How to Succeed in College Without Really Dying

Greetings Ninjas in Training!

And most special greetings and congratulations to you recent graduate ninjas! I’m sure you all look adorable in your weird square hats.

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That’s me at my high school graduation – a fledgling ninja, still blindly navigating the waters of exercise-induced anaphylaxis. I wouldn’t face full-blown ninjahood until my sophomore year of college, but I still understand the alarming reality that is trying to eat in college without dying of food allergies… while also learning to semi-adult, making new friends, deciding which non-graded assignments are worth it (answer: if it’s chem, all of them), and not sleeping ever.

Thus, behold: as requested by the young Ninja Rose, a guide to starting college on the right food-allergic foot.

Option 1: Talk to Your School Nutritionist

Make an appointment with your school’s nutritionist as soon as possible. Send an email introducing yourself, and explain that you have some unusual, but serious, allergies. Give them a basic idea: what foods can you not have? Do you need to look at labels on pre-made sauces and seasonings?

If your diet is extremely limited and your home is far from college, ask if they are willing to converse via Skype – the earlier your meeting, the easier it will be to deal with roadblocks.

Sometimes, talking with the nutritionist is all you need to do! Some schools have excellent allergy systems, and with a little adapting, they will be able to help you too. You may have early access to menus of the day, access to labels, or even the ability to request customized safe meals.

Then again, your school nutritionist might be insane.

While some can be persuaded out of initial denial (see also: “You can’t be allergic to that, you’ll die!), nutritionists who also tell your nut-allergic roommate that her allergies aren’t real… probably aren’t going to be much help.

Nope, I’m not kidding.

That’s a thing that happened.

Have a little science speech prepared for the sane but misinformed nutritionist. If you find yourself stuck with one who denies you assistance even after being educated, on to option 2!

Option 2: Make Friends with Food Services

This is important regardless of whether or not your nutritionist is bonkers. It’s not even really an option, but calling it otherwise would have thrown off my header theme. These people are responsible for your life – they are far more likely to take your safety seriously if they have a friendly face to keep in mind while chopping up those lemons.

If you have the nutritionist on your side, chances are there is already a good allergy program in place, and the workers are educated on the basics. Since ninjas are probably a little different from anything they’ve encountered, it’s a good idea to talk to whoever is in charge of the kitchen and teach them a little about your food allergies.

Bonus points for bringing the staff allergy-free treats: it’s a great way to make friends and show you care about them as much as they care about you. (Make sure to find out about their allergies before bringing anything… my Head Chef was allergic to nuts, and he was so excited that I asked first. It’s the little things!)

If you don’t have the nutritionist on your side, things will be trickier. You’ll have to sort out things like early access to menus and labels all on your own.

Initially I worked out a procedure which allowed me to email the head of Food Services the night before with my choice from the menu, and I could ask anything I needed to about the sauces and mystery ingredients.

Unfortunately, this proved to be too complicated for my particular situation. They weren’t always able to find the labels, and were worried about companies changing ingredients in their mixes without notice. My school didn’t have a good allergy safety program, so the disorganization with regard to ingredients didn’t work in my favor. Making friends in Food Services did though – more on that later!

Option 3: Independent Eating

If you’re not able to work out a good protocol for the dining halls, it’s time to turn to self-sufficiency. Get in touch with your Student Health Services and explain that you’re going to need a car on campus and a room with a kitchen.

Trust me, you want a car – if you’re going to be making alllllll of your food, you don’t want to be hauling all of your groceries 10 blocks and then riding the bus for an hour every darn week.

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You definitely want to invest in a vacuum sealer. These little miracles let you make big batches of food, then vacuum seal individual portions to eat later. You can keep them for actual months in the freezer. Read: you won’t have to cook during finals.

A kitchen will be nice for the actual making of food, but most likely you’ll *have* to eat in a dining hall for lunch – there won’t be time to go home and cook. You can keep some safe sandwich and wrap materials for when you need a portable lunch.

You may also want to invest in some collapsible food containers for more hearty, but still portable, dinners. College is about two things: learning and food. Meals are your social time, and you don’t want to spend them holed up in your kitchen cave!

Option 4: Independent Eating Redux

Sometimes, getting a kitchen and a car is not an option.

Maybe you’ve already been assigned a kitchenless underclass dorm, or maybe Student Health Services is just as useless as your nutritionist.

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Whatever the case, you’re going to need the following:
1) Adoring parents
2) A vacuum sealer in the abode with aforementioned parents
3) A mini freezer and fridge (not a mini fridge with one of those hand-sized “freezer” flappy things, that’s not gonna cut it – you need a separate actual freezer)
4) A giant bowl and an electric tea kettle OR a microwave
5) Optional: a rice cooker

I just spent way too much time searching through my college pictures looking for my freezer-fridge in the background. How it remains elusive in the millions of photos I took is a mystery.

