I’m a little embarrassed to bring up today’s topic because I know it might sound new-agey or like some attention-getting device.
What with all the allergies these days that didn’t seem to exist when I was a kid — soy, nuts, gluten, smoke, environmental (cleaning products, perfumes, etc.) — I know today’s topic might seem a little sketchy. But, here goes …
It would appear as though I have a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate. And what I’ve come to realize is that I probably had it for years before I knew it was a problem.
Six or so years ago, I ordered a big ol’ bowl of hot and sour soup at a Davis Chinese restaurant. Mmmm, so yummy, and what a rush … the skin flushing, the racing heart! I swear, I’d probably eaten the soup at this place 10 times when I finally realized this sensation was a warning sign. Pathetically, it took me another five trips to a Chinese restaurant to connect the agonizing headache that would come hours later.
In retrospect, I feel like a dog that can’t learn to stop eating the delicious plant that makes it barf unless the barfing happens immediately.
Anyway, hours after a bowl of heart-racing soup, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with head-splitting pain.
Many of these times, I’d be having an accompanying dream of getting a head injury; dreams of being shot in the head, falling on my head, accidentally hitting myself in the head with a hammer. But still it took me years to put this all together, the idea that heart palpitations and migraines were related to eating at Chinese restaurants.
After lots of reading up on the subject, I connected the dots and realized I have an MSG sensitivity. (Note: I’m not advocating using “Dr. Google” to diagnose maladies; I do, however, appreciate a well-edited site, such as WebMD.com, to answer the more obvious questions.)
With my newfound knowledge, I’ve become one of “those” people. I now ask in that super-annoying, delicate-flower way, “Is there MSG in any of what I ordered?”
And alas, I’ve realized if I don’t ask it in just the right way — the way where I explain that I really do have a problem with MSG and I will feel awful if I eat it and I’m not just saying this to be trendy — MSG might end up in my food.
Like it did last week. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that I’ve grown to trust is good about leaving out MSG. But this time we ordered with nonchalance, and my husband threw in an “oh, no MSG please” at the end of our order, as if it were something we just weren’t in the mood for.
So when I woke up at midnight after a head injury dream coinciding with a splitting headache, I was pretty annoyed with myself. By the way, some more online research led me to a possible headache prevention remedy if I suspect I’ve consumed MSG … Benadryl seems to work for many people.
In the morning I told my husband about the headache, and he admitted he felt some flushing when eating our favorite green bean appetizer. (The poor guy gets more like me the longer we’re married.) This is what we get for not being adamant about no MSG in our food.
Truthfully, I don’t blame the waiter for being skeptical that this is a real issue. It’s difficult not to think, “Well, millions of people eat this all the time and don’t have any problems. Maybe it’s in your head.” Uh, yeah, it is.
Having been a waitress in the ’80s, years before all these food issues were on anybody’s radar, I never had to deal with all the customized orders that people now require. I know it must be irritating.
Thus, my goal is to find a light-hearted but effective way to say this at restaurants without being annoying or whiny, while still being convincing. Actually, my real goal is never to eat MSG again, but I will keep my purse stocked with Benadryl, just in case.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya