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Why food allergy ‘fakers’ are harmful

Why food allergy ‘fakers’ are harmful

Food allergy fakers, please stop. Faking food allergies at restaurants is dangerous for the people with actual allergies.

On a recent weekend away in Paris, there was one subject on all restauranteurs’ minds: allergy fakers! As you know by now, I always bring my allergy card with me. Not only does the card help me dine out, but it also acts as a catalyst for many discussions about food allergy patrons in restaurants, thus all the talk of fake allergies.

It all started when we met some family friends whose son is opening a fine dining restaurant in Berlin. Since he is opening a restaurant, we talked a lot about food allergies and how to handle them in service. He said that they get a lot of emails about people with random ‘allergies’. For instance when parsley is in season, there just so happens to be a bunch of individuals with a parsley allergy. Hmmmmmm well, that is odd… right!? Can you imagine how frustrating that is for the chef?

The conversation continued at two of my favourite restaurants in Paris – favourite because they handle my allergies with finesse and respect (see the end of this post for more details). I asked the waiter if they get many people with food allergies and at the second restaurant the waiter just launched into a discussion about fakers at the sight of my allergy card.

Both are professional waiters and both had similar experiences explaining that people come with a list of very confusing allergies. To them, it is evident they don’t have food allergies. Why? Inconsistency and not taking it seriously.

What to do about allergy fakers?

To the food allergy fakers:

When you fake an allergy, you are putting someone with a real allergy at risk. Restaurants are getting overwhelmed by fakers. You don’t realize how much work it takes for them to ensure we get a safe meal. They need to clean a complete workstation, use new utensils, get out fresh ingredients, and potentially pull someone off a station to solely prepare our meal. All that and they still have to prepare everyone else’s meals promptly.

Instead of faking just tell them straight up you don’t like whatever it is and ask for the meal without it. This way they don’t have to go through all the extra steps just because you dislike parsley.

To folks with food allergies:

One thing I got from my discussions was when you walk into a restaurant with an allergy card and a precise way of talking about your food allergies you will stand out from the fakers. Bring your allergy card and be confident and clear when explaining your allergy.

One more thing about ordering in a restaurant, I like to order a meal that needs little to no alterations for my allergies. This way you get to eat out and make the kitchen staff’s life a little easier. Also, be flexible you may only get your third or fourth choice. (Here are my 8 Tips for eating out with food allergies).

If you are nice but firm then I promise your dining experience will be a courteous one.

Check out more adventures in Paris!

Food allergy fakers, please stop. Faking food allergies at restaurants is dangerous for the people with actual allergies.
View Comments (16)
  • I just spent a week cooking for 64 people at gluten-free camp. We had a list of 12+ kids that had add’l dietary restrictions. I panicked when one of my campers accidentally took a bun that had egg in it, which was on his “no” list. I called mom and she said that she lets him have it “sometimes.” We had many kids who we later found ouy could have some foods “in small doses” which makes it harder to take all of them seriously. Luckily no one got sick last week and no cases of anaphylaxis.

    • I’m so glad that no one had a reaction. It gets a little tricky when people can have certain foods baked or cooked. This is where I think we need to let those who don’t live with food allergies know how ‘grey’ allergies can be.

    • Brianna you definitely should make an allergy card. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this helped me and changed the way I dine out.

  • I love this post and wish more people read it! I don’t have an allergy but my son does & those are life threatening. We have a card, ask to speak to the manager and are very clear what those are. Like you said, you pick foods with little alterations to make it easier on them and it also leaves room for less error too.

    • Thank you Nicole. This means a lot to me. I’m glad to hear that you guys use a chef card – having a chef card gave me a lot more freedom when eating out.

  • You inspire me with how much you travel and eat out. I hope my son is able to be like you when he grows up!

  • Why would Parsley mean they are a faker, simply because it’s not the top 8

    Oh how simple “Order something that doesn’t need altering”

    Not everyone has the same allergies, you should be fighting in our corner not trying to label people with unusual allergies as fakers. The fact some people can eat a little of an allergen is not for you or anyone else to decipher. It all depends of the allergy bucket how full it is and if you can get away with a bite or it leads to 6 hrs in the bathroom, or an Epi pen and ER, but that’s not for you or a chef to figure out.

    I can’t eat out, don’t get invited to parties, social gatherings I’m allergic (Leads to Anaphylaxis) to Garlic, sesame, Pork, leeks, Asparagus, Raw fruit and Veg (see can’t even have a salad) and luckily just intolerant lactose so the occasional missed ingredient just makes me unwell but won’t kill me although for 6 hours it doesn’t feel better.

