The Waitress Who Went to Bat for An Allergic Foodie

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Just getting over a few days of food-allergy misery. I’ve been eating out a lot–just check my Facebook or Instagram photos!–so I’m not all that surprised a bit of gluten, soy, dairy, or corn snuck into my food. I guess I tempted the Food Allergy Gods one too many times.

This may sound slightly paranoid to some of you, but I kind of wonder if this time at this particular restaurant the chef didn’t intentionally leave an allergen in my order. It’s horrible to suspect someone who is preparing your food isn’t taking your food restrictions seriously, but we all know it happens.

The Close-minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me

Here’s how the dining experience–er, dining disaster–played out. The waitress is terrific–very aware of my needs because she herself is gluten sensitive. She asks myriad questions and goes over the menu in detail. To be safe, it’s decided I’ll order plain grouper and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The table will share crab legs for an appetizer, butter on the side.  The only unanswered question is what kind sauce of the six offered I can have on my fish. She goes back to the kitchen to find out.

When she returns, her face is flushed  She explains that the head chef is “old school” and believes the front of the house–the waiters and servers–shouldn’t converse with the back of the house–the chefs.  I thought this only happened in the movies! How in the world is our waitress suppose to find out if  food is allergen free without talking one-on-one with the person preparing the food?

“I told him you’re not going to have to use an epipen on my watch!” she says. Her pen flies up in the air like a sword.

This waitress went to battle for me. How awesome is that? But that’s also why it makes getting sick from this meal even worse–and why I suspect foul play.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just leave the restaurant then. In hindsight, I should have. But it was late, few other restaurants were opened, and we were so enjoying this view of the full moon.

IMG_2772

So I ate my plain grouper that was nondescript, which was fine if it meant not getting sick.

Of course, you now know how that panned out.

While rolled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I rehashed that meal in my head. I pictured the chef ignoring that lovely waitress. I wondered what he missed–or added–to my order that made me so sick. I kept asking myself, If this chef had a wife or a child with food allergies, how would he feel about interacting with the front of the house then?

I’m often quick to blame a waiter for leaving croutons on my salad or butter on my vegetables, but maybe I don’t know what he is dealing with behind those swinging steel doors. When a hierarchy exists in restaurants–when good communication between all food staff members doesn’t exist–those of us with food restrictions pay the price.

The only time I’ll return to this restaurant is to see the sunset. I’m pretty sure this chef could care less about losing me as a customer, but the waitress may. She did her job exactly right. I’ll give her a high-five the next time I see her.

The Close-Minded Chef and the Waitress Who Went to Bat for Me first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Food Allergies & Celiac Disease: Tips for Coping at Work

Coping with Food Restrictions at Work

My oldest son just celebrated a birthday. Having graduated from college last May, he is now working his first real job in an office setting and living on his own. I laughed when he said, “Birthdays just aren’t as much fun when you’re a grownup.”

No matter how old you are, birthdays aren’t as much fun when you have to pass on the birthday cake, too. College Grad is allergic to dairy and eggs. Of course, there are plenty of treats he can eat, but the office is small and they are evidently unaware of the nearby allergy-friendly and vegan-friendly bakery with cupcakes like the one below.

cupcake

A few years ago, for a short time, I worked in an office. I didn’t know back then that food was making me sick. I’d buy a sandwich on wheat bread or bring one from home and spend the rest of the day doubled over. Fortunately, the company allowed me to work at home often, but I became so focused on figuring out what was wrong with me, I resigned. My husband likes to say I quite my job to be a blogger.

That experience, and now having a son with allergies in the working world, has made me empathetic to those who must manage food restrictions among co-workers who don’t alway understand. Even my younger son in college experiences challenges managing his celiac disease while interning for companies. Both sons developed allergies and celiac disease as young adults, so they had to learn to speak up for themselves; a teacher or a parent wasn’t always there to ensure their  food safety. Still, when you’re young and interning or starting your first job, it’s not easy to ask your manager to wipe the cookie crumbs off the counter or explain to the company CEO why you can’t eat the cheese pizza he just bought for the staff.

One of my friends, a project manager who developed anaphylactic reactions in her thirties, told me how she had to train her staff to use an epipen.  Can you imagine? Who wants to stick a needle in their boss’s thigh? A man I recently met shared how uncomfortable it is to have a reaction among co-workers and be the center of attention. He worried that others would view him as weak.

Whether you’ve grown up with food restrictions or reactions are new, you must learn to speak up for yourself and be proactive in managing your dietary needs. Christina Griffin, who blogs at Bubble Girl Happily, and Alice Enevoldsen have written a terrific guide Managing Food Allergies in the Workplace.  This manual is for both food-allergic folks and for their employers. FARE also has useful information.