Anyways, when I was a sophomore, I was in a kitchenless suite. My allergies had escalated disastrously over the summer, and by the time I realized school food wasn’t an option, changing rooms wasn’t an option either. Not that I would have wanted to leave anyways – my suite was the party suite.

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See what I mean? Man, we were wild.

Pretty sure that picture was taken from atop my elusive freezer-fridge, by the way.

And so, my brilliant mom came up with a solution: she cooked me large batches of food at home, vacuum sealed and froze them, and sent them to me by way of my dad, who happens to be a pilot and can hop on any plane for free.

I’d keep the food in my freezer, and heat it up either by microwave, or by letting the frozen food warm up in a bowl of hot water (courtesy of the electric tea kettle). I made rice a couple of times a week and kept leftovers in my fridge. It worked out splendidly.

I am of course, very lucky that my parents were both willing and able to do this for me. If they hadn’t, I would not have been able to stay at school out of state. Four for you, parents. You go, parents.

I do know of others with non-pilot parents who were able to make a similar procedure work sans free flights, so it’s still possible with other means of transport.

I’m also very lucky that I made friends with the Food Services people. Not only did they let me keep an overflow of my food in their industrial freezer (my tiny one could only hold so much), but they also let me heat up food in their kitchen when I wanted to eat dinner with my friends.

This was before I became sensitive to cross-contamination and airborne smells – once that came into play, I was restricted to heating and eating in my room. But for those who aren’t quite that sensitive, heating your own food up in the school’s kitchen is a great way to eat safe food with your friends, without having to figure out how to carry it or what to do with your empty containers if you’re going out after!

But what if my friends want to eat out, Lemon Ninja?

An excellent question – and a whole new topic. Check out some tips on how to survive college socializing (read: socializing that revolves around food) in this post.

So those are the basics – please feel welcome to ask questions in the comments section if you’d like to know more about how to succeed in college without really dying.

Hermione graduation

(Ok here’s the thing, I know nothing about How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, except that Harry Potter was in it. I could not find any pictures of Harry Potter graduating, so here’s a picture of Hermione instead.)

That’s all for now ninjalings.
Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!
The Lemon Ninja

Special thanks to my friend Judith for retouching me like a celebrity in a Vogue shoot. Don’t I look beautiful?

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No Good Read Goes Unpunished

Greetings Ninjas in Training,

Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen.

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No idea, Elphaba. But a lot of the time, that’s how I feel when I’m trying to read labels.

Buckle down, ninjalings. We’re gonna learn a few tricks to make it a little easier! This is long, but stick out the tutorial, it will help you in life and stuff, AND there’s a chance for a prize at the end!

Step One

The first rule of label reading is to always read the label.

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Ok, so I searched “label reading gif” and this is what came up. This is just my personal opinion, but I think it’s a bit too late for this person to be reading labels. Either they have serious gangrene, or it’s Elphaba, in which case I’m sorry.

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Anyways, I’m serious. Read it. Every time.

Ingredients for the same food item can vary from brand to brand, and ingredients in any product vary by region. That is, Oreos in California do not have the same ingredients as Oreos in Missouri; they are manufactured in different facilities, and the non-main ingredients they use are different. (Also, don’t eat Oreos, they are not safe for ninjas or anyone wishing to live past age 50.)

Furthermore, ingredients in any product can change without notice. For example, one of my favorite brands of “safe” chocolate added soy to their product, which means it is no longer “safe” and no longer my favorite because they took away my chocolate.

Step Two

Once you’ve got that label in hand, your next step is to look for the most conspicuous of perpetrators: citric acid or citrates.

In order to demonstrate, we will look at the stuff of my nightmares:

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I’m not kidding, I’ve had actual nightmares about Death by Doritos. You will see why very quickly.

Let’s take a look: any citric acid or citrates?

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Yep. So right there, you should put down the Deathritos and run. But since we have a few more steps to learn, we’re going to keep looking. Be brave, ninjalings.

Step Three

Look for foods that are above your tolerance level. Since I’m the one writing this tutorial, we are going to use my tolerance level, which is negative zero.

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Let’s take a look at each of these perpetrators in detail:

Corn – Contains about 0.2% citric acid, so #nope
Vegetable oil – Corn oil is one of three possibilities here, making this a #no
Cheddar cheese – Made with milk (0.2%) and additional citric acid, bringing it to 0.4% of #nope
Buttermilk – Again with the milk, plus it probably has other strange additives #no
Romano cheese – We don’t have a specific number for this cheese, but it’s cheese #nope
Onion powder – Onions can have 0.1-0.3% citric acid #nothanks
Corn flour – #nope
Tomato powder – Tomatoes are in the 0.4-0.5% range, but here’s the thing: this is percent by weight, and water adds a lot of weight to tomatoes. The CA content of powdered tomato (and any powdered thing, including the onions above and others below) are likely much higher than for the whole food. #nopenopenope
Spices – Vague enough for you? As a general rule, I assume leaf spices to be safe and root or other spices to be unsafe, since root vegetables etc. all contain citric acid. However, I don’t have any numbers to verify this, and even if I did, that would do nothing for determining the safety of the mystery spices in here #vague #nope
Garlic powder – 1.0% plus the rule of powdered things make this a #no
Red and green bell pepper powder – 0.2 and 0.1% respectively, plus powder rule #nope

Are you having nightmares yet?

