The Day I Changed My Mindset When I Was Given Food I Was Allergic To
Here’s the thing… I have some pretty unfortunate allergies. I am allergic to nightshade, which consists of potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant. I started to have reactions when I was 17 and noticed it got worse while visiting family in Ireland while eating potatoes basically every day (they are so good how could I not).
We started going to all the doctors who were not as supportive as they could be. I was given that lovely skin prick test twice, and both times I reacted to 17/18 things I was tested on. The doctor basically said sucks to suck, but not as clearly. I was told I would have to live with it and to take Advil. This particular man failed me, a 17-year-old girl who was sick every time she ate and couldn’t figure out what was happening.
Thankfully I was surrounded by an amazing support system who got me back into finding out what was wrong and after many tests, elimination diets, and an enlightening chat with a bartender who had the same allergy as me (thanks girl) we narrowed it down to the nightshade family, which was a bit of a disaster because these were my favourite foods. I was 21 by the time we figured this all out. Even now when I type that out it baffles and saddens me that it took so long, and those were some pretty tough years, but that's not the point of today’s anecdote.
I have always had issues with having reactions while going out to eat, and this caused me to get a bit of anxiety because I was scared I would have a reaction, which led me to feel sick and therefore more vulnerable to thinking I was having a reaction. All in all, it was a vicious circle of not feeling great. The thing with my allergies is that they are not obvious, and often a hidden ingredient or a filler. It's unfortunate to say that going out for dinner became a nightmare, and when you are in your twenties all you want to do is go out for dinner with friends and not have to worry about where the bathrooms are in case you feel sick and don't even get me started on if I was going on a date…
Thankfully after years of having to deal with it, I became more confident in my abilities to suss out what foods were safe, and I was so careful and picky about where I would go out to eat. I often picked the same things and places because they were safe, I felt safe. We are also coming into a society of hyper-awareness about different dietary needs and preferences. More and more people are starting to look at their foods differently, less blindly, and the food industry has been following suit.
Let's fast forward to a few weeks ago when I went out to dinner with my boyfriend and his parents in their hometown in Scotland. The place looked amazing, and they had a separate vegan/vegetarian menu, which in my books is a huge bonus because I think its brilliant when restaurants support different lifestyles and diets. I examined the menu online prior to going in and was confident I was going to be able to get something I wasn't allergic to. This step is pretty crucial in my decision of where to eat because I need to know there are options for me, but it also decreases that anxiety because I’m already going in there with an idea of the menu. I have been able to go to restaurants and enjoy my time without any allergic reactions for a long time, but I had one of the worst reactions that night.
My interaction with the waiter was no different than my interactions with other waiters, I advised them of my allergies and asked them about certain dishes. Most of the time they go back to the cook to ask for verification and come to me with feedback. The waiter at this particular place took note and seemed confident in my choice and the substitutes I asked for, and I was happy with that.
Our starters came and I noticed there was a bit of tomato paste on the plate (which wasn’t noted on the menu as an ingredient), but I was able to eat around it so I let it go. The main course came, which is where it all when downhill. The salad came with peppers on it, and the brisket burger was saucy which was a huge red flag because I was nervous it was probably BBQ sauce (also not on the list of ingredients). After a few bites I was confident it was BBQ sauce, which contains tomatoes, and on top of that once I opened the burger there was a sliced tomato on the burger.
At this point, I was mortified because I could feel the heat on my face, which is a preamble to me having an allergic reaction. My boyfriend noticed right away that my demeanour was changing. I was already trying to act cool in front of his parents but now I had to handle this situation on top of it… brilliant.
The waiter came and noticed the tomato and grabbed my plate saying he will bring me a new one and was off before I could stop him to ask about the sauce. This is where I failed myself. I was too shy to speak up in front of the company I was in. If I were with friends I would’ve had a bit more of a voice, but I didn't want to cause a scene… I regret that thought process because my health is the most important thing and if you need questions answered, you ask those questions!
About 10 minutes later I was running in and out of the bathroom sick and spent the rest of the evening in a similar state. If it were eggplant the reaction would have been much worse and probably including a visit to the hospital.
That night I was in my usual state of fury and self-pity because I felt like I couldn't trust anyone, and the staff didn’t have my best interest at heart, etc. The next morning, however, I had a very new and refreshing outlook: I can help this place do better. I emailed them and asked the owner to contact me and left my number. Later that day I got a call from the owner and I was in a really positive headspace to talk to him. I told him right off the bat that no one was to blame, but everyone was to blame and I wanted to have a discussion about how having a horrible evening could become something positive for the both of us.
I was so sick of having my allergic reactions be a negative thing in my life, and I needed a positive ripple effect. It may be a bit selfish, but I think it worked out for all parties involved. We had a very positive discussion about what can be done and how to make his business a safer place for everyone by providing more training on menus, and ingredients. I was invited to return to the restaurant and plan on doing so, and putting some trust in a fellow human.
This incident did, sadly, spark anew the anxiety of eating out and I have yet to recover from it, but I will. I will no longer shy away from asking questions and making sure that I am putting my health first. I encourage you all to do the same in whichever situation you find yourself. I would also say to stay positive, because that's where the healing starts. We are failing ourselves if we shy away or ignore that gut instinct (the gut always knows), be strong and take ownership over your wellbeing!
With happy vibes,