Author’s Note: Below is a letter to all restaurant personnel—servers, chefs, managers, all of them. I’ve determined to plainly address all of these people in the form of one name—Ted—to make the letter easier to read.
We’re not all liars.
I can see how you might find customers who are claiming food allergies a bit, ummm… high maintenance. I can even understand that multiple trips to the kitchen to answer the 15th question about ingredients in one more item on your menu might be the last thing you need that night as you serve multiple tables, and someone has called in sick so you’ve got even more responsibility the very night that we come in for dinner.
But I can only imagine how maddening it is to you when you see someone claiming an allergy and this happens: you ensured a clean and scrupulously disinfected area of the kitchen for that person’s safety, you cooked with the utmost care using the allergy-safe utensils and pans, you served this person carefully, and then you see that very same person eating the very same product they claimed an allergy to off their companion’s plate. Don’t let this jade you, Ted. Why?
Let me say this again as clearly as I can: We’re not all liars.
You see, it’s come to my attention that healthy food mavens like Dr. John McDougall and Food Babe are encouraging their followers to “just claim an allergy” if the follower feels at all as if the restaurant just possibly may not understand their nutritional needs and lifestyle choices. This is a dangerous trend. One which many of my fellow allergy cohorts and I feel has the capability of undermining all of the work that advocates for food safety have done on the behalf of our loved ones.
I find it ironic in this YouTube video out from Dr. McDougall—in which he gives his followers tips on eating out—he states (at :23, so listen closely):
“You say well, ‘How am I going to accomplish that without killing myself?’”
Ted, ironically enough, allergic people actually ask this question quite often. And not figuratively as McDougall jokingly does, but as in, “Is this calculated risk of eating out really worth the possibility of landing in the hospital—or worse?”
Millions of allergic people put their lives in the hands of restaurant servers, chefs, and managers each year. And I don’t mean the McDougall-laugh-it-off, “just tell them you’re allergic to oil, that you’ll go into anaphylactic shock and have a seizure if you have oil” kind of a thing (which is truly appalling from a board certified medical doctor) I mean in a, “Hey! If I ingest/contact/breathe in a trace of <insert allergen> I’ll be in the back of an ambulance faster than you can say ‘<insert allergen again>.’”
It’s also terribly disappointing to me that someone I personally follow, a great food investigator—someone who’s done so much to out horrible ingredients in processed foods—would also be willing to tell her hundreds of thousands of followers to also claim an allergy if the person feels their lifestyle choice will not be taken seriously. Food Babe, you’ve written about allergies, you acknowledge them; why ever would you instruct your faithful followers to “Go as far as telling the server you allergic to butter and dairy, soy and corn,” and dilute the urgency for those who truly do have life threatening food allergies?
Back to you, Ted. I know it may seem like a hassle, and maybe not even so much worth it to use the clean pans that aren’t allowed to have <insert allergen> in them, or to make sure that the salad you prep is in a separate part of the kitchen from <insert other allergen>, especially when you see the folks who cry wolf about allergies.
But please, on behalf of all truly allergic individuals everywhere—the grown-ups who have allergies, the parents who are navigating their children’s allergies, and the pre-teens and teenagers that are sprouting their own wings of independence—please don’t let your guard down just because of those who cried wolf. Ted, not all of us are liars.
Our mamas taught us better than that.
A Concerned Parent