Allergy alert

by Hannah Lank

There is perhaps no allergy more ‘classic’ than that of peanuts (and tree nuts).  Reminiscing on this allergy may in fact bring back memories of your elementary school education—perhaps you had an “allergy table,” or were prohibited from bringing your favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich to school.

The thing is, if you don’t have a nut allergy (or an allergy at all), you probably think of food allergies as little more than a blip in your childhood—if even that.  If you don’t have food allergies, you’ve never had to pass on cake at a birthday party, tell your waiter that you’re allergic to blank and hope they let the kitchen know, and always, always have an epinephrine auto-injectors on you.  But for me, these are just daily tasks.

The idea that a certain food—especially one that many people love, like peanut butter—could cause someone to die is a very difficult concept to comprehend.  I’ve been allergic to peanuts and tree nuts basically my entire life, since I was two.  If I ingest even a trace amount of one of my allergens, I will have an anaphylactic reaction requiring me to be rushed to the hospital and IV’d with epinephrine right away.  So you can imagine that eating out can often prove difficult.  

In a world where food trends are perhaps more prevalent than ever (“Can I get the gluten-free pasta instead of the whole-wheat kale one?”), it might surprise you to know that the world is not really, in fact, more of a nut-free place.

The problem is not that more foods contain nuts than ever before; it is simply that those that say “may contain” have not reduced in prevalence.  The most difficult thing about having food allergies is that so many food items, and restaurants too, are always wary to guarantee you that the meal or snack you will be served or buy will be 100% nut-free, even if it doesn’t explicitly contain nuts.

I am pretty confident knowing what usually contains nuts and what doesn’t.  Omelettes, for example, are usually safe (though I always tell my waiter to let the kitchen know about my allergy).  Nutella crêpes are not safe.  This sort of differentiation is not the problem.  The problem is when I want to go out for crêpes, but there is a jar of Nutella right beside the assembly station where my fruit crêpe is being made.  The possibility of cross-contamination—someone using the same knife, or not washing their hands, or some other way a dab of Nutella could get on my crêpe—is the real problem.

Nutella crêpes are the enemy

Until there is a cure for the nut allergy, I’ll forever have to maintain this level of awareness.  And the only real solution is avoidance.  But this doesn’t mean I can’t eat out—many restaurants are very careful about cross-contamination and have great policies in place.  I’ve never let my food allergies hold me back from anything, and I don’t plan to anytime soon!