Eating Out and Claiming Food Allergies? We’re Not All Liars.

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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.

Dear Ted,

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.

Eating Out and Claiming Food Allergies? 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


Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

60 Comments to Eating Out and Claiming Food Allergies? We’re Not All Liars.

  1. Meg

    Our family avoids gluten. Its not an allergy in that our lives are threatened if we eat it or eat something that’s been cross-contaminated with it (we just get upset stomachs, bloating, and/or asthma attacks) – but when we ask for a gluten-free menu, or about potential gluten in an item, the response is always “is it an allergy?.” I do my best to explain, but it always ends up with the “so…I’ll write down its an allergy” from the server doing her best to understand. Which makes me feel guilty – because if our food happens to be cross-contaminated, its not a HUGE deal. We can take the bun off the burger and be fine. But my SIL, with Celiacs, won’t be. Or a long time friend who can’t even be down-wind of a cheeseburger on the grill without going into anaphylactic shock. Those are true allergies which make eating out a gamble each and every time.

    • Tiffany Self

      Meg–thanks for sharing. Here’s the deal: I get it, I totally get what you’re saying. But YOU also get it. You know why this issue is important to those of us that do have to carry epinephrine with us everywhere.

      I, though, would still consider an asthma attack after eating an allergen worthy of following the server’s lead and calling it an allergy, if that’s the only way the restaurant can accommodate your needs. Asthma is nothing to mess with. You clearly are not just going gluten free because it’s the latest thing to do.

      Thanks for being aware and thoughtful, and for sharing your experiences.

    • Roo Ciambriello

      Great comment, Meg! I think it’s totally cool to say “sensitivity,” but I think what you’re doing is definitely different from what Food Babe is suggesting – which is lying about a preference, not a sensitivity or an allergy.

      • Tiffany – I appreciate this blog for the work you are doing (I personally have allergies, eczema and asthma!), but, let me ask you – Who is to say GMO soybean, corn and dairy (fed GMO corn, soy and pumped with growth hormone) is not making us as a critical mass allergic to food? Especially considering the amount of harmful pesticides sprayed on it? My advice was concerning avoiding GMOs when eating out – something I do and stand by. It was one strategy offered in several suggestions, out of a list of many travel and eating out tips, being blown out of proportion. I take my health extremely serious, but unfortunately, in my experience (and indicative of some of the comments here) some restaurants and servers don’t understand the requests you make, unless it’s black and white. I have made it my mission to inform restaurant servers why I avoid GMOs when I can – but not everyone has the time or ability or know-how to do that. No one should have to eat this toxic food over other choices if they are available. I know this advice can be controversial – but so is the astronomical amount of disease in this country. As I stated above, I also have severe allergies (as well as my husband and members of my family) and don’t take that issue lightly at all! Especially having to rush family members to hospitals before in life threatening situations. Hope this helps explain the thoughts behind my suggestion in the post you referenced. Bringing your own food to movie theaters is very controversial as well. Hiding it in my purse could be considered lying – but I am not willing to eat what’s offered and I’m ok morally with that decision. Some people may not be – and that’s ok to me – we all have the right to make our own choices and I chose health first.

        • StephanieL

          Vani, I am sorry but avoiding GMO’s is a life choice. Eating allergy free is not! If you want to avoid eating GMO that’s great and amazing and wonderful! I prefer to eat that way too! The thing is, if I am THAT serious about it and it is my 100% conviction to NOT eat GMO, I can stay home. I am not going to try and educate every single person in a restaurant why it’s better to eat that way. 1) They most likely don’t care! 2) They are working and don’t have a lot of time for chit chat about GMO’s. Now you can say the same thing for a person with an allergy- you don’t have to eat out and that is often true too but when most of us “allergy folks” do eat out it is because there isn’t another option (vacations, travel, electricity is out at home). There is a calculated risk every time we/our children DO eat out and we take that very seriously. Do you call restaurants before going to ask about GMO? Do you go at off times so your server isn’t as slammed to answer your questions or get the chef to come answer questions? Do you sit around for 2-4 hours after a meal wondering if there was something “bad” in what was just served? If you don’t do those things then PLEASE do not burden these workers with your stories about big bad GMO’s and let them focus on someone they have the ability to kill in an instant! Don’t toss the word allergy around without really thinking about how much you are discrediting those who DO have life threatening allergies.