My sons and I would love to hear your stories and workplace tips.Coping with Food Restrictions at Work first appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Erica Brahan, a high school senior writes honestly about living life with food restrictions

Food Restrictions: A Teen’s Survival Guide

I’ve been feeling pretty cool lately because quite a few high school and college kids following me on Instagram and Twitter.

Wait! It  just dawned on me that I hide my face behind a lemon with sunglasses. So maybe the girls think I’m actually a hot hipster guy and the guys think I’m one of those size-2 cross-fit smoothie-drinking girls. But then again, if I was a size-2 cross-fit girl I wouldn’t be using a lemon’s mug shot, would I?

None the less, it sure makes me feel good when people my kids’ ages want to see the photos of food I post or the info I tweet. I was super flattered when a high school senior named Erica Brahan asked me to review an e-book she wrote called  A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions: A Practical Guide to Keep from Going Crazy.

Poor Erica probably thought I’d never actually review it because I’ve been crazy busy with my social media addiction. But when I finally opened the pages of Erica’s e-book, I was hooked.

A Teen's Perspective on Food Restrictions

Erica has an upbeat attitude about life with multiple food restrictions, yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the very real challenges young adults like her face. While food restrictions are difficult at any age, fitting in is especially important to high school and college students. Erica writes,  “When eating other than the standard American diet, teens stand out and may be labeled as different or not normal. When you don’t fit in there is typically a desire to find others like you, but there is not usually a strong and united support system for teens with food restrictions.”

To help teens deal with food allergies, celiac disease, or other special diets needed for health problems, Erica asks readers to answer probing questions such as What are my dreams? Is my current health preventing me from achieving them?  She then provides concrete ways to overcome obstacles.  Among topics discussed are friends who don’t understand, dating difficulties, eating in school cafeterias, and choosing colleges. Readers can also find support and encouragement from others’ stories.

While A Teenager’s Perspective on Food Restrictions is aimed at young adults, parents and other family members as well as teachers and counselors can learn from Erica’s experiences and honest writing.  You can purchase her book at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or from her website.

Other Resources for Teens (and Their Parents)

Erica’s blog: Edible Attitudes

Gluten Away (a teenager’s blog about celiac disease)

Teens with Food Restrictions Facebook Group

FARE Resources for Teens

Food Allergies and Anti-Bullying

Celiac Disease and College

Managing Food Allergies at College

Help My Teenager has Coeliac Disease! 

On Twitter: @teenallergies, @celiacteen, @coeliacteens

Please let me know about any other resources for teens and young adults.

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Food Restrictions: A Teen’s Survival Guide first appeared on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie

Eat Without Me! Please!

Our book club alternates meetings between restaurants and our homes. As the “one with food issues,” I am given the final say on the restaurants where we’ll meet and eat. No problem there. It’s when we gather at one another’s homes that problems arise.

What can Amy eat? I bought these gluten-free crackers especially for her. Oh, I forgot she can’t have milk. When did Amy become allergic to soy, I thought she just had celiac disease? Why isn’t she eating the carrots? What do you mean the veggies can’t be served on the same platter as the crackers?

Just this morning one of my book club friends asked if I could eat Chicken Curry (our current book takes place in India). I figured she had found a safe recipe for me; after all, isn’t curry often made with coconut milk? When she emailed the recipe, I was surprised to see sour cream and mayo. Now this is a person I have traveled with and eaten out with many times, so I was a little surprised she didn’t remember I was allergic to dairy and eggs.

But I let it slide.

Of course, there are several perfectly acceptable things I could have done. I could have suggested she take a look at the recipes over at Freedible or on my Pinterest board and make some substitutions. I could have asked her to make me a plain piece of chicken. I could have offered to make a salad or a side dish.

But I simply told her I would eat before I came.

You see not eating at book club IS NOT A BIG DEAL. I am there for the book discussion and the comradery. And okay, maybe a little for the wine. But never for the food.

I have learned a long time ago that eating before I go to people’s houses is safer and easier–for me and for the host. Of course, when first diagnosed, I do remember feeling left out, especially during the holiday season when the food looked so festive and tasty. I do remember wishing I didn’t have to always pass on the birthday cake or the special tapa a chef brought to the table.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped caring–and when I stopped caring, I started enjoying life more.

While I consider myself a true foodie, I don’t feel like food always has to be the center of every social event. I can enjoy myself on just about any occasion without having to eat. In fact, by not having to think about what’s in that curry sauce, or if there are croutons in the salad, or if that fork touched the pasta, I am free to enjoy myself more. I think it’s harder for those without dietary restrictions to understand this.

