“I have something to tell you.” That’s usually how I tell people I have food allergies. The same way you’d tell someone you had a wasting disease or an illegitimate child you didn’t know about. I like to start it off slowly and just say I’m allergic to dairy and see how they respond. Are they inching away? If so, do not continue with the list! Abort list! I’m allergic to pretty much all the main food allergens you can be allergic to and in a perfect world, people would just hear that and think, Yeah? Pass the bread. But they don’t. Why? Because of people who lie about having food allergies.
An estimated 1 percent of the population has celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. The other bazillion people I hear complaining about foods they “can’t eat” are the types of people who go into Starbucks and order a half-caff non-fat latte with a splash of heavy cream, one Splenda, and one-eighth of a Sweet’N Low, with a kiss blown into it at a 90-degree angle. It’s an identity to them. “I’m the person with the wacky drink order!” or “I’m the person with the crazy gluten allergy that makes people pay attention to me!” (Or they have an eating disorder and it’s easier for them to claim they have multiple allergies than to admit that they’re terrified of food. I could not have more empathy for those people.) These people ruin everything for real allergy sufferers like me.
They are the reason that when I go to a restaurant and mention my food allergies (peanuts, eggs, dairy, and wheat), the waiter’s eyes glaze over like, “Oh, great. Another asshole who thinks they have food allergies, but really just has a thinly veiled eating disorder.” And I’ve met those people! They are people who, when they talk about being allergic to gluten (for some reason this allergy has attracted more allergy-liars than any other), will say they “sometimes eat bread anyway though because YOLO!” and I would love to punch them in the face as much as anyone else.
They’re also the people who say, “I can’t have dairy but I love eating ice cream! What can you do, am I right?” Oh, I don’t know, you could not eat dairy. Or be like me and get way too excited when you can find almond milk ice cream that doesn’t taste like freezer burn and diaper rash cream. Their food allergies change nothing about their lives because their allergies do not exist.
They will never have a suitor they really like say, “Let me take you to dinner,” and contemplate not going at all because they’re pretty sure if they provide them with a laundry list of their food restrictions, that person will bail, fast, somehow while leaving their shoes still on the ground surrounded by dust and smoke. I have seriously thought about canceling on dates that involve food because I didn’t want to sound picky or finicky or complicated. “How do I tell them?!” I ask my friends, as though I am set to reveal a horrible hunchback with a fetus sticking out of it that wails every time I’m hungry. These out-of-my-control, totally normal, increasingly common food allergies set me apart from people who are easy, no fuss, no hassle — all words I’d use to describe myself outside of this. I’ve always been a very black-coffee person (though not anymore because it hurts my stomach, but let’s navigate away from that because it’s not helping my case). No “three Splendas, two half-and-halfs, and for the love of god, James, dressing on the side this time!” orders for me. Until I developed food allergies as a child. And now whenever I’m faced with a new group of people who don’t know about my allergies, I feel like I’m harboring a great secret.
If I’m out with a group of new friends and they say, “We should go grab some food! Oooh, let’s go to Guisetti’s!” I know I will be sitting there, alone and starving with a plate of iceberg lettuce, waiting for the check to come, so I can leave and make actual food in my actual home because it is safe there.
If I’m at work and they’re ordering food for everyone, I, again, say, “I’m not hungry. I just don’t get hungry! It’s so crazy! I don’t eat before 3 p.m.! Or after 3 p.m.! I just never do it! Eating is horrible! I hate it!” etc. All lies. Eating rules.
And god help me if I’ve been invited to someone’s parents’ house. “They want to know what to make for you” makes my stomach hurt so much from how many times I’ve felt awkward and bad about that that my stomach feels like it’s developing a new allergy in there. Probably to water. Or my beloved rice.
Listen, I honestly, truly do not care if you just don’t like eating whatever food or you try to stay away from it because you don’t feel that great when you eat it. I’m totally cool with all that! But saying you have an allergy, while everyone knows you don’t have one, just puts me on trial every time I have to tell someone. I have to justify it, draw up documents, prove I’m not just being an uppity asshole. I have to convince waiters, who will often lie about the ingredients in foods and tell me my allergens aren’t in there when they are, and then I end up vomiting all night or with a fully body rash or my throat swelling up like it’s full of golf ball-size grenades. Basically, I have to prove I’m not like you.
I will say one thing though, allergy liars. You’ve actually made the lives of allergy sufferers easier in many ways. Because of you, I can go to just about any store in any major city and get a ton of (OK, some) gluten-free, allergy-free food that previously would’ve been only available in small town hippie markets where everyone looks like Candace from Portlandia‘s Women & Women First bookstore. Plus, there are restaurants in New York City that will put labels on the menus so you know which dishes have gluten in them or which are vegan, or whatever, so you don’t even have to ask! But in the end, even that still sucks because those waiters still look at you like, “You’re the reason I have to memorize pointless information about allergies and constantly ask to modify orders unnecessarily. Oh, fuck it, I’m putting cheese in your salad. You’re not really allergic to it anyway” and then I wind up in the hospital dying from a very real allergy you didn’t take seriously because most people lie about it so they can feel special.
And I gotta be honest with you, I plan to have a way cooler death than that.