Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Disease Du Jour

I’ve been gluten free for roughly three years now. Diagnosed with an immune systemic response to wheat and gluten, rapid onset anaphylaxis meant I didn’t have much of a choice.

Believe me, if I could walk into Maccas right now and order a Cheeseburger I would.

For me this illness has been a watershed. I’ve changed direction utterly in the years since it invaded my life. I have gone from being chronically ill to own small business operator, selling my art, origami and creatures. Where I was an autobot, living on rice and vegetables because I was too scared to eat anything else, am I now a healthy, happy and creatively fulfilled 28 year old girl. I have a boyfriend who supports and enthrals me, fantastic family and most excellent friends. I regularly eat out at delicious world class restaurants. I eat cereal (almost) every day, along with delicious snacks and fresh, totally scrummy recipes I adapt from my many cookbooks and magazines.

Part of my present happiness comes from knowing what I need and how to ask for it. For this reason in the last 12 months I have used my epipen maybe twice, whereas the year before, my thigh was bruised for approximately half of it.

When I walk into a restaurant I haven’t been to before, I walk up to the waiter and ask “do you provide gluten free meals here?” and if they do, excellent, I’ll eat there. I will then reinforce gluten free and its importance when I order from the menu, getting them to physically write it on the ticket before they take it back to the kitchen. I know this is possibly overkill. Most chefs are waaay ahead of me (in my home city of Newcastle they definitely are), and have already designated gluten free items on the menu. Once all this is gone through, I get a fantastic meal, and my upper thigh may remain unpunctured.

What prompts me to write is a strange new trend I see solidifying out of the mist before me. The disease du jour- faux food allergies. I’m not talking about your average Coeliac, Crohns sufferer or the highly food allergic. I’m not even talking about the allergy lite food intolerance crowd.

I’m talking about those girls (yes, this does seem to be a gender specific affliction) who show up at a restaurant, sometimes checking that their choice be low in fat but never allergen free. They then, after about twenty mins of eating, summon the waiter and complain that they have a food allergy that means they cannot eat carrot/pine nut/egg/entrees (yes really) and that they are now very sick.

They threaten histrionics (well not openly, they just go into them). They demand free meals, and in some cases drinks. They get a whole lot of attention, which is quite possibly the very point of the whole thing.

You see, I’m not one of life’s natural born attention seekers. In fact, if it were all up to me, we would all live on our own little island. On my island people have to phone me on my coconut phone before they rock over for a visit, and nobody ever has to wear bras or drink anything less than Verve. I’m the eldest child, so I’m not trying to get anyone to look at me. Makes it far harder for me to get away with shenanigans if everyone is watching. Do you think Old Hollywood would be so revered if they had the paparazzi young celebrities have to deal with today?

This is why I don’t ever want to be famous. I hate having my photo taken. For a hot looking girl, I come off looking pretty silly or drunk in shots taken of me. I don’t know what it is; I’m just not that photogenic. Perhaps my scorn for it shows in my face. Shouldn’t look like that, the wind might change one day.

Since diagnosis I have had several girls and women come up to me to confide in their new web diagnosed or nutritionist suggested allergy. Strangely, the next time I see them, six months or a year later, their passion for Mars Bars or Baileys or something they ‘shouldn’t have’ means that they do not have this allergy anymore.

There is a massive difference between “I cannot have...” and “I do not like” or “it makes my tummy ache”. All complaints are of course valid, but I just wish that people would learn to make the appropriate level of complaint. People like me with serious food allergies and sensitivities get lumped with those who just don’t like sweet potato. Don’t tail our ride just because you don’t have the stones to say you don’t like something.

For me, its humiliating having to put a waiter through their paces, to lay out for all and sundry my body’s ridiculous decision to elevate a common ingredient into a death threat. I try to keep a low profile at restaurants. This is why I am loyal to several in my area. So I only have to say it once.

For these people to come along and posit themselves as ambassadors for allergies is deeply scary. My need for respect in the restaurant arena is paramount. I need the waiter to trust me when I say that I cannot have something. I’m sick of having to send back my supposedly “gluten free” meal to the chef because it has had a slice of bread placed on the pasta or risotto or bacon and eggs. I hate telling waitresses that they cannot just take the bread off the plate; it all has to be cooked again.

If you suspect that you are dining with one of these faux allergetes that I have been writing about, watch to see if they sample the meals of their friends. If someone really had a food allergy, there is no way they would do this. They would carry an epipen, because it is the ONLY way of preventing the very scary anaphylaxis. They would possibly be wearing a medialert explaining their condition. They would dine happy, knowing that they had done everything they can to ensure a safe meal. If the worst does happen, a waitress fails to relay instructions to the chef or something messes up, they will go somewhere quiet, probably the lavatories, whereupon they will administer their epipen. They will then have a quiet word with the chef before they go, accepting whatever recompense is offered, and everyone gets on with their evening. The faux allergete is the person making the most noise. She is surrounded by concerned waiters and then a concerned medico. She will not be visibly anything, except perhaps flushed from the attention.

When will these girls realise that being strong is cool. Guys that respect you and think that you are scorchin will stand the test of time over guys that grab your arse and call you their woman. Use your wits to delight all and sundry; don’t rely on sympathy to generate focus. You’ll be old and wrinkly one day like everyone else. No one is a glamazon in a nursing home. So slow your roll and let the actually allergic people have the limelight in restaurants. Then we will make it to old age to be your friend in the nursing home.

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