          • Shannon

            I have a daughter with multiple food allergies, but I also avoid GMO’s and try to eat only real food with no artificial anything, so I have dogs on both sides of this race. It was actually my daughter’s corn allergy that caused me to have to read labels so carefully that made me realize exactly what nasty things I was eating and feeding my family. I decided then that we should all eat real food and get rid of the artificial stuff. Unfortunately, it has made eating out almost impossible. For my daughter, allergic to milk, soy, rice, corn, and oats, I just don’t take the chance of letting someone else prepare her food. Since it is a “calculated risk,” I am not willing to take it. If we are traveling, I take her safe food with us. I don’t even want her in a restaurant to inhale the cooking fumes of her allergens. If eating out is a must, my husband and I will order our food to go and we have a picnic, giving our daughter her “special” food that I prepared for her. I cannot put her safety in someone else’s hands. As for avoiding GMO’s and unnatural ingredients, I disagree that it is a “lifestyle choice”. In my case, I have many health conditions, including 2 autoimmune disorders, chronic migraines, and reactive hypoglycemia. I have found that my autoimmune symptoms have lessened significantly since I have been on a real food diet, my migraines have gotten less severe, and I had not had a single episode of low blood sugar until I had to stray from the diet during a trip to Dollywood. After two days out of town with no real food options available, I was feeling horrible again, and it took two weeks before I started to feel better again. So, for me, it is not a choice to eat real food. My health requires it. Food Babe has been instrumental in helping me learn about what to avoid and how to find plenty of real food options. I think she was just trying to help those like me who NEED to eat this way to have an easier time doing so. Since I do have a daughter with allergies, I definitely understand the importance of that. If I have to eat out, I usually just tell the server that I have health conditions and have very specific diet requirements. I research before I go so I have an idea of what options are available. My personal experiences have shown me that the toxins in our food truly are making us sick, so even though I don’t use Food Babe’s suggestion to claim an allergy, I do appreciate the work she does to keep toxins out of our food. I also suggest checking out the 100 Days of Real Food blog for anyone interested in a real food diet. For those that do have allergies, eating this way makes it a lot easier to know what you are getting and avoid potential allergens. It has helped us tremendously!

        • Derp

          FoodBabe, you’re not an expert in any scientific field and your clear love of fame leave you with absolutely zero credibility. Im shocked that the author of this blog ever had any sense of respect for you. I find that shocking since she actually had to study science at some point to become a doctor and yet she couldn’t see through your rather transparent knee-jerk bullshit.

          • And also

            Didn’t Food Babe also suggest to lie to security at the airport so that she could bring on the food she wanted to bring from home? I am pretty sure she told her “army” to tell the security personnel that they had an allergy. Disgusting.

        • J.S.

          Most of your fears are based upon misinformation and personal ignorance. Please don’t take that last part as an insult, there is much I am ignorant of as well. What I mean is, despite the scientific evidence, you claim that GMOs are toxic. You only believe that because you have no idea what they are or have never read a real study on them. You obviously have no understanding of genetics (especially gene expression), biology or chemistry. If you were extremely serious about your health, you would understand that Bt corn is actually healthier for you than its organic counterpart due to the lack of a pesticide which the organic needs and the Bt does not. Again, since you say there is more pesticides sprayed on GM corn or soy, you obviously have been mislead somewhere down the road.
          As far as allergies are concerned, they are currently the most misdiagnosed ailment in the United States. According to medical records, about 30% of Americans are living with some sort of food allergy or another. According to the scientific evidence, only around 6% of Americans are actually living with one form of food allergy or another. Most of which are under the age of 13. The other 24% is doctors just playing safe. Again, all backed by science.
          My advice to you is, stop reading propaganda pieces. No matter if you agree with their message or not. More often or not, they are misleading. Instead, look up the information in scholarly journals. Such as Scientific American, New Scientist, or Science magazine. That way you are getting the information directly from the source.

          – J. S.
          M.I.T. Department of Biological Engineering.

          • Tiffany Self

            Thanks J.S.–wish I could pick your brain further!

          • Joyce Hindman

            THANK YOU. GMOs have been around for decades. Now that someone started screaming how bad they are, things like naturally provided vitamin D grain, because it’s a genetic manipulation product, rots in warehouses while people starve. GMOs occur naturally, every time two related plants cross pollinate. They won’t kill us anymore than microwaved food will, and there’s the same lack of scientific understanding for the most part in those protesting GMO now as there was those protesting microwaved food back then. (There’s a reason we kid about “nuking dinner.”). I am allergic to peanuts. I have been tested for it. While it won’t kill me if I breathe the scent of them, eating onion rings fried in peanut oil can make me sick for days. Eating three peanuts gives me severe digestive issues again, for days. I have to remember to ask what restaurants fry their foods in, and I have to check so many common foods, like nearly every nutrition bar out there that advertises protein. (Kashi, for example, has a proprietary blend of 7 grains… Which includes PEANUTS, which are not a grain, but means I cannot touch Kashi bars.)

            Lying about these conditions for mere personal preferences is wrong, pure and simple. It impacts how seriously restaurants, servers, and other people take the conditions. Which puts people at risk.

        • JULIE


          I to have few issues with the GMO thing to but here is the deal with that.
          1. Don’t eat out but I can almost guarantee that the foods that restaurant uses are GMO based products. How are you to know and they to know that the food the they get (fresh or frozen dose) does not have GMO in it. There is not, unless they have a garden or a farm where they have animals that they raise and are tested for any GMO products.

          2. Don’t buy form the Grocery Stores even the ones that claim they are healthy, for they to sell products with GMO in them. I Grow all my own stuff I raise my own meat that way I know where it comes form. I also share what I grow and raise this with my neighbors they to know that there is no GMO in what I feed them. I have the state health inspector come out once a year and test my soil my plats and my animals and any thing that I may fee them (the animals).

          I to have sever allergies. Mine is to Latex and most restaurant’s prepare their food with Latex gloves because it is cheaper to buy them then the Napril or the Vinyl gloves. The food that they server has been handled by someone who has worn Latex gloves to package it. Then there is a calculated risk for me to eat out and I f I do make sure that I have everything that will be needed for me to survive if should ingest the Latex. I have a daughter who has allergy with certain types of nuts and oils we have to ask what kind of oil the food was fried or grilled in. We where told one time that the food was prepared with olive oil and it turned out that after my daughter got sick and was on her death bed for a week, and I an investigation on my part the oil they used was canola oil ( that to has GMO in it).
          We actually on several occasions had a few Restaurant’s tell us that they did not what oil they use to fry their breaded products or the grilled products in. We asked to see the bottle and they refused because they have not had any other people request to see the bottles of oil because of an allergy, need less to say they got into trouble and now have to tell the customers if they ask what is in their food (fried or grilled) for the safety of their costumers.

          And while we are on the GMO thing Oregon is passing a law that all Grocery stores (even health food stores like GooseBerry’s) have to post where they get their products and the GMO Score the state Health Inspector gives them on their products. The food that comes into Restaurants have to be tested and have to labeled by the manufacture if there is GMO or not in them and this is to be put on the menu. But then again they do not have to post what kind of oil they use or if they use Latex gloves or not. I do not eat out much (maybe once a year) because of the risk to mine and my daughter health. So GMO is not an allergy thing it does not threaten the lives of a person just the life style and the way they eat. So before you tell someone to use “I have an allergy to that” phrase you better dang well make sure they have one and are not wasting the time of the cook for some who dose not have an allergy. If I walk into a restaurant with my daughter and found out that it took them an hour to cook my daughters meal because some said they have an allergy and they did not and she get sick because they cooked it, because they where in a hurry to get out to her then there will be some serious issues and I will personally make sure that people that tell people to use that line loosely will be paying for my daughter medical bills. THAT IS NO JOKE WHN SOMEONES LIFE IS ON THE LINE AND THAT LINE IT IS NOT USED PROPERELY AND SERIOUSLY.

