put your money where your mouth is
This is a real sign that is really hanging outside an ice cream shop in Woods Hole, MA. Every summer we stay in this quaint little Cape Cod village where my husband grew up and spend long sunny days with friends and family. Many things have not changed since my husband was a kid here, including the Candy Go Nuts shop, a little place that serves ice cream and bulk candy. But this sign is new. I noticed it last year for the first time. My heart sank a little more as I saw another door slam in the face of my food allergic daughter and our family. Not even welcome to walk inside.
Of course it also happens to be the place where all the kids hang out. Anyone with a serious food allergy, particularly to nuts, peanuts, or dairy, is probably not going to be too comfortable in this shop, based on its name alone. That's a no brainer. But my daughter always finds some wrapped candy or gum that is safe for her so she can be with her friends. But now it's just different. This sign tells me that customers with food allergies are not worth their time and effort. That they don't even want them inside. This sign is a big "FU" from this shop. Some might suggest that the sign is ok because it's better to know upfront an establishment cannot safely accommodate allergic customers. True, but sometimes it's not what you say it's how you say it.
When it comes to food allergies, the world can seem split between those who get it and those who do not. Schools are either nut free or the allergic kids get isolated to a special table at lunchtime or even worse face food allergy bullies. Airlines either embrace allergic customers by making announcements and not serving nuts or peanuts, or they mock us and kick us off planes. Restaurants either work with the customers to create safe meals and an environment of communication and training, or they slap a disclaimer on the menu and throw their hands in the air. Even family and friends get divvied up between those who will put some effort into accommodating your allergies because they love you and want you to be safe, and those who just want their pbj's where and when they want it.
We all have choices to make. When we use our wallets we can support those who work with us to keep everyone safe, and choose to not support those who don't. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), "Researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. That's one in 13 children."
This tells me that we are a loyal and discriminating group. When looking at these numbers, make sure to multiply to include family members. Over 100 million strong is enough to make an economic impact. Lianne Mandelbaum, founder of No Nut Traveler and tireless advocate for safe airline travel for food allergic individuals, says it so well. "Those airlines that do it right will reap the economic benefit of a customer base that is loyal and repeat in a world full of choices."
Substitute airline with restaurant or school and you can see how the purchasing choices we make can have a financial effect on many types of businesses. And it works both ways - some establishments could lose customers, but some could also gain a repeat, loyal customer base. It's time we put our money where our mouths are (or are not as the case may be) and stop patronizing businesses who don't want to put the effort into keeping us safe and retaining our business.
I wonder how my daughter feels when she is told not to even come inside Candy Go Nuts with her friends. I sure know how it makes me feel. I guess after a while allergic kids get used to being excluded. I wish this were different but for now, this is how it just is. Maybe they could have phrased it differently, Maybe they could do what many ice cream shops have done which is evolve and welcome allergic customers with a dedicated soft serve station or clean scoop policy. But they don't. And for that reason, I'm taking Lianne's advice and using my wallet to support businesses who support food allergy customers and their safety. And we'll be getting our ice cream and candy elsewhere.
pouring milk on the grill ... and other chefs' hacks that could be a problem for food allergic diners
I just googled "pouring milk on grill flames" and found nothing. Yet the chef I work with is confident it is the best way to address grill flare ups. Last week we had a big bbq where I work. With our well respected chef at the grill, we all looked forward to a gourmet feast. We even had a choice between her homemade veggie burgers and cheeseburgers. But why was milk poured over the grill from time to time?
Using milk on the grill might be a great kitchen hack. But for someone with an allergy to milk, this is the kind of unregulated and unreported food allergen use that might not get conveyed from chef to kitchen to waitstaff to customer. My food allergy red flag went way up. A dairy allergic diner wanting a burger with no cheese is expecting exactly that. But this off the radar cooking technique adds milk to a cooking surface that is supposed to promise a dairy free burger to someone who wants one.
This is why I stress continually that communication is essential. When you or your FA child goes out to eat, think of this as a team effort. You are trusting your server with your life - ask questions. Have them ask questions in the back of the house if they don't know the answer. Ask if they use milk on the grill. If the kitchen staff doesn't know you have a dairy allergy they won't think twice about serving you that burger. But if you stress your daily allergy to your server, or make a note in your Open Table reservation, it will be more likely to be communicated fully to the kitchen and more likely that dousing the grill with milk will be flagged and a burger will be prepared at a separate station.
Speak up and don't be embarrassed to ask questions. Trust me, your server, chef and restaurant owner want you have have a safe and enjoyable experience at their restaurant!