Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ask the Internet: Dealing With Food Allergies?

Today's question is born of a full-body rash, and it's kinda many questions.

Q: How do you deal with your food allergies? Do you cook mostly at home? Do you buy special food products? (In which case, which are your favorites?) What happens when you go out to eat? Do you alert the server or the cook? Do you find managing your allergy is an expensive undertaking? Is having it a pain in the butt, or do you barely think about it anymore?

A: Still no idea about my own outbreak of hives, but I'm super curious to read how y'all cope, and I think I might turn responses into tomorrow's article. Fire away, and thank you!

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


LibrariNerd said...

My brother has some deathly allergies. There are certain restaurants (mostly chains) that he has learned to trust. McDonald's is a life saver for him overseas - it's exactly the same darn food everywhere! Eating at a new place, he always talks to the chef or manager first. Otherwise he eats at home, and is ridiculously healthy for it.

I have mere "annoying" allergies to nuts/shellfish/large amounts of soy that will give me rashes/nausea. These are all easy to avoid, although I've learned not to even try to eat at Thai or vegan restaurants. I'll sometimes ask the server to leave nuts out of salads or desserts.

As for favorite foods - my brother loves Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates. Their candies are made in a 100% nut-free factory so there's no chance of cross-contamination if you have a serious peanut/tree nut allergy. I'm a big fan of Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter for my PBJs.

Annie said...

I'd definitely alert your server/chef if you have allergies. I used to work at Ben & Jerry's, and if someone had an allergy, we'd wash our hands and get a new, clean scoop for them before we touched any ice cream. It's still probably not ideal for people with really serious allergies, but it's at least something. And most servers are really willing to help people avoid anything that could make them sick.

kittiesx3 said...

Shellfish allergy here, anaphlaxic kind. And I travel for work so that's a complication because I am usually in small towns where everything is cooked on the same grill/griddle/whatever. So I have to be very careful what I order and I always mention the allergy when I order. If they aren't confident I can avoid shellfish, then I order something else.

Anonymous said...

My family refers to me as the bubble girl, I recently found that I have a serious intolerance to chocolate and codfish. By serious intolergance, I mean rush to the emergency room serious.

I also cannot have gluten, lettuce, flaxseeds, celery, cherries, apricots, bean sprouts or chili peppers!

I have learned to make most things at home. I am very lucky to live near several health food type stores and many restaurants with gluten free menus. It is certainly more expensive. But, I feel so much better than a year ago that I will happily pay more to avoid the dreaded emergency room.

Kristen » gezellig-girl.com said...

It's kind of a combination of all of the above.

For instance, I'm allergic to anchovies. Cuisines like Vietnamese and Thai (that rely on fish sauce), are pretty much right out for me, so I avoid eating out at those restaurants and I learn to make those dishes I want at home (minus the deadly ingredients).

If I'm somewhere where something usually has anchovies (a Caesar salad, maybe), I'll ask a server.

For me, it's less of a pain than it is just... kind of sad. I actually really enjoyed anchovies before I became allergic to them, so it feels a little like, I dunno, someone broke up with me for no reason?

SusanF said...

My son has food allergies. We're not sure how deathly they are - but we carry an epipen everywhere. Although restaurants are SUPPOSED to be able to deal with this, we often get servers who have no clue what is in the food - or whose response is so vague and non-specific that we can't trust them. So - we don't eat out much.

We keep our home allergy-free, so my son can eat anything at all in the house. When he goes to friends' houses we become "that" family, who create difficulty at every birthday party or social invitation, because it's just possible that my son could die from the wrong bite of food. I hate being 'that' mom, but I don't see that I have any other choice.

We're now transitioning to the time when my son has to learn to handle this himself, and that's even more frightening. Think of the pressure on a 12 year old, when everyone else is enjoynig a treat, and he has to have the restraint to refuse it. Frankly, I'm not sure I can trust him, but I KNOW that I can't trust other people, and my son has to separate from us and learn this skill. So, for now, we cross our fingers, and make sure that his epipen travels with him whenever he is away from us.

Rianne said...

I work as a server in a vietnamese restaurant and it always baffles me when people come into a place where at least a third of the dishes involve nuts in some way and tell me they have a nut allergy. Especially the woman who insisted to me that it was a very serious allergy and her son could die.
We do our best to deal with allergy requests, but use some common sense.