        • Roo Ciambriello

          Hi Vani,

          I started Scratch or Sniff because I saw a big need for a space for parents of kids with allergies, asthma, and eczema to come together, learn from, and support each other. All of the writers at Scratch or Sniff discussed this topic before Tiffany wrote it, and I think she did a great job of expressing her thoughts and opinions.

          I hear where you’re coming from. I do. However, as someone who regularly calls for transparency and honesty from companies and brands, I would expect that you hold yourself to those same standards. I understand the desire to eat GMO-free, but I cannot reconcile the fact that you’re endangering others by encouraging your readers to lie about a medical condition.

          I wouldn’t go to a restaurant and ask them to lower the music and claim that my child is autistic. I wouldn’t claim that I’m visually impaired and need to sit closer to the band at a concert. I wouldn’t say that I have breast cancer so I could join the survivors up front at a Komen Race for the Cure. Someone in the comments section mentioned the families who hired disabled guides so they could get to the front of the line at Disney, and I would agree that this is similar to that. Except you’re also endangering people who have life-threatening allergies.

          Your suggestion – as you said – is just one out of a list of many, and I’m asking you to simply retract the part about lying about your allergies. This practice sets a dangerous precedent.

          Thanks for your consideration.

        • Tiffany Self


          Thanks for stopping by and for being willing to engage in civil discourse about something that is important to many of us. As you can see, the food allergy community is as fiercely committed to the safety of our loved ones as you are to encouraging transparency from food corporations.

          I actually agree with you that the way the industry has changed over the past 30 years may have contributed to the spike we’ve seen in many medical issues.

          So, understand I hear what you’re saying. However, I stand by my word. You have a huge platform and could use it for the good and safety of so many–if you were to acknowledge that one portion of your post was ill-advised and wrong.

          The food industry definitely has a long way to go, I’ll give you that. But the lengths to which the restaurants go in order to accommodate allergic individuals are great, time consuming, and costly. To take this for granted and to possibly jade those in the industry to the seriousness of a real reaction is dangerous for those with true allergies.

          I have followed you for some time, and do appreciate some of the changes you’ve effected in the industry. That said, you’ve done this by demanding transparency; to do so and then advise your followers to cloud their own issues for the sake of their convenience is unethical. I believe we’ll likely have to agree to disagree on this point, but if that’s the case, I’ll be very disappointed.

          Again, thanks for reaching out.

          • Emily

            I am severely lactose intolerant and always make that clear to servers. I would never say to a server, even though it causes me a lot of physical distress if I accidentally eat lactose, that I have a milk allergy. I have asked for the allergen menu before but always specify that I am just really lactose intolerant. I cannot imagine saying that I have an allergy even with all the intestinal issues and embarrassment it brings me. I know that it could cheapen it for those who could literally die if someone wasn’t on their guard in the kitchen. Food Babe should never have given out that advice and she should admit that she has made a big mistake. Also, I am kind of disgusted that she deletes any comments that question what she has to say about this or otherwise. If you had left any comments about this on her fb page, I’m pretty sure they would be deleted. Like previously mentioned, she calls for honesty and transparency and then seems to delete any and all criticism or promote behavior like this whole thing with the food allergies. I think that is incredibly hypocritical (and potentially dangerous when it comes to lying about food allergies).

    • Whitney

      I understand it’s odd to be asked if it is an allergy, intolerance, or preference, but every food service job I’ve worked at has made servers ask that question because a manager is typically responsible for making sure and double-checking it is GF, dairy-free, nut-free, etc. when it is an allergy. When it is a prefernce or intolerence, it can be left up to the server because the saftey factor isn’t as high. I am sure most of us servers aren’t asking because we don’t take it seriously, but just because we have to get a manager to enter it in the computer.

  2. Nichole K

    So very true!

    We don’t have kids (yet…1.5 more months!) but I have a list of severe allergies myself. I always have a hard time explaining that the soy in bread products (i.e. hamburger bun) likely won’t trigger anaphylaxis, but the soybean oil that the fries are cooked in will most definitely trigger a reaction and the peanuts in the thai chicken pizza sauce will send me to the hospital no matter what.

