Back in 2012, mystery writer John Grisham told Allergic Living about how, by keeping meticulous notes, he and his allergist were able to suss out the cause of his skin that felt “on fire” with itchy hives. The culprit turned out to be mammalian meat, from beef and pork to lamb and rabbit.
Today, the prolific writer explains that he’s become an old pro at managing a meat-restricted diet, with the help of his wife, Renée, who also developed the disease, known as alpha-gal syndrome, from a tick bite.
“With time, you can adjust to anything,” says Grisham. “After so many years of eating a lot of fish and fowl, not to mention vegetables and pastas, we hardly think about the allergy.”
With so many healthy alternatives to beef and pork, “I haven’t missed a meal!” Or so the author says. One can’t help noticing the relish with which Grisham describes his occasional red meat cravings, and the stoic way he pushes past temptation.
“There are moments when I’d love some bacon, ham, ribs, a steak, and a big fat cheeseburger,” he says. “But those moments pass and we order or cook something else delicious.”
Life in a Tick Hot Zone
The Grishams are long-time residents of the countryside near Charlottesville, Virginia, a beautiful and historic city – that also happens to be a favorite habitat of the Lone Star tick. Anyone who spends time outdoors there is susceptible to the tick’s bite. Alpha-gal allergy was even discovered by University of Virginia allergist-immunologist Thomas Platts-Mills, who developed his own case of the disease after hiking in 2007.
While Grisham hasn’t had a serious reaction in years, he certainly can vividly recall what one felt like. “My last reaction was in Paris about seven years ago after eating rabbit for dinner.” He notes: “It was pretty ugly.”
For Grisham, there’s no mystery to dealing with the vexing alpha-gal allergy. Practice avoidance and stay positive.
“If the wrong tick finds you, don’t despair,” he advises. “Life goes on with a lot of great foods available.”
This is a sidebar to Allergic Living’s feature article: Red Meat Allergy: How One Tick Bite Can Upend Your Diet and Your Life