And to the woman who runs into servers who don't know what's in the food, think about how long it would take you to learn every ingredient in every dish in a place just by serving them and occasionally seeing part of the food prep. No restaurant I've ever worked in put any effort into teaching servers what's in the dishes. But what we don't know we can find out. If you're concerned, ask the manager or just tell your server to find out from the kitchen.

Chief Family Officer said...

First of all, I'm sorry you're going through this - it's no fun! I had a horrible rash while pregnant and am sure it caused my son's food allergies :( Hopefully he'll outgrow them since there really aren't other food allergies in the family.

Meanwhile, it's all about the labels. Once in a while, I still forget but for the most part, I've gotten pretty good about checking everything that goes into my shopping cart. We avoid "may contain" products but "manufactured on same equipment" is okay for us (but may not be for someone who's super, uber-sensitive).

There are certain types of restaurants we avoid completely, but for the most part, we're just careful about what we order - I think this sort of thing depends on the food allergy, as my friend with celiac has to be a little more vigilant since gluten can be hidden in many things.

I just make sure Benadryl and the Epipen are close by, and keep them in the places my son spends the most time (home, school, grandparents' house).

I hope you do NOT have a major food allergy, and that this is just a passing rash!

Heather said...

My son has allergies to dairy and gluten. It took me a while, but now cooking for him is pretty much on autopilot. Product wise, we especially like Tinkyada pasta, Glutino crackers, Udi's gluten free bread, and pretty much anything by Kinnickinnick. We don't eat out much - partly because of allergies, but partly because eating out with a two year old is a pain.

Autumn said...

I am very blessed to only have pollen allergies, but I can't take my meds of choice while pregnant. . . grrr.

We have friends with a variety of allergies, so I keep a running list of who is allergic to what (nuts, soy, wheat, etc) along with dietary preferences (vegetarian, vegan, I hate nuts/mushrooms/radishes but I know they won't kill me) so I can prepare "safe" meals for friends and family.

The husband is always wanting to include that we will have "safe" food for people in the email/invite, but I never do cause I really want to not kill my guests and the regulars know I will cook safe food for them. If I am serving something that has an allergen (my aunt has celiac) I will put a certain marking on the bowls so she knows what's safe for her, and have her hit the buffet first to avoid accidental contamination.

Blair said...

My severe peanut/tree nut allergies were actually the reason I started learning to cook in the first place--it was either that or eat microwaved crap for the rest of forever. I don't eat out a lot (poor college student, hooray!) but I always ALWAYS mention it to servers (this was a lot of fun when I was studying abroad in Paris) and I avoid most "ethnic" restaurants (Chinese, Indian, Thai, etc.) altogether, because most of them put nuts in everything.

All my friends know about my allergies, so dinner parties/birthday treats are never an issue, because none of them wants me to die! And if I'm ever doubtful of an ingredient, I just go without. Eating snacks before events makes this easier, and yeah, it's a bummer not to get to just EAT without having to think about where food comes from, but it does give me the advantage of being super mindful of what goes into my body (and who needs all those yucky grocery-store cookies at dessert receptions anyway?)

Anna said...

Foodallergy.org is an excellent resource. We aren't dealing with food allergies personally, so that's all I have to offer.

Kate said...

I mentioned this a bit in the other post- sorry if this comes across as repetitive.

Hubby is deathly allergic to peanuts and pinenuts. We always always always talk to the servers, and we even order special allergy cards (www.selectwisely.com) for when we travel (which we do a lot of). Hubby's now been all over Asia with those cards, and only ever had one problem.

We also try to develop relationships the folks who run the restaurants we frequent. Although at least one of the other commenters suggested that folks just use "common sense" and avoid certain cuisines, I've found that to be unnecessary. Southern Chinese food as a whole? Probably not okay- except for our neighbourhood restaurant, which goes out of its way to serve hubby its best dishes with no allergens anywhere nearby. Same goes for our local Vietnamese place. Thai? Well, no such luck yet, but I learned how to cook peanut-free Thai at home to ease my own pangs of longing for that!

Since hubby's had it since before he could walk, I don't think it's a major fixture anymore, but I do know he feels left out sometimes. We were walking in the grocery store the other day, and all of a sudden he got a forlorn look on his face. When I asked what was up, he said he saw a lady with a bag of mixed nuts in her cart, and he wondered what he'd been missing out on all these years, and how annoying that was.

Jennifer said...

