In May 2006, I passed out at our neighbors’ dinner table from an allergic reaction to something I had eaten. The attack strengthened so quickly that I never knew until much later, when we could all joke a little, that my face fell into my dinner plate. Or that I lost all muscle control. Or that my husband and our neighbors were really scared as they tried to tell a dispatcher which rural driveway the responding rescue squads should take. Or that our neighbors’ son drew pictures of his yard filled with trucks and emergency crews during the following weeks.

Afterward, for some days, I felt very tired and very groggy. And scared. Why had these attacks started? What exactly had produced this strong reaction? What if I had more attacks, and like fatal bee stings, the next one killed me?

Earlier that spring, I had already had four or five mild attacks where blood rushed to my face and hands, where my vision blurred slightly, where I felt ill, and where I knew something was really wrong. In April, there had been a much stronger attack in a favorite local restaurant, an attack that had allowed me to begin to associate hot chili peppers and/or pork with the reaction, though these were foods I had eaten with impunity all my life.

But that day in May, I had not eaten any peppers. I had eaten a sandwich at a local fast-food place, and remembered later that I had not felt well and that one of the earlier mild attacks had also been associated with this place. Since I had eaten sandwiches from this chain all across America, I wondered if I had brushed up against some sort of local, recent pesticide application. Perhaps, too, the sulfites in the red wine we brought to our neighbor’s dinner — a deep Chilean red — played a role in pushing me over the edge of what had been a simmering attack. The rest of the dinner included foods I eat all the time: wild salmon and, from the farmers market, salad, a green vegetable, and freshly baked local bread. At that time, it seemed unlikely that these often-eaten foods had become ingredients in what I had begun to think of as a mysterious cocktail that had the power to knock me out in seconds.

You can see how all these uncertainties could be unsettling, how looking for the combining culprits is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. I carried an Epi-pen everywhere and, after reading all the warnings on the label, worried that my husband might actually use it on me if I passed out. The potential effects of the pen seemed more dangerous than one of the bad attacks, from which I have, so far, slowly recovered on my own. I stopped drinking red wine — or any alcohol — since alcohol can intensify a reaction. And I started being really, really aware of my environment and my body’s reactions to everything.

The food attacks became a tipping point for me. They and my reactions to them started me on a journey of discoveries that have led to differing life choices. A sign at the local Yoga Barn reminds me more forcibly of what is at stake: “Take Care of Your Body, or Where Will You Live?” In this sense, this tipping point has been a gift.

I am convinced now that my body is like one of those canaries used in mines to warn of odorless, deadly gasses. Or I am like the frog floating in warming water. My body is telling all of us that those like me — and there are many — are signaling some kind of fundamental overload. For me, the foods I’ve eaten all of my life have suddenly become poisonous and eating has become a bit like gambling with a roulette wheel. Yet the actual food may not be the total cause.

What I’ve learned is that corporations have changed our food radically since the mid 1970s and too much of our food is causing wild allergic reactions and chronic disease in people. What I’ve learned is that we humans are poisoning our environment and, by extension, ourselves. What I’ve learned is that corporations have been remarkably successful in either creating junk science that facilitates the selling of their products or hiding science that points to problems. What I’ve learned is that our government has a 150-year history of protecting and facilitating corporations, not its citizens. What I’ve learned is that few people have the time to do the kind of research I have been doing, and that I want to share this knowledge.

The good news I can offer is that we live in Maine where there are many easy opportunities for making a different set of choices, for living a different kind of life. The hope to be found is that once we understand fully the modern terrain upon which we exist — a terrain I did not understand three years ago — we can begin making these different choices. We can join others around the country who have already become agents of change in a culture that is now unsustainable for too many of us. The promise is a fuller, richer life.

Louisa Enright lives in Camden. Her discipline is cultural studies, which focuses on systems of cultural power.