Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Round Table

A lot of my experience has taught me that, in general, older children and teenagers are more aware, empathetic, and proactive about food allergies than adults. To illustrate, I'll share two stories from the same camp...

The camp chef knows me. I'm there at least three times a year with my food restrictions, allergies, and intolerances every year since before he was hired. He catered my wedding. He knows what I can and can't eat, as well as what I can't be near. But, sometimes he makes mistakes. Or doesn't quite get it.

When he does include peanuts or tree nuts in a meal, he makes sure to tell me at least a meal in advance. He has helped me set up a nut free table for these meals, and everyone at my table gets something else to eat.

First, the adult group. I was there in the off season for a planning weekend. All of the adults involved in making the summer run stay in one of the winterized buildings for three days, and we eat family style in tables of 8 in the dining hall. The chef forgot I was coming and our first breakfast was scheduled to be banana walnut pancakes. He assured me that we would have walnut-free pancakes for one table and everything would be fine.

I arrived at breakfast a little early and everything was as the chef said. We had a designated nut free table on the edge of the room to minimize contamination. I sat, with my husband, and waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

Every single person walked right past us and sat at one of our other two tables. There were a couple "sorry, I really like nuts" comments, but most people just ignored us. My husband and I ate that meal alone at a table set for eight.

I honestly don't think most of them realized what message they were sending. But I heard, clearly, "we think eating the nuts is more important than including you."

Another time, in the summer, I was in charge of a group of teenagers. I had spoken with the chef, and other members of kitchen staff, and had been advised that there would be peanut butter available at lunch as a back up option for picky kids, but that it would be kept near the salad bar and I am seated far enough away to not be a problem.

I was walking near the end of my pack of teens, headed toward the dining hall for lunch. As I approached the building, a small group of my youth burst out of the side door and ran toward me. "There's peanut butter on every table! You can smell it everywhere! Don't go in, we'll go talk to the kitchen."

I waited outside. I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know if I should let my counselors supervise lunch and go eat some of the safe snacks I had packed away in our cabin, or if I should forgo lunch and wait outside, or risk it go inside and wheeze all afternoon, or if my youth were really going to manage to persuade the kitchen staff to do something about it.

Within five minutes, those youth were carrying out clean plates, cups and utensils. Another few followed with serving bowls and platters of safe food.

Those teenagers didn't just remember and bring me safe lunch, they brought enough for themselves too. They sat with me at the round picnic table and we ate our nut free lunch together outside.

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