Dining Out with Food Allergies

Eating at a restaurant is something many people take for granted. Eating out is so much easier and more enjoyable than having to cook. Vacations and family celebrations inevitably revolve around various restaurants and dining establishments. Eating out means leaving the stress of cooking and cleaning up at home and simply enjoying eating. Unless you have food allergies. With food allergies, the supposedly stress-free experience of dining in a restaurant can be one of the most stressful activities. The idea of having to trust someone else to cook your food in a kitchen filled with many allergens is enough to make one panic. Yet, many food allergy patients insist on eating out. Where to eat is a personal decision. Here is a summary of some of the issues.
Online many food allergy blogs, support groups, and other sites discuss various restaurants, and restaurant chains. Interestingly, I see so many opinions for the same places. The first post praises a particular establishment for their attention and protocols, then the next post states the opposite. Ingredients seem to be inconsistent and changing without notice. It seems certain places may work well with certain allergens, but poorly with others.
Just this evening I read a post from someone who was saying that they had eaten out and had a reaction at a place that they frequent. Not only were they repeat customers, but this establishment was found on a popular list of food allergy-friendly restaurants. Yet, they had a reaction. Just because a restaurant is found on a list, does not mean anyone should be less vigilant.
Having a food allergy doesn’t mean you cannot eat away from home. You just need to understand and properly manage the risks. Every time you go to a restaurant, call first. Even if you have eaten there before, call ahead and discuss your particular allergy needs and discuss how they can accommodate you and the rest of your party. I try to test their food allergy knowledge in an indirect way. This helps me feel comfortable that they understand the seriousness and their responsibilities. Ask about cross contamination, shared equipment, dedicated fryers, etc. A great tool that many patients find useful are chef cards. These special cards clearly state what your needs are.
Personally, I feel most comfortable with the handful of local places that are familiar with my family situation of dairy, sesame, and gelatin allergies. However we recently went away for several days and stayed at the Great Escape Lodge in Lake George, New York. We brought almost all of our food, but we did want to dine at one of their in-house restaurants. Well before we left for the trip, I called ahead to discuss our needs. They were amazing, and really showed they understood our concerns. It ended up being the best travel experience we have ever had. The key is to plan ahead, remain attentive, and leave a situation where you don’t feel comfortable. Safety is always the most important factor.

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Food Allergy Parent vs. Food Allergy Parent

Over the past few days, the food allergy community has experienced much activity via social media regarding the start of school. Most recently, an author wrote a piece entitled “12 Reasons Why Peanut Free Schools Are Not Okay.”   http://www.decisive-empowered-resilient.com/12-reasons-why-peanut-free-schools-are-not-okay  This set off a firestorm.   While I don’t agree with the author’s tone, I do agree with her points. (Yes, as a food allergy educator and a mom to 2 boys who have had anaphylaxis.)

Personally, I don’t think any food should be limited at any school.  This is something I have always said. You can read over my other blog posts for the many reasons why, so I am going to try and keep this post not about bans, but the behavior of the food allergy community.

What has greatly disturbed me is how the food allergy community has responded to this article.  And frankly, anytime anybody questions peanut bans.   A healthy debate includes rational communication and civil behavior.  The level of attack unleashed is astonishing.

We constantly worry about our children being bullied.  Yet the worst kind of bullying is being done by these parents who attack and silence anyone who dares to ask mature questions on a complex topic.  These attackers all say we need to show compassion and understanding.  Yet, rather than showing compassion for any other allergy, they focus on peanuts and only have compassion for those with peanut allergies.

I watched as various Facebook groups were flooded with the lynching of this woman.  This woman’s personal site was filled with attacks, threats, and judgments.  Ultimately, she had to take her site down. I kept my mouth shut and watch in horror.

I myself have felt the bullying, both as a parent and a food allergy educator.  When I recommend against peanut bans, it’s like I have committed a crime.  Just this week I was kicked out of a Facebook group for expressing my opinion.  Discussing peanut bans got me kicked out of a food allergy discussion group!

Being against a peanut ban does not make you an evil person.  Being against a peanut ban does not mean you want to harm children.  There is no villain in this story.  Like so many things in this world, different situations require different approaches.

If we want to demand an inclusive atmosphere for our children, we must create an inclusive atmosphere for ourselves.  We must be willing to accept that in some cases, a difference in opinion is simply that, a different perspective. Attacks and name-calling are never instructive or constructive. While we strive to educate others about the real dangers of food allergies, we must educate ourselves.