According to foodallergy.org, up to 15 million Americans have a food allergy and they have increased 50% among children between 1997 and 2011. That's an alarming trend. An even more alarming trend is that researchers have no reason as to why food allergies are on the rise.
As a chef, I come across guests with food allergies at least once a day. It's important to work with them carefully in order to prevent any possible cross contamination. Sometimes it's as plain and simple as "I'm allergic to peanuts" and other times guests come in with laminated cards containing a list of foods that could potentially kill them. It can be frustrating at times but not as frustrating as it is for the allergy sufferer.
Another dangerous trend on the rise is when guests inform their server that they have a food allergy when all along they just don't care for a particular ingredient. I take allergies seriously, so when I'm told someone has a specific food allergy I stop what I am doing and double check recipes and ingredients to be sure that no accidents happen. When I find out that this person has just wasted my time, the restaurants money and the servers time, I get pissed off. Here are a few examples:
- Just today a guest ordered a waffle for their toddler and asked if the syrup was on the side. When the waffle arrived, they poured syrup on the waffle THEN asked if it was real maple syrup. They asked the server for a new waffle stating that their son was allergic to corn syrup. No problem. However, the child was drinking a soft drink.
- Not too long ago a guest was ordering brunch and was inquiring about the ingredients because they had a wheat allergy. We made the order and sent it with no toast, obviously. The server returned saying that the guest said "i have a wheat allergy, but whole wheat is OK."
- Another common occurrence is when guests order food, receive their food, then inform their server that they have an allergy
- Or, when a guest has a very specific food allergy then they order the only item on the menu that contains that ingredient.
As I type I can't help but think about an interesting book by Sam Harris entitled "Lying." In the book the author talks about how a dangerous weave of lies can wreck havoc in ones life. The more one continues to lie the more they have to keep track of and it eventually undermines their integrity. Harris also warns about what lying can do to relationships. When a friend or family member witnesses someone tell a lie, that person can't help but wonder what else they lie about or if they lie to them as well.
What worries me about people exaggerating about their allergies is that it creates the potential for accidents. I can see a chef or cook somewhere getting frustrated having to deal with false allergies and assuming that all are false. The result could be deadly. Why not just be honest? Will you go into anaphylactic shock if you have dairy? Or will you just be gassy? Please, don't use a medical disorder as an excuse when their are people suffering with real, potentially deadly, allergies. Just order something else.