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Wheat, Meat and Other Allergies

Profile: Author John Grisham’s Allergy Mystery

On how the allergy affects day-to-day life.

“There are times when you think, boy, I’d love to have a big old steak or cheeseburger or a side of ribs or even, you know, a Bolognese pasta sauce or something like that. But you say, well, it’s not worth it.

Renee is a very healthy cook, and I’ve never had a problem with cholesterol, nor does she, or blood pressure. But it’s a whole lot lower now [laughs], cholesterol. There’s no real drawback. I could easily be a vegetarian. But my wife is also a wonderful cook. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen; we open a bottle of wine every evening about 6 and start thinking about what can we cook, or we go out. But we do eat a lot of chicken. A LOT of chicken.

[Outdoors,] we’re much more careful now. We hike all the time, through the trails. We’re much more careful with the [tick repellant] spray and spray the dogs.”

On trying to explain a tick-related allergy.

“When the article [about red-meat allergy] came out in Allergic Living magazine, I couldn’t wait to run copies and send them to all the skeptics in my life. ‘There you go, take it.’ Because the article’s perfect: this guy’s a doctor at UVA [Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills], and suddenly he’s breaking out in hives, and it’s linked to a tick, and you can’t eat red meat.

I said, ‘There it is, now get off my back.’” [Laughs]

On the worst part of his allergy.

“I guess the worst part is just having an allergy and wondering, you know, where it came from. I hope they figure this all out. I hope – maybe you can take a pill for it someday, or get some immunity …. I’ve always told [my allergist], any time you think I need to go do something – I’ll subject myself to any kind of test. If I can help out, I’m happy to. Thus this interview.”

Sidebar: The Doctor’s Check-Up

Allergic Living asked New York allergist Dr. Paul Ehrlich* to grade John Grisham’s allergy approach.

Top Marks: We like to say, “a good history solves the mystery.” Thanks to a master of the art for validating this point with his methodical record-keeping and observations. 

Caution ahead: I’d worry that some chef may add beef or veal stock to liven up a vegetarian recipe or a braised chicken. Cross-contamination accidents do happen, and Mr. Grisham needs to be ready.

Medication use: It’s interesting that he uses Allegra – it’s slow-acting. With food allergies, most allergists recommend Benadryl. Given the severity of some of his reactions, always carrying epinephrine would be an excellent precaution.

See also: Allergic Living’s article on red meat allergy.

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*Dr. Paul Ehrlich is president of the New York Allergy & Asthma Society, a fellow of the AAAAI and the author of Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent’s Guide.

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.