Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally Albright: Which one am I?
Harry Burns: You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.
– When Harry Met Sally
I grew up with a total foodie for a mother, a gourmand who is truly an artist in the kitchen. She’s made her art a business at times in my life, but her greatest joy comes from cooking from family and friends – and generally “in abbondanza,” as her friend T calls it. Or “for a small country,” as my father would say.
And so many of the amazing things she creates I can’t eat because, oh, the irony, I’m allergic to them.
Over the years my allergies were realized, and I had to say goodbye to all that I once knew. Dairy when I was young. And later gluten. And soy. And eggs. All gone.
It’s the end of Food Allergy Awareness Week, and I can assure you we have a long way to go on the awareness part.
And I kind of blame Sally Albright. Not entirely, but kind of.
A lot of food service workers have blurred the lines between the Sally’s of the world and customers who will be very sick, some dangerously ill, if the grilled chicken on the menu is first put either in an egg wash or tossed in flour. Both common for something that reads simply as “grilled chicken” on a menu.
But it’s not just wait staff or kitchen workers that deserve the blame. It’s customers themselves that have begun using the term allergic interchangeably with “I don’t like…”
(It’s something I’ve discussed with Elizabeth Gordon, of My Allergy-Free Life , part of the group of FA sufferers with whom I share whenever I find some genius allergy-safe product on the shelves. Her book’s recipes are so good that I serve them to those with or without allergies and no one knows the difference. And, believe me, with many allergy-free desserts, you often can tell the difference.)
At what point did people have such a hard time being served what they were paying asking for that they faked an illness? I kind of think that’s the bigger problem.
Two nights ago, I went out for dinner. My steak arrived with a beautiful topping of caramelized onions I had not ordered. The waiter took it back to the kitchen, reappearing moments later with the same plate. The onions had been scraped away sloppily. It was obvious. This isn’t the first time they’d screwed up my meal at this restaurant. But it’s the last time.
I’m never comfortable saying that I want my food remade. I would rather just return it to the kitchen. Because it’s hard to feel safe putting food to your mouth when you don’t think your health is taken seriously. Imagine spending the next few days out of commission and I lose my appetite.
Living with allergies involves a lot of planning. A lot of Plan B’s (LaraBars in purse? Check.) A lot of label reading. And rereading. A lot of question asking. A lot of faith in strangers.
Trusting servers who tell you they use canola oil when so often they don’t really know (sometimes the cooks don’t even know) and it could be veggie oil (soy). I’ve had horrible experiences at some of the finest restaurants in big cities and the best at divey joints in small towns. You never know.
Perhaps I’m a bigger risk taker than I realize.
Not sure if anyone else is in the same boat, but I think I might start sharing my store bought favorites here – I’ve got long lists. Let me know what you think.