That’s what we’re becoming.

I was reading Pete Wells’s comment from the per se kitchen during the Keller-Achatz dinner that when sent to inquire as to food allergies, captains reported that the first 8 tables, of 16 I  believe, requested that the kitchen amend the menu for them in some way due to food allergies (I trust not simply preferences).  The ninth table was probably a deuce.  Pete didn’t expand on further requests.  One of the requests came from the editor of a prominent food magazine.

One of my dearest friends got angry with me for sending him an article noting that so-called MSG allergies have been thoroughly debunked.  He is insistent. What causes this irrational and senseless belief that our bodies react violently to any number of fruits and vegetables and livestock?

My favorite stories are from servers who tell of customers who claim to be allergic to dairy—so no milk, cream, or butter—and then order the cheese at the end of the meal.

People allergic to grapefruit?  Or sweet peppers?  Please.  Fennel?  Come on.

As Harold McGee writes in On Food and Cooking, an estimated 2% of the adult population have food allergies.  I ate a handful of hazel and brazil nuts at a Christmas party last year and my arm grew hives, my head swelled up and I looked like a boiled lobster.

Seeds and nuts are common sources of allergies and can be serious, of course.  Some people are allergic to gluten.  Another common allergy is to egg white.  And of course many have shellfish allergies.

When you have a food allergy it means that your body believes that something is attacking it and launches a response that results in everything from discomfort to shock.

But again, 2%.   All other "allergies," my guess is, stem from ignorance and fear and a generally food-neurotic culture.  I wonder if the French and Italians and Spanish, who tend to be so sensible about how and when to eat, report a similar incidence.  Any servers reading this?  I’d love to hear the best “I’m allergic to” story.

UPDATE: In comments, Anthony notes that people on statins shouldn't have grapefruit.  I'll give him that–my dad was on statins and had the grapefruit issue.  Another commenter notes it's possible to be lactose intolerant and still enjoy cheese; lactose intolerance isn't an allergy, though, and it's my understanding that it's usually kids who have milk allergies, though, as I'm sure is clear from my ranty little post, I'm no nutritionist.

ONE LAST THING: Many commenters are noting personal uncommon alergies (papaya, carrots)–if you do so, and know the actual substance with in the food causing the reaction, please note it.

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238 Wonderful responses to “A Nation of Culinary Sissies”

  • Anthony Geller

    You should know that people on statins, not an uncommon class of drugs, can not have grapefruit. There are serious side effeccts from combining the two.

  • Kate F.

    Ugh, seriously. And I say this as someone with what I call a “sensitivity,” since I hate to claim an allergy when in fact instead of a histamine reaction, shellfish makes me very, very ill. It only emerged after eating a dodgy lobster salad when I was 20, but my dad has always been very, very sensitive (2 days in bed sensitive) to both bivalves and crustaceans, so I count myself lucky to have only inherited the crustacean side. And actually, after 8 years of being really careful following a series of nasty incidents, I accidentally ate a shrimp california roll a few months ago and felt no ill effects. Time to try a careful trial?

    Ahem. Anyway. I have a friend who has such a long list of “allergies” (including cooked fruit. COME ON.) that I had to keep a list in my planner for a while to make sure I didn’t accidentally give her carrots or tomatoes or tree nuts or….chicken. Though she cooks chicken, so I’m not sure when it’s off-limits. Perhaps with cooked fruit?

    The shellfish thing breaks my heart; I am a journalist and used to dream of being a restaurant critic. Oh well, I can still be a food writer!

  • Phil

    This is about as dead-on-the-nose as you can get, Michael. Our entire nation has been sissified. And as a home cook, it’s a real pain in the ass when we’re having dinner company, then find out that one of our guests has an aversion to onions, or bell peppers, or “anything with garlic.”

    Guess who’s not coming to dinner next time?

  • David Dadekian

    I could not agree with you more Mr. Ruhlman. I don’t comment much, but this I had to chime in on. I was pretty amazed by those allergy needs when I read that same NYT blog entry. I can’t imagine having the privilege to be at that Keller/Achatz event and then asking for changes. Unless you’re going into anaphylactic shock, eat the food.

  • The TriniGourmet

    I think at the end of the day each person has to genuinely listen to the reactions of their body. My mother after 70+ years on the planet suddenly developed a severe gluten allery . She wasn’t being a sissy after weeks of toxic reaction that affected her liver and has removed many of her favorite foods from her plate for the rest of her life. I have had a series of of ‘odd’ allergies all my life, in part because being autistic supposedly increases the sensitivity of my body’s reactions to perceived toxins, one of which is indeed MSG. I’d love to rely on external studies, but when I lose several hours of a day to explosive migraines, muscle weakness I kinda have to say studies be damned and just avoid the triggers. I have a friend who is allergic to pineapples, her face swells up and she gets red spots, should she wait on a study to decide if she is a sissy or not? My bf after his bypass can literally not stomach foods that his palate genuinely loves. He will hurl almost immediately. One of these dishes is salmon. Although not an ‘allergy’ it is an unfortunate physiological reaction and he will at times use the allergy response when asking for certain omissions. Not a 100% honest but at the same time he doesn’t always feel the need to get into his medical history every time he wants to order a meal. It really isn’t anyone’s business to presume or judge why people are making the omissions that they are making, not to determine that they are sissies because of those omissions.

  • Tricia

    I’m guessing some people claim an allergy to sweet peppers because they don’t want to say to the Per Se server that they give them painfully, embarrassingly excessive gas. Ditto the lactose intolerant. So, have a heart.

    I know a handful of people with real, documented, dangerous allergies. I don’t know anyone who claims an allergy when they have an aversion.

  • Jason

    W.R.T. lactose intolerance: Those who cannot eat dairy products can still eat many types of cheese because the lactose is broken down by the aging process.

    In general, however, you’re right.

  • Brian

    Couldnt agree more. I would much prefer someone tell me that they just dont want to try something on mine, at least that gives me an opportuntity to explain the process and/or food better. With the ole “allergy” you’ve got no where to go..which is likely the point.

    So I guess I’m thinking anyone who uses the “allergy” route..well you probably dont want to waste your good stuff on them anyhow 😉

    Cheers!
    Brian

  • Megan

    I generally agree with you, but I wanted to speak up and provide a bit of a counterpoint.

    I am genuinely allergic to carrots and parsnips. They probably won’t kill me, but in fairly small amounts, they give me a rash, make my eyes watery and red, and make my mouth and throat feel like they’re coated in ants. I am by no means a picky eater. I don’t even bother to order salad dressing on the side. And I understand that my allergies are very weird (especially in the US). But it’d be nice if more waiters gave me the benefit of the doubt, rather than insisting that I can pick around the carrots or rolling their eyes at me.

    I’m just glad we’ve found some better restaurants in town that are not so lazy as to use pre-mixed salad greens (with carrots).

  • justin

    Actually, I’ve lied about having a food allergy. I have a horrible, visceral aversion to tomatoes. It’s awful, and probably my biggest failing as a person, but after years of getting over every other food issue (and I was a VERY picky child), I still cannot eat any sort of tomato product besides pizza and barbecue sauce. I had to claim to be allergic to tomatoes once when, in college, a friend’s godfather took us to a super traditional homestyle red sauce Italian restaurant, where every single option (of which there were only a dozen or so) came with tomato sauce. I felt horrible about it, but I was not about to say that I just really don’t like tomatoes. So, there, claimed an allergy when it was actually just an aversion. Feels good to admit.

  • Jen

    A key issue here is people interchanging “allergic” and “don’t like”.