In my early 20s, I developed an allergy to corn. After the four years it took us to figure it out, I stopped eating out for a while and started cooking my own food. But everyone needs a night off sometimes, so my hubby and I found restaurants that were forthcoming about their ingredients, and cooked with mostly whole foods. My biggest issue is that even if you know the ingredients in a dish, you can still not know that corn is in it because corn is used to synthesize so many things in our society. At this point, we've got several restaurants that will willingly cook corn-free for me, even a local Chinese place.

Socially, I occasionally run into people at work functions that look at me funny because I'm not eating or drinking anything but water. But by now most everyone I interact with routinely knows and doesn't find it odd.

As far as cooking at home, I buy mostly whole foods from the outside of the grocery store - produce, meat, dairy. I avoid almost everything that comes pre-prepared with only a few exceptions. Trader Joe's does a good job of labeling their items, and European items are always labeled if they have corn in them, but the U.S. Lobby has prevented label changes to include corn in the allergy warnings.

Like I said, I've gotten pretty used to it for cooking and eating. The only real trouble I have now is shampoo and sunblock.

Gretchen said...

Regarding why people go to restaurants that serve a lot of foods they are allergic to: we might be going to a restaurant with a challenging cuisine because it can be very socially isolating to have food allergies and we don't want to be cut off from our friends and family.

Perhaps we have a friend who really likes Vietnamese food and no other restaurant that is open that night, or who is having a social event at the restaurant. If eight people can eat there and I know that most of the things on the menu will be off-limits, I might go anyhow so that I can see my friends, and ask the server if there is anything I can possibly eat on the menu, because it also really weirds people out if I sit there with only a glass of water or tea.

I've gone to a Chinese restaurant and been perfectly happy eating a bowl of steamed rice and some of their lively homemade pickles. (I can't eat anything made with normal soy sauce as it contains wheat, but I know I can eat the rice.) I carry emergency provisions but I feel that it's rude to eat them at a restaurant even if I can eat very little of the food there, so I would rather order some food there unless it just looks impossible.

In all honesty the only times I've had to sneak off and eat my emergency rations in the parking lot after the meal were when I went to a low-end "Traditional American" chain where the food was processed to the point where the gluten-containing "buttery topping" was included in every food item on the menu down to the so-called "fresh steamed vegetables" (actually pre-frozen with the buttery topping goo already on them) and the meat arrived at the restaurant pre-marinated in soy sauce... they just did not make ANYTHING fresh or from a single ingredient at the entire restaurant... I think I had a glass of milk... and a wedding where the couple had asked the caterer specifically to prepare food for my dietary restrictions, the caterer had said they would, and then it was all sandwiches for everyone, and not even any sandwich filling for me; all of the filling had been placed in bread which made it impossible for me to eat. I had some fruit salad and pickles there and then ate some pemmican in the parking lot later, so there were actually a few things I could eat from the caterer, but I do need food a little more substantial than fruit to keep from keeling over. (Yay for pemmican.)

Buffets in general are pretty dicey for me because the ingredients are almost never labeled, the servers never know what's in the food, the kitchen is too busy to tell them, and people often use spoons from another dish to scoop things from a dish I could have eaten if it didn't now have pasta bits stuck in it... so I tend to avoid them wherever possible, but I can't just not go to weddings, so I just bring emergency provisions and hope there will be at least one thing I can eat so I don't make the other guests uncomfortable.

In general I have found that if I eat at a restaurant that makes food with fresh ingredients they will have something I can eat on their menu without the chef having to do much more than leave off a sauce. I don't expect the server to know every detail of what goes into the food and I've never had anyone be unwilling to check with the chef to make sure that I am choosing something that is safe. I usually pick three things and say I would be happy to eat whichever can be made without modification or with little modification if they all require modification. I also tell the server immediately, and make a note on my reservations if it's the type of place that takes reservations.

Gretchen said...

Oh and I always like to tip extra when I go out, because of the extra steps the server has to take to get me a safe meal. Given that I eat out a lot less now than I used to, and cook a lot less packaged food at home, my food budget is still a lot lower than it used to be even given the extra tips.

Ashley said...

Things that my gluten allergy has taught me:
1. Eating out is a privilege, not a right.
2. The people that work at restaurants are just that, people, and they make honest mistakes all the time. It does not mean they are incompetent or that they are trying to kill me.
3. I much prefer my husband's cooking to any restaurant.
4. The burden of dealing with my disease is mine, and whoever else loves me and chooses to come alongside me. Nobody is obligated to accommodate me, but many of my friends and family do so willingly, and it is much appreciated.
5. I save a truckload of money and am in better shape than the average American, thanks to my disease. Yay!