Food Allergy Rights

One of the hardest things about dealing with food allergies is going to restaurants. I can control and monitor what my daughter eats at home, but who knows what’s going on in a restaurant kitchen?
The servers certainly don’t!

Fortunately, my little Abigail is still, well, little, so it’s not yet as hard as it could be. One recent situation illustrated how difficult this may soon become. Abigail loves to try new foods, and will eat anything I’m eating. Even at our dinner table she wants to sit on my lap so she can grab whatever is on my plate–the buttered bread perhaps, or maybe a handful of that delicious looking salad coated in ranch dressing? 

We spent the weekend at the lake and had a great time. We did a lot of this:

Our favorite thing to do after a day at the lake is get one of LaBeau’s famous raspberry shakes. Well, they are famous for their raspberry shakes, but I don’t think anyone got one of those. We settled for more mature versions such as Mint Oreo or Cookie Dough. Anyway, it’s a tradition I insist on maintaining. 
{Mostly because there is ice cream involved.}

Here’s a question: how do you take your 15 month old baby to get shakes for everyone when 
she can’t eat ice cream?

As I’ve said before, she loves to be eating what I’m eating. I can’t exactly hand her an animal cracker and call that a substitute for a shake, now can I? Babies are smarter than that!

Here’s a trick for your favorite non-dairy baby:

Yeah, really! This probably wouldn’t work with say, a recently diagnosed six year old, but for a baby who doesn’t know the difference? A smooshed banana looks like ice cream!
In fact, this is a Weight Watchers trick. Cube a banana, freeze it, and puree. Just like ice cream!
(I know, you’re not buying it. But supposedly it’s better than… not eating ice cream?)

Because of the large amount of kids swarming around the window to order at LaBeau’s, I requested via my mother a banana for my baby. An ice cream store has got to have banana’s, right?

I sat down, and she came back with–no banana. They would not sell her one
Say what now?
They told her there was a market not too far that she could purchase some bananas, but they were almost out and couldn’t sell her any.
Say what now?

Picture me, not exactly irate, but my momma bear fur has definitely been ruffled. 
My mom says we can just go get some bananas. 

Uh no. I don’t think so.

I went to the window and spoke with the girl who had talked to my mom. She explained the situation–they only had a few bananas on hand and couldn’t sell one to me.
After going back and forth for a moment she requested I speak with the manager. 
I’d love to.

The manager introduces herself; she’s apparently the owner.
Great. I want a banana.
She again explains that they only have a few bananas left, and need to be open till 10 p.m.
I ask her what I’m supposed to feed my egg-dairy-almond allergic daughter.
She looks flustered. I kindly (but firmly) explain that LaBeau’s is a family tradition and one I’d like to carry on with my family. I brought my daughter, who has food allergies, and I’d like her to be part of this family tradition. I want to feed her a banana while we eat the ice cream we’ve ordered. 

Owner: Well, we’d have to go down to the KOA and buy more bananas.
Me: Okay.
Owner: So you want a banana?
Me: Yes. I want a banana.
Owner: Well… I don’t even know what I’d charge. I’ve never sold just a banana before.

She spent a few minutes calculating. I offered to pay her a dollar for the banana (I understand the inconvenience I was causing, really), but after thinking for a moment, she charged me only $.15 for that much disputed banana.

Why do I bring this up?
Sometimes, when we have a child with food allergies, it’s up to us to make sure their needs are met. While it’s in a restaurant’s best overall interests to make things as allergy-friendly as possible upon request, they certainly don’t have to. A server is (almost always) completely unaware of what food contains what allergens. As parents, we must be the person not only checking to make sure the food is safe for their consumption but sometimes we must be the ones to demand it.

By nature I’m not a confrontational person. I hate fighting and I am uncomfortable with arguing. However, when it comes to my children, I’m much more assertive. I like the idea of giving your server allergy information cards to show the chef, but they apply to more severe allergies than Abigail has (fortunately!). I wonder what happens when you hand your server a stack of these cards and say “avoid these?” 

One of your best defenses is a good offense. Go here or here to learn as much as you can about your child’s allergy. The more knowledgeable about those sneaky ingredients you need to avoid, the better you can explain your situation at the restaurant.

Massachusetts has made a great first step by requiring managers of food establishments to go through a food allergy course. Of course people who suffer from allergies are accountable for watching what they eat, but it’s nice going out knowing you’ll come home without a visit to the hospital first. :)

While national restaurant chains are becoming more and more accommodating to the situation, I wish labeling was required at restaurants the way it is when I buy a loaf of bread. At a glance, I can usually see whether or not the loaf contains milk or egg. It saves a lot of time from having to scan the list of ingredients for words like “casein” or “whey.” Why not a little symbol on the McDonald’s menu board for each of the most common trigger foods? At a glance, one could easily tell what foods to avoid.

I got these nifty little graphics from the Special Gourmet site. What’s neat about this site is on the home page you can enter your city and your allergies, and it comes up with a list of restaurants and more that are listed as “allergy friendly.” This list claims to be the largest global guide for special dietary concerns, which is probably true; however, it only came up with one restaurant in the Salt Lake City area. 

Okay. I’m officially done. I started this post hours ago, meaning to mention a quick little story about the bananas and look at the rant it’s turned it to! Forgive me. :)

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3 Responses to Food Allergy Rights

  1. reallifemormonwife says:

    Glad you. are more assertive than me, your mother. However I WAS a little rude and insistent. It definitely took the Mother Bear to get what Abigail needed.

  2. CreatorBri says:

    Great post, and great suggestion about requiring those symbols at restaurants.

    I don't think I knew about the site you linked to, Special Gourmets; their search system is pretty cool. It helped me discover a couple of gluten-free options I didn't know about!

    In some ways I imagine it would almost be easier, as a parent, if you were allergic to the same things as your baby. Doing the gluten-free thing with my sweetie (who has Celiac's disease, or gluten-intolerance) has made things a bit less complicated. Even though we still have to do all the research, read the labels for everything everytime we go to the store ('cause ingredients are always changing), get frustrated at restaurants, and skip out on foods we love, we also know that whatever's in our house is safe, and that we can always eat the same things wherever we are.

  3. MamaSarahCNP says:

    Eating out is really tricky. I have a 5, 3 and 18m old plus myself that deal with our allergies. Going off “peak” times and definitely speaking with the manager have been the key to our success. Yes, we do a lot of “complaining” but only for the betterment of the establishment. While we rarely go out (too many issues lately with cross-contamination), we still hold true to calling ahead, doing research, etc and making sure the server knows about our allergies. Communication is key! Good for you getting the banana!

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