On Being "Allergic" to Milk Proteins

I’m lactose intolerant--that I know. (I’ve repeatedly done the assay...out my ass.) Being lactose intolerant makes me statistically normal among the world’s adult human population. That’s right: about 85% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant, as are most other adult mammals. If only I lived where most people were normal like me....

But to make things even more physiologically exciting, on top of being lactose intolerant, I also have nasty reactions to milk proteins. Ingesting even tiny amounts of milk proteins causes me to have migraine symptoms: vertigo (dizziness), visual auras, ringing ears, light sensitivity, nausea, mild sinus headache, and lots of phlegm production. Larger amounts of milk proteins...like two tablespoons of cow milk...well, that gives me searing pain to any light, along with vomiting, leg pain, sinus pain, major phlegm production, and vaginal pain. (Crazy, I know. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t done the test so many times.) Oh, and milk proteins also make me really tense and pissy. Seriously, eating milk proteins makes me act like I’m PMS’ing, even when I’m not PMS’ing. (I once joked to a friend that 10% of the success of the intersex rights movement is probably due to a combination of my PMS and my milk allergy; some of my best diatribes have been written at those moments, once I have been able to get off the floor.)

I have no idea how this happened. How on earth does one develop this weird combination of reactions to milk proteins? All I know is that I’d like to sue Kraft, the maker of Cool Whip, for saying on the label “DAIRY FREE!” when, if your read the ingredient list, it clearly names casein...a milk protein. This is a great way for my friends to accidentally give me migraines; they make me desserts from Cool Whip, naturally assuming it is dairy free. Thanks, Kraft!

I’ve also learned the hard way that most places that serve “vegan” food have no clue that most margarine is made with whey (a milk derivative). So they label muffins, omelettes, etc. “vegan” when in fact they’re made with a whey-based margarine. It’s why I no longer trust “vegan” designations at restaurants when I’m looking for something safe to eat on the road. (I do eat meat--I just used to foolishly think i could choose “vegan” on the road and be safe.) The one margarine I’ve found that is actually dairy free is Willow Run. Hey, Willow Run margarine is full of trans fat, but eating it doesn’t put me under my bed for three days.

My brother, who hates the thought of my using trans-fatty margarine or (gasp!) lard as a shortening, discovered coconut oil for me. Not totally healthy, but it works great for baking; coconut oil makes the only cookies ever known to remain crisp in the state of Michigan longer than 1 hour. I highly recommend it as a shortening, if you can find it and afford it. For anything that calls for melted butter, you can use canola oil if you want a neutral flavor; it doesn’t taste as good as butter, of course, but it works in a pinch.

Truly, I will tell you as a cook and as an enthusiastic eater, the best way to deal with a food problem like this is not to attempt substitutes, but to seek out and create dishes that don’t call for the thing you can’t eat. Thus, when I’m on the road, as I often am, instead of trying to find a place that will make me a soy cheese pizza, I try to find a Thai or Ethiopian or kosher restaurant, where I can get some food designed to be wonderful without dairy. If I’m on a gig and my hosts take me to a place that has a lot of dairy, I politely ask the waiter to find out what’s tasty that I can eat safely. (I don’t pull a Sally: “I’ll have the x but without the y and substitute the z and make sure it is cooked in this particular way....” As a chef, I know how annoying Sally’s can be.)

People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you miss good cheeses? Don’t you miss real ice cream? Don’t you miss having a real latte?” You betcha. But there’s nothing like profound vomiting to make you not miss dairy all that much.