Step Four

If you have very low tolerance like me, it’s time to check for ingredients derived from citric acid-containing things. I keep a running list of sneaky additives here, but said list is nowhere near complete. Please let me know if you discover new things to add to the Nope-dom.

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Sunflower or canola oil – These are safe when expeller expressed, but when this process is used, it almost always specifies this on the label. These oils are likely cold pressed, which is a chemical extraction process that often uses citric acid #nope
Maltodextrin – For once the label does the work for us! It says right there, “made from corn” #bye
Enzymes – What even? Why you gotta be so vague, Doritos? Enzymes can be derived from anything, oftentimes fruits or vegetables, so #nope
Whey – Extracted from milk #nope
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – Often made by doing strange things to beets #no
Enzymes again – #why #no
Whey protein concentrate – More whey? #excessive #no
Natural flavors – Citric acid is considered a “natural” flavor because it is made with corn and mold. You can’t make this stuff up. #ew #nOpe
Dextrose – Derived from corn in the U.S., but may be made from wheat elsewhere #redwhiteandnope
Lactose – Derived from milk #no
Lactic acid – Derived from milk #noagain
Sugar – Can be derived from either cane (safe) or beets (unsafe). “Healthy,” organic, less processed foods are more likely to use cane, but in a junk food like this, beet is a likely source #nope

Something to keep in mind while reading labels: things are listed in order from “most stuff in here” to “least stuff in here.” Someone with a moderate tolerance might be able to tolerate something with corn as a last ingredient, but not as a first ingredient. Figuring out what you can tolerate in what positions takes a little trial and error, so if you’re going to experiment, be safe and make sure you won’t be anywhere near your celebrity crush/Elphaba/other people you want to impress in the near future.

Ok, so using my -0 tolerance level, it looks like we’re left with…

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Cheese cultures (bacteria), salt, more cheese cultures, more salt, artificial color, and two weird chemical things.

Yum. #not

Step Five

You thought you were done?

Alas, ninjalings. I don’t know about other countries, but in America, we don’t tell people what’s in their food unless it’s 1% or more of the total weight.

If you are ridiculously sensitive, you might want to call the manufacturer to ask what else is in their food. They probably won’t tell you, but it’s worth a try for certain items, like unprocessed meat (which is often washed in citric acid for sanitation). I’ve been pretty consistently able to get responses from meat manufacturers, but not from manufacturers of processed foods.

Story time: once upon a time I found a cereal whose label indicated total safeness. I was thrilled, but called the manufacturer anyways to make sure there was no sneaky citric acid. They assured me there was not, so I ate it.

My body was not pleased. I called again, and asked them to please tell me all ingredients that were not on the label; they insisted they could not do so because it was “proprietary information” (my least favorite words). I tried it again. I got sick again. So I wrote to my doctor, who wrote to them with all the authority of his M.D.

Two months later, I got a letter stating that I would be sued for eternity and my doctor would lose his license if I shared the super secret information they were about to share with me. The cereal contained 0.12 ppb citric acid.

0.12. Parts. Per. Billion.

Moral of the story: trust no witch.

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Except Elphaba. She knows what’s up.

Alternate moral of the story: if you’re ridiculously sensitive and will die from eating 0.12 ppb citric acid, do your best to stay away from processed foods. However, for the vast majority of ninjas, this should not be a problem, so don’t worry about it!

The Contest

Ok ninjalings, now it’s YOUR turn to read a label!

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Using my tolerance level, please comment on this post with a list of ninja-unfriendly ingredients.

Whoever gets the closest by April 1st gets a special prize!

What is this prize, you ask? Well, I’ve gotten approximately 50 million emails as of late requesting more recipes.

So, recipes you shall have! Winner gets their favorite recipe modified into a ninja-friendly version. I will contact you by email and we’ll work together until it’s delicious. If more than one of you gets it right, I’ll be selecting a random winner.

Happy label reading!
Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!!!
The Lemon Ninja

We’re Not Dead Yet (and this is why!)

Greetings Ninjas in Training!

We all get those people, don’t we?

“You need citric acid for the citric acid cycle, you should be devoid of energy, and dead!”

“You can’t react to citric acid, you have citric acid in your body! Why aren’t you dead?!”

Well my ninjas, now you can smack down these fools with your nunchucks of science.

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You might notice that I have this information here on the site. Good job!  Please pretend that you didn’t notice, and that this post is filled with entirely new, riveting content. Thanks to the awesome Shidoshi John for pointing me towards some actual numbers on how much citric acid is in your body, and where, because this gives us more fun things to learn. (And while learning is fun, being right is even MORE fun, so prepare yourselves for the hypothetical smackdown of the century!)