    My brother is a chef at a high-end Italian restaurant in Boston that features a tasting menu. Guests ordering the tasting menu are always asked about allergies and preferences, and he has told me that many people tell their servers they are allergic to onions – at which point the chef must go to the table and explain that almost every dish in the restaurant (ok, not dessert) probably has onion in it. Most guests will then admit they don’t like raw onion.
    You don’t have to tell your server you are allergic to it to not eat it.
    I find the use of the term “allergy” to mean “dislike” very irritating. My son is allergic – as in possible death could occur – to peanuts. This doesn’t mean he’s a “picky eater”, it means he is trying to stay alive.
    The incidence of food allergies in kids is growing at an alarming rate, and it does need to be taken seriously.

  • Mike

    Certainly not on the same culinary level, but I worked at a McDonald’s many years ago. I remember one customer who ordered a Big Mac with extra sauce and no onion. He repeated several times that there couldn’t be any onion on it because he was “deathly allergic” to it. Can you guess what’s in Big Mac sauce? Onion.

  • DJK

    I’m sure Pfizer will have a new anti-food allergy pill out any day now, and we’ll all be cured.

    For years my father has claimed that he’s allergic to chocolate, because he believed that eating chocolate is what caused his acne decades ago. My father is insane.

  • Kristi

    I guess I’m upset on both sides of this issue.

    I have an uncommon food allergy (carrots), which, despite your apparent disbelief because it’s not in the big 8 allergens, does result in anaphylactic shock, for which I carry epipens.

    I used to work as a catering chef — and I don’t think of myself as a culinary sissy. I had to have others taste my food for me if it had carrots and had to wear gloves to work with them or my hands would swell.

    However, I do know that there are people who claim to be allergic to something and are not, and it is exactly your reaction that makes me loathe that people do this.

    Also, supposedly allergies are on the rise, and are not necessarily that well understood, so McGee’s claim of 2% may be outdated.

    If you are at all interested, which I’m sensing you’re not, you might want to take a look at information on what is called Oral Allergy Syndrome, for which there are many cross-reactions … fennel is on the list for those with a problem with birch pollen! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_allergy_syndrome.

  • Schlake

    I have a long list of allergies, though I know, and if pressed will admit and explain, that not all are allergies.

    I’m allergic to salt. Not actually to salt, to iodine. I break out in hives, so it is a real allergy. I’ve spent my entire life not eating salt because it wasn’t until I was 27 that a doctor made the connection for me about my aversion to seafood, salt, and my iodine allergy. I have a strong taste aversion to salt though, and salted foods are unpalatable to me. I’ve been learning to eat salt though, by avoiding iodized salt. It is a long and slow process.

    I say that I’m allergic to soft dairy. I know I’m not actually allergic, what I have is an enzyme problem. Soft dairy makes my intestines bleed and causes such intense pain that I can’t walk; I leave puddles of blood on chairs. From a social standpoint, it is just better to say that I’m allergic to soft dairy. Hard dairy, such as grano cheeses are fine, and daily consumption of them actually helps if I do ingest soft dairy. Buttermilk is fine, but sour cream has to be boiled to make it safe to eat. Yogurt is fine as well. The merest hint of milk taste causes my body to violently vomit, but I grew up eating goat-milk ice cream and the taste of ice-cream doesn’t make me vomit, so the vomiting appears to be learned. Milk doesn’t tear up my intestines they way soft dairy does, so I can consume it if the taste is covered up enough to avoid the vomit reflex. I love soft dairy by the way.

    I’m allergic to almost all tropical fruits, but I’m only afraid of pineapple. If someone asks if something mysterious in a dish is pineapple I can usually tell them just by touching it.

    I’m allergic to sulfur. It impacts me the most in some egg preparations and antibiotics (I’m also allergic to penicillin). Mayonnaise and hard boiled are the two main offenders.

    I don’t often eat shrimp because the sight of them makes me want to vomit. Shrimp sometimes taste good (the iodine thing I suspect).

  • Amelia

    My mother made her meatloaf with MSG so up until the first time I had a bad reaction, it didn’t disagree with me. First bout came in 1977, before restaurants, mostly, stopped using MSG. It was after a dinner at a Chinese restaurant in NYC just BEFORE going to a late show at a rock club. Both my friend and I ate the same thing. He had no adverse effects. I was struck almost blind by a migraine (had never had one before) followed by much nausea. Incapacitated for about an hour but made it to the show!
    Most recent incident kind of funny. New boyfriend, trying to impress me, made jambalaya for dinner. In the middle of the night I woke with splitting head followed by nausea. Asked if he’d made the meal from scratch, he confessed to help from Zatarain’s. Dig the box out of the trash. Oops! Featured ingredient (back then, don’t know if they’ve changed) was MSG. So I don’t buy that MSG is a head allergy. Perhaps both were high doses? All I know is that the reaction was very real.
    If I don’t like something I’m not shy about asking to have it omitted. But I also like to think I’m a little adventurous. Eating at Chez Panisse last year (dream come true) the menu included roasted beet (eewww!) salad. What can I say? I tried them. I love them!

  • krysta

    my dad decided to introduce us to his soon-to-be new wife and my new step sister(16). so we had a huge family getting-to-know-you dinner. when they arrive i offer my new family something to drink and they are all up in arms that there is no diet soda because they are both deathly allergic to corn (which was news to me, my dad had never mentioned it before this dinner). i told them that i have jones soda which doesn’t contain any corn syrup… blah, blah, blah. i then spouted off and told them i thought it was funny that for being allergic to all things corn they should know about jones soda and maybe they shouldn’t have eaten the tortilla chips and salsa a few minutes before because the torilla chips were made out of corn and i was sorry i didn’t have a epi-pen ready. needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable night and my new step-mom and sister hate me because i called them out on their supposed deathly corn allergy.

    next time just say you want a diet soda instead of making up a crazy lie.

  • Chris Ward

    I’m a professional cook working in a restaurant in France, have worked here and in private service for five years. The French are not nearly as bad as the English/Americans I’ve worked for when it comes to ‘allergies’ – the word has now replaced the phrase ‘I don’t like’. So when a group sits down to herb-crusted cod, one diner says she’s ‘allergic to cod’ but would like another fish instead. Like Monkfish which is twice the price.
    English people are much worse. Women are ‘allergic’ to just about anything you can think of. No one, ever ever ever, just says ‘I don’t like that, can I have something else please?’ It’s attention-seeking behaviour. ‘Look at me, I’m special, I’ve got a MEDICAL condition, if I eat cod I could DIE, pity me!’
    Now my wife and I have our first child, Scarlett, we get the same sort of rubbish in advice – don’t give her this food or that, don’t use those baby wipes, plastic baby bottles will kill her!
    All nonsense. As Mr McGee says, 2% are really allergic, the rest are attention seekers, nothing more.

  • Alison

    In my experience most people claiming allergies really just have aversions, however, there is often a conflation of a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food intolerance, such as lactose intolerance is more common than allergies, and is another way food can make people sick — however it is a digestive system response — cramps, heartburn, stomach ache, etc. Allergies, on the other hand, affect the immune system — thus the hives, chest pain, anaphylaxis…

  • Megan

    @Kristi,

    Thanks for pointing out that link. I have actually had small reactions to practically everything in the birch list (but I figure that if all that happens is my mouth itches, and I like the taste, it’s okay as long as it doesn’t escalate). I am EXTREMELY allergic to birches. I’m just lucky that my allergies manifest in the non-deadly form.

    I can’t imagine being a professional cook dealing with the carrot allergy. I can stand very, very cooked carrots in things like stock, but I have to wear gloves to cut/peel/etc.

  • Jason

    Ultimately this is an issue of saying one is allergic to something being the easiest way out of eating that thing. If one says “I don’t like onions” then scorn and incredulity are sure to come (at least from some people). However, if one says “I am allergic to onions” then others may bend over backwards for fear of making one sick (and, perhaps, being liable for hospital bills).

