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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The world is rigged against my kind

Artisan Pizza Kitchen File.JPG

I’ve tasted the forbidden fruit. Or in my case, forbidden milk, cheese, yogurt and most other dairy-intensive commodities, and that’s what makes this whole thing so hard. Allow me to share my story. This past June, I was dramatically self-diagnosed with lactose intolerance. 

It was the recipe for the perfect summer: the days were long, the weather warm, but unfortunately, my stomach bloated. As it was when I tried getting creative with the Thanksgiving gravy, one wrong ingredient tarnished the whole dish. Side note: baking soda is NOT an appropriate substitute for flour — I know this now.

Anyway, I decided to do the unthinkable. I cut dairy from my diet for a week to see if I felt a difference, and I did! This might sound like good news to any of you dairy-processing mortals, but alas, my nightmare had come to life. I’ve heard this horror story before. Two of my four older siblings developed a similar lactose disenchantment during their college years, so the odds weren’t necessarily in my favor. They also weren’t not in my favor (yeah, I’ve taken statistics) but I thought I was in the clear.

The development of lactose tolerance was an evolutionary process that required considerable selective pressure; until several thousand years ago, the enzyme that processes lactose in humans turned off once a person entered adulthood. Today, 65 percent of the global population cannot digest lactose hitch-free. Unfortunately for me and my genetically and geographically ill-fated friends, however, lactose intolerance only affects 25 percent of Americans, and is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting over 90 percent of adults in some of these communities.

Was I just born into the wrong society? Are those of us who have to pay a dollar extra to add soy milk to our lattes destined to fade into the blackness, our wallets empty and stomachs churning in distress? 

Not on my watch; I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with a few thoughtful solutions. For one, restaurants could make lactase pills as readily available as straws, thus facilitating peaceful, problem-free consumption for all.

Another option is to encourage restaurant kitchens nationwide to employ the use of lactose-free dairy products. They taste the same! I won’t die! It’s a win-win! 

The last, and arguably most rational solution, however, is to add more variety in terms of what new eateries are opening where. I’m lookin’ at you, Franklin Street.

Franklin Street is home to an endless array of pizza-specializing establishments. Benny’s, Toppers, Mellow Mushroom and Italian Pizzeria III are coveted campus icons. I Love NY Pizza is rarely occupied and somehow still open, and APK (may they rest in peace) tragically closed last month. With impressive, though strategically questionable resilience, Franklin street soon welcomed Lotsa, MidiCi and the Pizza Press, which begs the question: SERIOUSLY? All this is to say that when my friends and I are debating where to eat, the answer is usually pizza, so I’m frequently faced with the choice between diet-induced social exclusion and near-debilitating stomach pain.

I recently read a quote that was powerful in the way it so accurately described my experience: “You don’t know how strong you are until you have to be.” 

It’s been seven months. Seven months of an ongoing cycle of avoiding dairy, giving in at the first sign of temptation and spending the next few hours in fetal position, grasping desperately onto my final strands of life (see previously described dramatic self-diagnosis).

I’d like to end on a note of passion, with words one might exclaim after being let go from a job (not that I would know, of course). This isn’t the last you’ll hear from me! I won’t be satisfied until those of my kind get the respect and consideration we deserve.

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