A breathtaking sunset danced across white sand beaches while we enjoyed piña coladas and fresh oysters. It was November, but this Bostonian was living like it was Summer. Our first evening in Clearwater Beach was vacation-esque and not at all foretelling of the long work conference beginning in the morning. That night felt trouble-free and peaceful.
I did not think I would have any trouble finding meals free of my food allergens at such a nice resort in Florida. This hope was crushed when the first morning’s breakfast left me wishing I would have brought more allergen-free snacks with me. After seeing the conference-provided options included only buffet-style pastries and fruit, I decided the hotel restaurant may be a better choice (and yes, I had shared my allergies and restrictions on my conference registration weeks in advance).
Upon entering the restaurant, I was quickly seated and offered water. Being in a rush, I had my food allergy list ready and handed it to the server while stating, "I have severe food allergies. They are listed on this sheet, but I will keep it simple, only fried eggs and bacon – nothing else on the plate, please." He confirmed the plate would have only fried eggs and bacon and added the extra touch of informing me he would let the kitchen know about my allergies. I felt very safe.
With my stomach growling, I could see food heading my way! I was happy it had arrived so quickly…but my heart sank seeing the kitchen had included toast and a garnish of tomato on the plate. I explained to the expediter that I could not eat it due to my tomato allergy and gluten sensitivity. The manager stopped over and apologized and stated they were re-making my breakfast. I was hungry and still wanted to eat breakfast, but my anxiety was slowly rising.
The new plate was delivered and I ate the bacon and a few bites of the eggs, but the anxiety was already zapping my appetite. Upon delivery of my check, the server apologized again. I thanked him, signed my bill, and rushed to the morning sessions.
Lunch was a similar debacle. Having taken the same approach attempted at breakfast of explaining my allergies, providing my printed allergy list and ordering something simple (hamburger, no bun, side of mustard, nothing else on the plate), I expected my food to come out allergen-free! It did not. It arrived with a big juicy slice of tomato on top…clearly, this restaurant was fond of distributing plates contaminated with a deadly poison.
After several more unfortunate instances (e.g. steak, medium rare, nothing else on the plate...pretty tomato garnish added anyway), in my search for sustenance, I turned to a big bag of Raisinettes procured in the gift shop and sneaking off to a restaurant about a block away that takes food allergies very seriously (Thanks Frenchy’s Café!!). I also skipped out on dinners with colleagues due to my heightened food anxiety prompted by fear of a trip to the local ER. It was a long, stressful, and hungry week. And despite that, I am still so thankful for spending time in such a beautiful place.
Being away from home is never easy for someone with severe food allergies and restrictions. When I take every step possible to be prepared (alerting hotels in advance, having a printed list of allergies, explaining that I have severe allergies, double-checking my food, and bringing back-up snacks), but I still have trouble getting enough food each day, it makes me angry. In the end, after the anxiety and anger subside, it just makes me feel sad and like an outsider. But each time, I pick myself up and refuse to get discouraged. I keep traveling, eating out, devising new ways to be eat safe away from home, and enjoying my life to the fullest!