    Don’t know why I can get away with soy in bread, but my doctor is supportive of “eat what you can, even if it technically has an allergen”…hard to explain different degrees of my allergies, especially when I’d rather be safe than sorry!

    • Tiffany Self

      Nichole–You definitely have a tricky situation there. Allergies are just hard all the way around when navigating the restaurant scene.

      Congrats on your family addition! Wishing you and that sweet babe health!

    • Lechelle

      My son’s allergists have said that soybean oil and soy lecithin have been so processed there is no soy protein remaining. That could be why the small amount in bread works for you, it works for my son too.

  3. Great post! We have similar issues with food sensitivities but nothing life threatening (severe reactions still though).

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks for stopping by, Catherine!

  4. Sara

    Dear Diner,

    Thank you for trusting us with your meal. We know that dining out with allergies can be scary and stressful, which stinks, because it’s supposed to be a treat. We want you to know that we are happy to accommodate your needs, and our staff is well-trained to understand our menu, ask you the right questions, and communicate with each other. We want you to have a good time, and we definitely don’t want you to get sick. Please don’t feel like a burden, because we are happy to take care of you!

    Your Restaurant Staff

    P.S. Just TELL us it’s a preference. We’re happy to accommodate that too, but please don’t make us cut extra fruit in the middle of the brunch rush just because you don’t like honeydew. You don’t have to eat it, I’ll pick it out for you, but yeah, the mixed fruit is MIXED.

    • Lauren

      I agree with it all! -Former Restaurant Staff

    • DarlaBru

      Unfortunately MOST servers are not like you god i wish i ran into ones as on top of things as you are. Most of the time they barely listen. I have realized it is very important to just ask for a manager rt away before placing an order. The absolute worst place to eat is Fridays I would NEVER trust them with an allergy. Ijust wanted to say a BIG Thank you for caring and making sure your allergy customers are safe. I hope you rub off on other servers as well

    • Tiffany Self

      Exactly. Thanks, Sara!

  5. Emily

    Great post! I run a bakery in a small town and we do our best to accommodate people’s allergies as well as food choices. I am often the one asking “Is this because of an allergy?” Not because I want to be a jerk, or I don’t respect your diet, but because I want to understand what you’re looking for to see if I can help you. We make several “gluten friendly” items, so lifestyle choice: Bring it on! Eat that brownie!!” however, gluten is difficult. We go through 1,000 lbs of flour on a slow week, it is literally EVERYWHERE, so unfortunately we cannot serve people with Celiacs or other gluten allergies.
    So I know it can be frustrating on everyone’s part to ask and answer a million questions, but most of us are trying to keep everyone safe! But those people that make a big deal about not being able to be anywhere near gluten or they WILL DIE, and then order a bagel (Made with high gluten flour) are super frustrating for EVERYONE. :-)

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks Emily! We love our local allergy-friendly bakery, and the owner says the same about baking gluten free. Appreciate your response!

      • Pam

        I just read a lot of your comments and I have to say I think if you are trying to eat at any restaurant you are taking a risk. However I have found is the safest route is to go to establishments that are mom and pop shops. You can look the owner in the eye and have a discussion with them about allergies. A business owner cares about their business and their customers – NOT wait staff making minimum wage.. I am a communication coach. I have been painfully clear about allergies to wait staff and it gets somehow lost in the translation. You can’t motivate and educate every waiter, but you have a chance to get through to that business owner. My advice: don’t go with big chains, go small. Best of luck.

  6. Lauren

    This is very interesting to read as a former server. We had several veggie items on our menu, but our beans were cooked with bacon- if someone was ordering all vegetarian items, I would be sure to bring it up! Food can be sneaky. :) I know everyone isn’t like me, but I (and the kitchen) would try to accommodate everyone- be it only in preference or in a serious allergy. I agree that it’s crazy dangerous to be not only glossing over the difference between a preference and an allergy, but flat out lying.

