Saturday, December 19, 2015

Doesn't matter until it's you: the difference between lactose intolerance and dairy allergy

Lactose intolerance is when you have digestive issues with dairy. Dairy allergy is when you're allergic to it. Like being allergic to grass or whatever. Lactose intolerance presents as symptoms of indigestion: gassiness, bloating, stomach discomfort. Dairy allergy presents in a bunch of different ways, like nasal congestion, sleep apnea and resulting insomnia, and resulting irritability, excess mucus and resulting bad breath... usually it's comparable to hayfever symptoms. Lactose intolerance is relatively rare, and dairy allergy is very, very common. It's one of the most common food allergies. Lactose intolerance is widely known, and dairy allergy is virtually unknown. So the common one is the one with the lower amount of public awareness about it.

The most important difference is the foods that will and won't cause trouble: a lactose intolerant person doesn't have to avoid as many foods as someone with a dairy allergy. If you're allergic to dairy, you can't even include foods just because they're labelled as dairy-free. Stuff without milk or dairy products listed on the label may include them. It's the difference between "may contain traces of" being okay or being not okay. If you're lactose intolerant, cocoa is okay because it only contains traces of milk, whereas if you're allergic, traces is all you need to be stuffed up or whatever.

Some stuff that contains dairy that's labelled as dairy-free: Chocolate almond milk, chocolate soy milk, etc. Any drink with chocolate in it is very unlikely to be made with cacao instead of cocoa (the key difference), because cacao is actual chocolate, and cocoa is processed chocolate, which is cheaper and more stable and, of course, requires milk to process. So those Vega chocolate covered vegan chocolate bars? Yeah, they do have milk in them. Because they have cocoa in them. If it were cacao instead of cocoa, they'd be vegan. But it's cocoa, so it's dairy. Bread is also impossible to distinguish, even if dairy is not contained on the label. There are probably some safe brands at the grocery store, but if you're not sure, just don't buy bread. It's easier to make your own dairy-free pancakes than it is to try all the different breads in your grocery store, to find the one that's magically, accidentally dairy-free.

So unfortunately the vegan dairy-free meals at The Stop aren't completely dairy-free. They're dairy-free enough for people with lactose-intolerance, because they recognize that condition. But nobody recognizes dairy allergies, so it is officially impossible to find a soup kitchen meal that will not trigger a dairy allergy. The Stop does come very, very close, closer than any of the other places, but it's still not really an option, if you're allergic to dairy.

Actually one of the few places where an allergy to dairy is recognized, and surprisingly at that, is in the ODSP and OW special diet directives. They qualify you for an extra dollar a day, just like lactose intolerance does. And if you have both, you just get that extra dollar a day. Not two. But don't worry, there's a benefit in there for involuntary weight loss, too, so if you can document your starvation with your doctor, then a few months of only having access to one soup kitchen meal, half of the days of the week, you'll probably qualify for that benefit. It's a far cry from the extra $300 or so that we used to be able to receive for those who needed an all-organic or all-vegan diet, but that disappeared as part of our cumulative 50% wage cut over the past decade. So, yeah, we have two food banks and one meal program that recognizes that not everyone can have dairy. See you at the TVFB. Don't grab the vega bars.

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