When she was a teenager, Sandra Beasley’s go-to restaurant food was french fries, which might sound downright divine to some. But the 31-year-old poet and author’s food allergies to eggs, dairy (including goat’s milk), soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish and mustard didn’t permit many options. Her book, which takes its name from childhood birthday parties at which the author’s mother routinely warned guests not to “kill the birthday girl” with a buttery cake or creamy frosting kiss, plots her struggles with food reactions that often land her curled up on the floor in pain struggling for breath and popping Benadryl like candy against the history and science of food allergies. If you didn’t have sympathy for this relatively new generation of sufferers, you will after Beasley’s book.
The public can be pitiless: a fourth-grade classroom nutritionist, after hearing Beasley’s long list of threatening foods, says, “Well, that’s not somebody designed to survive, now, is it?” Waiters not trained, or sometimes unwilling, to deal with allergies can land her in the ER.
In the last few pages, Beasley introduces others as lethally allergic to foods as she is. Their voices are a welcome respite; even the most tender-hearted reader may become apathetic to her tribulations. But this is primarily a memoir and the emotional stuff is the best—from worrying about kissing boys who may have eaten forbidden foods, to considering the implications of having kids who’ll have to wash their hands before hugging their mother. It’s also an ode to close friends and family, particularly a patient and doting mother, who always made sure to pack her daughter’s travel bag with a “Sandra-friendly” Giant-brand loaf of Italian bread. They provide comfort and support, and truly appreciate what Beasley must endure daily to survive.
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