Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Allergies and intolerances

So I was on Twitter (as I generally am these days), and I saw an article from @thesohospeaks which was retweeted by someone I follow.

Here's the article.

Before I go any further, I just want to say that I agree very much with the spirit of this article. When you eat properly and you eat well, it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and even though my son and I have multiple food intolerances, we still enjoy food very much.

However, I had to take issue with the following portion:

“Before I serve up my opinions on food, allow me a caveat. This blog is all about healthy women, healthy body image, healthy confidence and healthy sexuality. Eating is part of this. Do I judge habitual overeating? Yes, but not nearly as much as a pervasive culture of under-eating, food guilt, fictional allergies and intolerances, calorie counting and diet-of-the-moment mentionitis.”

You can guess what part I took issue with.

I don’t like the way that “fictional” allergies and intolerances are mentioned in the same breath as calorie counting. It trivializes people with ACTUAL allergies and intolerances – people like me and my son, and probably most of you who read this blog.

OK, now before I get into what I think the real problem is, I totally understand what she was trying to do here. She’s saying, “Hey, I know some people have actual allergies and intolerances – I’m just talking about those annoying people who lie about it!”

But see, that’s a problem, and here’s why – you’re introducing the possibility that some people ARE lying about it.

Food allergies and intolerances are very tricky medically speaking. You may have a very bad reaction to a food and NEVER test allergic to it. Technically speaking you are NOT allergic. But it’s a little easier to say “I’m allergic” than to say, “Well, see, if I eat that, I won’t die, but I’ll pretty much wish I was dead by the reaction I’ll have.”

So. What’s the solution to these dietary poseurs who are allegedly out there? Instead of putting the idea into people’s head that people who claim allergies and intolerances are drama queens, we should just, I don’t know, take it REALLY SERIOUSLY.

See, if people truly understood allergies and intolerances, they would understand that it’s nothing to joke about. For someone who is truly allergic to a common ingredient, the chances are you’re not going to find them in ANY restaurant. Risking death is kind of not fun.

So in fact you have a HUGE gray area of people who have some degree of allergy or intolerance – not life threatening, perhaps, but not minor enough to be cavalier about it.

Yes, I get it that some people are really annoying and claim that eating red meat will mess up their chi or something. But the VAST MAJORITY of people are not lying. And lumping them together like this makes people with allergies and intolerances look like whiny overprivileged snobs – when all they’re trying to do is have a meal out like a normal person that doesn’t end with endless trips to the restroom.

I guarantee you if you are a person who has intolerances and/or allergies, you will have to ask a lot of questions that will seem incredibly annoying and prima donna-ish to the average person. If you’re allergic to shellfish, for example, you may need to ask if a steak is grilled on the same grill the shrimp is grilled on. This is not a prima donna question. It is NECESSARY to prevent a possibly life-threatening situation. And you can bet it’s probably a special occasion and that this person doesn’t venture out all too often, so they’d rather not end up in the emergency room at the end of the night.

So let’s stop mentioning “fictional” in the same breath as allergies and intolerances. Yes, maybe some people DO lie.

But I don’t think it’s the kind of judgment you’d want to bet someone’s life on.


Zarffyn said...

As a former kitchen manager, let me add some advice from the restaurant side that you can't see.

1. Cooks do not mind special requests. We have no problem with accommodating your dietary needs--as long as you're up front about it. Ask questions ahead of time. It's having to REMAKE your order, because you didn't tell us ahead of time, that makes us grouse behind your back. But we will still do it. Caveat: We will do what your server tells us to do--so make sure they understand your instructions.

2. Just because an ingredient isn't listed in the meal, doesn't mean your meal has no contact with that ingredient. For example, if you have a tomato allergy or intolerance, and the meal you're looking at does not say tomato anywhere, it is NOT certain that your meal will not come into contact with tomatoes. Cooks do not change gloves between every meal--in fact, meals are often prepared in stages, with multiple hands involved. If you cannot have any kind of contact with tomatoes, tell your server up front, so they can let the kitchen know--we will clean the grill and stations, and make sure we swap gloves. We cannot completely guarantee your meal will have zero contact with tomatoes, but we'll do our best.

3. When you find a server and kitchen staff that can correctly meet your needs, leave a generous tip. Reward them for their service. Then revisit, and ask for that server again. Servers learn repeat customers' needs quickly, and they are glad to take care of you. But, always, double check their understanding of your needs, and reward them well.

Susan said...

Thank you for the tips! :)

Electronic Medical Records said...

True allergies can be a huge big problem...and we shy away from making special requests thinking that it would pose inconvenience...so nice tips here.

Anonymous said...

Very well put, I agree completely.

Anonymous said...


Suzanne said...

We don't eat out because it just isn't worth the week of bad stomach and behaviours that come along with it. Most people say a little bit couldn't hurt could it? I get so frustrated with people who are close to us who don't try to understand after years of explaining how damaging it can be. I always feel like people think that I am making up the problems my son has with food or being too paranoid about him possibly getting something on accident.