“But it’s part of the Citric Acid Cycle!  You’ll die without it!”

This argument is incorrect.  Take a look at the schematic below: the white part is outside the cell, the tan part is inside the cell, and the purple part is the mitochondrion — where the Citric Acid Cycle occurs.

If you look at what’s going into the cell, you’ll see not citric acid, but glucose!  Glucose (sugar) is the one thing our cells need from an external source (food) in order to make energy; the citrate in the Citric Acid Cycle is made from this glucose in the mitochondria.  Even someone on a 100% citric acid-free diet can make energy, because dietary citric acid is not used as part of Citric Acid Cycle.

“But there’s Citric Acid in your body!  Even if you don’t need to eat it, it’s still there in the Citric Acid Cycle. You can’t be allergic to yourself, you’ll die!”

Wrong again, masked stranger.  Take a look again at the schematic: the Citric Acid Cycle occurs inside the mitochondria, which is inside the cell. Reactions to foods and chemicals take place in extracellular spaces; the reaction mediators are outside our cells and never “see” the citrate that is formed in our mitochondria, therefore they cannot react to it.  Location, location, location!

“But there’s NO WAY there is absolutely zero citric acid in your body.  WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD?!!”

Well, okay… despite your inexplicably vehement desire to see me dead, I will give you  credit for that one.  There is, in fact, citric acid in everyone’s blood and urine, not to mention saliva, sweat, tears, and yes- even breast milk and semen.  My immune system can “see” all of that inside my body (uhm… well, most of it), so why am I not dead? The first — and most obvious — reason is that I’m a ninja.  However, there’s a more boring reason, which has to do with things like severity and tolerance; I shall explain it using two more pedestrian immune conditions: peanut allergies and lupus.

Well, sometimes it is lupus.  To grossly oversimplify, when someone has systemic lupus erythematosus, their immune system forms antibodies against the person’s own tissues (e.g. heart, lung, and kidney), so the immune system attacks the body.  If severe enough it can be fatal, but 80-90% of patients with lupus will survive as long as a healthy person.  Lupus is a type III hypersensitivity and, along with hundreds of other autoimmune conditions, exists for the sole purpose of proving my point: depending on the severity of the attack, one can survive one’s own immune system attacking things native to their bodies.

In addition to people’s remarkable ability to survive declaring war on themselves, people’s immune systems also have different thresholds at which these wars–and wars on foreign offenders–begin.  For example, both my brother and my college roommate have the classic type 1 hypersensitivity known as peanut allergies.  My brother is able to eat peanut butter toast, as long as he only has it once a week on a full stomach.  If he goes beyond his tolerance and has it a couple of days in a row, he will begin to suffer unpleasant GI symptoms.  My roommate’s tolerance is much lower: when we went on an adventure to see RENT in California, we had to book on a peanut-free airline, lest being trapped thousands of feet in the air with peanut dust lead her to take the show’s “live each moment as your last” theme a bit too literally.

People who react to citric acid also have different tolerance levels.  One food pretty much guaranteed to make a ninja flee the scene is lemons, which contain anywhere from 40,000-80,000ppm (parts per million) citric acid.  Some ninjas can eat blackberries (4,000ppm), some can only tolerate as high as pears (2,000ppm), and a few can’t even consume peas (200ppm).  Compare that to the 15ppm in blood, 4-25ppm in saliva, or 1-2ppm in sweat, and we’re talking orders of magnitude of difference: even those who react to the un-citrusy-est of vegetables are safe from the tears they’ll cry when they must choose between life and that blackberry pie they’re craving.

That ice cream is probably lethal, but at least her tears won’t burn her face off.

But what about things like urine (100-700ppm), breast milk (500-1250ppm) and semen (2000-4000ppm)?  It is here that we return to one of our earlier arguments: location, location, location!  Not all areas of our bodies are equally responsive to evil things, thanks to differences in their reaction mediator inhabitants.  As long as low-tolerance ninjas don’t put these things (this is life-or-death ninja science here, no laughing!) in their mouths or other sensitive areas, they’re probably going to stay not dead.  It’s worth mentioning that most ninjas with extremely low tolerance were born with a much higher, or even normal tolerance, and they were inducted to ninjahood later in life thanks to medications or illness.  However, some babies do react to breast milk for any number of reasons; perhaps infant ninjahood is one of those reasons.  Also worth mentioning: there are people who have allergic-like conditions involving the bladder, and semen allergy is an actual thing that has been medically documented in women.  These ninjas can get by thanks to their reaction severity, as we discussed earlier.

In sum: if there exists a human whose tolerance for citric acid is lower than the small amount circulating in the responsive areas of their body, and who has life-threateningly violent reactions to citric acid, that person is probably not alive, and probably not me. (I say probably because, although it is unlikely I can type from the beyond, you never know. I am a ninja, after all.)

TTFN, my ninjalings. Until we meet again, when life gives you lemons, RUN!

