Culinary Minefield: Dining Out with Allergies and Food Intolerance

Image of the most common food allergens
Who doesn't love going out to eat? I'm sure there are a handful of people out there, but I for one (obviously) very much enjoy the experience. Not the aspect of getting waited on, not in the slightest - I'm interested in tasting something I've never tried before. Being immersed in another culture, someone else's mindset, an unfamiliar or interesting space, at least for the short while - is a unique pleasure. I relish the opportunity to explore in what could be considered a relatively accessible and affordable way, at least compared to taking a flight somewhere. These experiences can become quite challenging however if you, or someone you know, has had the unfortunate diagnosis of a food allergy or intolerance. For some it can erase the joy from dining out, and for some it can prove fatal.

CNBC Article Image - Allergies Rising
Source: CNBC
There are some interesting and startling statistics to keep in mind regarding food allergies and intolerance today. According to Food Allergy Research and Education or FARE "32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18," which for you not interested in doing the math is approximately 10% of everyone living in the USA. Even more startling is that food allergies and intolerance are on an uptick, "The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011." An equally disturbing piece by WebMD discusses the trend of  adult-onset food allergies increasing as well.

Now, all this brings to mind some very important questions:

What does all this mean exactly? 

First, it means that quite a few people are in regular danger when trying to spend outside their home. Whenever they join you for dinner, join their coworkers in celebration, visit a friends house - it means people living with allergies and intolerance have to be hyper-vigilant to a very stressful degree. It also means that everyone - restaurant owners, chefs, cooks, servers, parents/guardians, schools, airlines, businesses, and more need to be on board with the changing times and where applicable, the changing needs of its customers.

What can be done?

First, educate yourself on the problem of allergies and food intolerance. You can't possibly
provide better service to your customers, or be a better ally to your friends and colleagues without being informed. Then, take appropriate steps to help. This can be insuring allergy/intolerance friendly options or separate menus for those who serve food, or taking the time to accommodate friends, house guests and co-workers based on their need. In the
An image of a busy restaurant - Source: Dissolve
Source: Dissolve
case of restaurants, at the very least, employees should be well versed in food allergies, and what items on the menu contain allergens. Or ideally, menu items should be labeled on a per-item basis to inform the diner on any and all problematic ingredients - its in the best interest of all parties.

What's being done now?

More than ever before luckily. Many restaurants in and around New York City (my current locale) offer allergy warnings directly on their menu or a separate allergy menu all together. There are a number of dairy-free, vegan-only, gluten free and allergen-excluded restaurants and bakeries in and around the city as well. Sadly these concepts have not been adopted everywhere, especially at many sit-down restaurants where the extent of their action can be summed up by a boiler-plate allergy warning and the suggestion to notify your server. So its safe to say there's still work to be done.

I think the most important take-away is this: it behooves business owners and individuals alike to consider one-tenth of all people in the country. My question is, why wouldn't they want to? You breed good will with your friends, family and colleagues when you consider their needs. Businesses do better when they offer something for everyone. Its my hope that as we move into the near future, everyone can get on board.

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