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thank you for your insight. I understand what you mean when I mention parsley as an example. The conversation I had with my friend (chef) went further into detail about how certain foods only come up during a season, and that the people who request this do not take precautions for other foods that are related to the allergen or are extremely vague.

      I have OAS to a bunch of veggies and can eat some cooked but only if it is cooked to mush or it’s ok if it’s just slightly steamed – all very complicated to communicate. But I try my best to do that on my allergy card. I also avid certain foods related to ones I know are an allergy.

      When I eat out I try to pick the dish that is easiest to prepare and accommodate my allergies – sometimes it needs no changes, sometimes it needs to have a few things left out. The way I look at it is to make sure there is smaller room for error and to make the chef’s job a little easier.

      I’m sorry to hear that you can’t eat out. Everyone’s allergies are different and it is important that we all know our level of comfortability with them. I hope that we can all pave the way to making people with food allergies lives a little easier to navigate.

      Cheers,
      Kortney

  • I’m not sure how the bots bubbled up your post on Facebook, but I’m so glad! My daughter has life-threatening allergies to crabs and many nuts. Eating out in Europe can be dicey, so it’s good to know some places that are understanding of this very real threat. I use the app Allergic Traveler for when we’re in a place that we can’t speak the language. It automatically adjusts to the current country, and gives a local language explanation of the allergen. Not all countries are covered in Europe, such as Bulgaria.

    Speaking of Bulgaria, we recently spent a long weekend in Sofia. I was so surprised that every restaurant had identified which of their meals had different allergens, usually on their English language menus. This was the first time in her life that she had this experience, and it was liberating.

    I look forward to seeing what else you have on your blog.

  • I’m so frustrated by fakers in the food allergy and celiac community. An intolerance does NOT equal an allergy. I wish people knew how much anxiety we have while eating out, and by telling people you have an allergy or celiac when you don’t – you’re more lax with the kitchen. This happened to me at a pancake house. They used the same surfaces for gluten and gluten-free, and were told by someone who claimed they had an allergy that it was okay to use shared surfaces. One of many stories. Fakers DO make a difference.

    • I think the best thing we can do as allergy folks is to be clear about what precautions need to be taken to have the safest dining experience.

  • Going on from what Rachel said, I think it’s important to understand that people have differing levels of reaction severity towards foods, regardless of whether it is an intolerance, allergy, coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

    I am currently working on a project to make food for special diets more accessible and am interviewing ANYONE and EVERYONE who has a special diet (Would love to chat with you sometime btw :). This includes people with coealiac disease or crohn’s disease, intolerances, food preferences, people who only eat halal or kosher diets, people with anaphylaxis, vegans, vegetarians, etc, and what I’m finding is that many of these people have very similar concerns and difficulties

    I agree with you that it’s important to communicate exactly what one can and can’t tolerate (eg: can you eat food prepared on the same cutting board, or does it need to be completely separate). I also agree with Rachel in that “The fact some people can eat a little of an allergen is not for …anyone else to decipher.”

    I know that it was not your intention to isolate people with intolerances. Because people with allergies, intolerances, and other health-related diets are such a small group of people, it’s really important that we work together to have our joint needs met. We all face the same struggles and when we speak to restaurant staff about it, we need to be understanding of and increase people’s awareness of the differing levels of severity across a spectrum of special diets whether they are severe and anaphylactic or milder intolerances.

    • Thank you for sharing this perspective. I agree it isn’t easy eating out for many people especially since there is so much greyness in the world of allergies and intolerances it can be difficult to navigate. I would love to learn more about the project you are working on. (You can email me at kortney@seamossvalley.com)

  • I agree with what you and many here are saying. It is definitely not okay to fake allergies or illnesses of any kind, especially because it makes it harder for those who actually have it to be taken seriously. However, I know a couple of people who did say they were lactose intolerant or allergic to eggs, because that is the only way they were being taken seriously. I’ve heard and seen a lot of restaurants who won’t leave something out just because you don’t like it or just because you’re vegan. I once said I am vegan and what I got was a pizza with a bit of cheese, even though I specifically asked for one without. What’s the harm, right? I imagine that is what they thought when they put that piece of cheese on, realised they shouldn’t have and gave it to me anyway. I had to order a new one, they were annoyed, I was annoyed and anxious and in that moment I could understand why someone would say they actually cannot have dairy for health reasons, not “just” for ethical reasons.


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