The Lemon Ninja

“P” is for Cookie (no it’s not)

Greetings, Ninjas in Training!

I was struggling for a title, so I was going to just fill in every word in this post that started with a “p.” However, that started to look just plain preposterous, so I pragmatically picked three. Then I became inspired by the great muse Cookie Monster, so you’re just going to have to deal with a great title that has nothing to do with this post.

We begin today’s broadcast with a really fun question. Ninja Susan writes:

“My physician wants me to get a Colonoscopy. The predrink you drink the nite before has Citric Acid in it, do you know a substitute? The last time I did this, I got so ill I could barely make it to the test and then was ill for almost a week later.”

An excellent question, Ninja Susan. While I can’t make a specific recommendation for colonoscopy prep, I can provide an answer for the more general theme of your question:

“What does one do when your doctor says, “Take the thing,” and you’re like, “But the thing will destroy me and probably the universe”?

…Actually, I was going to say to call a compounding pharmacy.

Compounding pharmacies are different from regular pharmacies in that they make medication specifically for you. For example, if you need to take Benadryl, but are allergic to the inactive ingredient polysorbate 80, they can make you your very own special Benadryl that will not force you to include “Death by Benadryl” in your obituary.

The same is true for citric acid. The great thing about citric acid is that it’s completely useless — okay, well, it’s not an active ingredient. It’s a preservative, which means that most medications can be made very easily without it. Hooray!

So, how do you find one of these magical pharmacies, you ask? Probably Google. Just type in your hometown, followed by “compounding pharmacy,” and you should be able to find something.

Now that you’ve found one, you need to talk to them! Please follow this step by step procedure to ensure a productive conversation:

  1. Write down the name of the medication you need, the prescription amount (if applicable), and your name (just in case you forget).
  2. Call the compounding pharmacy.
  3. Ask to talk to a pharmacist about helping you compound a mixture of (insert medicine here) that will be safe for your allergies.
  4. Explain said allergies.
  5. Pause for dramatic effect*.
  6. Chat it up with the super knowledgable pharmacist. They will probably ask you a number of questions about different things they need to add to the medication, including fillers, liquid solutions, preservatives, and capsules.
  7. For fillers, steer clear of corn starch and potato starch if those are not within your tolerance. Cellulose is ok; I personally have my medications filled with spelt flour, which I send the pharmacy and they keep just for me!
  8. For capsules, gelatin is the way to go.
  9. For preservatives, they may ask to use alcohol or lactose. If you are unable to tolerate either of those**, try asking if they will compound something preservative-free for you. It may take a bit of convincing, along with a special prescription from your doctor that specifically requests no preservatives.
  10. Arrive at an agreement, tell the pharmacist you love them***.
  11. Have your prescription sent to the pharmacy.

*Don’t do that.
**Lactose is safe for ninjas, but some people are lactose intolerant. Alcohol (ethanol) is ok for some ninjas, but may cause a reaction in extremely sensitive ninjas.
***Optional.

That’s all for now, my ninjalings. Until next time…
When life gives you lemons, RUN!
The Lemon Ninja

Awkward Ninjas

Greetings, Ninjas in Training!

Thank you for all the tips and questions you’re sending in! I am slowly but surely chipping away at those emails and site updates. But today, I thought I’d address a more fun topic… or rather, the topic of lack of fun. Ninja Adam writes:
“Can you have a social life with this horrible allergy? I have the same, and likely as severe. I have found that most social situations involve food.”

How right you are, Ninja Adam. This is especially true in college, where the average student can’t even be bothered to attend a meeting without the allure of free food, and if they’re going to do something as drastic as leave campus? There had better be food involved! If food is not your friend, it’s pretty easy to end up-

Luckily, we don’t have to be! The short answer to your question is yes- of course you can have a social life, but you have to get creative. The long answer is, well, long… also awkward, and differs depending on how sensitive you are.

In my 7 years of ninjahood, I have been at various levels of sensitivity, so I will be drawing from those different time periods for different answers. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to eliminate my chemical sensitivities as a factor, and focus on food. Hats off to all of the awesome friends I mention in this post, who went out of their way to work around both issues!

With that, let’s examine a variety of awkward of situations, and some ninja moves you can whip out to make them fun:

The Awkward Restaurant

Suppose you have some friends who want to meet up for dinner tonight. If they haven’t already picked a restaurant, now’s your time to jump in and suggest a place that you know has some safe foods.

But what if they’ve already picked a place? You’ve got a couple of options: you can ask your friends if they’d be willing to go someplace else, or you can hop on the internet and start investigating. Check out the menu and look for potentially safe foods. Call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager- explain that you have an unusual allergy, and are wondering if they might help you check the ingredients. (Side note: although we aren’t sure of the exact mechanism that causes lemons to attack us with nunchucks, what matters here is the end result- if your reactions are serious enough to be reading this website, call it an “allergy” so you will be taken seriously.)

