Allergy, intolerance, dislike, avoid… what’s the difference?

Today I read a long but very good article from the NYT on the ball of crazy that is surrounding real actual allergies and diseases like Celiac.  I am glad to read that the leaders of the movements that were advocating for disclosures and respect for actual problems are a bit aghast at how far and fast their legitimate movement turned into a 900lb gorilla, except with less charm…

I grew up with a friend with some pretty extreme allergies but none are life threatening.  I also knew one adult with actual life-threatening allergies that are so real she didn’t attend my wedding (or my sisters) because the location was on the water and she can’t even smell seafood without a reaction.  When all my kids passed the food tests I cheered because I’m so glad they would not have that extra worry (and neither would I) and when they inevitably make friends with someone with an allergy I’m forced to take the word of the parent and believe that it is potentially life ending and at least will make them sick.

In the article I like that they stress that they WANT to know your preferences but calling it an allergy brings it to a whole new level.  Same with me, I don’t ever want to even serve my friends food that they don’t like, much less could hurt them – but when I had a real allergy I was working with I doubled my dishes rather than just no adding cheese to hers.

I absolutely agree that people are taking the gluten free thing to a crazy level.  Why gluten?  Why not lactose?  I would far prefer a restaurant with a fat section of food all dairy free….  I’m not allergic, I’m only on the bare end of intolerant because I can eat a little cheese etc.  My real issue is with fat.  I have no idea what ‘condition’ I may or may not have because when I asked the Dr why higher fat foods made me puke he just said “I don’t know, its healthier if you avoid them anyway”.   He really was a good Dr, it honestly does not matter if it has a name and I am probably more healthy for avoiding cheese, cream based soups, high-fat meat products etc.  If I eat it, I know what I’m in for and it isn’t death.  At restaurants I do get made fun of for asking tons of questions and asking for this or that on the side but recently I’ve gotten less grief from the server and maybe it is because I’m not insisting it’s an allergy, I’m saying I prefer it without cheese…  Good to know that the same behavior that was considered pretentious and annoying in the past is now viewed as considerate to the chef/crew and nowhere near the crazy finish line.

I do have something of an allergy to bee stings latex and cranberries but I don’t think I would die with any and aside from asking (about the cranberries, usually bees/latex are not on the menu) I can tell if it has any in it from an warning tingle in my mouth.  Juices are usually the worst so I just drink water 99% of the time.  Just like my Dr said, better for me anyway…

But – just like the unconscious pompous overscheduling I sometimes hear myself listing way too many things I try to avoid for general health reasons.  My grocery shopping has a ton of label reading to avoid things like High Fructose corn syrup, Hydrogenated oil, and bleached flour.  You would not believe how hard it is to avoid them!  Luckily most restaurants that cook on site also avoid them so eating out is sometimes easier than buying convenience foods.  Again, none of them will kill me in small doses so I don’t stress out about an occasion but I do try and make my day-to-day more healthy.

I hope that in 5 years things mellow again but not slip past the good point where allergies and intolerances are respected.  The bottom line of the article is more or less use the word ALLERGY carefully and respectfully and if you find yourself self-diagnosing ‘gluten free’ maybe you should look at what you are cutting out and noting if it happens to be McDonalds and mass produced coffeecake full of chemicals that you can’t pronounce…

ps.  I do however get a kick out of the enterprising marketing team who advertise gluten free vodka 😉


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