I imagine eventually I’ll write a post filled with all sorts of scientific information about food sensitivities, but this is not that post. Instead I wanted to write about things strictly from my perspective.
As many of you know, or if not, you do now, I have food sensitivities. Notice how I didn’t use the word allergy. My reactions are not severe enough to put me in the allergy category and for that I am incredibly grateful. Still, they can make me very, very sick. Like many people with food sensitivities/allergies I don’t just have one, I have nine: Gluten, Dairy, Egg Yolk, Soy, Beef, Peanuts, Pecans, Oats, and Chamomile. Gluten is the really big one that my doctors think made me develop some of the others, so hopefully once I’ve been off gluten for a while I can maybe add some of the others back.
Contrary to what you might think, the hardest thing about having food sensitivities was not removing food from my diet, it was dealing with other people (seems to be a common theme with chronic illness). I hope you have never had to deal with food sensitivities or allergies, but if you have, I imagine you know what I’m talking about.
For the sake of convenience I’ve broken up the people I have to deal with into some overly simplified groups.
Me, myself, and I (because I’m a person too)
This one’s easy. I’m sure you noticed in the earlier paragraph that I said the hardest part about having food sensitivities was dealing with OTHER people. I don’t have a problem with my food sensitivities. Either I eat the foods that I’m sensitive to and feel like crap, or I don’t and fell less like crap. I don’t like feeling like crap, so it’s a simple choice. While I do occasionally crave foods that I can no longer eat, like Mac-n-cheese or butter, I don’t have those foods in my apartment so I’m not reminded that I can’t eat them on a regular basis. And the way I deal with the days I feel I’m missing out? I just look at my pantry and all the food that I gained in my diet BECAUSE I had nine things removed. While I do eventually want to add back some of the things I’m not eating right now, if that never happens I’m perfectly okay with it. I eat healthy (mostly), delicious food, so who am I to complain.
Family and Friends
Family and friends are a bit more difficult, only because they had to learn how to deal with my food sensitivities as I was learning to deal with them. Early on I didn’t know how I would feel about my family eating food I couldn’t have in front of me, so they had no idea either, but eventually we all figured out that it didn’t bother me if they weren’t mean about it. It also did take some members of my immediate family a long time to learn what I could and couldn’t eat * cough * dad * cough *, but other family members (little sister) double and triple checked the food I was served to make sure it was safe. Friends and family still occasionally forget, but it’s not a big deal because I don’t expect them to remember.
There is the downside that when family and friends don’t take the sensitivities seriously it stings quite a bit. There are still large parts of my extended family whom I tell I have food allergies, simply so they don’t serve me things that I can’t eat. Family are also much more likely to push food on me. It took me a while to get my grandparents to understand that it wasn’t that I was just randomly refusing food, but that eating it would make me sick. Once they understood, they got much better about being aware of what I could and couldn’t eat. I almost never ask for special treatment, but if there’s not food at a function that I can eat, don’t be insulted if I don’t eat or eat beforehand.
Ultimately family and friends care about me, and that is reflected in the way they handle my food sensitivities. There are difficulties but typically they are easy to work though.
Normal Strangers – Normal strangers aren’t really a problem, because most don’t know about my food sensitivities. Should the topic come up, I typically lie and say I have food allergies; it’s easier. Almost everyone has heard of food allergies and takes them seriously, unlike food sensitivities, which people still sometimes mistake as someone being a picky eater. The most common responses I get when I list all nine, which I never do without being asked, are “What do you eat?” or “Wow that sucks!” or something similar. I eat food, and yes it does suck, but it’s not the end of the world.
Wait staff – Ho-boy wait staff… what a mixed bag these lot are. I have had some really outstanding experiences in restaurants and some really horrible ones. I tend to lie to these people too, saying I have food allergies, for the same reasons I lie to normal strangers. I also have a card that I can give to servers so they don’t have to remember all 9 of my sensitivities, because 9 is a lot for me to remember and I have them! I try to be courteous, non-demanding, and make dealing with my food sensitivities as easy as possible for them, because they have a lot of customers and I’m making things difficult.
Most seem a little confused on what to do, especially if the establishment doesn’t have an allergy menu. Most also make an effort to recommend things on the menu and check things with the chef to make sure it’s safe. They try, which I appreciate, but they don’t seem to understand. I do not completely trust the food in front of me and am very thankful I just have sensitivities. I also feel like they’re not entirely happy that I’m making their job difficult, but they don’t act in a manner that makes it obvious.
