Food Allergies, A Trend Or Sign Of The Times?

Image courtey of Kurious

Many chefs are starting to see an increase in the flow of diners that have an ever-growing list of food allergies and intolerances. It reminds me of the days, back in the early 90s, when suddenly everyone decided they wanted to be a vegetarian. Back then, this trend was most likely the result of published studies that opened our eyes to the terrible conditions commodity meat animals had to endure. Or that it takes 14 times as much grain to feed an animal than what you get out of it in meat — an enormous waste of resources.

…it takes 14 times as much grain to feed an animal than what you get out of it in meat…

I am not a vegetarian, nor have I ever been, but I could definitely understand why this would change the way people eat. Of course, vegetarianism led to veganism for an even more robust “save the planet” lifestyle with a “plant only” diet.

Image courtesy of Sponchia

Yes, most chefs get annoyed by this “disruption” during service and toss a pile of steamed vegetables onto a plate and lob it at the server in a grunt of disgust. Nothing would annoy us more than to have to feed the guy on table 11 something different because HE chooses not to eat meat. Most chefs would actually take this sort of thing personally. Crazy. Of course, most restaurants and food service establishments have come around, myself included, and have become more sensitive to our meat-free friends. Now, entire sections of menus have been set aside for those that choose not to partake in the veal porterhouse. It is almost always assumed, during every wedding, bar-mitzvah, or birthday party that 1–3 percent of the diners will, indeed, not eat meat and there will be a nice, respectful alternative to the pile of steamed veggies of the past.

…entire sections of menus have been set aside for those that choose not to partake in the veal porterhouse…

Here we are, present day, wishing that all we had to contend with was vegetarianism. Suddenly there is a glut of nut allergies, wheat and gluten intolerances, dairy, seeds, seafood, and more! It’s enough to make your head spin. One can’t but wonder how this phenomenon came about. How, seemingly overnight, that someone can’t eat gluten, fish, or soy. Some may believe that it is the way we produce our food, some say that it is environmental changes, others say evolution. Either way, this dilemma seems to have just popped-up over night.

Image courtesy of derneuemann

As some restaurant chefs are becoming more aware of this new issue, there are still others that are not sensitive enough. There are those die-hard proud culinarians that can’t and won’t be bothered by the dining concerns of others. I have heard chefs come up with all sorts of nick names for those unfortunates with these ailments. Cross contamination being an issue as well. Like, slicing bread on a cutting board where the gluten-free salad is being prepared.

…some restaurant chefs are becoming more aware of this new issue…

Having been on the back side of a kitchen for many years, I have seen the passive attitudes when it comes to allergies and intolerances far too often. I think that some may think that the food-related issues are not real or that they are just trying to impress their friends. Well, having had to administer an epi-pen to a teenager that accidentally ate a little peanut butter, I can assure you that, in this situation, the allergy can be life threatening.

Image courtesy of qimono

As these issues become more prevalent, I believe that taking care of these diners has to be part of training from the top. It has to be more than nick-names or grumbling under our breath that they shouldn’t eat here if they were that worried about getting sick with something. Yes, all that it easy to say, but everyone should have the right to dine out. Besides, if we were to have everyone that has some sort of food issue stay home, we would lose a lot of potential sales! Think about THAT for a minute!

…everyone should have the right to dine out…

Scientifically and medically, this is a huge deal. I found this interesting study that discussed the percentage of people that have food allergies and it’s a staggering number; “Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom. About 30 percent of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.”

Image courtesy of Kurious

Having a food allergy is similar to having diabetes; one has to be careful what they eat, pay attention to labels, and never stop being vigilant. No chef would ever fault anyone for having to maintain their blood sugar.

So, what is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance, you might ask? Well, an allergy is an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. For example, someone with a severe peanut allergy could go into anaphylactic shock and die if untreated.

Image courtesy of geralt

In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems. If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. You may also be able to prevent a reaction. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills (Lactaid) to aid digestion.

Most chefs take great pride in going the extra step no matter what.

As chefs, why would we NOT want to take extra care with these concerns? Any respectable chef would never serve spoiled meat. Spoiled meat would sicken everyone that ate it! Why would we not take food-related conditions as seriously as that? Most chefs take great pride in going the extra step no matter what. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples that could care less and they spoil it for the rest of us. This sort of thing is NOT trendy and is as serious as it should be.

As professionals, we are obligated to take any sort of issue like this to heart and save our grumbly comments for the ones that like their sauce on the side, no dressing or well done steaks.