If there is something questionable, like a pre-made sauce that might have one of many potentially evil ingredients, explain that there are so many billions of words that might mean “citric acid” that it’s much easier just to know all the ingredients, rather than giving them a list to go hunting for. You might ask if they can just have the label ready for you to read on arrival, or they might offer to read you the ingredients over the phone.

Either way, be cheerful and appreciative no matter how frustrating it is to explain the madness! Remember that ninjahood is freaking complicated, and you may have to explain more than one way. And while patience is a good thing, if you find yourself talking to someone who really doesn’t understand or won’t take you seriously, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to someone else. Safety first, ninjalings!

We started out with this scenario because it was the easiest; here are some more tips on eating out.

But what if you can’t eat out? What if you are sensitive enough that food from not-your-kitchen is not an option? Or what if you don’t have time to check out the menu… say, you all went out to a movie and everyone just decided to get some dinner or ice cream on the fly? That brings us to…

The Extra-Awkward Restaurant

Ninjas who can’t eat out, but can still be around food, have a few options.

The first option I like to call the stuff-your-face-before-you-leave method.

This method is relatively self-explanatory: stuff your face before you go anywhere, no matter what time it is. That way, if an outing lasts longer than planned, you’ll be okay to sit down someplace while your friends eat.

The second option is food smuggling. I used to carry a water bottle and a bag of pretzels with me everywhere in my purse. That way, if I got insanely hungry while out with my friends, I had something to munch on, thus eliminating the potential for hunger sucking the fun out of everything. Guys, if you want to have fun and your pockets aren’t big enough, you may just have to suck it up and carry a man-purse.

Either that or you can bring something like gum (watch out for soy in that stuff!) that will stave off your tummy rumbles until you get home.

The third option is starvation. Sometimes it’s worth it 😛

The Awkward Explanation

“But Lemon Ninja,” you say, “do you have any idea how awkward it is to be sitting there with people and be the only one not eating?” Yes. Yes I do. It is totally awkward the first couple of times, and then after awhile you get used to it. Having something of your own, even just water, definitely helps for those awkward pauses in conversation when you usually awkwardly take a bite of something to pretend that nothing is awkward, and you were totally about to take a bite of food anyways, and in no way are stalling while you think of something to say. Unless the water had lemons in it, in which case it just leads to an even more awkward Epi-Pen party. (Seriously, be careful with that restaurant water.)

But what about the others? People can get really uncomfortable, or even feel guilty eating in front of people who aren’t eating, especially if it’s just the two of you. This is why it’s important, especially in very small groups, to let people know beforehand that you will not be eating, but genuinely do not mind it, and just want to enjoy their company. It’s an awkward conversation to be sure, but it’s much better than the one that happens after your one friend orders their meal and you just hand back your menu sans order.

Most of the time, people will be curious about your food restrictions and ask questions about it. Take this as a compliment- they are interested in your ninja awesomeness and want to know more! While it can get a bit old answering the same questions all the time, just remember that this person has never asked you before, so the questions are new to them. Explain as such, and what started as an awkward conversation can take some pretty interesting turns!

So that’s all good and fun, but what about those of us who can’t go to restaurants or food places at all? If I went on a trip to a restaurant, it would actually just be a detour on the way to the ER. Which brings us to…

The Awkward Isolation

If the smell of food literally makes you die, mealtimes can kind of suck, especially in college. Meals are when everyone socializes, and isolation from food means isolation from people. The only way to make them not suck is to make friends with extremely awesome people who are willing to visit you with safe food. I had a number of people, including my roommates, neighbors, and even a friend from my church group who made the effort to pick out a non-ninja-murdering food every once in awhile, bring it to my dorm or apartment, and share a meal with me.

You may think it’s hard to find people like this, but you’d be surprised how many people are willing to do this if you just ask- believe it or not, people like it when you indicate that you want to spend time with them! And of course, there are always going to be some extra special people who you don’t even need to ask- they just show up at your door with dinner.

Okay, maybe not that special…

But how do you find these people? If you’re a lucky college student, fate will stick you in a dorm room with them. Otherwise, you’re going to have to be proactive…

The Awkward Friend-Finding

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done was to seek out a friend with food allergies. I met my junior year roommate through a Facebook food allergy group- we decided to live together even though we pretty much had opposite allergies (she’s allergic to nuts, one of the only things I can eat is nuts) because we figured we were safer with someone who “gets it.”

This not only turned out to be incredibly true, but also applicable to our social lives. We were both already on the lookout for food-free fun, and being together made it just that much easier to find. We were able to do things together–like full day road trips and even traveling across the country–that would have been much harder to do with someone who didn’t have to carefully schedule every meal. When we couldn’t attend big events, like the senior banquet, we got dressed up and had our own banquet in our apartment. Basically, everything we did together was awesome.

We may or may not have climbed a statue...