    There are two things that come out of this:

    1) People need to buck up and just say that they don’t like something. Certainly at Per Se or Alinea the chefs will gladly accommodate a preference even if it isn’t to avoid a visit to the E.R.

    2) More importantly we need to recognize that eating can be an adventure. Sure, you don’t like something when it’s prepared one way but give the chefs (again, especially at a place like Per Se or Alinea) the benefit of the doubt and _try_ what they prepare. If you don’t like it, again, they will surely be accommodating – but try it first!

  • Beth

    I’m horribly allergic to unmodified soy & bean proteins. I can eat tofu, but any other soy or high-protein bean is right out. Cooking generally isn’t enough to denature the protein to make it safe for me. I was literally born this way.

    I’ve developed an allergy to crustaceans. You notice, NOT seafood. I can eat lobster & bivalves, but I can’t eat calamari, shrimp or crab without having the beginnings of a serious allergic reaction.

    After spending a night in a hotel bathroom drinking Benadryl every two hours, thanks to discovering that the combination of a white beans & calamari in an otherwise luscious soup had given me an allergic reaction that left my tongue purple and my lips blue and me having to work hard to breathe, I now carry an EpiPen and avoid either beans or crustaceans.

  • Louise

    It’s worth noting that there’s a physiological reaction that the body has: if you’ve eaten something and then are sick shortly afterwards, your body will associate the one with the other, even if it was not the cause. This is the body’s way of protecting you from poisonous things you might have eaten. However, what it means is that things that you are not ‘allergic’ to can make you sick, just from the psychological association. The brain is a powerful thing…

  • Amy D

    We dine out with a couple where the wife is allergic to a great many things. As I knew them when she went into the hospital for an extended period of times when they found these issues I can’t fault her for being unwilling to take any life and death risks.

    When we go out with them we get around this very simply, we go to places that are local, chef driven and know every component that goes into every dish. We in turn, since we are getting them to some of our favorite places, make sure that we make a reservation in person and send a full printed list back to the kitchen(during a slow period of course) to validate that the kitchen will be able to accommodate her allergies.

    We have done 7+course chef’s table meals with this couple with only minor issues (in part because a printed copy of the allergies is given to the kitchen when we arrive for reference).

    What I don’t understand about this dinner was if these people had all of these allergies why didn’t they send a polite heads up to the chefs in writing, before they got to the restaurant. Anything else seems sort of rude to me, but I am probably being insanely practical again.

  • claudia (cook eat FRET)

    well, i am deathly allergic to raw papaya. certain other raw fruits and nuts make me itchy and sneezy and swell up but it goes away in 20 minutes or so. but cooked fruit or roasted nuts? no problem.

    but raw papaya? just get me to the emergency room… first i get giddy, then sneezy, then i turn into the elephant man and can’t breathe. lovely…

  • ruhlman

    far be it from me to call cookeatfret a culinary sissy, as I know for a fact she is not!

    but claudia, what in papaya are you allergic to?

  • Tea

    I spent my entire childhood claiming to be allergic to eggplant, because I couldn’t stand the bitter soggy sponge-like things I found in the hippy stirfrys people made (Northern California in the 1970s, what can I say? The food sucked).

    A summer in Greece “cured” me of it, however. Hallelujah!

    The more I live and learn about food and health, the more I realize that everyone has an entirely different operating system. I’ve seen serious reactions to MSG; just because I don’t get them doesn’t mean they’re not true. I’ve been tested as “intolerant” to dairy, sugar, eggs, and beans. Can I eat these things? Yes (and do, in small amounts). But I feel better when I don’t.

    That said, I’d eat whatever the hell Keller-Achatz wanted to put in front of me. Those with serious allergies/intolerances need to call ahead and make sure they can be accommodated. You can’t make requests like that on the spot and expect to be taken care of. Whether it’s true or not, it’s just poor form.

  • Judith in Umbria

    I am mostly on your side in this, except lactose intolerance is real but lactose disappears as cheese ages. Hurrah for cheese eaters!

    Melon and it’s relatives can cause some embarrassment and nightshades as well.

  • McAuliflower

    While indeed the incidence of food allergies is increasing,

    -I’ll bet the common customer’s use of the word “allergic” is a response to their food preferences not being taken seriously by restaurant staff.

    When one is paying for the service of having food prepared, one would assume that their food preference would be honored. When that doesn’t hold true the trump card of “I’m allergic” can be procured.

    Unfortunately, calling ‘wolf’ with allergies has brought about this reaction evoked by your post: other allergies are not real, except the ones I have.

  • Brenden

    I know many people with very serious allergies, but I can’t imagine any of them going to Per Se. Let alone going to Per Se during the Keller-Aschatz dinner. That seems to me to be incredibly selfish. Like you, I’m fairly skeptical about whether those people really have the allergies they claim. I think a quick test would be to take them to Starbucks and see what they order (I’d rather go support my local coffee shop, but Starbucks works better for the test). If it takes them more then 3 words to order their drink then their just being jerks who feel entitled to always have things their way. If you don’t like what’s on the menu go somewhere else or make it yourself. You’re annoying the workers, the people in line behind you, and in this case the people who would have loved to take your place at the table.

  • Derek

    @Ruhlman

    Your blog post mentions your hope that people at the dinner did not request changes to the menu simply due to preferences. If I’m reading you correctly, I kind of see your point, but at the same time, if I paid $1,500.00 for a dinner, I think I’ve got a pretty good argument that I should be able to avoid raw coconut just because I hate it.

  • Annette

    Giving my grandmother food with MSG in it was like getting her drunk. We avoided it for the most part, but occasionally some would slip through and she’d be really disoriented.

    Unfortunately the prevalence of people claiming allergies when they really don’t like the food, means that occasionally people don’t take your word for it when you have a legitimate allergy. I know people with legitimate allergies – my aunt has so many severe (possibly fatal) allergies that she has to carry around one of those giant adrenaline shots so that she can make it to the hospital in case she has a reaction.

    I absolutely despise coconut, both flavor and texture. I have a few times lied about being allergic to coconut, but in each case I was offered a food with coconut, declined, and had the food practically pushed upon me. After repeated refusals, I finally said I was allergic just so that they would stop.

  • Derek

    Of course, if Keller offered me something with raw coconut, I’d give it a shot. I’m not a culinary sissy. 😉 But I think I still would have to decline the tobacco-infused cream. Just reading that they broke up a cigar and soaked it in cream made me want to throw up. Nasty.

  • Darcey

    I, like a few others on here, am lactose intolerant – my digestive issues mostly manifest when I’ve consumed milk or cream. However, most cheeses don’t have the ill effect, so I have no problem ordering it for dessert when I want to indulge.

    As for the Starbucks “test,” yes, it does take me more than 3 words to order my drink (tall sugar-free vanilla soymilk latte — OMG a whole six words), but Starbucks provides this service and these options to me, and they are happy to charge a fee to do so.

  • Byna

    My mother always swore she was allergic to canned tuna, even took pride in the fact, but could eat it if it was well-washed under the tap first before going into a salad. Ick.

    So when I made the tuna salad, I made sure that no one noticed that I didn’t wash the tuna. Guess what? She never got sick from it! And she liked my salad the best.

    Then one day my dad caught me and boy, did I get in trouble. It didn’t matter that I had proven that she wasn’t allergic. I had been “disrespectful of my elders”! Oh, the shame.

  • Sam

    While I generally agree with you about this, I think that often servers are unprepared to answer important questions that people have about food allergies. A dear friend of mine has a severe gluten “allergy.” I put allergy in quotes because it is actually an auto-immune reaction during which the body’s immune system begins to attack the small intestines because of the gluten. This usually results in a day or two in bed and sometimes a hospital visit.

