The Stress-Free Guide to Allergies and Intolerances is fast becoming the bestselling book in The Inspired Table store. This is an extract from one of my favourite chapters.
One of the key stresses surrounding people’s relationship with food, is the ability to relax and enjoy themselves in social situations. Whether it’s because you’re a fussy eater, a strict dieter or because you suffer severe allergic reactions to certain ingredients the measure of stress doesn’t discriminate.
Here’s a simple set of tips to make socialising and eating out a stress-free experience:
1. Own it.
Often we think it’s easier to not talk about all of our idiosyncrasies, allergies included, but the truth is your allergy is not who you are, it doesn’t define you as a person, and therefore should not be something to be ashamed of. Owning it, naming it and being comfortable with the benefits of avoiding it, make it less taboo for you, and therefore less taboo for the people you’re dining with.
2. Don’t make it a ‘thing’.
As soon as you make it into a big deal, an imposition or a massive inconvenience people jump on board. It’s normal human behaviour. If you remain calm and nonchalant about the situation others will too. Really in essence, it’s no different than not liking the taste of a certain food.You wouldn’t condemn a friend for not drinking coffee if they despised the taste would you? Don’t expect your friends to do the same if you can’t tolerate dairy.
3. Peruse the menu before you arrive.
I have a habit of looking up the menu of a restaurant or cafe before I arrive. It’s a great way to work out your options beforehand, and it also takes the pressure and stress of the ‘unknown’ off the table.
4. Be inquisitive.
Allergies and intolerances are so commonplace these days that hospitality staff are trained to know what is in the food or at least able to ask the chefs. If you have a particularly tricky allergy then I always recommend calling ahead and warning them of your arrival.This will give them an opportunity to prepare something for you, or at the very least let you know that their venue is not suitable.
5. Suggest the location.
Once you find cafe’s and restaurants that suit your dietary requirements stick to them and suggest them when making plans with friends. Don’t make your life tricky by having to start from scratch every time you eat out.
6. What to bring if you’re told not to bring a thing.
If you’re going over to a friends place for dinner, let them know your dietary limitations and then offer to bring some food with you. If you’re worried that you’ll offend them, don’t be. Do you think they’d rather you arrive and then not eat any of the food they lovingly prepared for you? If they’re good friends they’ll accomodate.
If it’s a larger party with finger food, I always recommend eating before hand, and if you do find something that you think you can eat, ALWAYS check with the waitstaff first.
A caveat: if you suffer from a severe allergy that causes serious health issues it is important to be extra vigilant. Not only will you need to check the ingredients but you will also need to take into consideration cross-contamination from food handling, equipment and food to food contact.