Few writers are more qualified than Sandra Beasley to pen a memoir about living with food allergies. The Washington native is allergic to “dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard.” Even fewer could navigate the nuances of this problem with such humor, pathos, and flair. Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is shot through with sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes side-splitting anecdotes: kisses that end in swollen lips, Lemon Drop shots that end in anaphylaxis, parties and dates and weddings that end in trips to the emergency room.
Beasley, an accomplished poet, examines Washington chef José Andrés’s seductive allergy-sensitive menus, traces the role of allergies in the outing of KFC’s secret recipe, explains how scientists are cracking the mystery of allergic reactions, and ponders whether certain rituals such as Communion might be worth taking dietary risks for. This is a memoir that, while personal, avoids being too me-oriented. “That’s the balancing act,” Beasley writes. “My job is to center on staying safe in this world, but my job is also never to assume the world should revolve around keeping me safe.”