Google+ Allergy-Free Vintage Cookery: How Do You Handle People Who Don't "Get" Food Allergies?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Do You Handle People Who Don't "Get" Food Allergies?

Ken Barnett and his mother Hattie Kloss Barnett

'Tis the season again!  No, not that one.  I mean the season where we food allergy sufferers get together with long-lost relatives who want so much to feed us things we can't eat, and don't understand why we won't eat them.

When I first started writing this blog, I posted several entries that explained food allergies in simple terms. I was hoping that our friends and neighbors would read these, commit them to memory, and never ask me what we could eat again.  Ha!  If life was that simple, psychiatrists would never work again.

Unfortunately, people to whom I've explained food allergies and food sensitivities to in detail have been acting like they never heard a word I said.  Apparently, my voice sounds like all the adults in the Charlie Brown movies -- wah wah wah-wah wah wah-wah.  (You get what I'm trying to do there, right?  It's that funny trumpet sound that replaces all the words an adult might say?  Ok, now you can think about that piano riff ...)

Guests bring cheese and crackers over for a party, despite the fact that we can't eat dairy or gluten.  Teachers offer our kids donuts and candy in school, even though they've seen the email listing all the allergens (like corn syrup).  Moms on the soccer team bring fruit roll-ups for snack, but the kids can't eat apples or grapes.

Despite the fact that I'm whining about feeling like our needs aren't being taken seriously, I very rarely say anything to these people directly.  I hate spoiling a good time, and I hate being seen as high maintenance, so I usually smile politely and just eat something else (or whisper to the kids that I'll get them something when we get home.)

Part of the problem is that our allergies aren't simple or common.  Most people understand the seriousness of a peanut allergy, and are careful about offering peanut-free foods if they can.  Our allergies are of the non-anaphylactic kind, which tends to make people think we can make exceptions to our food rules if we want to.  And that's true, we can get away with eating certain foods occasionally because our symptoms aren't life-threatening.  That's not to say that they're not uncomfortable, and we wouldn't prefer to avoid dealing with them when we can. (Think stomach ache, migraine, itchy rashes, diarrhea, etc.)

Also, we're allergic to odd foodstuffs like carrots, pears, cashews, strawberries and bananas -- things that most people view as healthy and wonderful.  When my son was in first grade, he was choosing items from a buffet in his classroom.  Most were dessert items, but there was a bit of fruit and cheese as well.  A well-meaning mom who didn't know him put some cheese on his plate, thinking she was giving him something healthy to balance out the sugary things he had chosen.  He was old enough to know he wasn't supposed to eat the cheese, but he ate it anyway because an adult had given it to him.  It's that kind of thing that's the hardest to deal with -- people who are trying to be nice.

Beyond that, though, I'm starting to get really aggravated with people who understand full well that we can't eat certain things, but choose not to go out of their way to make sure they have the appropriate stuff to offer us.  I just don't get it.

Now the holidays are here, and it's time to eat potluck at relatives' houses again.  How are you feeling about that?  (sigh)  I'm kind of feeling invisible (not because of my relatives - just in general).   Is it that people just don't understand and don't want to ask?  I am kind of at a loss.

What do you do on holidays when you must deal with people who don't "get" food allergies?  I'd love to hear your stories.

Shared with Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Gluten Free Wednesday at the Gluten Free Homemaker and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist and Traditional Tuesday at Whole New Mom and Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager and the Gallery of Favorites at Premeditated Leftovers. 


  1. Only three months ago I was diagnosed Coeliac and Lactose intolerant. I've already had huge problems trying to figure out what I can/can't eat and faced the first family gathering problems last weekend. It was awful, my grandparents friends, who I love dearly, are all in their 80's and can't figure out why all of a sudden I won't eat the same scones with cream they've fed me my whole life.
    Then, because I love 19 kilos whilst waiting for diagnosis, they accuse me of being on a silly diet and claim 'it's all in my head'. The girls at work bring in snacks and constantly say 'oh a little bit wont hurt you, you're not even allergic'.
    Right, I don't end up in hospital, but I'll spend the next 48 hours doubled over in pain and running to the toilet.. so a piece of apple cake just isn't worth it. Heading into the holiday season I'm sure it will only be worse.. I'm hoping a lot of your other readers post helpful tips because I'm at a loss.

