Culture

Risk-Taking as a Way of Life: What’s in your New Orleans Gumbo?

As far as I can remember I have been allergic to shellfish. One touch to my lips and I swell up like Kim Kardashian. Ok. Not really. And by the way, it is quite horrific how the media is deciding to go after Kim Kardashian for pregnancy weight gain. Women serve as incubators for life. What do you think happens when you grow someone inside of you? Giselle is the mutant gaining only like 10 pounds. Really? Anyway, back to my allergy. Shellfish and me don’t quite mix. Recently, I have also developed an allergy to codfish, and salmon.  How could that be? I am Puerto Rican. I grew up on codfish-bacalao. I have had an extreme fondness for cod fritters. Yet, my body decided that cod just was not meant to be for me. Salmon, eh, it is a bit over-rated. I discovered the salmon allergy when I was pregnant. Not a cool scene.  Did you know that about 60% of people with shellfish allergy experienced their first allergic reaction as adults. I guess I lucked out getting my first allergic reaction out of the way early on. That’s me, always an overachiever. In case you were wondering, shrimp, crab and lobster cause most shellfish allergies and eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies.  Just eight food groups? That seems manageable, right?

Food allergies are quite a mystery. Scientists still don’t know if we are predisposed from birth to have allergies to certain things and they manifest slowly over life or if there can be sudden onsets. As a matter of fact next week, May 12-18 is food allergy awareness week. Go figure. I didn’t know that until this morning and I suffer from lifelong allergies.

Rule number one of living with a food allergy is that you must always be prepared to treat an accidental exposure.  One is advised to either wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace and /or carry an Epi-pen (auto-injector device containing epinephrine  which is adrenaline). Think of the scene in Pulp Fiction-of course, she needed an adrenaline shot because she overdosed on cocaine but you get the point.

Besides being prepared to treat exposure, living with an allergy means that you have to know what to avoid in order to not be exposed. So, there is a bit of prevention involved. Number one prevention rule if you have a shellfish allergy is to avoid seafood restaurants.  Because even if you order a non-seafood item off of the menu, cross-contact is possible.  Prevention rule number two is to be careful going to Asian restaurants since so many often serve dishes that use fish sauce as a flavoring base.   Lastly, one should be careful of hanging out near cooking areas in restaurants since shellfish protein can become airborne in the steam released during cooking and may be a risk.  Got the rules! Of course, the first rule is you do not talk about fight club and if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight. Oh wait, different blog topic.  Back to the shellfish topic at hand.

Why do I bring up all these rules.  Obviously, shellfish allergy can have severe consequences.  As such, most be a part of everyday life thought if you are someone like me. What do I mean.? I love to eat. I believe eating good food is a true pleasure in life. I travel a lot for work. So, I constantly eat out at restaurants. Third, I do not cook. So, I have perfected the art form of ordering out.  Food is a big part of my life. Thus, risk taking is an everyday part of  my life.

I do not avoid Asian restaurants. I love Asian food. As a matter of fact, I love visiting the country of Japan and plan other trips to Asia. I like going to restaurants where there is an open space where you can watch the chefs creating food masterpieces.  Third, I do not completely avoid seafood restaurants. Just last night I went to a restaurant called KingFish in New Orleans. And that takes me to item number four. I love, love New Orleans. I would be mightily upset if I just stopped going there despite the fact that every gumbo cup I eat is a major risk-taking endeavor. I have been pre and post Katrina and every single trip there is something new in New Orleans. It is a continuously evolving city steeped in history and tradition. I love hearing the random bands playing on the streets. I love talking to the random local person who decides to sing us a few Cole Porter songs while we eat and drink daiquiris from a Styrofoam 32 ounce cup. I even don’t mind getting knocked in the head by flying beads or getting my heels stuck in the uneven potted cobblestone streets. I do all that because I love gumbo. It is such a perfect dish, despite the possible shrimp paste.

New Orleans is a smorgasbord of good food, cocktails, music and random wackiness. But, for someone who suffers from shellfish allergies, it is a true risk-taking environment.  I engage in dissertation-like conversations with the servers to assure there is no shrimp, shrimp paste or fish sauce in any part of the meal. Of course, despite those long discussions I still occasionally get served fried green tomatoes with crawfish etouffe on top.  That is why I always have an epi-pen and several Benadryl pills with me. I am constantly aware that I am  involved in a risky proposition. But I cannot avoid eating out. I cannot avoid going to New Orleans or going to Asia because part of my DNA has always consisted of risk-taking or at least openness. I wouldn’t have made it out of the South Bronx if I didn’t have that sense of adventure within in.

With that said, I do note that everything has to be within reason and no way would I minimize preventing exposure to shellfish. I just am not constrained by it.

So, as I walk through the French Quarter or go to Baton Rouge for a business meeting, I take in the beauty of New Orleans recognizing that many of the residents do not have easy lives here. But they stay because they love it. They stay because they can rebuild it. Many argued after Katrina that living in New Orleans was a major risk-taking proposition.  And, it can be. But it is also full of life with people taking things day-by-day to build a better tomorrow.

Ah, New Orleans truly a unique American City that exemplifies our independent, risk-taking history. You gotta love that place indeed.

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