    She cannot consume even small quantities of anything that contains wheat, barely, oats, or rye. Sauces are thickened with flour, and braised meats are often dusted with flour. Most servers seem to think that Pot roast served with potatoes and carrots does not contain any flour, but it often does.

    I simply think its worth noting that servers need to be more aware of the cooking process to better answer customers questions.

  • Matt

    Eating should be pleasurable. If a type of food would make the diner unhappy – why wouldn’t you (as a chef) want to know that in advanced? Cilantro turns my wife’s stomach. The taste makes her gag and she can pick out a tiny leaf in a big bowl of whatever. We often tell the waiter at a restaurant that she’s alergic. She’s not, but she might as well be. If the staff thinks they could kill her, they’re usually very careful – either making sure that no one adds cilantro or telling her if there is cilantro in a dish.

    If we simply say that she “doesn’t like” cilantro, people are less concerned. I think the “sissy” logic kicks in here. People think “She just didn’t like it when she had it before, but she’ll like it when I make it”.

    I’m just not sure what’s gained by forcing people to eat food they won’t like.

  • Chris

    Like many commenters above, I developed a reaction to a certain food (onions) in my late 30s’. I do not tell anyone I am allergic to onions as I do not have a deadly reaction to onions, more of a reaction that makes me sick with gastrointestinal issues, a fever and pain for 2-3 days after I accidently ingest onions. Not allergic but I do need to avoid them. I’m always tempted, however, to tell servers in a restaurant that I am allergic just so I can be sure I’m not being served something with onion in the sauce or base and the server lied about it in order to avoid dealing with me.

    And, I too use more than 3 words to order my latte at Starbucks but that’s just because I want it extra-hot and non fat. I don’t think that qualifies as picky, especially at Starbucks!

  • tommy boy

    @Beth
    Perhaps you’ve been misinformed. A lobster is most decidedly a crustacean. If you can eat lobster you are not allergic to crustaceans as you say or have been told. Also a squid is not a crustacean, and would not be included in your allergy. Perhaps you should find a new doctor who knows the difference between the things you supposedly have reactions to.

  • ArC

    I do know the science about MSG, and in fact do eat MSG-containing foods with relative impunity most of the time, but there’s definitely something that gives me that “face buzzing” sensation in the maybe 20% of MSG-containing dishes that triggers it. High dose? Contaminants among the MSG powder? I dunno. (Out of curiosity, do the scientific experiments debunking MSG effects use the cheaper commercial brands or a more laboratory-pure substance?)

  • Natalie Sztern

    Flying the red eye home from Atlantic City I had the regulate peanuts on the plane and 5.2 minutes after arriving hubby was snoring soundly. Still being hungry i grabbed a banana and also fell asleep. Within 1 hour my itchy palms woke me up, and then the itchiness proceeded up my hands and all over my body. Barely able to contain my angst I taxied over to the hospital and by the time the triage nurse saw me I could barely breathe. It was not the peanuts.

    After forty years of loving bananas I developed an allergy to raw bananas : however I could eat them cooked, or dried. Not only did I become allergic to Bananas but the tests also showed me allergic to Latex which is where the banana skin and tree is somehow related.

    I, however, have never showed any reactions to anything latex which includes just about any and everything ie band-aid, condoms, gloves etc

    every 6 months I test myself and it is like the roll of a dice: one time allergy one time not…

  • Chris

    Oh, and I do like onions so this is not a case of me simply not liking the food and being averse to trying it again.

  • Jack Cheng

    I’m allergic to mangoes. Loved them as a kid, didn’t eat them for about ten years and then had one that made various glands swell up, including in my throat, blocking breathing.

    I’m not faking! I wish I could eat mangoes!

  • Heather

    When I was growing up, my best friend thought I was making the fact that I’m allergic to most raw fruits and vegetables to avoid eating vegetables.

    Which would have been really clever, had I thought of it, but it’s an allergy I share with my brother and mother to varying extents. Of the three of us, I’m probably the least sensitive (to eat a raw peach makes me feel as though I have hives on the inside of my mouth and throat) of the three of us.

    I’d love to know _what_ it is that we react to. It’s not berries or leafy vegetables, but pretty much everything else – and I’m most allergic to the skin and flesh near the skin of raw fruits. We have no reaction to cooked fruits and vegetables. (My brother is probably the only person in the world who will microwave and then freeze a banana so he can have a banana smoothie).

    It won’t kill me, but it sure takes any pleasure out of eating fresh fruit.

  • Alinea at Home

    The thing I’ve been told my my allergist that causes the papaya reaction is papain — a natural protease in the fruit. A lot of raw food allergies, I’m also told by my doctor, are cross-pollination-related, and that many are tied into being allergic to birch pollen. So, it’s more of an allergy to birch pollen (or other forms of environmental pollen), so that after cross-pollination, the fruit or veg becomes a vehicle and a trigger.

    I think it almost goes without saying (but I will, anyway) that the more our environment changes, and the way food is grown and harvested changes, the more sensitivities, allergies, intolerances, and reactions we’ll likely see.

  • Natalie Sztern

    But I do wonder about people who spend 1500 on dinner, knowing menu and the raison d’etre of these two cooking styles, and still requesting substitutions. Isn’t the idea of such an evening to give in to the chefs and their every dish? As a diabetic it would never occur to me to ask the kitchen for a replacement dessert – in all the years I have been eating my philosophy has always been ‘if I cannot eat it I will not order it’

  • grant kinsley

    please note that the grapefruit reaction is not with all statins. It is not an issue with Crestor. Another thing, just as lactose intolerance is not an allergy, neither is gluten intolerance. The big difference is that there are no remedies for gluten intolerance (coeliac disease). Coeliac’s must avoid all wheat, rye and barley products, and oats should be limited to less than 2 oz. daily (oats does not contain glutem, but does have a similar protein that can be tolerated in small amounts) Of course people with lactose intolerance can usually enjoy dairy simply by taking lactase enzymes with the lactose and can enjoy cheese, yogurt and goat/sheep milk products. There are however a small number of people with true casein allerhies (the protein in cow’s milk) and they cannot have dairy in any form.

    Other than that nut, peanut and shellfish allergies are truly the ones to be concerned about, most other unprocessed food allergies are rare, or minimal in their symptoms (and most are simply people deciding they are allergic to things they don’t like). It should be noted that certain artificial red and yellow dyes can produce allergies, particularly tartrazine (FDA yellow 7 if my memory serves correctly)

    Grant Kinsley

  • Vicki

    Many fruits, vegetables and nuts make me itch and swell – I wasn’t born with it, they’ve all developed in the last 5 years or so. Once something is cooked (e.g. pineapple, or nuts in baked goods), I have no problems.

    So, yes, I’m allergic to avocado and watermelon, among other things. And I LOVE avocado and watermelon.

    I’m slightly offended at being called a sissy, when in fact I do have a genuine physiological reaction to certain foods.

    However, I do see your point regarding “allergic” vs “don’t like”, my mother says she’s allergic to mushrooms, when in fact she just doesn’t care for them.

  • Mark S

    Agreed. A lot of people say “allergy” when they mean “I don’t like it” or “some article I read said some people might be sensitive”.

    Nevertheless, I am also amazed at how some people’s bodies do respond positively to changes in diet. In ways that are not, precisely, allergic reactions. One friend of mine discovered that her arthritis basically goes away when she avoids wheat – and accidental and unknown ingestion of wheat has caused reversals in her condition.

    Me? I’m absolutely allergic to maple syrup, which I consider a curse. The stuff tastes great. But I get hives, headaches and otherwise.

