I hate cheese. It’s one of those character details that people learn about me and then remember me by. “Faith, quiet, likes to read, and, oh yeah, didn’t she once tell me she hates cheese?” I guess it’s memorable because it’s so different. Not liking broccoli or being allergic to peanuts is heard of, but discriminating against cheese? It sounds odd to cheese lovers. My dietary difference has stuck with me. It’s become part of my identity, my life. I wrote my college application essay about not liking cheese and being picky about other foods. I hand over the cheese from my pizza to friends and family. I look away in disgust when commercials show cheese stretching and oozing. People find that appetizing? Blech!
People try to help me. “Maybe you just don’t like this kind of cheese,” they say. “Maybe you’d like that kind of cheese instead. If you tried it.” After a while of hearing this, I think, maybe they’re right. Maybe the dislike is all in my head. Maybe if I try again I’ll learn to like it, like learning to eat broccoli. So I try again and I fight to hide the screwing up of my face. No, no, no. Cheese still has that taste, that thing about it, that sickens me.
That’s the problem. It makes me feel sick. Cheese makes me sick.
All this time I thought it might just be my particular quirk that I don’t like the taste of cheese. Some benign little side note, like how my dad doesn’t eat bananas and sister prefers not to eat red meat. But that unique quirk is more meaningful than I originally thought. I realize now that I hate cheese because deep down I hate dairy. I denied my physical aversion to dairy. I ate cereal, yogurt, and ice cream like normal people do, and took breaks when my tummy, for some reason, seemed to not be so happy. I disregarded the truth, all except for the cheese bit. Now I’m seeing that it’s more than cheese. Cheese just has a stronger taste and smell of dairy that I’ve always disliked but can ignore in other forms, like the mellowness of butter, the sweetness of ice cream.
Ever since I was a baby I struggled with dairy. Looking back, my mom says I had to take formula because even her consumption of milk made me sick. Lunch time at my public elementary school was a trial. The only drink that came free with lunch was a carton of chocolate milk. Sometimes I’d have a dollar to buy a bottled drink, but I usually didn’t have extra money, so I’d sip at the milk and nibble at the unappetizing foods, and then just push the meal away.
But even snacks at home were tricky because my favorite and easiest breakfast and snack was a bowl of cereal. Starting the day off with cereal meant my butterflies of social anxiety combined with true nausea. Closing the day with a bowl of cereal was full of comforting taste but added to the nausea of the next day. Too much milk throughout the day, seven days a week, week after week of school and I’d eventually get so nauseous that I would put aside milk for a while. Just rice milk or soy milk for me. No more 2% or ice cream until I felt better. Then I would try again, just not too much.
In high school I was friends with an exchange student from Thailand. She was surprised to see milk offered so much in the US. Her doctor back home told her to stop drinking milk at a certain age. My response when she told me this was shock. Stop drinking milk? All the ads here are drink milk all the time, as much as you can. “Got milk?” “Got milk?” “GET MILK!”
Only now do I realize and really accept the truth of her doctor’s wisdom. Some people must stop drinking milk. I’ve heard that no human processes milk well, though some do better than others. There are whole groups of people that historically and biologically have a bad time with milk, so advice to cease drinking milk can be sound advice. I shouldn’t push myself to “get milk” because that’s what expected. I should listen to my body.
And I definitely will now. I recently stumbled across the website GoDairyFree.org. On the site there are articles about living a dairy-free life and product reviews of dairy-free alternative products. I read through some and learned a lot. I learned that lactose intolerance is well known, but less known are allergies to proteins and whey present in milk. So someone can still be irritated by milk when they drink lactose-free milk, something that happened to me a month ago. There are great resources for people out there, people like me.
So instead of just dealing with symptoms when they arise, I’m taking a more proactive approach. I’m not going to fight my body any more. I’m choosing to consume much less dairy. I’ll try almond milk and dairy free ice cream. I’ll learn to say “no thank you” to dairy treats I used to easily give into. And I won’t apologize for hating cheese.
Do you have allergies or dietary issues? How did you find out about them? How do you live with them? What’s your story?