Tag Archives: allergies

Food Allergies and Restaurants

It always puts a smile on my face when a restaurant menu contains a note saying something to the effect of “Please advise your server of any allergies or intolerance”.

To me, that means I’m in a restaurant that will likely take some extra precautions to do its best to ensure my food won’t cause me issues. This definitely takes some of the guesswork out of dining out.

Over the last 13 years, since the discovery of my intolerance to wheat products, the number of restaurants that have adjusted their menus to accommodate wheat-free/gluten-free diets has been impressive and heartwarming. And over that span of time, the improvement in the ingredients, recipes and dishes that have been offered has been spectacular.

I hear the same from friends and colleagues with sensitivities to nuts, eggs, dairy and shellfish. It is getting easier to make informed choices.

When it comes to dining, it is certainly a competitive market. I genuinely respect those establishments that have gone the extra mile to retain and attract clients by helping them navigate their options whether through little icons next to menu items, menus that specifically address dietary concerns, or in extremely well-informed service staff.

I admit that I have to contain my shrieks of delight when the server or the chef says, “Tell us what you’d like and we’ll see how we can modify it.”

Being the over-apologetic Canadian that I am, on a few occasions, I have apologized for asking so many questions about the menu, but I have been met with much reassurance. One chef even went so far as to say that it helps keep things interesting and challenging in the kitchen, in finding clever ways to make the menu work for the client. That completely made my day!

But what happens when a restaurant makes no such accommodations?

Usually when a group of family, friends or colleagues proposes a visit to a restaurant, before I accept, I check out the restaurant’s web site to see if they provide an online menu. If I have further questions, I usually follow it up with a phone call outside of peak serving times, so that the person who picked up the phone has a minute or two to chat.

If the restaurant doesn’t offer dietary accommodations, I will ask if they can prepare an easy and safe meal like a Caesar salad, making sure the chicken is grilled (not breaded) and to not put in croutons. If they do, I can still participate in the get-together and not worry about getting sick later.

I recall contacting one restaurant prior to a colleague’s farewell luncheon and when I asked if they offered gluten-free options, I received a flat “no” followed by silence, and no attempt to offer suggestions. Sadly, I had to pass on the farewell luncheon, but my colleague understood.

In another situation, I visited a restaurant that offered gluten-free pizza crust and when I asked if their pepperoni was gluten-free as well, I was floored when the response I was offered was “Hmm… well, no one died from it yet!” Needless to say, I didn’t find the joke funny and I have never returned to that establishment.

Just the same, I still extend my understanding and respect to the establishments that choose not to cater to different allergies and food intolerance. It can be a complex and risky undertaking, especially when some ingredients contain hidden sources of allergens or cross-contamination.

When a restaurant prides itself on secret recipes to meet a specific niche audience, it can be difficult to make changes to those recipes to achieve the same flavour, quality and texture and still meet a specific dietary need. It can be a very lengthy (and costly) process of experimentation with different formulations, ingredients and proportions, requiring the patience of a laboratory scientist.

I can understand if a restaurant doesn’t want to take a chance. When I discovered my intolerance to wheat products, I lived off of shepherd’s pie, hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken and salad for months before I built up my repertoire of recipes. (And even then, surprisingly, some salad dressings contain wheat products.) It’s not easy, I completely understand, especially in a fast-paced commercial setting.

I am very lucky that I live in a city with many restaurants and many choices. If I don’t end up going to one restaurant, there’s probably another one in the same neighbourhood where dining won’t be a risky venture for me.

Also, I am lucky that my body’s reaction to wheat products would not be a fatal one, just an inconvenient one, as my body would reject them in the form of a stomach flu.

But for people with much more serious food allergies who need to carry an EpiPen at all times, dining out can be a scary prospect requiring thorough advance research and knowledge of what went into every item on their plate.

For a dining experience to be enjoyable for everyone, navigating food allergies and food intolerance requires clear communication, kindness, understanding and patience on everyone’s part. It really is up to the diner to be informed ahead of time, to work with serving staff to choose carefully, and for the restaurant to be as forthcoming as possible with information about ingredients.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under food, Health and Wellness

When a Colleague Has Food Allergies

A couple of months ago, I overheard a young lady and her colleague on the elevator, in a conversation that went something like this:

“Are you going to the pizza lunch?”

“Yes, I guess we have to. It’s mandatory.”

