On losing a favorite food

Growing up in a landlocked state in the middle of the continent (smack dab in the middle; the geographic center of North America is just north of my hometown), I did not encounter much seafood other than the occasional frozen shrimp. However, when I moved much closer to the coast following my college graduation, I quickly made up for the deficit in my formative years. I enjoyed everything from tiny mussels to large king crab legs, but my favorite were scallops. I adored their delicate texture and sweet, briny flavor.

However, my love affair with scallops and other shellfish encountered an obstacle not long after it began. It started with a bad reaction to linguini with clam sauce. I will spare you the gory details but suffice it to say it involved gastrointestinal discomfort. I shrugged it off as possible food poisoning. Unfortunately, I had the same issue the next time I ate seafood, this time my beloved scallops. I was beginning to suspect that food poisoning was not the problem. A dish of steamed mussels (one of the best meals I have ever eaten) resulted in the same issue. However, reluctant to give up one of my favorite foods, I tried scallops again, and you can guess what happened. This time I knew definitively that it was me and not the seafood because a dining companion ate the same dish without incident.

I don’t know why I developed this reaction or whether it extends beyond mollusks, but to be safe I have avoided shellfish in the years since. This became easier when I moved back to the heartland a few years ago, but when I see posts like the one on Gourmet Traveller titled “27 scallop recipes for shellfish lovers“, I am reminded of the loss. At this point, even writing about scallops makes me queasy. If I didn’t love food and cooking so much it might be a trifling annoyance, but I grieved when I realized an entire section of delicious food was off limits, especially since I had such a small window of time to enjoy it. (I realize this is a miniscule tragedy in a world filled with enormous ones.) Paradoxically, this experience made me even more eager to try unfamiliar foods, so the loss may have allowed me to taste more items than I would have otherwise. I suppose that is the silver lining to this cloud. It’s also a reminder to savor your favorite foods each and every time you eat them, because one day they could be only a faint taste memory.

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  • Jane  on  February 22, 2024

    By coincidence I just cooked scallops last night for the first time in ages. Living in Massachusetts we get great fresh local seafood and these were terrific (sorry, Darcie, not trying to gloat). I’d had a long day and needed a quick recipe – Melissa Clark’s recipe Brown butter scallops with parsley and lemon was perfect. I plan to get them more often – the AGT recipes look great.

  • KarenGlad  on  February 22, 2024

    You have my sympathies and I empathize….at 65 years of age I was diagnosed with anaphylactic allergies to all fish and seafood. Thankfully it started with swollen lips and not lethal symptoms. I cried real tears and it has changed my life…not for the better. Eating out, even at friends or family gatherings, is a challenge now instead of relaxing and pleasurable. My first choice off a menu was always fish or seafood. Fish and seafood byproducts are hidden where you least expect it in sauces, condiments and even salad dressings. Cross contamination is an issue such as frying in the same oil that fish has been cooked in. Food labelling has improved but still not always clear. Thankfully eating vegan and vegan labelling is more popular…that’s helpful. The lesson here is don’t ignore allergic reactions, even minor, get tested, you could be risking your life….a walking time bomb as my doctor called me.

  • Fyretigger  on  February 22, 2024

    For Scallop lovers, I can highly recommend simply pan seared and served on a bed of Romesco sauce. I like this one (but use cashews, and I don’t rinse the sun-dried tomatoes):

    My older brother developed a shrimp reaction after overindulging multiple days in a row. After time, he was able to eat them again in strict moderation. And since allergies run in families, I limit my intake.

  • anya_sf  on  February 22, 2024

    This would make me very sad as well. Coincidentally, I also cooked scallops last night.

  • Rinshin  on  February 22, 2024

    KarenGlad, swollen lips, hives and anaphylaxis are symptoms to true allergy and really sorry to hear that. You are not able yo eat such a major group of foods. I have all those same symptoms not with food, but many drugs. I must always carry epipen because my throat might close up. I also started showing hives to common meds like aspirin and motrin in my early 40’s. Now I have many different drug related reactions including contrast dye. I am not sure if my reactions to melons are food sensitivity or true allergy. I get itchy throat and lips and no longer eat melons although I use to love them.

  • Zephyrness  on  February 23, 2024

    oh Darcie, that stinks. I can sympathize a bit. My husband has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which means a pretty hefty carb restriction. We have had potatoes once in the last 3 months and the last pasta was before his diagnosis. Rice and corn are also off the menu. And I don’t want to think about bread. I’ve been eating in sympathy, but my word the cooking is hard. We, at least, have a light at the end of the tunnel. If I can get a handle on how to cook with many few carbs, we might be able to add some of them back, in small amounts.

  • Wende  on  February 24, 2024

    I’m wondering if it has to do with preservatives, and if anyone knows if that could be the cause.
    My sister, who has no known allergies, hasn’t eaten shrimp since she had her first bad reaction to it several years ago. She lives in an inland city, but it was a favorite food of hers.

    I’ve had one bad reaction to shrimp that was in an airplane meal and one crazy reaction to canned escargot, but have since eaten both (albeit more cleanly) without incident.

    I’m lucky enough to have a shrimper in my neighborhood who I can buy fresh from. I would love for my sister to have some when she visits, but won’t risk it without knowing if preservatives are the real source of the problem.

  • KarenGlad  on  February 24, 2024

    Oh wow Rinshin….drug allergies! Yes I carry an epipen too and I was recently reprimanded because I’m not wearing a medic alert bracelet …yet…recently signed up for one. I’m also “sensitive” (as in what’s called flushing… a red hot and prickly skin reaction that feels like you’re going to burst into flame) to preservatives which started around the same time…anything ending in trite or trate I’ve discovered the hard way.

  • ShieldmaidenofRohan  on  March 7, 2024

    I know they aren’t the same, but I’ve made dishes with king oyster mushroom slices or May Wah imitation scallops that scratch that itch for scallops, which I don’t eat anymore for other reasons.

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