  2. Oh, Kate... that sounds so familiar! I think it's the sudden change in eating habits that throws people off... they'll say "well, I never saw you get sick before and you ate that all the time!" Except polite girls don't whine about how their stomachs feel :) I try NOT to give people the gory details of my intestinal issues! As I mentioned in my post, I don't have the right personality to fight with people on a daily basis about why I won't eat certain things... I just go without eating and smile tightly while silently cursing them :) Thanks so much for commenting ... can't wait to see what else people have to say!

  3. My head almost fell off because of constantly "nodding" in agreement while reading your blog. Man, or should I say "woman", I CAN relate. I have told people dozens of times that I cannot have gluten and dairy and they look at me as if they were looking right through me and didn't hear a word I said. Their eyes looked as if they had eaten a dozen glazed donuts--wide and empty. I don't talk about it anymore, I don't remind them anymore, I just pack my snacks and meals everywhere I go and if it is a potluck, I take things I know I can eat and put it on the table. If I don't say anything they never know it's gluten and/or dairy free. The last time a certain person in my husband's family was "listening", (listening but NOT hearing) to what I couldn't eat, she ask as if in total frustration, "what CAN you eat?!!!" (and she didn't sound sympathetic at all). She really wasn't asking to know, she was being critical. Now that her husband is gluten intolerate, she fixes all kinds of things for him, but NEVER fixed anything for me. I'm like you, what's wrong with people. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Gina - I know that look! I try to be sympathetic and assume that it's a lot for some people to process all at once, but really... these people aren't stupid. If they wanted to understand, they could kick that brain into gear and do wonderful things. Thanks for commenting - it helps me not feel like I'm the only one!!

  5. I tend to be a devil's advocate. My husband HATES that about me sometimes. IF I give people the benefit of the doubt, I assume that they are just totally overwhelmed by cooking with things unfamiliar to them, not because they are trying to slight me. Not everyone is a genius in the kitchen as us! (;
    But then there is the other side of my brain. The side that registers all the eye rolls, the raised eyebrows, the critical looks. i could just chalk it up to me reading too much into things...but somehow I don't feel like I am doing that now. I have actually had people inform me they "are worried about all the things I don't give my children," as if all the healthy foods I bend over backwards EVERY SINGLE DAY to serve my them are somehow inferior to the processed junk they want me to feed them. Sometimes I wish the allergy WAS more black and white...then people might take me more seriously and not treat me like I am an idiot. I think one thing we can do is this: vent with each other. Knowing you are not alone is such a relieving/comforting feeling. The next is to educate those who are interested. If they are point in touting or wasting your breath, as all your stories have read. The next is - inspire. I try to do that with my blog, I know I have helped many finally take the plunge they have wanted to for so long. Finally - be forgiving. People don't mean to be pains in the ass...but it is in our nature to be critical of things that we do not understand. I try to live this, and sometimes I do great, others miserably. But with my cyber allergy mom support group, I plug on and feel supported.

  6. Tessa - I've even had those conversations with nurses at our pediatrician's office about how my children need milk (my turn to roll eyes). So many people are convinced that what they know about food and nutrition is the end of the story. Where is everyone else's flexibility and sensitivity? Thanks for the positive reinforcement, and I love your blog by the way :) Your GF stuffing is in my oven right this minute! (Cooking all day today to bring food to the relatives tomorrow.)

