Last night, I sat on the back of my roommate’s motorbike holding four amazing smelling pizzas from Saigon’s best pizza joint, Scoozies, all the while wallowing in self-pity knowing that while my friends were eating chicken pesto pizza – I was having rice noodles.
I like to consider myself a very low-maintenance person with the world’s most high maintenance body. Among my body eccentrics, I happen to be both gluten and dairy intolerant . . . a true travesty to a former cheese and bread connoisseur. Luckily, America is a world on the health craze train where allergies appear to be “in.”
Cupcake specialty shops lose credibility if they don’t have at least one dairy free, egg free, gluten free, vegan option for the food freaks like me. Unfortunately, I don’t live in America where specialty food shops line Chicago’s neighborhoods or where the wonderful world of Whole Foods is there to fulfill my every gluten and dairy craving. Yes the diary-free “cheese” is often questionably labeled “It really Melts!” which in itself is hardly appetizing . . . but it gets the job done when you have the urge for a grilled cheese (fake bread meet fake cheese).
Unfortunately, I don’t live in Chicago anymore. Or America. I live in Vietnam where I don’t think they have a word for gluten . . . or even allergy for that case. When I ask for a smoothie without milk (sinh to khong sua) they look at me as though I have gone mad. Why would I request such an atrocious request? Deprive myself of the mystical sweetness of condensed milk? Troi Oi!
But the Vietnamese aren’t plagued by the world of allergies and intolerances. If you were to compare an average American Kindergarten classroom with an average Vietnamese one, the differences would astound you. There are no food allergies here, no asthma, no ADHD (diagnosis – but as a teacher trust me – it most definitely exists, though not in the same extremity as in the states), no social anxiety disorder.
There are just kids – pure and simple.
The real question, however, is why is it that most Americans are increasingly becoming allergic to one thing or another, while an ocean away, the simplistic people of Vietnam seem unable to even digest the IDEA of serious food allergies. As I was explaining to my students the words “organic” and “pesticides” in class today I couldn’t help but wonder what we have done to ourselves in America. Vietnam is a country that holds extremely low health standards, especially concerning food. Street food is washed in unsanitary water, cockroaches are inevitably EVERYWHERE (most especially in any restaurant), food is cooked on the street amongst polluted air and surroundings, yet they lack the same food related problems that Americans have.
Driving home past one of the KFC empires, I also couldn’t help but wonder what the Vietnamese will look (and feel like) ten years from now . . .