    • Tiffany Self

      Appreciate your input and care, Lauren! Wish every server could be like you were! :-)

  7. Sarah Chambers

    Thank you for writing this! I appreciate it. I’m allergic to soy, peanuts and oranges. Dining out is certainly a challenge. I’ve eaten at places where the wait staff are really nice, and don’t seem to mind going back and checking ingredients. Then, I’ve had those experiences where the waitstaff act like you are just being high-maintenance and picky. No, I’m not. I just don’t feel like making a spontaneous trip to the hospital! I don’t think any of us with true allergies are happy we have them. It would be amazing to be able to sit down, without fear, and order anything I want. Anyway, thanks again for this!

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! We definitely have found our favorite restaurants (one is kind of our “Cheers” now, they recognize us when we walk in and start changing their gloves!) and know where to steer clear. Wishing you health and safe dining!

  8. Brilliant blog post. I agree with everything you say. I was organising an event in a hotel recently and they actually told me they wouldn’t cater for me. Could I bring all my food, breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole 3 days and they would reheat it. Seriously? In the end they did provide me with a simple, safe meal for which Iwas truly grateful. So to be pounced on breakfast by the hotel manager demanding to know why I was eating muesli and milk for breakfast was shocking to say the least. I’m glad I had the box of nairns mueslie and emtpy carton of milk on the floor to prove It was my food. I wonder how many waiters and waitresses think we’re all lying?

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks, Ruth! Unfortunately, I think it happens more often than not. So sorry for your experience. Hope it’s not always that way! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Erika

    I am lactose intolerant, but do not have a dairy allergy. Sometimes if I ask about an item having cheese they will ask if I am allergic. I try to explain that I just don’t want my sandwich smothered with cheese, but they always put it in as an allergy anyway. I know they are just trying to be more cautious, but I will be sure to make it clear going forward that it’s not ME they need to do all that extra work for!

    • Tiffany Self

      Thankful for people like you, Erika, who are aware. You’re thoughtful, please spread the word!

  10. Abby

    I’ve been working in the restaurant industry for about 15 years now and I have seen a huge increase in patrons telling me they have allergies to certain foods. I being familiar with allergies myself (severe asthma, severe environmental allergies, and minor that makes my throat uncomfortably itchy food sensitivities) always do my very best to accommodate. Just as I accommodate vegetarians and vegans, I don’t ask why, I just do. I find most of the time, the people who say they have an allergy just to say so, stick out like a sore thumb. People who truly have an allergy are intelligent about what they are choosing to eat. They have put the research in, know the questions to ask, know ways around their allergies, and just have knowledge in food prep in general. This is not to say I don’t take every time someone says they have an allergy seriously, because I do. But people have to understand that we are busy and taking care of a food allergy takes extra time out. If that onion that is in a premade burger set is really not going to kill you if it touched your tomato, please don’t tell me it will. I promise I will remember you said no onion and it will be no inconvenience to you. The fact that this Dr. Encourages people to lie to hard working restaurant staff makes me think he is a miserable person and the kind of person a wouldn’t wish to visit my establishment.

    • Tiffany Self

      Abby, thank you! Thanks for sharing your perspective. Please know that we appreciate the extra effort you and your colleagues put in for the safety of ourselves and our family members. Spread the word!

  11. Kendra

    I agree with you 100%, but I’m a little confused as to why a 4-year-old article (there is no date, but the first comments are from 2011) has suddenly become front-page news. Does anyone have some more recent examples (besides McDougall, sigh) of people recommending diners claim food allergies?

    I ordered a sandwich in a deli and asked for gluten-free bread. I have an intolerance to gluten that makes my stomach upset, but it won’t kill me. The deli went into emergency mode and started wiping down counters, changing gloves, etc. I was VERY clear that cross-contamination wasn’t an issue for me, but the manager said they’ve decided to operate on a “better safe than sorry” basis. I even got a “this product was made without wheat but we can’t guarantee there’s absolutely no cross-contamination despite our best efforts” sticker on my sandwich wrapper. While I’m grateful some restaurants are starting to be so careful, I would hate to think a restaurant would go to that much time, expense, and trouble because someone yelled “Allergies!!!” to keep onions off their sandwich.