  7. I have been in a lot of the same situations and it sure can be aggravating! The hardest is when friends invite us over to dinner and they make a nice meal (attempting to be g-free) and I immediately notice the chicken they cooked is coated in flour. Or the chicken stock is not a g-free brand. I don't want to seem "picky" so I just eat it. My mom says I'm too nice and should just be honest! I also don't like to bring up that I'm g-free because then it sparks a never-ending conversation on all the foods that I cannot eat (and *gasp* I eat rice pasta, how gross! LoL). When that happens I really try to tell those people that my way of eating is just as yummy and totally worth not having huge stomach problems!

    Good luck with Thanksgiving tomorrow! I also find bringing my own snacks/ food is the best way to ensure I don't starve at functions!

  8. I know, some people definitely aren't very sensitive. I TRY to be more understanding and and gracious than them...karma, right? i don;t always do so well though...i have to say corporate food conglomerates have done a fantabulous job of brainwashing the vast majority of Americans into what is considered 'good for you' I really hate the politics behind should be about being healthy and taking care of yourself...not about earning $$ at whatever cost to national health which is the current standard. I toasted my bread cubes yesterday...stuffing prepped! Onto pie and cranberries today...

  9. Michelle -- I like rice pasta! :) At first I thought I'd starve because I wasn't used to the "weird" stuff like quinoa and sorghum flour and unflavored gelatin. Where do you even get that stuff? But now I actually prefer my allergy-free recipes over my old recipes (now that I worked out the bugs of learning how to cook all over again!) I know what to do with flax meal and I like agave and I SO LOVE not feeling sick after every meal!! I'm kind of coming to terms with the fact that people see me as extremely controlling because I bring my own food... I guess I just need to live with that.

    Tessa -- Two words: granola bars! I used to think they were so healthy, but now I realize that in most cases they're little more than candy mixed with a "healthy" dose of hydrogenated oils, soy leftovers, and artificial flavors, colors and who knows what. I guess I subconsciously think, well if I could re-learn all this stuff about nutrition, everyone should too. But not everyone has the motivation I do to feel better. I think the saddest thing is when someone does have a health issue and still doesn't want to explore changing their diet. I had a friend (no longer) whose son had some clear food allergy symptoms, but she wouldn't eliminate his triggers because they were his favorite foods and she didn't want to upset him. "I couldn't take that away from him," was her comment. Well...... ok, if you say so. P.S. I sneaked a taste of the stuffing this afternoon and it's AWESOME! I almost had a whole plateful just for a snack :) Luckily, I was able to hide it in the fridge until we left for New York, and it made it here safely for tomorrow's dinner.

    Have a great holiday everyone! Good luck!!

  10. Yes...a lot of people I know even subscribe to the food intolerance idea, know they could benefit from eliminating certain food from their diet...but STILL don't do it. I really feel like they just feel so overwhelmed by feeding themselves and their family differently when it is a hard job no matter what you preparing. For our fast paced world, the easy button is the way to go. Kids are picky...,do they really want to fight that battle of taking away all the beloved foods? Society all around them tells them it's nonsense (although that seems to be changing) so they might choose to ignore that little nagging voice inside their head that tells them to investigate b/c it's EASIER.
    "My doctor just writes me my asthma I'll go with it!"
    "Well the steroids seems to calm the itching a little bit.....
    Those antacids are helping..I think...or maybe not...
    Fact is,majority of people aren't being told is how Western Medicine works..fix the symptom, not the underlying cause.
    I think blogs like ours will help loads of people take on the challenge of changing how they buy and prepare food. It's why we do this, right?! Make someone else's journey a bit easier. Happy Thanksgiving...I am so glad you liked the stuffing!

  11. AMEN!! To all of you! I get so frustrated with people. They make fun of my son and calling him healthy because I won't give him junk even if its Gluten Free. Its really frustrating to say that I am gluten free for my son. I have 3 heads when I tell others. At times I feel that people think I'm doing it for attention. Which is NOT the case. I just need to take the advice of the previous person and keep quiet and not put attention on myself. Not that I tell every and any person but I usually have to repeat I'm gluten free over and over because people forget every time I see them. I tell you, having a restricted diet is the worst thing ever as far as friends/family/people go. They just DO NOT understand where you are coming from and a lot of the times I just want to scream everything I just said :) Ok that feels wonderful to get out!!!!! Thank you for this post!

