“Oh, excuse me, I have a peanut allergy, just to let you know.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I have a peanut allergy, does anything I ordered have peanuts in it?”
“Oh, well we can’t guarantee that our food is peanut-free. Everything is made in the same area, there’s a chance of cross-contamination. I can make a note of it on the order, but it’s really up to you.”
I love eating. I’m that typical total foodie who posts way too many photos my food Instagram. I get excited trying new foods, cafes, and one of my favorite pastimes includes sampling everything sight at the farmer’s market.
However, the dialogue above is a typical conversation I face about 75 percent of the time I go out to eat because of my allergy. It really disappoints me that the majority of restaurants I’ve tried are “unable” to make sure that what I am about to eat is safe for me.
I’ve been dealing with my peanut allergy for the past 19 years. I found out that I had a very severe peanut allergy when I was at a friends’ birthday party after eating a peanut butter cookie. Thankfully, my parents were there as I went into anaphylaxis.
There’s a pattern to the two reactions I’ve experienced. First, I get a throbbing headache, then, my stomach feels like it’s in knots. Let’s just say it’s not too pretty from there on out. I eventually end up in an ambulance speeding towards the hospital after having an Epipen shot jabbed into my outer thigh.
Although my last reaction was thankfully all the way back in third grade, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. From a young age, I learned to always tell the people around me that I have a peanut allergy and that I carry two Epipens in my purse at all times. I’ve also learned to cautiously read food labels and bother waiters and waitresses to make sure that the kitchen knows about my allergy.
What really sucks is when I encounter a person who just cannot seem to understand that I have an allergy, and goes on about “how hard it must be to not eat peanut butter,” and how much they love peanut butter.
Unfortunately, from my personal experience, it seems like restaurants serving foods containing common allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and wheat are unwilling to guarantee that their food is safe for the consumer because of potential liability issues and lack of knowledge.
Instead of providing reassurance to the consumer, they choose to “leave it up to me” to decide whether or not today’s the day I want to take a bite and risk my life. I understand that there are many precautions that need to be put in place in order to avoid cross-contamination, but with common consumer allergies on the rise, is there really any other option than to take these necessary precautions? In my opinion, no, there’s not.
Not only is it stressful for the consumer to have to take a gamble on the food they are about to eat, but also it is unprofessional. I’ve experienced many occasions where the people serving me food don’t really seem to completely grasp the concept of a “severe peanut allergy.” I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a basic understanding of what a severe food allergy is, especially if you are working in the restaurant industry.
I realize that I will have to be careful about what I eat for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I will swear off eating out or never take small, calculated risks about what I eat. I do hope that the restaurant industry in America will become more aware, understanding, and accommodating for people with any of the eight major food allergies.
Having a peanut allergy isn’t something I view as a limitation, but as a learning opportunity. I know that I am only one out of the 15 million Americans with common food allergies and that by understanding my allergy, I can also help others understand it too.