We may or may not have climbed a statue…

Whether you’re in college or not, another great way to find awesome people is to get involved in some kind of activity. Find something you love and you’ll find people you love too- I can’t tell you how many gems I found through my campus church group, student-run orchestra, and community service groups. A lot of community service things do involve food, but there are just as many that don’t: look at things that aren’t full-day commitments and you’ll find plenty of food-free fun!

Unfortunately, even activities that generally don’t involve food will almost invariably have some kind of social event that involves food. What do you do then?

Awkward Advocacy

If you want to get in on the fun, but you’re ‘fraid of food, you’re going to have to take names. By which I mean, of course, the names of the people organizing said event.

Before every concert, my orchestra hosted a rehearsal, then a dinner backstage.  The original idea was, of course, pizza. Even if I had stayed away during dinner, I might have met an early end thanks to pizza air being blown at the back of my head through a trombone, so I talked to the officers who were organizing dinner. I gave the suggestions for foods that would allow me to safely play in the concert, and they went out of their way to make sure none of the sandwiches they ended up ordering had dangerous toppings or dressings.

Granted, these people were also my friends, but people are just awesome and inclusive in general; you really don’t have to know them to reach out for a little help in socializing. You might even make new friends- once when I was a wee sophomore, I really really wanted to go to ladies’ night for my church group, so I oh-so-bravely emailed the senior who was organizing the event. I didn’t know her and was very nervous about it; not only did she make sure we went to a place I could be safe and have fun, she ended up being one of those people who came all the way to my dorm to eat dinner with me some nights.

I could go on and on about the times people went out of their to make big events safe–like the time my neighbor approached me and my also-allergic roomie to ask what foods not to have at her party so we could attend–but the fact is that it’s not always possible. Still, don’t be afraid to talk to people about your restrictions and ask if you can be accommodated. The worst they can do is say no, which is very nearly always for logistical reasons and not because they hate you.  Accommodating a ninja is complicated!  It’s helpful if you’re respectful of people’s time, offer help and suggestions, and make contact way, way ahead of time so they don’t have to scrap any work they’ve already done.

(But what if they say no?)

Awkward No

Sometimes, you’re going to be stuck on the outside looking in. The key to being a happy ninja is to find someone who’s willing to be standing out there with you.

image

This picture is from senior night at my campus church group. It was being held in (and alas could not be moved from) a room whose air ducts were basically directly connected to Subway, so I couldn’t be in there for more than a minute without struggling to breathe. My friend, who was also being honored that night as a senior, elected to stand outside with me, in the rain, the entire night. It was one of the best nights ever.

Sometimes you have to get a little unconventional to have fun. Sometimes people will come to you, and sometimes you’ll have to take initiative to organize a get-together yourself.

To give you some ideas, here’s a list of things I’ve actually done with some awesome people:

  • Held a weekly Glee-watching party (don’t judge, it used to be a good show!)
  • Gone to a safe coffee shop and brought my own hot chocolate
  • Attended nerdy lectures at the medical school
  • Taken a walk to nowhere
  • Gone storm chasing and made a documentary out of it
  • Watched a midnight movie premiere
  • Driven across the state and back in one day to see Wicked
  • Gone to theatre shows within a reasonable distance
  • Organized and choreographed a flash mob
  • Gone sledding and ice skating
  • Attended a wedding via Skype
  • Attended shows at our school’s theatre
  • Invited people over just to hang out and talk
  • Fed the ducks at the park
  • Cut out felt mustaches to wear while playing Pirates (without warning our conductor beforehand)
  • Attended a massive water balloon/mud fight for Holi
  • Gone to concerts
  • Walked around outside taking pictures of everything
  • Watched stupid YouTube videos
  • Created stupid YouTube videos

It can be anything! You CAN be social when you’re a ninja. You just need a few tricks up your sleeve.

And if all else fails? There’s always the internet.

No, seriously. I’ve made some really awesome friends on the internet. If you really can’t leave your house, like I can’t, you’d be amazed what kinds of connections you can make through volunteering, blogging, and/or mutual obsessions interests on the internet. I’ve met people who I can talk to for hours at a time, people who have overcome the odds and who inspire me to keep striving for the same, and people who send me love when I’m having a bad day.  (I’ve even met people who take the time to create silly YouTubes of people crying in cars, just for a blog post- thanks Judith!)

The internet is awesome- just use common sense and don’t talk to creepers, y’all.

That’s all for now! Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!
The Lemon Ninja

To eat, or not to eat?

Greetings, ninjas-in-training!

Sensei here.  At your request, I have updated “the list” to include a tutorial on what to do about foods that aren’t on “the list.” Please let me know if it is clear, or if I need to add anything! I shall also share the tutorial below, but first a bit more ninja business…

I have also smushed both lists onto one page, in hopes that it will be easier to navigate.  It’s entirely possible that I just made it more chaotic, so please let me know if the new format makes your brains explode.  I’m hoping that you find it shiny, because I think it’s shiny.