    And, I came down with heart disease in my 20s. The same sort of stuff that happens to some old folks in their 70s. Research has shown that people like me DO respond well to dietary changes.

    So: I am an unwilling vegetarian, and on a non-fat diet. Following that slowed and reversed my heart disease. Failure to follow that causes heart disease to progress in me.

    It isn’t an allergy, and if it weren’t for the medical stuff, I’d eat whatever I could reach.

    On two quick asides: When I read Elements of Cooking, I dreamt of veal stock for TWO DAYS. Really.

    And if you see Michael Symon, tell him he has my permission to gut the producers of Dinner: Impossible if they deny him pork again. 🙂

    (Also, no blog entry on your most recent visit to Iron Chef America? Bummer.)

  • Lysana

    My husband has a sensitivity to papain. Not an anaphylactic-level allergic reaction, but it’s bad enough that we have to make sure his contact cleaning fluids don’t use it as part of their enzyme structure or his eyes get red and watery and itch horribly. He also can’t eat papaya without feeling ill and having his joints ache as compensation for his time.

    I also have friends who have sensitivites/allergies to various fruits. They are not lying about them. Some can’t eat raw fruit but can eat cooked. Some are so bad that cooked fruit will still cause their lips, tongue, and throat to swell. I remember one friend who discovered that raw strawberries had started causing her problems when they hadn’t prior to that moment, but she figured out the shortest length of time she needed to microwave them to break up the substance causing her reaction by trial and error.

  • Dick Black

    My mother claims she is allergic to lettuce. I think it is all in her head. It is quite embarrassing when eating out with her as she is quick to point this out to waiters when ordering a meal.

    I think her problem with lettuce stems from the fact she has crapped her pants a few times after eating it, and instead of risking another incident, she sidesteps the issue by claiming an allergy. I think she needs to see a doctor specializing in digestive issues.

  • meghan

    And sometimes I think for people who have certain diets for religious reasons, it is sometimes easier to say they are allergic to pork/shellfish/etc. to make it very clear that they can’t have any, even if it’s a hidden ingredient, such as biscuits made with lard or something like that.

  • Abra

    When I was a personal chef in the US I seldom had a client that didn’t claim to have food sensitivities and/or allergies, which is probably why they sought out a personal chef.

    But since I’ve been living in France I’ve been amazed to see the difference. I always ask guests, before planning the menu, whether there are foods they can’t or won’t eat. I’ve almost never had a French person make any special requests, and mostly they look at me like I’m slightly nuts to even ask. In my experience the French eat everything, and they clean their plates with enthusiasm.

  • Kansas City rube

    GREAT post, Ruhlman.

    My mom is a school nurse, and they have peanut-free zones at her school. Kids who eat peanut butter sandwiches have to sit in their own special section. Some schools have simply outlawed peanut products. This is the rare of the case of the tyranny of the minority. What is the world coming to?

  • Brenden

    @Chris
    Your drink order at Starbucks does not make you picky. Far from it. A picky person would only get a hot chocolate, tea, or equipment from Starbucks as their drinks are mediocre at best.

    @Darcy
    Yes Starbucks is happy to cater to your needs and wants. So is Burger King and Subway. The point is I’m not asking for special orders at a good restaurant or a good coffee house. I understand you can’t have dairy, but I’d much rather have good coffee or a good espresso then the drink you ordered. Soy milk + sugar free syrup = I’ll have something else.

  • Brad L.

    There is something single people can do to help rid society of this problem once and for all. Don’t sleep with people who have food allergies. If we all stick to this simple rule, selective breeding may rid us of food allergies after a few generations. 😉

    On a more serious note, I don’t date women with food allergies. I also don’t date vegetarians or vegans. One should not limit the food they love because of the people they love.

  • MessyONE

    On lactose intolerance…

    I have been lactose intolerant since birth, which led my mother to some fairly creative cooking to get the calcium into me when I was a kid. Here are the rules:

    1. Cooked milk is always safe. If you are lactose intolerant, a properly heated latte will not make you sick. Period. Neither will chocolate pudding, cakes, cookies, sauces, or any dish where milk is cooked. This is not fiction, and anyone who tells you that it’s not true is telling porkies.

    2. Unripened cheeses will make you sick. This includes cottage cheese, mascarpone, some goat cheeses, mozzarella, etc. Aged cheeses are all right, as was pointed out by several posters.

    3. Yogurt cannot make you sick. The lactose is “digested” in the souring process.

    4. Lactose intolerance is a matter of degree. We all have different tolerances for it. For example, I can have milk on my cornflakes in the morning, but if I have a milkshake later in the day, I will be punished. Some people can’t even have cream in their coffee or milk in their tea. Go figure.

    All of this is utterly meaningless, by the way. If you are lactose intolerant, go to the drug store and spend a couple of bucks on some Lactaid pills (no prescription necessary) and take a couple before you eat something that can make you ill. If you do this all the time, you will never get sick from milk again.

    It’s that simple.

    As to celiac disease – it’s not an allergy to gluten. It’s an intolerance like lactose intolerance but with generally nastier consequences. Right this red-hot minute, there is a supplement that works just like Lactaid (but for celiac sufferers) that should be on the market without a prescription in the next 18 months.

    For those that get gaseous from raw veg, beans, etc., there’s been a product called Beano that’s been on the market for a couple of decades that works beautifully.

    As an aside, I was at a restaurant in Canada’s capital lo these many years ago when a couple made so many changes and stupid demands to the server that the chef told them to leave. I have to agree. If you’re going to a restaurant to eat, stick to the menu and don’t whine if you don’t like what you see. It is the diner’s responsibility to ensure that the menu is safe for them, NOT the restaurants.

    Sissies. You’re right.

  • Megan

    @Brad,

    A couple of years ago, a 16-year-old in my area died after her boyfriend kissed her 4 hours after eating a PB sandwich. He knew she was allergic. He had brushed his teeth twice.

    Those peanut-free zones may actually save kids’ lives.

    It absolutely sucks, but at least the existence of peanut-free zones means that other kids can still have a PB&J for lunch.

  • BLH

    As a mother to a child allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, not too mention put on a strict diet by a doctor to avoid fish, shellfish and limited soy – I have to tell you I was dumbfounded when I read your article. For a man who is usually so knowledgable and aware – it was infuriorating to read about food allergies being belittled.

    I nursed my daughter for over 16 months and so I had to keep to her strict diet as well. I often chose not to eat out because of the complications and demands it puts on the kitchen. However, at times, there is no avoiding it – as restaurants are at the center of many business meetings and social gatherings these days. As a nursing mother, I was allowed to cheat so to speak on a nibble of cheese her or there – but the goal was zero intake. Would I die if I ate that nibble of cheese at the end of the meal? No. Could it impact my daugther? possibly but no likely because I was so darn careful ALL the time.

    Now, I agree that there are plenty of people out there claiming allergies when it is simply a preference and that is not such a good thing for those of us actually dealing with allergies – but I’d rather you take that bend on the issue rather than berating those of us who deal with life and death situations every time we venture out of our homes.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if chef’s took it up on themselves to make ingredient lists available to patrons so we can choose from what is already on the menu based on what we can eat rather than having to ask for concessions?

  • RasmusF

    I can’t claim any allergies, but I do have huge problems with most kinds of fish. I simply get dry heaves, and on occasion vomit a little, when I try to eat anything from cod to salmon to swordfish.

    I haven’t found any cause, but after trying and failing I’ve simply given up on eating fish.

    Unfortunately this means I frequently have to ask for menu replacements or just forgo some dishes.

  • Marilyn

    After suffering for years with chronic bronchitis, I was diagnosed with asthma and was sent to an allergist who tested me for allergies. It turned out that I am allergic to chicken, though I can eat eggs. As I was eating chicken almost every day, I was having asthma attacks constantly. I stopped eating chicken a year ago and have had very few asthma attacks (still have other triggers) since then.