    • Tiffany Self

      Hi Kendra–Thanks for stopping by. You know, the video from Dr. McDougall (sent in a recent email newsletter to followers) was brought to my attention last week, then I saw Food Babe’s advice. I know it’s an older post, but it is still available to anyone searching for traveling tips and eating out. While it’s still available, that means folks are still reading it. So, therefore my post.
      In addition, the Washington Post ran a story last week about the gluten-free backlash, which I think has a lot of repercussions in the food allergy world in general as well. You can read it at and let me know your thoughts.

  12. I have a hard time at restaurants and with family understanding my allergies. I am allergic to raw or undercooked eggs but can eat eggs that are baked at a high temperature for a long time. Similarly, I am very allergic to raw nuts but can eat roasted ones. My allergist explained that it’s because the protein structure changes with cooking but my in-laws think I’m faking it and restaurants don’t understand that no, I really can’t eat that salad dressing with eggs or that homemade gelato, but I can eat this brownie. I often get crappy comments and eye rolls from restaurants but I don’t want to waste their time educating them on the details. I would hate to think that I’m contributing to them not taking allergies seriously.

    • Katie, I can totally relate. About a year ago I started feeling really sick to my stomach, a lot of intestinal problems, etc. It took me months to figure out that it was eggs. If they’re cooked very very well, I’m OK. I’m also OK if they’re very fresh (something to do with the sulfur that develops over time). So now I’m paying $6.50 for a dozen very fresh eggs for home and avoiding them at most restaurants because, yes, people look at me funny when I start quizzing them on the freshness of the eggs.

    • Tiffany Self

      Katie, you ARE in a hard spot. But, again, those with true allergies understand the ins and outs of how proteins can change with heat…so you’ll find no hard feelings here!

  13. Tamara

    When I was 5 months pregnant with my oldest child, I flew to the UK to visit friends knowing it would be a while before I could visit again. The flight home was horrible because security would not allow me to bring my own food (I had a doctor’s letter) so I spent 7 hours drinking soda and eating potato chips because they did not have any non-cross-contaminated food for me. When I arrived at my lay over, I went to a restaurant and ordered a plain burger on a bed of lettuce. When I was done ordering with all my special requests (really, just a plain burger on lettuce with no bread of any kind and fresh lettuce from the bag or from the head) the server said, “If it is such an issue, why don’t you just get something else?” Wrong thing to say to a starving, pregnant, jet-lagged woman! I replied,”Why don’t you just do what I ask and there won’t be any problems?”

    My son has EoE (he is allergic to most foods) so finding a restaurant that will patiently and completely follow my instructions is guaranteed my loyalty!

    • Tiffany Self

      Tamara–what an experience! You’re right, a restaurant that does it up right will see us again and again, even with just allergies and no EoE. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Lil


    I am so proud of you for writing this article. As a RN I truly understand the difference between an allergy, sensitivity, and someone working the system to their personal choice. Deciding what we eat is a personal decision and YES it is lying if you say you are allergic to an ingredient because it will have ill effects on your long term health. A true allergy with anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reaction is a SYSTEMIC, LIFE THREATENING crisis requiring immediate response. It disappoints me to hear Vani is promoting this method of getting the offensive ingredients off her own plate. We cannot forget the individual consequences of promoting this tactic in order to “take on” the bad guys. Way to go Tiffany! Z and all allergy kids are lucky to have you on their side. I will share this with my followers. xo

    • Tiffany Self

      Lil, thank you! And thanks for sharing. You know I appreciate it!

  15. I’m APPALLED that they’ve been telling their followers to do this. I have close friends — including one of my fellow Blogging Betties, Vanita — whose children have peanut allergies that could kill them. I know it’s not the same, but I can’t help thinking about the jerks who hired disabled people to go around with them at Disneyland so they could jump the lines.

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks Tammy! Appreciate you stopping by!

