Life StoryOct/Nov 2016 Issue

We’ve Got "Allergy Problems"

Irreverent solutions to your real life allergy & sensitivity dramas

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Illustration by evgeniya porechenskaya/shutterstock

| Potluck Protocol |

Dear Issues,

I have no problem educating one friend or server at a time about celiac disease but what do I do with 50 or more people at a potluck? I can bring a gluten-free main dish or dessert, but how can I be sure that I’ll get any of it? Or if there’s some left when I get there in line, how do I know that it hasn’t been contaminated by folks borrowing spoons? I can rush to the front of the line but that feels rude. I can serve myself before sharing my dish with others but that looks rude. Last time, I cooked and brought along a little separate casserole for myself. That worked fairly well—but no one is learning anything.

Frustrated Senior Citizen

Dear Frustrated,

I do miss a good potluck, so I understand exactly where you’re coming from. In addition to your issues, there’s the fact that all that good bready food is in your face as you scoop from one little gluten-free dish. I never thought I’d see the day when I missed tuna

casserole but that day has arrived. (Great! Now I’m frustrated, too!)

One reason why you shouldn’t be frustrated is that it sounds like you’ve figured it out, at least partially. Keep on making that separate casserole for yourself and bring along some gluten-free crackers, bread or anything you can put cheese on. Throw a brownie or two in that mix (or have one at home to treat yourself afterward) and you’re full.

No, it’s not the same thing as sampling everyone’s cooking while communing with friends and family but at least you won’t be hungry after leaving that giant table of food.

Oh, and one more option. Next time, talk to your friends who are preparing food for the potluck. See if you can’t suggest using gluten-free pasta for a baked spaghetti dish or a pasta salad. Talk up the benefits of quinoa and email your crowd a few great recipes that are naturally gluten-free. Someone will take the hint and embrace the challenge of creating safe food for you. Just be sure to include tips in the recipe to keep your food from being cross contaminated. (Make sure pots and pans are thoroughly cleaned before using. Don’t cook gluten-free pasta—or gluten-free whatever—in the same pot as its conventional cousin. Don’t sprinkle soy sauce or breadcrumbs over gluten-free creations. That sort of thing.)

And don’t worry so much about looking rude by grabbing a bite for yourself first. Honestly, most people aren’t paying attention to you. They’re too busy eyeballing the chocolate cake at the end of the table.

| Still Hungry |


Dear Issues,

I get so tired of going through a whole routine of questions at new restaurants or reminders at restaurants I’ve visited before. What’s supposed to be a break becomes more work than if I’d cooked at home.

Due to allergic reactions and autoimmune issues, I’m gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free and sugar-free. I can usually figure out menus but I do ask a lot of questions in order to clarify ingredients and I do request that the chef omit certain problem ingredients. Invariably, my meal arrives as plain as can be—even without seasoning!—because the chef is confused or afraid of harming me. I never say that seasonings are an issue, so it’s disappointing and not very appealing.

Am I the only one who ends up with bland food? Am I the only one who seems to exasperate the wait staff? Am I asking questions the wrong way?


Spice Would Be Nice


Dear Spice,

That’s a lot of issues and a lot of conversations. So, no, that’s not even close to being relaxing! I’m sorry and also, I thank you for doing the hard work of informing servers and chefs for the rest of us.

While your questions here are valid, you should give yourself a break. You aren’t doing anything wrong, even though it may feel like it since the end results are disappointing. You are not the only one out there who winds up with a sad meal when you’re simply trying to eat safely. My biggest problem is when the chef holds back everything dairy. Did I say I couldn’t eat hard cheese??? I did not!! But this is about your spice, or lack thereof.

You are correct that there is a lot of confusion at ordering time. The more intolerances and allergies on your list, the worse it can be. That’s why they throw a plain chicken breast at you and run. It may help to begin by asking how a dish is prepared. If the answer does not include gluten, grains, dairy or sugar, try following up with, “So that’s everything? That sounds great because I cannot eat gluten, grains, dairy or sugar. But I love paprika and red pepper!” Then it wouldn’t hurt to say how you’re looking forward to your “blackened chicken sandwich, sans bread” as the waiter heads back to the kitchen.

Communicating in great detail is crucial for those of us with severe reactions to certain foods. But as you know, some people just won’t understand. My hope for you is that you soon discover a gem or two of a restaurant that will fix you delicious food, safely, and then you can become a regular customer.

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