When Hana Fralati developed a nut allergy in her late teens she thought it marked the end of her carefree days of eating out. Filled with anxiety and embarrassment her foodie future looked bleak. However, Hana explains how she feels recent educational efforts aimed at restaurants and staff are making for a more positive dining experience.
In my late teens I suddenly developed an allergy to nuts. The first time I realised I had a nut allergy I was being ‘blue lighted’ to hospital from my student halls of residence – not ideal for the street cred! It was a bit of a shock to the system but since then I have been fairly successful at managing my own allergy with, fortunately, only the occasional blip. I am a keen home cook, so I found it really easy to eliminate the use of any ingredients that were going to find me reaching for my Epi-pen.
Running the dining out gauntlet
Eating out at a restaurant however, a different experience entirely. It used to fill me with embarrassment and dread every time I ate out. Picture the scene; a group of friends all out for a nice meal together, each one politely placing their order with the waiting staff as they go around the table. I begin to feel envious of the careless abandon at which people are making their choices. Simply any dish which takes their fancy on a whim. But more than anything, I begin to feel the shrinking self-consciousness as it’s nearing my turn. I know I am going to have to be the awkward one! I explain my allergy to nuts including all nut oils and any foods which may have been in close contact with nuts and before my pre-rehearsed spiel leaves my mouth, I can already see the waiter gloss over. ‘Another one of these fussy fastidious nit-pickers`. Public perception seems to be that allergies are a new trend made by people looking to seek attention.’ The eyes roll and he asks me, “are you actually allergic or do you just not like them?”. “What would happen if you ate them?” By the time our interaction is over, so much time has passed that my friends have turned their backs to me and are deep in separate conversations. I am on the outside from the onset. It’s uncomfortable at best, downright mortifying at worst. For years this was the general treatment I received. Constantly having to explain and justify my desire to consume a meal with a reduced likelihood of resulting in hospitalisation. Hardly a diva demand. I mean, am I nuts?
Dawn of a new era
I am delighted to say that things are changing. Over the past three years I have marked a real switch in attitudes. Waiting staff appear much more informed about food allergies and are armed with the information to support customers in making informed and safe choices. Only last week a friendly and accommodating waitress in Wagamama’s dashed off at the mere mention of my allergy, returning with an iPad loaded up with the allergy information for each dish they serve. I was impressed to say the least. It took all the embarrassment out of the situation and let me know that I am not alone.
It’s gratifying to see that things are improving massively within the catering and hospitality field. Education surrounding food allergies is better than ever and ultimately accountability for providing safe meals to customers is falling on the shoulders of these establishments.
Here’s to many more dates, dinners and shindigs without the need to ‘wave my Epi-pen in the air like I just don’t care!’
Hana Fralati is an avid home cook and loves nothing more than preparing gorgeous foods for baby Elio and spoiling friends with epic dinner parties.