allergies, and crop shortages are all very real issues, too.
My situation is not actually completely without hope. This allergy can easily be controlled through dietary restrictions. I am privileged to have access to healthcare, including coverage for my emergency epinephrine auto-injector in case of cross-contamination or miscommunication about my allergies. I have access to plenty of foods to supplement my new diet—yes, even dairy alternatives (I made my family’s traditional pumpkin pie recipe with coconut milk!). I also have an amazing community of family and friends who are willing to try new foods and take extreme care in their kitchens so I don’t have to go through this alone.
I find hope in these little modifications we can make in our own lives that consider our neighbors and future generations on this shared planet. You don’t even need a severe food allergy to change your habits! A little less meat in our diets, a little more vegetables, or a little more walking or biking, a little more recycling, a little more sustainability.All of these things contribute to healthier individuals and a healthier Earth. And a little more bug spray and tucking your pants into your socks while enjoying the beauty of creation will help prevent tick-borne illnesses, which will also contribute to a healthier individual!
So the situation is not really without hope. A plant-based diet might be better for our planet anyway. Plants require far fewer resources to produce than meat--though we all should consider our food mileage: a steady diet of foods that are shipped long distances ups the amount of resources.
In this season of Advent, we wait with hope in great anticipation for our Savior. Jesus didn’t expect us to do nothing while we wait; he demonstrated putting faith into action, going out into the world and doing what he could. With hope and anticipation, let’s continue working together to make changes for a better future for our Earth and all of our neighbors within it.