I’d also appreciate it if you let me know if you encounter any broken links on the site.  I may be a lemon ninja, but I am not a computer ninja, and I can’t figure out why this site seems to spontaneously eat links on occasion.

Maybe they just look tasty?  I guess WordPress does not suffer from any form of hyperlink sensitivity.

And now, the long awaited not-on-the-list tutorial!

Suppose one fine day you find yourself with a hankering for Chicken Maratha with a side of pomelo and pistachios.  These things would probably taste terrible together, but for the sake of variety in this tutorial, you just like to eat weird combinations of things.  You love the spicy goodness of turmeric, tart juiciness of pomelo, and the weird greenness of pistachios, but you haven’t had any since you started your ninja lifestyle.  Are they safe to eat?  You rush to your favorite website of all time but, to your partial joy and partial dismay, you don’t see them on “the list.”

This means one of two things: (1) the foods are safe, (2) the foods are not safe, but have not been evaluated by the food people of Australia, or (3) I’m really sorry, there isn’t a third thing, but I cannot make lists composed of only two things.  So, which is it?

Have no fear, ninja-in-training!  With a few minutes on the web, you can make a reasonably educated guess as to the safety of almost any food.  Let’s go through the steps, and decide whether or not turmeric, pomelo, and pistachios are ninja-safe:

    1. Use your intuition.  If it sounds dangerous, it probably is. 
      • If you’re out and about, don’t eat it! 
      • If you’re at home and have time to hit the web, proceed to step 2.
      • Why do half of the things I need to list only have two things? *sigh*
    2. Think about similar foods.
      • Pomelo is a fruit.  All fruits have citric acid in them, so pomelo must have citric acid.
        • If some fruits are within your tolerance level, you’re going to need to get more specific.
        • Think about smell, taste, and texture: what fruits does pomelo remind you of?  Oranges and limes come to mind here, which is probably a bad thing for any ninja.
        • No pomelo for you!
      • What about turmeric?  It’s not fruit, and it’s not really a vegetable either, it’s a… well it looks like a… thing.  It’s a thing.  Okay.  Not very helpful.  Looks like we’ll have to take this to step 3!
      • Pistachios are some kind of nut-ish thing.  Nuts and seeds are weird foods when it comes to categories, and a lot of things we think of as nuts and seeds actually aren’t, like peanuts.  You may have noticed that there are no actual nut or seed things on “the list” anyways, so, on to step 3!
    3. Get science-y. 
      • Look up turmeric on the web.  More specifically, look up its family classification.  This is typically easy to find on Wikipedia, in a little box that looks like this: Turmeric, om nom nom
        • As you can see, turmeric is in the family Zingiberaceae.  How informative, right?  Well, maybe if we try clicking on it…
        • We can look on this page for familiar foods.  Right away, we can see that ginger is closely related to turmeric.
        • Is ginger safe?  Check the list!
        • NOPE.  Ginger is not safe for ninjas with a tolerance of 0.1g or less!
      • And pistachios?  Try this one for yourself!  The answers will be at the end of this tutorial.
    4. Using this information, give yourself some room for error. 
      • Ginger and turmeric are related, so it’s likely that they have similar citric acid content.
      • BUT!  This does not mean they are exactly the same.  Turmeric could have 0.2g or 0.05g… we can’t be sure.
      • Turmeric may even have some outrageous amount of citric acid, like 1.0g.  Again, we can’t be sure.
    5. Make a decision!
      • ALWAYS err on the side of caution.
      • Use the information you’ve found as an aide to your intuition, NOT as an absolute determinant.
      • Use your knowledge of your body and how it reacts to things.
      • Take other things into consideration, like how much citric acid exposure you’ve had lately, how much stress you’re under, and whether you’ve been invited to a gala with British Royalty within the next week or so.
      • If a sounds like a bad idea, it is.  Don’t eat it.  Listen to your body, sometimes it’s smart!
    6. Eat, or don’t eat.
      • If you don’t eat it, pat yourself on the back for your awesome research skillz.  Reward yourself with a delicious, safe treat of choice.
      • If you do eat it, do so S L O W L Y.
        • Take a little taste, and wait.
        • If you generally have fast reactions, wait however long your reactions usually take to show up.  If nothing happens, try a wee bit more.  Don’t go overboard!
        • If you generally have delayed reactions, eat the smallest amount that you feel could cause a reaction.  If nothing happens, try a little more the next time.  Again, don’t go overboard!
      • Congratulations, you have either eaten, or not eaten, a different food!  Great job, ninja!

      (Did you figure out the ninja-safety level of pistachios? They are a member of the family Anacardiaceae, also known as the cashew family.  If you don’t know anything about cashews, that’s cool, but you should have seen the word “mango” on their family tree and whipped out your nunchucks.  Now, the scariest part of mangos is the fleshy fruit part, and we don’t eat that part of pistachios… just the seeds… but we also don’t know what’s in those mango seeds.  So, what to do?  The choice is yours: choose responsibly!)

That’s all for now.  Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!!!
The Lemon Ninja