So tonight at book club, I’ll probably be asked why I’m not eating along with a dozen other questions about what I can and cannot eat. But that’s okay. I figure if I keep declaring my independence from food and my food restrictions, someday my friends will stop trying to feed me.

Someday.

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This post originally appeared on Freedible in honor of  Declare Your Independence from Food Restrictions Month.  Anyone with any food restrictions should check out this website. It’s a place to connect with people who eat the way you do.

An Allergic College Student You Just Have to Meet

One of the things I love best about being a blogger is meeting remarkable people who are making a difference in the food allergy community. Recently, I met such a person, a college student about to graduate named Amanda Merrill. Amanda won the giveaway Amanda’s Own Confections and I ran a few weeks back. Coincidentally, she shared the first name of the owners’ daughter, which the company was named after.

As Amanda and I emailed back and forth, I knew right away that I had to share her story. Though Amanda was in the middle of final exams at Tufts University, in Boston, she took the time to answer my emailed questions.

An Allergic Foodie: Congrats on winning the allergy-friendly chocolate bars, Amanda! In an email, you mentioned your senior honors thesis has to do with food restrictions  . . . can you elaborate?

Amanda: Happy to, and I’m thrilled to win the chocolate bars because with my allergies it’s almost impossible to find chocolate I can eat. The title of my thesis is “Is Gluten-Free Worth the Price?” Basically, I looked to answer two questions: 1) if consumers are willing got pay extra for gluten-free certification, and 2) if so, how much are they willing to pay? This is the first study in this area, and I devised my own survey to distribute. In short, I concluded that consumers are willing to pay a premium. I am planning on publishing my findings in a journal.

An Allergic Foodie:  I know you came up with this topic because you yourself have many food restrictions. Did you always have food allergies?

Amanda: As a young child, I was first allergic to tomatoes, potatoes and chocolate, which was very hard for me because my dad is Italian and my mom has an Irish heritage. I couldn’t eat any of their traditional dishes. Luckily, I mostly outgrew these allergies –especially the chocolate!

Around middle-school, I started becoming violently ill after eating and I broke out in this terrible skin reaction that left me unable to even open my mouth. I saw many dermatologists who couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I did all sorts of dye and metal allergy tests. My mom was the one to ask for food allergy testing; that’s when I found out I was allergic to soy, nuts and beans. I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent and with more testing, I found out I was allergic to wheat. I have luckily never been hospitalized for a reaction, but I always carry an epi-pen because some of my allergies are life-threatening.

An Allergic Foodie: You said you “outgrew” some food allergies, have you developed any new ones and/or other health issues?

Amanda: I get tested for food allergies yearly. I am now only “borderline allergic” to tomatoes and potatoes so I can usually handle then in moderation and in small amounts. Unfortunately, some of my other allergies are worsening, and this year I discovered I’m allergic to apples, pineapple and sesame. I also have extreme seasonal allergies to everything from grass, pollen, dust, and mold to dog, cats and rabbits. I also suffer from IBS as well as a slow-moving colon and stomach-emptying processes, which constantly leaves me feeling bloated.

Amanda Merrill with Tufts University Mascot Jumbo the Elephant

Amanda Merrill with Tufts University Mascot Jumbo the Elephant

An Allergic Foodie: Your food restrictions must make dating and eating out difficult. How do you do it?

Amanda: If I am going on a date that involves going to dinner, I often spend hours researching restaurants, menus, policies, and contacting managers to coordinate a meal. One time, I was out in Boston and when the waiter brought over the manager, I began going through my allergies and making adjustments, etc. At one point, the manager, jokingly, told me that he might as well put me in a rabbit cage with a piece of lettuce and a water bottle. The funny thing is, I’m allergic to rabbits as well!

An Allergic Foodie:  I have a son in college dealing with celiac disease and I’d love to hear your tips for eating in a school setting.

Amanda:  When was looking at schools, I was really concerned about how I would eat.  When I arrived at Tufts, I met with a nutritionist/dietitian on campus. I’d advise any student with food allergies to research everything they can about the potential school’s dining services and to meet up with a nutritionist to discuss an eating plan.

In Tufts University’s dining hall, a nutrition card is placed above every food and condiment; the cards list every ingredient and has an allergen statement. The problem I run into is that Tufts, like many other dining halls, have all sorts of sauces, marinades, breading, etc. that contain wheat, soy, or another one of my allergens. I often cannot eat much or anything offered for meals and often end up eating a lot of salads and plain grilled chicken.

