Wednesday, March 3, 2010
My friend Katie is very allergic to all nuts and legumes, from peanuts, to sesame seeds, to anything with soy. She can't go into any Asian restaurant, because there's soy around there everywhere, and she had to get a special steak dinner at our friend's Indian wedding (seriously, steak at a Hindu wedding). She has to ask questions whenever she orders pancakes at brunch, because there is frequently nut flour in some of those multi-grain pancakes and as she has discovered, a Sunday morning trip to the emergency room isn't exactly the most relaxing beginning to a week. She also happens to really hate cilantro, and always tries to make sure that it's not in anything that she gets. However, do you know what she never does? She never claims to be allergic to cilantro to make sure that there isn't even a tiny leaf of it on her plate. Because she knows that you just should not lie about allergies just to make sure you get something that you don't like.
Every chef and restaurant cook I know say that they roll their eyes when they get a ticket that refers to an allergy, because they get so many people who are obviously lying about being allergic to something just because they don't like it. Like the people who claim to be allergic to corn and need to get the potatoes as a side, but are happily chowing down on the chips and salsa. Or those who say that they have a wheat allergy but are eating bread at the table. And then there are those vegetarians out there who think that it's perfectly fine to say that they have a egg allergy so that they won't accidentally get eggs that they don't want to eat. And of course, there are the crazy people who say that they are allergic to butter just because you're trying to stay frighteningly thin.
Do you know what all of this does? It just makes life more dangerous for people like my friend Katie, who actually does have a life threatening allergy.
When people go around lying like this, it does two things. First, it decreases the importance of an actual allergy, so that people don't take them particularly seriously. If a little chicken stock gets in the food of a vegetarian, they may be upset and mortified, but they won't have to go to the emergency room like my friend Beth would (poultry allergy, seriously). So if you believe someone who is lying about their poultry allergy, and then find out later that there was chicken stock in there, you may just assume that having an allergy is not a big deal, so the next time someone comes to your home who you're cooking for or your restaurant and says that they have a poultry allergy, you won't have to worry about that chicken stock that's in the risotto.
And even worse, it makes people assume that everyone who claims to have an allergy is just lying about it, or at least exaggerating. So they won't worry about the egg that's in that housemade aioli, or the pepitas ground into that delicious mole, because they assume that as long as you can't see it, or can't really taste it, you'll be okay. And sure, they'll learn their lesson as soon as someone goes into anaphylactic shock in their restaurant, but I'm sure that that person who it happens to won't enjoy being the one armed man to teach that person a lesson.
So the next time you are thinking about explaining to your waiter that you have an asparagus allergy, just so that you won't have to deal with that asparagus pee, just stop, think about that person who will break out in violent hives at the table before even getting a chance to pee, and don't do it.