  16. Laura

    Hi there,
    I am a server myself but I also have a husband who is allergic to garlic,and avocado. He’s not severe, however his mother is. He does not like making a big deal about it so when we are out for dinner, just before we order just have to ask “Does the sauce have garlic in it,as he is allergic?” rather annoying, but just have to live with it.
    Ever since I have been with him I understand allergies a lot more and how they affect people, I also then try to incorporate that into my job so as to ensure no-one else gets sick.
    I’m not saying I know everything about allergies but I’m just saying I don’t mind going back and forth to the kitchen if it means I can avoid a reaction.
    Sure it can be a pain, but I’d rather they eat and be happy than send them to the emergency room!!

  17. Dear Tiffany,

    I appreciate your point. I don’t want to kill your children. You can send me back and forth to the kitchen as many times as you need, as long as you tip accordingly for my time. After all, I do have other tables that need my attention (like you said), and I do only get paid $2.13/hour.



    • Tiffany Self

      We’ve become generous tippers for that very reason, Katie. We try to model kindness and generosity whether in a restaurant or elsewhere.
      Thanks for a very valid point.

      • That’s so good to hear! I waited tables throughout much of my twenties, and I was that girl who ALWAYS did it with a smile. Families with allergies would never have caught even an undertone of annoyance when sending me back and forth with their questions (though tip: it would be much more efficient for you to have it typed/written out so they only have to go back there once), but I did learn to bear a grudge when they’d unapologetically commandeer my time, essentially asking me to neglect my other tables (thus affecting my tips there), and then leave a crappy tip. I would still never take someone’s life in my hands by being neglectful, but it *did* make me resentful.

        • Tiffany Self

          You make some really good points, Katie. It’s not in my nature to be demanding, but I know others who have no problem being that way. Both my hubby and I worked as servers, so that likely plays into it, as well. Thanks for sharing. You’ve given me good food for thought that I think I’ll share down the road here on the blog. Appreciate it!

  18. Megan

    I was glad to finally read this article. I had heard hearsay about Food Babe and the false allergy claims which I found to be very upsetting. I am the mother of a child with a severe peanut allergy and do not find lying or joking about food allergies the least bit funny. We eat at home the majority of the time because the risk is not worth it. The few times that we do eat out, I always check the restaurant’s website ahead of time for the allergies and make sure to ask lots of questions and make his allergy well known. I had posted a comment on Food Babe’s facebook to have it immediately deleted. My comment was quite tasteful and did not use harsh language. Her lack of understanding from a TRUE allergy sufferer/lack of accountability made me quit following her immediately. And as far as her allergy post on THIS page, it’s news to me! I’ve been a faithful follower for years. Bottom line-food allergies are not a joking matter. Especially if you truly have one or have a child who has one. I would hate for my requests at a restaurant to not be taken seriously due to those crying wolf.

  19. Thank you! I have a life threatening allergy to mushrooms and things like telling people to fake allergies is so upsetting. It’s hard enough for me to eat out without people doing this!

  20. Leigh

    It’s so difficult to eat out with food allergies. I am allergic to shellfish, walnuts and cranberries and I’m lactose intolerant. My 3 year old son however is allergic to so much more than I am, diary being one of his allergies. I typically try to order the two of us the same meal or just order an extra side so we can share. That tactic won’t work for long, but it helps now. I feel like we’re freaks when trying to eat somewhere though. I spend hours looking up restaurants and allergy menus online. I call ahead to make certain they can accommodate us. We go at “slower” times to give them more time to focus on us. It’s just a hard road and people who lie about having an allergy make it so much harder on those of us who do have true food allergies.

  21. Nicki N

    Tiffany, this is an excellent post and I appreciate all the comments. We are deeply grateful for all the caring restaurant staff that has fed us safely over the years, from the wait staff to every person in the kitchen that touched our food … and yes, we tip well and are very loyal to the places that are “safe”.

    This is the first time I hear about the Food Babe’s suggestion to claim an allergy in order to accommodate a food preference. I am APPALLED at her lack of ethics, at the blatant disrespect for those who struggle with life-threatening allergies, and I hope that she redacts her comments accordingly. She has the platform to help and educate, so I hope she’ll take this opportunity to do the right thing!

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