Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Food Allergy Survival Guide

My apologies to the publishers, it's taken me quite a while to get the chance to write this review.  A copy of the Food Allergy Survival Guide by Melina, Stepaniak and Aronson, was sent to me so that I could try it out, review and share.   This book differs from the others out there in that it was written by dietitians rather than chefs.  The first half of the book is informational, the second half consists of recipes.   This was originally published in 2004, and even though we've learned a lot since then, a lot of the content is still relevant!

Overall, I think the Food Allergy Survival Guide offers lots and lots of great information, but personally I found it poorly organized and clunky to use.  It could really use a good editor so all the advice could be accessed more easily. Because of the title "Survival Guide" I was hoping that it would provide quick tips, shortcuts, etc. ala the "Dummies" series since it acknowledges how people are in survival mode when they are first diagnosed.  But unfortunately, this book is awkward, academic and not user-friendly  -- the authors take way too long to get to the point, even when it's an important point.  For example, the first chapter is full of the scientific background behind food sensitivities and allergies.   When I started reading, I got impatient reading about mast cells and histamines  --  and I was someone deliberately searching for the promised survival information!  I imagined that if I was a mom who's child was newly diagnosed, I would want to know what to cook my allergic kid for dinner TONIGHT.  I found this disappointing.

I loved the charts in Chapter 3 about food allergies and the medical conditions to which they contribute: migraines, arthritis, asthma and IBS, all which I have experienced and are not usually covered in food allergy discussions. I also liked the deep detail in Chapter 5, the label reading chapter, which offered charts detailing "Terms that indicate the presence of..." ingredients that may contain allergens.  The chapter on feelings about food allergies was also a nice touch. But some of the chapters were downright confusing: Under Chapter 8 Nutrition and Planning, "Tips for Eating at Restaurants" was listed right before "Decreasing the risk of Allergies for Infants".  Both are great tools to have, but seemed illogical to list next to each other -- and would have been hard to find if I was looking for one or another.

As for the two recipes I tried,  I found them to taste just okay.  I usually go to the baking section first, as that's the most difficult when making allergy substitutions and is one of my standards to test against.  I made the "Magical One-bowl Muffins" and the "Perfection Pie Crust" since I have made several versions of these from other cookbooks.   They were average -- although the muffins were described as "plain",  and plain (as in donuts!) can be excellent when done well.  I made the quinoa/corn variation, but they tasted flat and were heavy.  As for the pie crust recipe, the crust barely held together when rolling, but since I've baked a lot of pies I could make it work, but imagine it would have been tricky for a beginner cook. 

I will definitely try some of the other sections: specifically entrees and salads, but as I read through I found a lot of recipes are largely based on beans and seeds, even though the book's cover doesn't indicate this book was designed to be deliberately vegetarian.  Hm, puzzling.  Personally, I've found that being on a restricted diet is already frustrating as it is, and not having some familiar meat-based entrees made me less inclined to want to jump in and try more of these recipes. Thumbing through the back half of the book, these recipes seemed to be written nutritionally than to taste, and since I'm a stickler for cooking for taste and texture, sadly I'm not that excited to forge on.  There were a few unusual ingredients recommended that I'm not familiar with and would like to try: chickpea miso and umeboshi plum vinegar (they may be more difficult to find for those not in major cities).  Next stop: Asian market for these.

My review in summary for the "Food Allergy Survival Guide": volumes of helpful analytical and academic information, but poor organization/usability which made it not very user-friendly; recipes tried were fine but not very inspirational.

Has anyone else cooked out of this book?  Would love to hear other input.  Thanks again to the Survival Guide publisher for sharing this with me.

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