Since I cannot eat many dinner food items, the chefs prepare a separate meat for me–chicken, pork, or steak. They use a separate pan and just cook in olive oil, salt and pepper. Tufts had never had to deal with a student with so many allergies before, so I worked with the nutritionist to get more allergy-friendly choices. Now there is a separate refrigerator/freezer for items such as gluten-free breads, bagels, pizza crusts, and other baked goods as well as a special shelf with gluten-free cereal, granola, ice cream cones, and peanut butter and jelly–there’s even Sunbutter for those of us allergic to peanuts. I have my own special area for my foods that don’t contain my extensive allergies, and I even got the school to change to a soy-free cooking spray.

An Allergic Foodie: That’s so great that you’ve made a difference for future allergic students going to Tufts. I think you also are involved with FARE . . .

Amanda: I put together a team to walk in the Walk for Food Allergy Boston to raise money to assist in research for a cure. I hope to continue researching and advocating for food allergies in more ways post-graduation and would love to get more involved with FARE. I try to pass along their messages and awareness information as much as I can.

An Allergic Foodie: I love that you don’t let your food allergies hold you back! What are your plans after graduation?

Amanda: My double major is in Mathematics and Quantitative Economics. I will be working in a pricing and risk analyst position while taking the actuarial exams. My goal is to become a certified actuary. Also, I have been dancing since the age of three, taking ballet, tap, and jazz. At Tufts, I joined the ballroom dance team and competed in all ballroom and Latin dance styles. After graduation, I want to get back to studying classical ballet and pursue my dream of taking classes at Boston Ballet. Dancing is and has always been one of my passions aside from academics.

An Allergic Foodie: Thanks so much for making a difference, Amanda, and good luck with your job and dance– you are an inspiration to other college students with food allergies.

An Allergic College Student Your Just Have to Meet originally appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Why He'll Never Suggest Lettuce for Lunch Again

Why He’ll Never Suggest Lettuce for Lunch Again

We’d been driving for a day and a half and were only halfway home. The high winds across the Kansas plains and the oversized trucks creeping into our lane forced my husband to keep a hands-of-steel grip on the wheel while I kept eyeing the sky for a tornado.

An Allergic Foodie and her husband don't always agree on where to eat

We were a little on edge.

And we were hungry.

When we finally decided to stop for lunch, we began quarreling. For us, quarreling involves a lot of silence.

Husband-Who-Can-Eat-Everything wanted to stop at Taco John’s. With my soy, dairy, gluten, and corn allergies, I didn’t even want to breathe the air in Taco John’s.

Besides, Husband-Who-Can-Eat-Everything knew I wasn’t looking forward to the three-day-old tuna and garbanzo beans I’d packed for myself. He knew this because I kept opening all the apps on my iPhone–Allergy Eats, Find Me Gluten Free, YoDish–and reading the reviews.

Still, he said, “Taco John’s has salad. Did you bring salad dressing?”

“Yay, more salad,” I said.

“The lettuce looked fresh last time.”

“How would you like a bowl of lettuce for lunch?”

Silence.

I pulled up Taco John’s list of allergens on my iPhone. Just about everything has milk, wheat and/or soy.

Except maybe the lettuce.

“I just thought you ‘d want to order something while I ate,” he said.

“Lettuce?”

More silence.

Food Allergies and relationships are a difficult journey

A few exits later, my husband of 20+ years tried to explain how he thought he was being thoughtful. Almost six weeks ago, on the drive out, he’d gotten Taco John’s to-go and taken it to Subway; a food-allergy app had given the Subway salad bar a good review.

While standing in the salad line, I watched the worker make pizza with gloves, then dip the same gloved hands into the salad ingredients. Even if he changed gloves, the tomatoes and lettuce and cucumbers were already contaminated with wheat.

I passed on the salad. My husband ate his tacos and I ate my fruit and almond-milk yogurt in one of the Subway booths.

It was a little weird. But if  an employee had said anything, they’d get an earful about how anyone with celiac or a gluten intolerance would get sick from Subway’s unsafe practices.

So this time around, my husband didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable by eating outside food in a Taco John’s booth. That’s how he was being considerate. To me, suggesting we go to a grocery store and picking up food we both could eat would be considerate. But that’s just me.

Here’s the thing: I GET IT!  My food allergies are not only a pain in the butt for me– but for him, too!

After a long difficult drive, he wanted tacos. He didn’t want to have to drive around looking for a grocery store or a safe place for me to eat–and allergy-friendly options are limited in Colby, Kansas.

Still, if he’d just said, “I’m sorry you can’t eat tacos or burritos or nachos, but do you mind if we stop at Taco John’s?” I would have been okay with it. Sometimes I just want confirmation from my husband and others that they get how food restrictions make life’s road bumpy.

Just don’t tell me to eat lettuce for lunch.

Why He’ll Never Suggest Lettuce for Lunch Again first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.