Food allergies, faking it, and freedom?

There’s been two very poignant articles show up in my social media feeds in the last week – both relating to food allergies and intolerances.

In case you don’t know – I’m allergic to dairy for which I have to carry an epipen, and I have a gluten intolerance (medically diagnosed) that triggers IBS. The dairy allergy could kill me. The gluten intolerance just results in having to spend a day or two sticking very close to a bathroom – which can mean having to take time off work that I can ill afford.

Article 1: Why food allergy fakers need to stop. The crux of this article is that people are lying to restaurant staff about food allergies and intolerances due to the somewhat ridiculous explosion of people obsessing over the latest fad diet. People who neglect to realise that the genuine allergy sufferers and intolerant are suffering the consequences of those actions.

Article 2: Gluten free food is not healthier, but it costs more. The main point in this article is that nutritionally, gluten free food is no healthier (and is often unhealthier) than its regular counterpart. Obviously this is for those who don’t suffer from celiac disease or diagnosed gluten intolerance, for which gluten free food is medically necessary. And the fact that gluten free food is often twice as expensive as the regular version.

Firstly, going back to article 1, about food allergy fakers…I can’t emphasize enough how much of a problem that this has become for people with real allergies.

I’ve had ongoing issues for a number of years with not being taken seriously when I tell wait and kitchen staff in restaurants and cafes that I’m allergic to dairy.

From not being taken seriously because of cultural differences – yes, I know food is a valuable commodity in places where a not insignificant number of the locals are in poverty and are starving, but that doesn’t mean I should be ignored when I say “no, seriously, that will actually kill me“.

Then there’s the people who don’t take me seriously because it’s inconvenient and they simply don’t want to deal with the hassle, and lie to my face about what the ingredients are in a dish. Yes, yes, you can eat that. Then half an hour later I’m reaching for an epipen. If I can’t eat something, just tell me. I’d rather you tell me you can’t cater for my dietary restrictions rather than ending up in hospital. In the long run, it’s better to lose me as one customer than it would be to have me tear your establishment apart online for lying to me and causing me medical distress, causing you to lose significantly more business.

And then there are the increasing number of people who just simply don’t take you seriously because they think you’re faking it. Because of idiots like those mentioned in the article that lie about being gluten intolerant – and then order wheat beer and a regular burger. Or those who lie about being allergic to eggs, and then order an omelette for brunch – don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen. It’s seemingly become such a phenomenon, that kitchen staff are no longer taking people seriously when they say that they’re allergic to something, because they assume that they’re just lying about it. It’s happened to me a number of times over the years, and while it’s resulted in a few unfortunate situations, I’ve survived them. Others may not be so lucky. As an example, I have had it happen when I’ve ordered a veggie wrap in a cafe and they said they had gluten free (and vegan) wraps and I could get one for an extra $1, and they still used a regular wheat wrap. I spend the following 24 hours hugging the toilet. I went back and spoke with the cafe manager about it, and he actually said to my face that he didn’t think I was being serious, and that they didn’t actually have gluten free wraps available, they just told people that they did so that they wouldn’t leave and go spend their money somewhere else. The flipside of that of course, is that I make no secret of the fact that I will condemn these people to hell on social media over it. Accidents happen, and we can all accept that. But when it’s intentional? I’m going to call you out on it – loudly. While the number of people with genuine allergies and intolerances isn’t huge, the community has its ways of communicating with each other and warning others away from certain establishments.

Secondly, about gluten free food not being healthier, but more expensive? Well, obviously it’s healthier if you’ve actually got celiac disease or if you’re genuinely gluten intolerant. And yes, it’s more expensive. However, I think the authors of that article genuinely underestimate the price differential – particularly in Australia. I’ve discussed this in the past, but you can buy a regular sized loaf of generic white bread from the grocery store for $1. A half-sized loaf of gluten free bread will set you back at least $6.50. It adds up very quickly when you suddenly realise you can’t buy the generic brand cheap stuff anymore and you have to spend $7 on a bottle of salad dressing rather than the $2 you used to pay.

I find myself bemused with the number of people I know who declare themselves gluten intolerant, and then have to go grocery shopping, only to discover that the trolley of groceries that used to maybe cost $60 a week now costs more like $200. Now add on any additional food allergies, and you realise that you can’t even shop in the regular supermarket anymore and that you need to buy food from the organic food store, where the price goes up yet again…In all seriousness, a friend and I have done a cost comparison, both doing a shop at Coles (a large Australian supermarket – think Tesco (UK) or Trader Joe’s (US)), both buying more or less the same type of items, except mine had to be dairy and gluten free. What was a $35 trolley for my friend, was a $100 trolley for me. It’s amusing how many people are suddenly no longer allergic or intolerant to food about a month or so after their self-diagnosis when they realise that their increased food bills are there to stay. Most people seem to be prepared to pay it for a few weeks, and then suddenly it’s “too expensive”, and they miraculously are no longer allergic to anything. Well yes, it is too expensive, but how about you spare a thought for those of us who don’t have the luxury of choice in the matter?

Why would anyone put themselves through that unless they absolutely had to? I am not rich. I earn a half-decent salary, but if I could afford to cut my grocery bill by not having to buy specialist “health food” products, I would. I don’t get any kind of tax break for having a medical condition that by necessity requires me to buy these more expensive products. And with the number of people claiming fake gluten intolerance and fake allergies, all it’s done is push the price of these products through the roof because they’re now “popular health food products” that people are choosing to buy. Except for people like me, we don’t have that choice. We have to buy them, otherwise we end up spending days being sick, having to take time off work. Or we end up in hospital. Or dead. I shudder to think of how I’d cope if I was a low income earner who couldn’t actually afford to buy these things. My budget is stretched enough now as it is.

I don’t think people who lie about these intolerances and allergies really appreciate the very real effect that their actions are having on people with genuine dietary restrictions. From pushing up the prices of the allergen-free products up to the point where it’s almost unaffordable to those who don’t have a well paying full-time job. To the increasing rate of dining establishments who no longer seem to take declarations of food allergies or intolerances seriously (and in some cases, just flat out refusing to cater for dietary restrictions at all).

It makes you wonder how long it will be until someone ends up dying because a restaurant didn’t take a diner seriously when they said they were allergic to something. Because I have absolutely no doubt that it will happen.



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