Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

On allergies and preferences

Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 21 Comments »

I’m not a person who ascribes totally to any philosophies of food or life. Except for these:
Be good.
Be happy.
Be healthy.
Be well.

If you can live within those 4 theories, then who am I to tell you anything about your life? Or your dining choices? You can be picky, you can be open, you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you’re good, happy, healthy and well.
However. I just got an e-mail from a coworker wondering at the nature of food allergies, and thinking it was ridiculous that a roommate would freak out that the coworker had cut a pineapple on the counter, and not wiped up the juice or washed the knife, since the roommate happens to be allergic to pineapple.
Apparently, food allergies were a new thing to this coworker.

I’m not here to judge, most of the time. But this girl’s attitude toward food allergies was shocking at best, dangerous at worst. She mentioned that she thought allergies were weird, and would never presume to ask someone to make food to accommodate any of her food preferences, and was taught to just eat what was put on her plate. This is a girl who was raised in a range of cultures, in a very trans-world world. Part of her life in India, part in the UK, part in the US. And yet nowhere in her entire life had she ever heard of anyone having a dangerous peanut allergy. Never saw the markings on all packaged foods saying “this contains nuts or was processed in a facility that processes nuts”. Never heard of celiac disease or lactose intolerance or people being allergic to strawberries.

At first, I tried to be calm and rational, told her that I really thought the allergy question was interesting. People could die from them. Etc etc.
Then, she came back to say that she found needing to accommodate someone’s preferences strange, alien, that it wasn’t something she would ever imagine.

I’m sorry, but to all my readers, let me make this very, very clear:
Allergy is defined by dictionary.com as:

al⋅ler⋅gy


1. an abnormal reaction of the body to a previously encountered allergen introduced by inhalation, ingestion, injection, or skin contact, often manifested by itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin rash, or diarrhea.
2. hypersensitivity to the reintroduction of an allergen. Compare anaphylaxis.

Preference is defined by dictionary.com as:

pref⋅er⋅ence


1. the act of preferring.
2. the state of being preferred.
3. that which is preferred; choice: His preference is vanilla, not chocolate.

As you can see, there is a distinct difference between an allergy and a preference. Namely, the aspect of choice!!! Do you think anyone out there would choose to suffer from diabetes (which I group as an allergy because it’s an extreme case where the body is unable to process an enzyme) or a severe peanut allergy that could cause anaphylactic shock?? Do you think anyone would choose to have to read every single label for elements or trace bits of peanuts, or wheat, or strawberries, or shellfish? I mean, let’s not even start with the allergies like to pineapple juice (which is in most fruit punch, check your labels) or citrus fruits (try to find something that doesn’t contain citric acid that’s packaged…. let me know when you do) or eggplant or any of the 8 million things out there. Coconut!! My dad is allergic to COCONUT! Granted, he just has to make sure that he doesn’t eat the dark chocolate truffles that are filled with the stuff, and he only gets hives, but why would anyone choose to have to deal with that????

My grandmother is allergic to penicillin. Shouldn’t the medical community have to accommodate her allergy? What is the point of trying to save her life by administering something that would end it??
Similarly, why is pineapple, or strawberries, or shellfish, or wheat gluten or whatever so important to my coworker that she can’t understand the concept of it being deadly? She’s a vegetarian, and was taught to politely decline meat. Which is great for her! Go for it!! But if you can decline meat because of personal tastes or religious reasons or whatever…. why can’t your roommates ask you to just wash the countertop to get rid of the pineapple? Or make a specific knife and cutting board for pineapple, so that the roommate doesn’t have to come in contact with it?

For me, there’s no ingredient or recipe that’s worth causing a friend pain. I don’t care if it’s just that you get itchy after eating pepperoncini – which I never cook with – tell me! I always ask. I don’t see any reason to make someone have to take a Benadryl after a meal with me. I don’t have any recipes that I’m so attached to I couldn’t change them or scrub them altogether for a dinner party with a friend with specific dietary restrictions. I can take the bacon out of my mac & cheese, or, genius, make a pot of cheese sauce without bacon. I can read labels to make sure all my ingredients are Kosher, or make sure that I’m using all vegetarian ingredients if you’re into that. I can use rice pasta, or make risotto, or cook only chicken or cook no chicken. I can accommodate you. Because I don’t want to make you sick!!! I don’t want you to worry about your dietary rules or your religion or the new lifestyle choices you’re making. I want you to be happy and healthy and good and well.

So please, fellow cooks and eaters, please remember these other rules:
#1 – ask your guests about any dietary restrictions.
#2 – guests, don’t be afraid to TELL YOUR HOSTS what you will/won’t/can’t/choose not to eat.
#3 – let’s all be a little more flexible, yeah? If you just don’t like spinach, mention that, but say that you’ll eat it if it’s given to you. If you’re deadly allergic to oranges, obviously shout that one out. If you’re a vegetarian, please explain what you mean by that, so people don’t go assuming things (meatitarians, i’m talking to you!!!!)

For heaven’s sake, don’t force people to eat what’s put in front of them just because you were raised that way. It worked for me, that “eat what you’re fed” raising. I’ll eat anything, and I definitely will eat plenty of it. But it didn’t work for my little brother, who is about as picky as they come, and whose dinner or unwanted something-or-other I always ate at home as kids. He’s now the underweight, picky vegetarian one. And I’m the one with the cooking blog. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
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So honestly…. let’s remember. It’s an allergy. Not a choice.


21 Comments on “On allergies and preferences”

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