Relaying any information from one person to another has its challenges, especially amidst our smart-phone distracted world. When trying to share information regarding severe food allergies, it’s not just scrolling Instagram that gets in the way. It is the need to assess knowledge level, educate, and describe the specific food allergy needs. Sometimes it’s complicated and lengthy. For me, it sometimes feels embarrassing and complicated (which means in addition to the logistics, I have to navigate my emotions around the allergy and the special need it creates).
In an ideal world, there are a few steps I would consistently take in this communication process. First, determining a person’s base knowledge on food allergies is important. Without this, I have found I might assume they know more than they do. Having dealt with food allergies for so long, it is second nature to me what is ok or is not ok regarding food allergens. To so many people, allergy safety information such as reading all of the ingredients or not garnishing a plate with an allergen is something they may not automatically consider.
Once it is established whether the person who I am speaking to (usually a preparer of food or a relay-er of a food order), it is important to be specific and advocate for myself. I try to make statements like, “I cannot eat nuts nor anything that might touch a nut. For example, if someone prepares a salad with walnuts, they must wash their hands or change their gloves before preparing my food.” This level of specificity is necessary…and gets very lengthy for me with multiple severe allergies plus other foods/proteins I need to avoid (e.g. gluten, cheese). Anyone who has ever waited tables knows that the last thing you want during dinner hour is a 10-minute conversation at a table.
After relaying specific information, when possible, I re-check whether it is free from allergens. I find this much easier to do in a restaurant than, for example, at the house of someone who I know only moderately well. Again, my emotions get in the way and I don’t want to seem needy. It’s a struggle that you would think I would be good at navigating by now! Alas, there is still room for improvement. So, I continue to try to advocate for myself when it comes to my allergies.
I try to communicate clearly and thoroughly…but sometimes I just hope and keep my EpiPen close. When I think of this outside of the situation, it is scary. When I am in the situation, I just want to be as normal as the non-allergy folks. And while I always say what I am allergic to, simply stating an allergy does not mean the person is equipped to handle it appropriately. Hence the need for clear and specific communication – clear and specific, yet complicated, communication. It’s just like navigating around icebergs…thankfully we are not on the Titanic. :-)