Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On food allergies and intolerances...

There is nothing more frustrating for a foodie than to not be able to eat everything that's placed in front of you.  Nothing.  Food allergies and intolerances are very real and very frustrating for the people who live with them, for their loved ones, and for anyone preparing their food. 

First off, what's the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?  An allergy means that a person eating a certain food or ingredient will develop an allergic reaction to it.  Usually immediately, but sometimes delayed.  The reaction can be anything from burning in the mouth to a trip to the hospital for anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.  Food intolerance means that a person cannot digest something in the food.  Reactions can range from mild abdominal discomfort to very serious gastic distress to a reaction that looks very similar to a food allergy. 

I take food allergies and intolerances very seriously. 

And I have a strong intolerance to garlic and most members of the Allium botanical family. So this hits very close to home for me. There are between 240 and 800 members of this family, so it's prevelant.  In addition it's found in many, many foods of all different genres.  Most people will tell you that allicin is the compound found in most Alliums that's responsible for this reaction, however allin and alliinase may also be involved.  Garlic produces all three and onions naturally produce alliinase as well.  My TMI dose-dependent reaction to garlic is immediate and can last up to a couple days.  I have found I can eat small amounts of shallots so I'm not as bad off as I might otherwise be.

So eating out can present a challenge. Everyone with any sort of food aversion deals with it differently.  I prefer to avoid garlic and onions, etc. when I can but understand I'll come into contact with some and accept the risk.  This is because my reaction isn't so severe as to put me in the hospital or kill me.

When eating at fine dining establishments I immediately and descretely tell the service staff that I'm unable to eat garlic, onions, etc.  And I've never had a problem at nicer restaurants. 

At mid-range restaurants I depend heavily on the menu descriptions, which often leads to problems.  I don't blame the service staff or even the kitchen staff.  I blame whomever writes the menus for these dining establishments.  Many, many people absolutely adore garlic and onions and there's a growing number of us who avoid it at all costs.  So it would make sense to list them on the item descriptions.  And plenty of places do.  But it's frustratingly common for many places not to do this.

One friend of mine has a long, long list of food allergies.  She had the wonderful idea to print up cards listing the allergies, which she hands out whenever she eats out.  While this has ended up in her being unable to eat at some restaurants who have been unable to help her, it has also saved her trips to the hospital. 

So what is the point of this blog post?  Just to ask for some understanding.  Those of us who are trying to avoid certain foods aren't doing it just to be a pain in the butt.  Believe me, there are far easier ways to be deliberately annoying. Coping with an allergy or intolerance is far more annoying of the person who would suffer from eating that food than it is for anyone who might have to wait an extra few minutes. 
[All of the images in this post are from a Google Image search]

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