Book Review | Dan Balogh

Food Allergy Survival Guide
By Vesanto Melina, MS, RD, Jo Stepaniak, MSEd
and Dina Aronson, MS, RD

Reviewed by Dan Balogh

I propose a few rules concerning books on vegetarian nutrition. First, if a book is written by Vesanto Melina, co-author of such well-regarded classics as “Becoming Vegan” and “Becoming Vegetarian”, it’s worth getting. Second, if a book is written by Jo Stepaniak, author of undisputed gems like “The Vegan Sourcebook”, “Being Vegan”, as well as a slew of wonderful vegan cookbooks, it’s worth getting. Finally, if a book is written by both of them, a review like this is not necessary. Just get the book!

Melina and Stepaniak team up once again (their last effort together was the book “Raising Vegetarian Children”) to create what might be the most comprehensive layman’s guide for understanding and dealing with food sensitivities and allergies on the market. This time they’re joined by nutritionist Dina Aronson, co-author of “Minerals from Plant Foods: Strategies for Maximizing Nutrition”.

It’s really two books in one. The first 160 pages methodically explain the science behind food sensitivities and allergies; how to determine if you have them (you experience symptoms like headaches or hives, for instance); and how to determine what specific foods are the culprits. In this last discussion you’ll find, for instance, a description of the do-it-yourself elimination diet, where individual foods or groups of foods are eliminated from one’s diet until it’s clear which is the offender.

Most other books stop right there, leaving the reader with some familiarity as to what foods should be removed from his diet, but with an otherwise dearth of ideas on how to manage this feat for the rest of his life. Since Stepaniak is a co-author, that isn’t the case here. The next 200 pages (that’s not a typo) present a mountain of recipes for those with food allergies. The great thing about this section is that every single recipe is free of all the major food allergens that were previously discussed. Every recipe is free of dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, gluten, soy, peanuts, kiwi fruit, baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, and nutritional yeast. There’s no need to flip through the pages to find the ones that avoid an individual allergen. All 200 pages are safe.

Even vegans may be scratching their heads at this point ... what, no soy? No wheat? What’s left? Plenty! Here you’ll find recipes for pizza, bread, crepes, pies, cereal, pancakes, salads, dressings, soups, chili, stews, tacos, loafs, curries, quiche, and the list goes on. When you start thinking outside the box, your eyes open to how many wonderful nutritious foods are out there.

And the book goes further than just providing recipes. It actually has a primer in the chapter entitled “Kitchen Basics and Cooking Fundamentals“ that explains how to cook with non-allergen foods, addressing the principles of beans, pressure cooking, gluten-free flours, grains and other topics. You’ll also find the fundamentals of baking, including how to frost a cake! Those who don’t need this information can just skip it. Others may find it very helpful. Face it – if you have food allergies, the best way to have total control over the ingredients in your meals is to prepare the meals yourself. Folks who aren’t used to that aren’t left hanging.

So if you think you may have food allergies and want to learn more about them, and perhaps even investigate them safely on your own, this book is an indispensable and comprehensive addition to what’s currently out there. Even folks who don’t have allergies might want to have this one on their shelf – just for the recipes. Why? With so many folks stricken with food allergies these days, this may be one of the few recipe books that you can safely use when you’re preparing food for friends. It’s just one more type of headache this book will help you eliminate!

Dan Balogh is a frequent contributor to and a member of EarthSave® New York City. He works as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. He and his wife have been vegans for several years; their kitty Lulu happily approves.

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