‘Fake’ Food Allergies Drive me Nuts!

I have worked in restaurants on and off for 30 years.  In my early days, I never remember hearing about any food allergies.  Yet latterly, almost every single table I would serve would have someone sitting at it with some kind of food issue.  What’s going on??

According to my research, there are a number of reasons why there are so many more food allergies now than 40 years ago.  Among those reasons, the most prevalent I found were:

  1. Foreign substances in grocery store foods that haven’t been tested in North America,
  2. Plants (like soy and corn) are being genetically engineered to withstand massive doses of weed killer, and
  3. Genetically engineered growth hormones used on animals to improve milk or meat production.


But that’s not really the topic of this post.  I’m not writing about the reasons why someone is allergic to a certain food.  I get that and respect that.

On the contrary,  I’m venting about people’s constant and deliberate over-use of the word ‘allergy’.  I have sooooo many examples of this, but here are a couple that will really get my pet peeve across.

I catered a wedding once for about 125 guests.  We were told ahead of time that there was a lady with a severe dairy allergy coming to the reception.

The chefs prepared her a special meal ahead of time that did not include the stuffing in the chicken breast since that contained cheese.  Instead she was prepared an unstuffed chicken breast with a different sauce.

The chefs also went out of their way to make her an individual salad with a special vinaigrette dressing since she could not eat the Caesar salad that everyone else received.  The chefs even brought a non-dairy ‘butter’ just for her rolls before dinner.

They also prepared a lovely fruit plate for her dessert since she wouldn’t be able to eat the cheesecake. This is all in their line of work, and they are all too happy and accommodating to do this for guests with allergies; it’s part of their job.

All the servers and the managers were put on alert about this allergy and were shown where the lady was seated.  It was all taken very seriously and treated with utmost caution and respect.

Everything went smoothly and I checked her table with every course to make sure she received the proper meal.

When the desserts were served to her table, I was still on the far side of the venue talking with the bride.  By the time I made it over to check on this lady’s dessert, I saw the beautiful fruit platter sitting in front of the guest beside her, and she had taken a couple of bites of the cheesecake.

I was absolutely horrified!  Did she think this was a special dairy-free cheesecake we made for her??

I quickly interrupted her as delicately as I could to let her know that the cheesecake did, in fact, contain dairy.  She calmly turned to me and said, “Oh it’s OK.  A little bit of dairy won’t bother me.  I just couldn’t resist having this cheesecake.  I gave the fruit to my boyfriend.”

Seriously???  People, Don’t. Do. That!!!  She had the entire building on anaphylactic allergy alert, and her ‘allergy’ was only something that might ‘upset her tummy a bit if she had too much’??!!

How much dairy did she think was in that cheesecake??!!  It’s completely MADE of dairy.  That’s not a “little bit” of dairy, Sweetheart!!!

I was not pleased, and neither were the chefs.

I’ve also served guests who have told me they were celiac (which is not just an aversion to gluten, but a full-blown inability to digest and metabolize it), but then they’ve ordered a regular beer!!!

Beer is made from wheat!  Wheat is where gluten comes from.  Whah???

Again, if it’s only an aversion to a certain food, then please tell that to the people who are serving you.

Guests need to understand how the kitchen and servers take many extra steps to accommodate an allergy.  If it’s not an actual allergy and the chefs and servers don’t actually need to scrub down their equipment, wear special gloves and jump through hoops before and while preparing your meal, then PLEASE don’t call it an allergy!!

Kathleen Bolton

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