This isn’t a trip report, but this article in the Boston Globe highlights something that is a very serious issue for people with genuine life threatening food allergies. Excerpt below:
BEFORE WE GET INTO IT, let me make one thing clear. This intervention is not aimed at those with life-threatening food allergies or similarly grave medical conditions. I would never question people whose faces will balloon if they ingest trace amounts of shellfish. Or people who risk going into anaphylactic shock with a whiff of peanut dust. Or people whose ingestion of a smidge of gluten will send their bodies on an autoimmune witch hunt that over time will eat away at the lining of their small intestines and potentially lead to everything from infertility to cancer. Those problems are very real, and everyone who is afflicted with one or more of them has my sympathy.
I’m talking about the rest of you. Those of you who don’t eat garlic because you detest its smell or avoid cauliflower because it makes you fart or have gone gluten-free because you heard it worked wonders for Jennifer Aniston or Lady Gaga or Dave, your toned instructor from spin class.
When you settle into your seat at a restaurant, don’t be shy about telling your server your food preferences. By all means, ask if your dish can be prepared garlic-free or cauliflower-free or gluten-free. You’re paying good money, so you should get the meal that you want, not one that leaves you riding home in a foul mood and a plume of fetid air. The days of the imperious no-substitutions chef, telling you to take it or leave it, now seem as dated as a rerun of that Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” episode from 20 years ago.
But for the love of Julia Child and the sake of every other soul in the restaurant, particularly the underpaid line cooks sweating their way through another Saturday night shift, please, please stop describing your food preferences as an allergy. That is a very specific medical term, and invoking it triggers an elaborate, time-consuming protocol in any self-respecting kitchen. It shouldn’t be tossed around as liberally as the sea salt on the house-made (gluten-free) breadsticks.
I know you want your dietary preferences to be taken seriously, and you think invoking the A-word is a harmless little white lie. But you have no idea how much trouble you’re causing and how much you’re helping to erode hard-won progress for people with genuine allergies and disorders.
In a stunningly short slice of history, we’ve gone from food allergies being met with ignorance or indifference in the restaurant world to their domination of the discussion between server and diner, starting with the greeting and continuing all the way to dessert. The seriousness with which most chefs now take allergies has opened up the restaurant experience to a whole group of people who previously couldn’t risk dining out. That progress should be celebrated.
But it shouldn’t be taken for granted. And we’ve come to a tipping point, thanks to the explosion of faddists and bandwagon-jumpers and attention-seekers who wrap their food dislikes in the packaging of allergy and disease. After witnessing enough diners who make a big fuss about how their bodies can’t tolerate gluten and then proceed to order a beer or dig into their date’s brownie dessert, fatigued chefs and managers are beginning to adopt a less accommodating approach. But the people who may ultimately pay the price for this pushback won’t be the “free-from” fabulists. They’ll be those with serious conditions.
As someone with one of those serious conditions – a potentially life threatening dairy allergy – I sat reading this article nodding my head constantly, wanting to scream “yes! thank you! why do people do this? it just makes life harder for those of us who actually have real allergies!”
I’ve talked before about issues that I’ve had with not being taken seriously on my travels when I tell wait and kitchen staff that I’m allergic to dairy. From people not taking me seriously due to cultural differences in Africa, to people not taking me seriously because it’s inconvenient in Indonesia, to airline catering failures because they think that a vegetarian ovo-lacto (VOML) meal is basically the same thing as a vegan (VGML) meal, and you should just be grateful to get whatever is put in front of you…
It’s hard to deal with. You become a social pariah because you’re always the difficult one when it comes to eating out. And you eventually start to realise that the whole reason you’re not being taken seriously by restaurant or in-flight staff is because of people like those mentioned in the Boston Globe article. People who lie about being allergic to dairy but then order ice cream for dessert. People who lie about being allergic to peanuts but then go and order the Malaysian satay chicken.
People who lie are eventually going to end up killing someone with a genuine allergy due to their behaviour, and you know what? I hope that death will stay on their conscience for the rest of their damn life.