    It is difficult to dine out as chicken and chicken stock is often used in cooking many dishes. As such, I have learned to ask questions and I always have an epipen with me. I miss my chicken, but it’s not worth having an asthma attack.

  • doxie mama

    I have a sensitivity to taurine – which has comdemned my to a duck and goose free purgatory. I was unfortunate enough to discover this not long after I was introduced to the joy of foie gras – something I dearly love but for the fact that it makes me vomit violently and repeatedly. Apparently the taurine concentrations are higher in duck, goose and gamebirds. So, to keep a long story short I’m allergic.

  • Guy Anderson

    Sorry – but I am a pro chef and Bell Peppers make my mouth itch, break out in blisters and cuts off my airway. I typically use gloves when I cut them with gloves and do have a skin reatoin if I don’t wash them if I don’t – I take them a little serious. I worked at a hospital and was the communications guy and took pictures for docs that were wanting to learn more or publish – so I have seen some terrible reactions – the seafood ones were always very bad – MSGs never saw one, or documneted one – but do wonder about the ladies that eat at my club – one has bad reactions to fruit she says – but today she orders blueberry pancakes!

  • Diana

    Marilyn,

    I’m glad to read about the chicken allergy. My husband also has a severe allergy to all poultry, but can eat eggs. Like you, he carries an epi pen and must inquire about the components of a dish when eating out, especially soups and gravies that do not list chicken as an ingredient.

    Weirdly, catfish causes the same symptoms.

    He enjoys many foods and is not otherwise a picky eater. I cringed at the first comment by Kate F. I know my husband hates to make special accomodations, and though he is a devoted carnivore, he’ll often order vegetarian to avoid making a special request.

    Does anyone out there know what is it in poultry that causes a reaction?

  • Mantonat

    My Dad didn’t know he was allergic to papaya until he visited Hawaii and developed hives after eating it. He was told that papaya contains a chemical compound similar to turpentine and that some people react negatively to it. (My brief research on the WWWs proved inconclusive.) My dad is definitely in the “clean your plate, you sissy” category, so it was shocking for him to learn there was something he couldn’t eat. He later found out that there’s a component of gumbo file that gives him heart palpitations. Turns out that sassafras is the culprit. I’ve also read that it is now illegal to add sassafras to rootbeer because there are enough people who suffer severe reactions that it became a problem. Seems like maybe they could just not drink rootbeer.
    As a child, I was diagnosed with multiple allergies to animals, food, etc, including wheat, eggs, and milk. My parents and I did not change my eating habits and today I can happily consume all of the above. Maybe the doctors overreacted. Maybe I just built up a tolerance through repeated exposure. Maybe I still suffer allergic reactions but I’ve gotten used to living with them.
    I feel very strongly though that if you are going to pay $1500 for a dinner, why in God’s name would you dictate the ingredients? Isn’t the point of that dinner to experience the artistic creations of two masters? It would be like purchasing a painting from Picasso and asking him to use a little less blue. And if more blue would kill you, maybe you should go with Ansel Adams instead and not pay for the Picasso.

  • Matt

    At the risk of misquoting Chris Rock:

    “No one in Rwanda is lactose intolerant.”

    Let that sink in.

  • FoodPuta

    So I’m not the only one that uses this trick. I have been using the “I’m Allergic” ploy for years when it comes to Cucumbers and Coconut.

    If you tell people you hate Coconut, they give you shit and act like you’re just and idiot, but if you tell them you are allergic, they get all sympathetic and just say “that is such a shame”

    Works every time…..

  • Gael

    I’m allergic to shellfish but I still eat it. I used to have some itchiness and swelling around my mouth and throat but now it’s very mild.

    While some are very serious I think that a lot of people can build a tolerance if it’s non-fatal.

  • Mantonat

    Oh, just found this on the World’s Healthiest Foods website (whfoods.com):
    “Like avocados and bananas, papayas contain substances called chitinases that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome. There is strong evidence of the cross-reaction between latex and these foods. If you have a latex allergy, you may very likely be allergic to these foods as well. Processing the fruit with ethylene gas increases these enzymes; organic produce not treated with gas will have fewer allergy-causing compounds. In addition, cooking the food may deactivate the enzymes.”

  • veron

    Glad to see that msg myth is mostly debunked. I don’t use it right now but I know it makes a huge difference to the flavor of food.Hmmn…maybe I can sneak it back into the food without the hubby knowing.

  • Jennie Cesario is Jennie Tikka

    I have absolutely no allergies to anything at all and so admittedly have very little sympathy for those who do (except for the genuinely allergic).

    I’ve also never sent anything back to a kitchen (including an absolutely inedible dish I had at a supposedly high end Chinese restaurant in Vegas).

    The only time I ask for something to be changed from the way its been prepared it is if I’m going be in very close quarters with people for a while (and they haven’t “cancelled out” my onions & garlic by likewise eating it), or, I have to speak to a group – then I skip the onions & garlic (which I adore).

  • Peter

    While allergy-free myself, I have 2 friends with very definite allergies.

    One spends several DAYS vomiting if she eats ANY kind of seafood. It hit her 4 or 5 times in a row before she realized it wasn’t bad seafood she was getting — it was just the fact that it’s seafood.

    Another friend gets those blinding 6-hour long migraines from MSG. He takes VERY seriously and not only won’t eat anything with “msg” on the label, but anything that says “other spices” or “hydrolyzed soy protein”, etc. )Who knew that every single brand of Tuna has added MSG except for Geish brand? Or that every single Heinz product adds flavor enhancers. Say goodbye to pretty much every bottled salad dressing.)

    How do know this is a real reaction? Twice I’ve seen him get these headaches. Both times were within 2 hours of a meal and in each meal we tracked down an overlooked ingredient (once in salad dressing the restaurant swore was homemade but actually came from Sysco and once pretty much the same but with seasoned crawfish.)

    Peter
    http://www.FlashlightWorthyBooks.com
    Recommending books so good, they’ll keep you up past your bedtime. 😉

  • Catherine

    I know I’m allergic to MSG – the effects are immediate. First off, I go very hyperactive, almost like I’m an energetic drunk – very hyper, very argumentative. Then I end up running a fever – it’s like very extreme ‘flu symptoms – fever, aches and pains all over, sore, swollen throat, and a paranoid, neurotic mind which just won’t rest, so I’m very insomniac that night. The next day I’m fine. I know it’s MSG – I suspected it was, and whenever this has happened to me (more often than I would like) it’s always after I’ve eaten out somewhere and eaten MSG by mistake. Anyway, it’s not fun, especially for someone who spends so much time working in the Caribbean – seeing those little white packets of seasoning everywhere is like a red rag to a bull!

  • Jared

    I’m allergic to mangoes, because mangoes contain a chemical similar to urushiol in poison ivy. This isn’t a big deal for most people, but if you’re sensitive to poison ivy (like me), you may have adverse effects from eating mangoes.

  • Lara Fabans

    So true. There’s a big difference between a real allergy and a personal preference.
    If you want to make some knitters rabid, say you have a wool allergy.
    How did people survive 100 years ago when you had to eat what was there and wear what you could? Did they all suffer in silence or just drop dead or mental anaphylactic shock?
    If you want something special, just own up to it.

  • ClevelandChef

    my last job i was working at one of the top kitchens in cleveland and on more than one occasion we had guest come in and actually say that they were allergic to any thing that was green. no kidding. we also had people that didnt like it when their food was touching. come on!

  • Tags


    Every restaurant’s website should have a button to click called “Allergies & Reactions.”