“Except for those people who asked for gluten-free.” She started shaking her head and continued, “Come on, it’s a free lunch.”

Ever since that conversation I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief that anyone could say something so unenlightened. Whether a person has an allergy, an intolerance, a medical condition, a dietary restriction or a preference, people’s food choices need to be respected. Period!

I suspect that the young lady in question probably does not have a family member with a food allergy or intolerance, for her to say that a lunch being free is a good reason to eat something that could pose an allergy risk.

In my case, wheat can turn my world completely upside down for about 24 hours. Imagine if you will, your absolute worst stomach flu, resulting in frequent, persistent, urgent and (please excuse the vulgarity) “explosive” trips to the washroom. Then add the sensation of something sharp painfully working its way through the digestive system. Continue reading

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Filed under food, Health and Wellness, Misc blogs

The Hunt for Gluten-Free Fruit Cake – 2017 Edition

Regular readers probably know that I have my moments where I might be considered a bit of an oddball, especially when it comes to my borderline-obsessive love of fruit cake. It hasn’t always been that way though.

When I was younger I would have a couple of pieces from the overflowing tray of treats passed around the table at Christmas, and I’d be set for the year.

But it was in my body’s rejection of gluten a decade ago, that I had to stop all foods involving wheat flour including fruit cake.

For something that I only ate once per year, it wasn’t a catastrophic loss, but with each passing Christmas after that, I grew to miss the tradition that much more. I also grew to appreciate it as one of life’s simple pleasures at the most wonderful, most festive time of the year.

A few years ago, I even wrote a poem about my hunt for the perfect gluten-free fruit cake. It wasn’t easy. The hunt, not the poem.

Around here, not a lot of stores sell gluten-free fruit cake and for the ones that do, I found the experience to be a very pricey one and sometimes a disappointing one. I remember one in particular that lived up to all of the hype and negative connotations about heavy and dry fruit cakes, and added a few more.

Then inspiration hit. How hard can it be to make gluten-free fruit cake for myself? Continue reading

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Filed under Christmas, How to

The First Runs of the Season

I have always admired those runners who are able to look out the window at the most adverse weather conditions and still be able to pick out the perfect layers of clothing, lace up their shoes and go for a run with a smile on their face. They are my heroes!

I will admit that I tried it for a couple of winters, and when properly dressed for it, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, on a sunny, crisp winter day, a nice run can definitely raise the spirits after long stretches of grey winter skies.

But when Mother Nature delivers long stretches of snowy day after snowy day, and it has been weeks since I have even seen a sidewalk, it is all too easy for my discipline to be hiding on the couch under a pillow and blankie, thumb stuck on the remote, leaving a trail of sodium-reduced potato chip crumbs wherever it goes.

However, when March rolls around, it is no exaggeration to say that I can’t wait to get out of the house. The excitement and desire to return to the running trails builds with each passing day.

But when it comes to those first runs of the season, I have learned that managing one’s expectations is incredibly important.

After being away from it for several months, I tend to over-romanticize the running experience, accentuating the positive, musing about beautiful spring runs on flat, bare sidewalks, the fresh spring air, the sun shining, and the birds cheering me on. Continue reading

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Filed under Humour, Inspiring, Running

The Burger Race

hamburger-and-french-friesAs a sequel to my post “Ten Years Gluten Free“, as much as it took solid organization skills and a spirit of adventure to continuously try new recipes, I think I adapted pretty well with my gluten intolerance. Through batch cooking and chasing after sales on roast chickens, I have been able to keep my freezer well-stocked with home-made meals that I can enjoy at home and at the office.

Also, over that decade, restaurants have come a long way too, several of which are getting better and better at tasty gluten-free offerings and in ensuring safety in the careful preparation of meals.

I am surprised that with the prevalence of the gluten-free diet, even among people who are not intolerant, fast food outlets have not been in a race to see who can offer gluten-free bread or buns to welcome a new segment of the audience.

For me, fast food restaurants have been regarded as an occasional treat for a fast meal on the run. In the cases where I had an insatiable burger fix but was short on time, I have been known to buy burger and fries at a fast food outlet, come home, throw out the bun, toast a couple of slices of gluten free bread, and meticulously reassemble the ingredients with the same attention to detail as an IKEA furniture assembly project. Continue reading

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Filed under Misc blogs, Travel