Personal Note: Food Allergies and Restaurants

When it comes to food, I have a laundry list of issues:

Allergies? Yes!
Intolerance?  You bet!
Oral Allergy Syndrome? Of course, why not?!
Other strange stuff that I don’t know if it’s real or not?  Uh-huh!

My strategy for coping with these issues throughout my life has been a deep interest in food.  I loved cooking and baking when I was a kid, and was always interested in new foods.  I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in food service or closely related fields: I’ve been a cook, a food service manager and clinical dietitian.  I’m a Registered Dietitian.   I’m ServSafe Certified food safety instructor.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve developed some expertise in the area.

When and where I grew up in the Southwestern United States,  Mexican restaurants were a safe haven for me.  None of them had peanuts on the menu.  Mexican restaurants were safer for me than just about any other option. That, combined with the fact that Mexican food is, generally speaking, super tasty (though typically not particularly healthy), is probably the reason it’s my favorite type of food to this day. Back when we lived in the DC area, there weren’t a lot of good options as far as we were concerned.  This wasn’t due to the quality, but to regionality.  It seemed like the vast majority of the Mexican restaurants were not operated by people who were not really that familiar with Mexican cuisine.  A dead giveaway was seeing  pupusas on the menu.  Tasty, but not Mexican.

When my wife came to the Seattle area to scout for us prior to moving,  she noted that there were quite a few more Mexican restaurants here.  I won’t say it was a major factor influencing our move, but it didn’t hurt either.

One day after we moved, I stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant near home.  When I walked in, it smelled amazing! I looked around at what my fellow diners were having and I was excited.  More importantly, I felt “at home”,  and unfortunately I let my guard down.  I ordered a combination plate with an enchilada.  It was delicious.  After a few bites inside of my mouth started tingling.  I waited for the server to come back, and asked if there were peanuts in the enchilada sauce.  He said yes. I explained my situation and that I would need the check.  He replied, “Oh, well you should really ask first”.  I had to suppress the urge to argue.  He was right.  I should have asked.

I should have also had some anti-histamine, and/or an epinephrine auto-injector on hand as well.  Fortunately I caught myself before I ate much, so I wasn’t busy having to serious of a reaction.  I got myself home, gulped down some diphenhydramine, and settled in for the oncoming nap.

Up until moving to the Seattle metropolitan area, I’d taken my safety while dining out mostly for granted.  I still worried about it, but I didn’t really take any precautions.  Now I’m back on the case, communicating with restaurant staff and taking the proper precautions. I’m not sharing my experience in search of sympathy. I hope that it may encourage one of you to get back in the habit of notifying restaurant staff, and carrying supplies in case something goes wrong, or help readers without food allergy have a little better understanding of the challenges people with food allergies face.