Having dangerous food allergies myself, and wanting to provide everyone with a different perspective, I’m going to disagree with my wife. No worries. She’s great!
I was once an FA kid born in the 1950s and growing up in the 1960s. It’s amazing that I survived. Virtually no one outside of the medical community ever came in contact with someone who couldn’t eat peanuts or tree nuts. It just made no sense. How could a person get sick or die from eating food regardless of the quantity consumed? It simply was unimaginable.
How rare was it to actually meet someone with serious food allergies back then? Very rare. I never knew anyone who had serious food allergies until I was nearly thirty and never met anyone who had ever encountered someone with food allergies.
For the small number of us with food allergies, the world was a much more dangerous place than it is today. Here’s why:
- Awareness of how serious food allergies were, was virtually non-existent
- Even experts didn’t understand how dangerous cross-contamination was
- No one posted ingredients for restaurant meals
- Food labeling was just beginning and very incomplete
- There were no epinephrine auto-injectors to carry with us
- Emergency Services weren’t familiar with allergy protocols
You may be wondering at this point how I’ve been able to reach my 60s? Good question… I’d say it was a convergence of “luck”, “personal vigilance” to cut the odds of allergic exposure and “being safe” by having the tools available that protect me from an allergic encounter:
I was lucky that neither of my parents cared a wit about cooking. They were both artists whose main priority was to paint and sculpt. So, meals were very simple and repetitive. When they saw that I got really sick the first time they gave me peanut butter, they called the doctor to come to the house. (Really! In those days doctors came to the house. Life really was simpler back then. So, I guess I agree with my wife??!) Luckily, this pediatrician knew about food allergies and took action. From that point on, I was kept away from all nuts and nut products.
As a family, we rarely went out to eat. When we did, it was to very simple “American food” restaurant chains. So, my exposures to nuts and nut oils were minimized, as well as my exposure to cross-contamination, only because my parents liked Howard Johnsons & Friendly’s.
Because my elementary school didn’t have a cafeteria, we all had to go home for lunch. Both my parents had day-jobs, so I was a latch-key kid who fixed my own lunch. Everyday I would open a can of tuna or a can of ravioli, read the ingredients and prepare it. (Honestly, it’s amazing that I didn’t burn the house down.) I had a routine and was taught by my mother exactly what to do. The good thing is that she gave me confidence that I could succeed and be safe. But, I realized at that point that I had to always be very aware of what I was using for ingredients by reading everything. I continue to do this every day. (Warning: These were very different times. I would never suggest that any fourth grader do this. Today there are so many better ways to handle this situation.)
Once on my own, and based on personal experience, I developed a personal rule-of-thumb for restaurant eating. It goes, “the nicer the restaurant, the higher my risk”. It doesn’t always work, but I think it does for the most part. Why? Because as you go up in cost, restaurants tend to serve recipes that are complex and include more ingredients that seek to enhance taste. And, the main competitive advantage that restaurants have is taste. So, to be safe, you need to expand your experience, look for danger signs and ask good questions of the wait staff, chef and manager.
The essence of being safe is having the tools available to cut the odds of having an allergic encounter. Here are the necessities:
- A Chef’s Card that specifically elaborates what you’re allergic to. The chef or restaurant manager can then check your meal’s ingredients and clear a special preparation area to mitigate cross-contamination
- Epinephrine auto-injectors!!
- Snacks you’ve purchased or made yourself. This is important when you’re out with other people and you find you can’t eat at the place they’ve selected. With snacks you have a back-up.
So, as Allie’s Mom said, life with allergies may have been simpler back-in-the-day. But, for those of us without the support of the allergy community, increased public awareness, the right tools to be safe and new treatments it was way more dangerous then. And, It’s so much better now.