    Make a rez, click and complete.

    BTW, Chris Rock is a comedian, what with the jokes and all.

  • Kate in the NW

    OKay, I don’t have time to read all the comments so I’ll just relate my specific cases – all of which, I think, deserve respect from kitchens and servers.
    HOWEVER – these allergies and sensitivities are OUR responsibilities, and I’d never dream of asking a professional kitchen to alter their recipe to suit me, other than being open about what ingredients they use and, if they’re amenable, perhaps omitting or changing one ingredient (i.e., subbing chicken for shrimp) – and then only if it’s really no problem. Otherwise, we just try to order in a way that suits us.

    I am mildly allergic to shrimp. I do not go into shock, but my face breaks out in oozing zits. Thus, I try to avoid it.

    My father is deathly allergic to alcohol (long story involving exposure to weird chemicals over the course of a scientific career). Cooking the alcohol “off” doesn’t always work. He has been hospitalized several times by careless or sceptical kitchens.

    My aunt – no joke – had some severe brain trauma (car accident) that screwed with her body chemistry and she is now VIOLENTLY allergic to tarragon. Just tarragon. No one knows why, but there it is.

    My daughter is sensitive to gluten. We bring special bread for her when we go out to eat so she can still have a burger or sandwich or whatever. Yet I’d need more digits to count the number of times we’d ask a server “is there wheat in that sauce/cornbread/etc?” and s/he would reply “no – there’s some flour, but no wheat.”

    Come ON, PEOPLE!!!! It’s a sad f-ing thing when you find out just how many people – people working IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY – do not know that FLOUR is made from WHEAT (and as a result my poor kid gets sick).

    There does have to be a balance.

    And by the way – Celiac (or other types of wheat sensitivity) is incredibly common in Italy (thus my daughter’s issue – her father’s family is Italian-American). Remember – noodles didn’t arrive there until Marco Polo – well beyond the period of evolutionary relavence for the indigenous Italian genome. In fact, celiac disease is so common in Italy that all children are screened by age 6 so that even asymptomatic disease is caught early.

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/l41974513115v4v2/

    I can understand a chef’s frustration with special requests, and people with food issues (whatever they are) should be respectful. You’d never consider asking a conductor to remove the violin from his orchestra just because you don’t happen to like violin. Nevertheless – people have to put the chef’s product in their BODIES, so they do have a right to at least ask. The chef can always say no.

    Somehow, even with all these things in our family, we manage to eat at restaurants all the time and I don’t think we’re pains in the posterior for the chefs or kitchens. We ask about the wheat is all, and otherwise very seldom have to make a special request. Most menus are varied enough that we can all find something good on there. But we sure do spend more $$$$ at places that are well-informed and flexible about the gluten thing.

  • MissingCleveland

    A few points.

    I suspect that the point of Michael’s entry was not to call everyone who has legit food allergies “sissies.” So relax a bit. In his original post, he recognizes the fact that people do suffer… but his point(sorry to words in your mouth, Michael) was that 8 out of 16 tables requested amendments to the menu because of supposed allergies which is statistically improbable according to the stat he provided. Think about all the examples given by the readers… its one or two people that you/they know… not half of your/their friends… which would probably agree with the statistic. Personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who has food allergies.

    In my humble opinion, if you have the privilege to eat at an event like that, you suck it up unless you have a serious allergy. Most, if not all, of my initial food aversions have disappeared in the past couple years due to me giving it another try.

    On lactose intolerance… People actually lose tolerance as they age. Children typically don’t have trouble with lactose, but they can lose the ability to digest lactose (caused by a deficiency in the lactase enzyme) by young adulthood. And as most people know, people of Asian, African, Southern European etc decent are more susceptible to lactose intolerance. While Northern Europeans as less likely to develop it.

    Unless a scientist happens to stumble upon a new finding, I doubt we’ll see much more about MSG and allergies. There has been very little published about the subject in the recent history mostly because the previous studies have shown no link between MSG and allergic reactions. Not calling those who believe they are allergic liars… just saying.

  • Kim

    Michael,

    Thank you for raising the allergy issue. I’m not a medical expert, but this is my understanding of allergies and sensitivities. A food allergy provokes an IgE reaction, which usually is immediate and can cause hives, swelling, and, ultimately, anaphylaxis. A food allergy can rarely be overcome. A food sensitivity provokes an IgG reaction, which typically is not immediate, and can occur up to 4 days after eating the offending food. An IgG reaction “usually” is less severe (usually no anaphylaxis), but can still be very harmful (migraines, vomiting, etc.). People can sometimes overcome IgG sensitivities by removing the offending food and then bringing it back it by rotating it (only eating it every 4-5 days). IgE and IgG responses are determined by blood tests.

    Some people are not only allergic or sensitive to a particular food, they also are allergic/sensitive to the entire food family. The following link gives a good list of food families: http://www.calgaryallergy.ca/Articles/English/botanical.htm

    So, if you have a problem with endive, sesame seeds may also be an issue because they are in the composite family (aster).

    God help you if you have an allergy/sensitivity to corn because it is in everything. http://www.cornallergens.com/list/corn-allergen-list.php
    Table salt has dextrose (look on the label of Morton’s), which is derived from corn–yet another reason for using Kosher salt or sea salt!

    I speak from personal experience and no longer am able to eat out. I would never inflict my list of food sensitivities on the food industry. I do go into anaphylaxis over sensitivities. Last year, I was down to only 14 foods that I COULD eat. We have finally discovered that Lyme Disease is the reason for all of my food sensitivities, and I slowly am getting better. I have promised myself a trip to the French Laundry when I defeat this (it’s in the neighborhood), but it may be awhile. I hope that I will not have a list of prohibited foods when I finally get to visit the French Laundry, but I know that I will be in good hands if I do.

    It is a rare privilege to dine out with severe allergies/sensitivities. We literally are putting our lives in the hands of others. Please don’t abuse that trust. This means that people who don’t have an allergy/sensitivity should stop claiming that they do. This also means that people who have allergies/sensitivities should not be “tested” by others. Yes, I might not have an immediate reaction to a food, but 3 days later I could break out into hives because of what you did.

    I know that it is an inconvenience for the food industry or friends or family to have to deal with a person with allergies/sensitivities, but what is an inconvenience to you, is a lifelong situation for the other person. Imagine living a life without dairy, or gluten, or corn–some of the basis building blocks of the foods that we eat. And most of our entertainment is based on eating.

  • Freya

    For those who suggested just taking a lactase pill for the purposes of solving the issue of lactose intolerance, please consider the other ingredients in those pills. I am lactose intolerant (congenitally so) but under stress, I also become protease deficient and sucrase deficient, so I have a multi-enzyme pill. The problem is that most enzyme pills contain glucose. So if I am under stress, I shouldn’t eat the yummy icecream because the sugar in it will have the same stinky effects as the lactose. Doesn’t stop me, on occasion, but I eat it knowing that I will suffer the effects (although I really don’t want to suffer the effects while on holiday and, for example, sharing a room… It’s not pleasant)

  • bob

    Ok I get it.
    I cook for a living, I’ve jumped thru every hoop on every ticket that has come in with FOOD ALLERGY printed on it. Is it sometimes a big pain in the ass? yeah, quite often in a scratch kitchen it is. It’s not as simple as leaving out a dash of kikkomans or worchestershire, because chances are, there isn’t any.
    The truth of the matter is that it is definitely inconvenient to make these last minute changes, but, A) It’s what we do
    B) I don’t want to do that trick with the bic pen on someone’s trachea, during a busy Saturday night service.

