Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Root of the Problem?

A few days ago, I was reading through the recent posts on notalwaysright.com, a website dedicated to insensitive, thoughtless, and just plain stupid things customers do and say. I ran across this post: You Say Tomato, I Say Epinephrine. And I think it solidified one of my theories on why people who haven't actually experienced life-threatening food allergies often downplay or dismiss them.

I found myself wanting to yell at the person who submitted this post, because they clearly didn't fully understand their actions.

I have seen other people do this too; they don't like a food, so they say they're allergic to make sure a restaurant, host, or caregiver doesn't give them any. This person even exaggerated further, stating that it was a severe allergy! And then went on to order a side item that contained the "allergic" ingredient, planning to eat it without consequence.

First, this person made extra work for the kitchen. Instead of simply leaving tomato off the sandwich, they needed to ensure that the grill, utensils, etc had all been completely cleaned and that their meal was kept a safe distance from any other tomato products in the kitchen. They may have needed to modify the recipe - ingredients hide in places you don't always expect or notice them.

This is why I am always so careful to be completely honest: I have life threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. I have mild to moderate allergies to shellfish, goat milk, and red grape. I have intolerances to lactose and tuna. I am vegetarian. And I really dislike olives, probably as much as this person dislikes raw tomato. Good chefs understand this. They take every precaution with the allergies, and are careful with the intolerances. They cook on a vegetarian dedicated, or cleaned grill. They occasionally make mistakes with the olives, but olives won't actually make me sick or kill me. I appreciate the extra work they do to ensure my safety.

But my main concern is that people who don't understand allergies observe people like this. And I have to wonder if they think this is what's happening when I list my legitimate food allergies.

I have had people try to tell me I'm exaggerating, or just being picky. I have had people tell me to eat around the allergen, or "pick it out," not understanding that just touching the nut could give me a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

If we want people to better understand the severity of food allergies, we need to represent them appropriately. Please don't say you're allergic to something if you're not, especially if you are going to disprove yourself within minutes. Be honest, tell them you just don't like it. Chances are, they'll get it right. If they make a mistake, be forgiving, at least it wasn't something that could have actually hurt you. If you do have a true allergy, make it clear, people like this are out there.

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