Gelato from Amorino in Paris is a no-no for the lactose averse, unfortunately! (Josh Leo)
Hello. For about ten months now I have been grappling with intolerance in my life, something deeply rooted and painful to me and to loved ones. I feel that it’s time to come out with it, to share this issue publicly in order that others may not suffer as well. Here it goes:
My name is Bryan. I live in Paris. And I am lactose intolerant.
I join the roughly 30 million Americans who, by the age of 20, develop some sort of negative reaction to dairy products. If I were in America, I probably wouldn’t worry so much, since there are more soy alternatives available in the grocery store than stars in the sky. The real problem is that I live in France, a country that can proudly boast a different cheese for practically every day of the year. Cream-filled pastries line bakery windows. Ice cream and gelato can be found on every corner. How’s a guy supposed to deal with such blatant intolerance of his own intolerance?
Double-dairy: for extra creaminess, do as the French: spread a little butter on your bread before heaping it with brie (Bhamsandwich)
I’ve learned to cope. I don’t take it personally that most French foods are riddled with lactose molecules. Every time I get the urge to grab some Camembert or ask for a double scoop of pistachio ice cream, I remember the pain. Consuming the dairy sends a ticking time bomb into my gastro-intestinal tract. Mere hours later, it feels as though a family of rabid meerkats are tirelessly trying to burrow their way out of my stomach. It’s not good.
So for the past few months I have resisted, swearing off cheese and opting for meats on my picnic sandwich instead. No more butter, just olive oil, please. Yogurt? Sure, if it has those bacteria in it that will help me digest the evil lactose (look for bifidus at the supermarket yogurt aisle).
Bye bye ice cream, hello sorbet – with the added vitamins helping to fight scurvy, who could complain? It’s difficult to pass up the fruity seasonal sorbet varieties at Pozetto or Grom (like fig and blueberry) once you try them. The alternatives, seemingly less tempting but altogether surprising, are there if you choose to look.
The constant struggle and uphill battle has rendered me numb. I can stroll by Pink Flamingo pizzeria or breeze by any Amorino shop without drooling helplessly. (Note, however, that Pink Flamingo will guiltlessly make you a pizza without cheese if you ask – try the Aphrodite and just ask for extra hummus) For me, however, it’s become a non-issue. Well, nearly.
Dairy Alert: stay away from pizza, but indulge in goat cheese salads to your heart’s delight! (Erica Berman; Fotoos Van Robin)
As no man is perfect, I still have my weaknesses. Asking me to swear off pizza, for example, would be just as mean as feeding it to me. Fortunately, I have a weapon. Unbeknownst to most Parisian pharmacies – for I have asked around – there is a pill available that fights the kryptonic effects of milk – Lactaid. While as scarce in Paris as quality customer service, the pill is easily importable via airmail, making birthdays considerably easier for my mother who no longer needs to struggle with what to buy me.
Still, I feel like an outcast each time I pop a pill before consuming my ice cream cone. I can see the brows wrinkle above the eyes of the crepe man as he hands me my ham and cheese crepe and I tear into a Lactaid pill before diving into his creation, as if saying insultingly, “I need medicine to eat this terrible thing.” I want to eat dairy like the other kids, yet I’m forever different.
Stay away from gorgeous scoops of ice cream like these. Opt for dairy-free sorbet instead! (Bhamsandwich; Ali A)
But I’m here to spread the word that lactose intolerance is not shameful. Nor does it preempt anyone from French cuisine. It’s a difficult reality exacerbated by a heavily milk-based culture tempting us with its cheesy, creamy, Chantilly-topped edibles that some of us, alas, cannot readily eat. Life is tough, right? Just remember that you’re not alone. Look towards the friendly fruity sorbets, skip the caloric whipped creams, and go for a chicken and crudités sandwich instead of ham and cheese. Life goes on, and, as long as I never become allergic to wine, I can deal with the Parisian dairy-centric gastronomy. Just keep sending those pills, Mom…
- Some great tips on coping with food intolerances in Paris
- Worried about over-indulging in all the delicious French food? Check out these tidbits of advice.
- David Lebovitz has some great advice on gluten-free eating in Paris