The horrible ones basically dismiss my sensitivities (which I tell them are allergies which makes it even worse!). They don’t listen, make recommendations, or even look at my card. There’s no checking with the chef and their distain for me and my food sensitivities is obvious. I’ve specifically asked whether a dish has an ingredient in it, been assured it doesn’t, then received it and found it had the exact ingredient I asked about. I hate these people and they’re the reason going out to eat stresses me out.
The outstanding ones, who I’ve come to believe either have food sensitivities themselves or in their family, listen really well, take time to go through the menu with me, check with the chef, check my food before it’s served to me, and don’t make me feel as if I’m making their lives any more difficult. They’re super friendly and don’t even blink when I mention allergies. I almost feel normal when I’m lucky enough to get these servers and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I thank these people when I leave, try to leave compliments about them with their managers, and tip well. I wish there were more people like these.
Another group of people who don’t quite qualify as wait staff but I don’t know where else to put them are chefs. Overall, these people tend to be wonderful as well. I have yet to meet a chef who will not modify a dish for me. Typically nowadays if I know I’m going out to eat I’ll call ahead of time and warn the restaurant. More often than not I get handed off to the chef. They will take the time out of their busy days to discuss the menu with me, not only giving suggestions, but also answering any questions and offering modifications to dishes. They’re so reassuring, “Yes, we can make food you can eat. It’s not a problem at all.” I love talking to chefs because they almost get excited about the challenge, or at least can reassure me about eating.
Others with food sensitivities – Other people with food sensitivities and allergies are fun. When I’m dealing with these people, I use sensitivities since they understand that sensitivities can be serious too. The difficulty here is that in comparing food sensitivities/allergies, sometimes people can get competitive. If this can be avoided, it’s refreshing to talk to someone who knows what I’m dealing with food wise, and swap recipes, horror stories, and recommendations.
Doctors – I hate talking to doctors about my food sensitivities. When I’m first listing them to new doctors and I hit about the fourth one, they give me this look. You know, that look, like what the crap is wrong with you? Then, they never can seem to remember them. Even the doctor who diagnosed me with them couldn’t remember them. I mean, it’s not like they have to remember them forever, they could just look at my chart. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a doctor tell me to take something and I’ve had to tell them I can’t because of an ingredient in it. I just don’t get it, but then again, there’s a lot I don’t get about the way the medical system works.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about the six most annoying words that have been said to me over and over and over, by every group that I’ve listed except for myself.
“You can always just order salad.”
You have no idea how much I hate this statement. It’s typically made in reference to going out to eat when someone suggest Italian or Chinese or some other cuisine where I know my chances of finding something to eat are slim to none (yes, I have ended up at restaurants where literally the only thing I could eat on the menu was white rice and steamed veggies). Yes, I know I could just eat salad. I know that the main purpose of eating out is not to eat, but to socialize. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to be able to eat too.
I mean, how is this statement okay? It’s belittling. It’s saying, “My wants are greater than your needs”. It’s rude. I’m sorry my food allergies are inconveniencing you, but it’s not like you don’t have 364 other nights of the year to go eat whatever you want. Is it really too much to ask that the one time you’re eating with me that you at least take my food sensitivities into consideration? Is it?!
Okay, so maybe this statement strikes a nerve for me. I don’t know why, but it makes me really angry. I once slapped a former roommate for saying a variation of it (“You can always eat celery”) four times in the span of an hour. I then yelled something at her along the lines of “Yes, I know. If I wanted celery, I’d f*****g order it!” which is typically how I want to respond to this statement, or “Why don’t you only f*****g order salad when you go out to eat and see how it feels?” Either works. In reality though, I’m typically much more restrained (the roommate incident was an anomaly), and just nod my head. Still, inside it makes me so angry.
Well, now you have a glimpse of what it’s like to deal with people when you have food sensitivities, at least how it is from my experience. It’s a topic that I have strong feelings about and I think that kind of showed, especially the rant at the end. I hope you at least found it interesting and maybe found some insight into what people with food sensitivities have to deal with, particularly from others. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve convinced you that it’s not okay to tell someone they can “just order a salad”.