In allergy circles (which is a special level of hell that people with, or who have loved ones with, food allergies exist in) there’s been a lot of exchange lately of food allergy scares and even a death. I shared my own story fairly recently, from when we found out Pie was allergic to tree nuts.
A common thread that is heard in comments to these stories goes something along the lines of, “well, how can I take food allergies seriously when everybody walks around saying they’re gluten intolerant and they’ve never even been tested? Or they just say they’re allergic to something at restaurants because they don’t want it in their meal.”
I’m ready for that to stop. Not for people to stop saying they have a food allergy when they don’t. I mean, that’s not really honest, and not super awesome, but it’s also not life threatening, nor is it aggressive in it’s intrusion. What is aggressive in it’s intrusion is this idea that we have that the only reason we should honor someone’s wishes about what goes into their body. If saying that they are allergic is the only way that people will take it seriously? I have a hard time getting upset about that.
I say that because I’ve spent many years with many varied diets. I’ve been vegetarian, I’ve been a pescetarian, I’ve kept kosher, I’m highly intolerant to shellfish (which is sort of a new development, I had previously tested at a low reactive allergy to it, and after a particular incident with a crawfish boil, even the smell of shellfish makes me nauseous, and remember the 24 hours I spent feeling like I was being beaten with a crowbar recovering from it), and I’ve also caretook my daughter’s allergy to tree nuts for the past 2 years.
I’ll tell you something sort of nasty, that last one is the only one people took seriously, and even that they don’t take that seriously. People tell me I’m overreacting when I say she can’t have a bakery made cupcake or slice of birthday cake. I don’t know a bakery that makes things without tree nuts, and they pretty much all carry such a disclaimer (heck, my local supermarket carries that disclaimer even over their meat displays).
As someone who chose to not eat meat, I regularly had dishes set in front of me that contained meat. As someone who chose to keep kosher, I consistently had people try to push food on me that wasn’t the least bit kosher.
I’m not saying that everyone should feel entitled to walk into any restaurant and make an ass of themselves by forcing the chefs into contortions based on personal dietary choices. I’m saying it’s reasonable to be up front about ingredients, preparations, equipment sharing, and let the consumer of food make informed choices from there. This includes letting the consumer know that they simply can’t be served there.
It doesn’t include lying and telling them it’s not in there if you know it is, or that you know it isn’t if you aren’t sure. Why does it have to be life or death for that to be respected? It also doesn’t include you making a snap judgement that somebody saying they are intolerant isn’t as important as somebody saying they are allergic. I’m not going to explain how serious food intolerances can be, even though I know several people with chronic immune system disorders that have well taught me how serious they can be. Because that doesn’t matter.
This idea that we, collectively or individually, have a right to gauge your right to bodily autonomy based on if it will kill you or not? It has to end.
I’d really like to change the paradigm on this discussion, because I think it’s focusing on the wrong thing. It also really takes the focus off of the thing that is dangerous: ignoring people when they say they don’t want something and giving it to them anyway. That’s what endangers people with food allergies. It’s not people saying they have food allergies when they have food intolerances. It’s not people making dietary choices and then claiming it as a food allergy. It’s simply people’s disregard for the bodily autonomy of others.