  12. Hello!

    I "stumbled" your blog and, wow, I'm glad to find you. My husband is allergic to numerous foods and additives, with yeast being the most prominent allergy since we can't eat most convenience foods as a result. I make most of our meals from scratch. He's also allergic to all nuts and wheat. The list goes on.

    I'm looking forward to reading more. Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. Forgot to mention, I became a member and added you to my Google reader so I won't miss a post!


  14. Oh. My. Gosh. I get that - totally! I have only one friend that understands and brings things like rice crackers. Other than that, I am ALWAYS invited to pizza parties and cake events where there truly is nothing I can eat. Usually, when I try to explain it, I am looked at as if I have a third eye.
    In addition, not even because of allergies, I usually don't let my children have any of the junk ("fruit" snacks) at homes we visit frequently and I am consistently told how I am screwing my children up by not letting them eat like the other children.
    I wish we (all who have commented here) were neighbors! Life would be so much easier!

  15. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. My French husband has had to give up many traditional French foods since being diagnosed with celiac earlier this year. He finds it difficult to socalize at times when others do not understand how serious it is if he just eats a baguette or something is cross-contaminated.

    I am so grateful to have found a community in the blogging world to relate to and help him adjust as well :)

  16. Thank you so much for this post!!! I felt like I was all alone on thanksgiving. I was thrilled to cook in my own home, and make a meal that was fully "safe" for me to eat and without worry of cross-contamination. Sure enough, our guests brought several dishes over, none of which I could eat!! For years my mother and I would spend time making things that were safe for them - making seperate dishes of potatoes and leaving out the garlic and milk to accomadate their intolerances.
    We go out of our way to accomadate them - always. Yet, with my allergies and intolerances, they could care less. I just want the same respect that I show when I cook for them. And if you are going to bring something to our house, call me and ask what is safe to make that I could eat also!!

  17. I am so glad I found you!!!!!
    my 5 year old daughter has severe food allergies to many foods. Cooking has been a challenge but we get by. for the most part, we make just about everything she eats and we pack and bring food when we go to other peoples houses. She is very use to watching people eating foods she cannot eat.I understand that will be a fact of life for her. But it drives me CRAZY when we invite people (including relatives) over to our home and they bring foods to our home that our daughter is extremely allergic to just because they want them. Or they will give our other children foods, in our home, that could pose an airborn allergy threat to our daughter. Seriously concerned about how self centered people have become. My husband and I work very hard to keep our daughter safe and our family and friends are not very understanding. Alot of times it just seems easier to stay away.

    Wow!!! that felt good to vent- thanks

  18. uh huh. yep. Bless!

  19. Amen and Hallelujah to everything said here. I've been dealing with this for 30 years and I give up. I'm tired of baking things for other people I can't eat. I'm tired of sitting watching other people eat. I'm tired of people telling me how silly I am for checking ingredients or being told to 'trust them, they checked' only to find out later I just poisoned myself. Again. I finally gave up going out to dinner with friends and family because as nice as they think they're being to invite me, having to sit there watching them consume everything I can't all the while being urged to have some of this is torture. If after 30 years they still have to be told, still think I'm just wanting attention, well they can go right on ahead. I may be unhappy or lonely to be so disregarded and disrespected but I'll safer on my own. I'll not be sitting meekly by and smiling all the while as I suffer criticism and rejection from people who are supposed to love me because I wouldn't want to upset THEM! You know what? If you let people walk all over you and act like a doormat, they come to believe you're a doormat. Well if my attitude displeases them at least we'll be on an even playing field. Thank you so much for letting me vent. That felt incredibly wonderful!