The Gustavian Weekly

Tolerating the intolerance | The Gustavian Weekly

By Madelyn Smerillo - Opinion Columnist | February 28, 2020 | Opinion

In the year 2020, dietary restrictions have become something that many of us have learned to recognize and respect in our communities. People need to be able to take care of their bodies, and a big part of that is through what they eat. Some dietary restrictions are not optional such as those that are due to allergies or specific digestive conditions. However, some dietary restrictions are personal choices or moral reasoning such as veganism, vegetarianism and lactose intolerance.
You may be confused, thinking, Wait, lactose intolerant people don’t choose to not be able to digest dairy, you’d be correct in saying so. However, I would encourage you to think about the lactose intolerant people you know; do most of them truly avoid dairy? Or do they eat dairy anyway and suffer the consequences later? In my experience as someone who is, in fact, lactose intolerant, the situation is typically the latter.
Many people who can digest lactose are regularly confused at this phenomenon. It surfaces on social media that lactose intolerant individuals frequently pretend that they can digest dairy and yet continue to suffer. To be truthful, at face value, eating something your body is unable to adequately process, while putting you in pain does seem irrational. However, when we look deeper into the reasons why those of us who are lactose intolerant choose to eat dairy anyway, our reasoning might become more clear.
To begin, so many social conventions are built around food with dairy. What do you do in the heat of summertime? You eat ice cream. What do you do in the cold of winter? You eat casseroles and drink hot chocolate. Autumn brings pumpkin spice lattes, though you can tack on an extra $0.35 for a milk alternative at the Courtyard Café, and spring brings baskets of Cadbury creme eggs, not that those are good.
As you can see, while there are, of course, many traditions that do not involve dairy or even food, there are consistently popular trends that do. Missing out on some of these fun seasonal activities is disappointing and a little bit isolating at times, especially when everyone else is eating cheesecake and they hand you a dry cookie. Eating dairy despite gastrointestinal pain that might occur as a result allows lactose intolerant people to feel fully included in food culture and community.
Secondly, I’d like to present an argument in support of personal choice. Consider a person tells you that they are vegetarian. This person has no allergy to meat yet chooses not to eat it. The truth is that no reasonably considerate person would tell them “That’s so dumb. You should eat meat; being vegetarian isn’t good for you.” Saying so would be wildly inconsiderate of another person’s bodily freedom and rudely critical of their ability to choose for themself what they want to eat. This is similar to lactose intolerant people. Many of us are individuals who may not process dairy very well yet choose to eat it anyway. Given this similarity, why is it culturally appropriate to respond to someone lactose intolerant eating dairy with: “That’s so dumb! You shouldn’t eat dairy. It isn’t good for you.”
One may say, “But Madelyn, eating dairy as a lactose intolerant person is harmful and choosing not to eat meat isn’t!” The question then comes about–to whom is this behavior actually harmful? My choice to eat dairy does not truly affect you in a significant way. Sure, if I complain about it or stink up a room, (if you catch my drift) it might be annoying to you, but it doesn’t legitimately cause you harm. When I make a choice about my diet, others should expect that I understand the consequences and am thereby accepting them as I eat. The last time I ate in the way someone else instructed me was as a child; my mother made me eat the crusts of my sandwich bread. However, I am now an adult and do not need to be told by others what I should or should not put in my body.
In summary, while I cannot choose the outcome of what happens when I eat dairy, I do consciously decide when to eat it or not. It is my own decision, and other people can’t tell me it’s wrong because it doesn’t significantly affect them, despite potential annoyance. Warning me about the impacts of my dietary decisions is a job for my mother and my doctor, not my peers. I encourage lactose intolerant individuals everywhere to continue eating dairy as you feel comfortable, but to be cognizant of the impact it may have on others. In doing so, we eliminate any potential reason to yell at us for enjoying a dollop of sour cream on our chilli. In summary, even though lactose free chocolate ice cream with sprinkles is delicious, and I could probably live without my grandma’s tater tot hotdish, I still opt for the cow juice. And that’s on dietary freedom.

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