  • dkny

    As a NYC chef, changes and substitutions don’t bother me too much. You are paying for my skills and expertise – you should get what you pay for. I do have one favor to ask – please come at a slower time. I will always try to accommodate special requests, but in the heat of a rush it’s nigh impossible sometimes. If you know you have food allergies, or even severe dislikes – letting your server know at the beginning of service is a huge help to all. If we are not slammed in the kitchen I will bend over backward to wow you – hey, maybe you’ll become a regular, but early knowledge and good timing are important.

  • Cari

    I have an intolerance to high fructose corn syrup. It’s not an allergy, but it does screw my system up something fierce.

    Thankfully this isn’t much of a problem with restaurants that prepare everything in house. It’s just a problem everywhere else.

  • Jessie

    I love broccoli but unfortunately, broccoli doesn’t love me. Is it an allergy? I’m not sure. All I know is if I get even a speck of the stuff, I feel like I’ve committed seppuku. Literally writhing around in a ball of agonizing pain. So I avoid it. A shame really, because I love a good Cream of Broccoli soup.

  • sam

    I only have one real allergy and that is to Escolar/butter fish. Believe me I wouldn’t have it if I could help it. That fish tastes so darn delicious and has the most horrifying side effects.

    Cucumber – I like it but sometimes it gives me terrible indigestion. Most times I don’t care and eat it anyway, but sometimes I am just not in a resilient enough mood to put up with after effects and so would give it a miss.

    The Frenchman I am close to doesn’t have any allergies I know of. But then neither does he have any qualms stating what he doesn’t like, which is a quite a few of the things you mentioned, funnily enough…

  • SomeRandomEuropean

    Nobody’s taken the sissy role so far? Then let’s confess: I was (and still am to a large degree) a sissy. At one point in my life I ate: no cheese, no vegetables (except potatoes and raw carrots and raw peas), no fruits (expect apples, pears and bananas), no salad, no acid, no sauces, no mushrooms, no ground meat, no bacon, almost no sort of sausage etc. Simply because I didn’t like it. And I had to endure endless variations of the dialogue:
    “Why don’t you eat the beans? they are delicious!”
    “I don’t like beans.”
    “Are you allergic?”
    “No. I simply don’t like.”
    “Have you tried?”
    “No.”
    “Why don’t you at least try? How can you know that you don’t like something if you haven’t tried?”
    “I can’t eat them.”
    “What does it mean you can’t?”
    “It means it makes me nauseous just to think of eating beans.”
    “Ehm, what DO you eat then?”

    I can understand everyone who takes the easy way out of such conversations by pretending an allergy. I never did. 15 years of sitting at tables and gnawing at a piece of bread (or eating pasta with butter) while explaining your eating habits and answering the same questions again and again.

    Even worse is having to dissappoint and hurt your host who put all the effort in preparing a wonderful meal and now has a guest neglecting this for no other reason than “I don’t like”.

    Pretending an allergy is probably more polite.

    PS: I am eating beans now (and a lot of other things). They are delicious 😉

  • Beth

    I have Celiac Disease as well as several allergies and intolerances. I’ve found that with the CD it’s just easiest to explain it as an allergy. It’s simply beyond many people’s scope of understanding what an auto-immune disorder is. Telling servers it’s a severe allergy is simply easier. And yes, any gluten will have me in the ER.

    I have an epi-pen for the allergies, and just try to avoid the stuff I’m intolerant to. Now, I also know that with my list, I almost always call ahead to the restaurant (at least 2-3 days ahead) to see if they can accommodate me. I almost never go out during peak times. I also have cards that can go back to the chef. I know I’m a pain to cook for with my list, so I try to make it easier for the chefs when I go out.

    One of the best meals I’ve ever had was at a higher end place. I told the chef he could make whatever he felt like, so long as it fit my allergy list. He said he really enjoyed the challenge and a chance to be totally creative.

  • The Italian Dish

    Michael, Michael, Michael. I cringed when I read your opening paragraph, anticipating the onslaught of all kinds of negative comments from people. You are brave. I wrote a post on my own food blog, in discussing umami, about MSG and how every study has totally found it to be safe. I know people who will never listen to science and facts. They insist MSG makes them feel sick. The funny thing is, food manufacturers are basically still putting it in food all the time – under various other names. People eat it all the time and don’t know it and just feel fine. So much stuff is psychological. Enjoyed your post. Thanks for having the guts to write it!

  • pbk

    Guilty! I always say I am allergic
    to bananas, kiwis, and mangoes. I’m
    really not. They just make my stomach feel like I ate poison. I don’t break out, I don’t turn red. My throat doesn’t close. It’s just easier to say I’m allergic. Go ahead
    and scold me, I can take it.

  • cb

    My wife developed a sudden allergy to oranges a couple of years ago. They had always been her favorite fruit, but one day, her face swelled up and turned red and scaly. We couldn’t figure out what happened, and it went away in a couple of hours, but then the next day she ate another orange, and it happened again, and then we realized it was the oranges. Strangely, limes and lemons don’t bother her, nor does not-from-concentrate orange juice from the grocery store, but it was shocking to see the sudden reaction she had to oranges after eating them her whole life with no problems.

  • Shelley

    I got really, really sick after drinking a bunch of White Russians when I was 18. I think that means I’m allergic to Kahlua.

  • Rhonda

    I think this all comes back to how our food is grown and what chemicals the farmers use. If the fruit/vegetable is covered in pesticide, or the meat is filled with antibiotics, etc., one would realistically develop an allergy to the poison and think that they are allergic to the actual food. I also agree with a previous poster about psychological association.

    I used to be allergic to all types of food and now I am not.

    Being allergic to chemicals is normal and prevents us from dying. If, however, you have a child that can only be within a 6 mile radius of anyone who has eaten peanuts within the last six hours, they are not going to make it within natural selection process and you should just let them go now before you get too attached.

    I am only half kidding.

  • BarbaraB

    I have a anaphylatic reaction to Sunflower Seeds and Sunflower Oil. It is an adult onset allergy (hit in my early 30’s) and the allergist who confirmed the diagnosis said it was a new one on him. They didn’t even have a test for it, I had brought in the container of seeds that I thought had caused the reaction and they had to grind them up in a mortar and pestle to make a prick test.

    I have never asked for a change to be made to food, I simply inquire weather or not there is Sunflower seeds/oil in something. This is particularly important and possibly frustrating for some waitrons/kitchens when I insist on knowing exactly what “vegetables” are in the “vegetable oil”. Usually the response I get is: “It isn’t Peanut”. If they cannot tell me what is in their oil, I make sure not to get anything with oil. As someone else has pointed out, it is our (the allergy ridden) duty to take responsibility for ourselves.

    And to Kate in the NW, Marco Polo made the whole thing about noodles up. It is one of the oldest urban legends. There are pasta/noodle recipes/references in manuscripts from ancient Rome. If you are interested in the simultaneous evolution of Pasta in both the Italian and Chinese cultures I highly recommend the book Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food, by Serventi & Sabban.

    A final little strange tidbit about allergies related to the same allergens found in disparate foods. The protein in peanuts that causes most peanut allergies is also present in Fava Beans. Many people who have reactions to one will have the same to the other.

  • Tags


    Me, I’m allergic to anything containing “mojo” or “voodoo.”

    And also Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch.”

    Sometimes the honesty really is just too much.

  • luis

    hello?, cooking is personal. Been saying it for several blogs…now.
    Nice if someone out there would gimme a wee bit of credit for that…. I know you do. Just joshing. Personal food vs Tribal food.
    Other than that I just don’t know what’s going on around here any more??????
    It’s all good guys…..But I sense crisis…no need to speculate… just that things are all off what passes for normal anymore…. Back when I can see clearly in an OBM future society/ or lack there off….
    Some folks are talking that there is a puppetmaster out there cloaked in OBAMATION…shenannigan’s….