One type of food I absolutely love and just cannot recreate at home is Indian food. As many cookbooks I buy and recipes I try I just cannot duplicate it. So once in a while when the mood is just right, and I am feeling confident in talking about my allergies, we go out to eat Indian. As you may know, Indian food does not have the best reputation for being allergy friendly. Many of the dishes are sophisticated using various ingredients and spices, takes time to cook, which means it may have been prepared by another chef earlier in the day, and it uses tree nuts in many sauces.
A few weeks ago, I was in the right mood and craving something spicy. We have one Indian restaurant that is great with my allergies, and I have eaten there multiple times. As we entered the restaurant, we saw a large buffet set up, and we were greeted by the owners. It was a Hindu Festival, and they were inviting guests to eat for free from their buffet. I asked them if it was possible to order something off the menu because I have multiple food allergies and do not eat at buffets. The owner/chef told me that they only had the buffet, which is free, and that it was all safe.
Ok, I am going to take a minute to explain that buffets are one of my worst nightmares. Thinking about the cross-contact that can happen makes my heart race, even as I type! Needless to say, I was not going to be eating from that buffet.
I let the chef walk me through the buffet, partly to see if I would be able to eat and partly to be polite since he was adamant on feeding us. I told him my allergies and tried to explain that it was to risky for me. He listened, but was overly very confident none of my allergens were in the dishes. When I looked at one of the items it appeared like a mix of vegetables and could have sworn I saw peas or green beans. Since I had reacted to 1 gram of peas at my oral challenge a few weeks before I was not taking any chances.
Being Polite vs. Staying Safe with Food Allergies
When I get in a situation like this, where someone is being super friendly and really wants to feed me, I start to panic. I can feel my breathing begin to shorten and my fight or flight response kicks in. Basically, I want to get myself out of this situation as fast as possible – flight. It gets challenging when you don’t want to be rude because they are being genuinely nice, but apparently don’t understand the severity of allergies.
I did not feel safe eating from the buffet and was not going to risk it. I thanked the owner multiple times and slowly backed away (I literally backed away as I was thanking him – this was how much I needed to get out before having a meltdown). They wouldn’t take no for an answer and sent my hubby home with a doggie bag.
So you see, it was a tough situation for me to navigate. It was a holy day for them, and they were inviting people to dine for free. I didn’t want to offend their generosity, but I also didn’t want to eat something just to please them, which was how I was feeling hence my inability to stay cool and the mini freak out.
Once we were outside, I could take a big breathe and feel my energy settle back down. When this happens, I always need to decompress and talk out the whole scenario. It helps me prepare for the next time I encounter something similar, and it helps me feel empowered about my decision. I was proud I didn’t take any risks out of politeness, and I was pleased I stuck to my guns and didn’t betray my ‘no buffets’ rule.
Dining out can takes a lot of mental prep for me. One second I am gung-ho and the next I just want to be alone in my kitchen in full control. I think the ups and downs of dining out/eating food someone else has prepared is normal for those with food allergies. As long as you are confident in yourself and have a strict set of dining principles, you will be able to navigate these situations.
Kortney is your typical atopic triad who manages asthma, eczema and multiple food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!