Here in the US, it’s Thanksgiving. With that in mind, I’d like to offer tips on how to treat people with food “issues” – allergies, sensitivities, conditions. (I only use the word “issues” so I have something nice and short to lump everything together. Nothing negative is meant by that. Feel free to suggest a better word for next time.)
You are not the expert. Do not try to act like you know better than them. That’s just plain rude in any case, but particularly when you’re talking to someone who lives with something every single day.
Keep your opinions to yourself. No, really. It is not your place to tell your fat friend not to eat. It is not your place to try to cajole your thin friend into eating. It is not your place to chide someone for being “picky”. Back off.
Regardless of the reason, NEVER try to force someone to eat something. Do I really have to explain this one? Gosh, I hope not!
Please use different utensils and dishes for the “allergy-safe” food. Yes, it matters. It’s called cross-contamination. It’s really helpful if the utensils look different and can be consistent throughout. For example, red utensils for all foods containing gluten or all of the metal utensils will ONLY be used for dishes that are egg-free.
Do not suggest to your friend that they “cheat just this once”. I’m lucky. For me, that just means three days of stomach cramps, bad moods, headaches, and trips to the bathroom. For some people, it would mean death. Either way, it’s not nice.
Labels are really useful. Little notecards beneath the food with EVERYTHING in it would be nice, but at least most of the major allergens. I understand this is a pain and that a lot of people won’t do it, but I’m more likely to dine with people who do.
Think about cross-contamination. Regular toasters will often cross-contaminate. Counters. Dishes. Pans. Everything should be cleaned really well (the toaster usually CAN’T be). Cooking the food for the person with allergies FIRST could help with this.
DO NOT TRY TO SNEAK IN FOODS just because you don’t “believe” they have the allergy or problem. For some people, this could just be minor discomfort. For others, death. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
DO NOT SNEAK CHILDREN FOOD. Particularly if you know they have allergies. They might not know what they can have. They might know and not realize or care about the consequences.
Likewise, LISTEN TO A CHILD IF THEY SAY THEY CAN’T HAVE A FOOD. Or even if they say they don’t want to. They often know what they can and cannot have. Or… maybe they don’t want to explain everything. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe whatever. They’re still people. Unless you’re their parent, it’s not your place to attempt to dictate their food. That’s a conversation for the child and their parents.
Please don’t say something like, “There’s nothing wrong with it. It just looks weird because it has no ____.” Trust me, the person probably already feels awkward or bad enough. Likewise, if you are eating at THEIR place, don’t complain if they don’t have something. There’s probably a reason for it.
If someone says they can’t or don’t want to eat something, please don’t tell them why they can or should. By this, I don’t mean things like saying, “I made a gluten-free pie for you.” That’s fine. It’s things like, “But I made this special, just-for-you, because I know you can’t have ____.” This is for many many reasons, but it may be that you forgot or weren’t aware of something else and they’re trying to be nice rather than point it out.
Salad doesn’t count. I’m not necessarily meaning JUST salad. For me, it’s salad because salad is one of those foods that I can get at almost any restaurant, provided I say “No dressing” and “No croutons”. So, that usually means I eat salted lettuce, maybe with a piece of tomato. Whoopee. I’ve had friends say they were going somewhere that I could eat at and THAT is what they meant. It’s boring, it’s inconsiderate, and, frankly, I don’t want to pay $8 for something I can make at home for $2 to have something that’s sub-par and not what I want while I get to watch all of you eat all the things I wish I could have but can’t. Thanks, but no.
Please don’t be offended if we ask, “What’s in this?” after you say, “It’s ____ free.” There may be other things going on or we might just be concerned about it.
If they offer to bring a dish, please let them. Often times, this is the only way I know of to be sure that what I’m eating is “safe”.
Please respect their “no”. You should anyway, but there are times where I don’t really know that the person understands me or I don’t want to go through the trouble of explaining or I just “don’t want to”. Please respect that. For some people, they’ve made the decision to only eat things they’ve made.
I know this is all a lot of work. If you don’t want to go through it, that’s okay. If you invite someone and they say, “I’ need special accommodations,” and you can’t or don’t want to make things they can eat, let them know. Just say, “I don’t know if I can accommodate that.”
Please know that any effort you make in this direction is appreciated. It’s not that I’m ungrateful. It’s that I’m tired of hurting because I wanted to spend time with you. We can do something another time.
I have friends who go out of their way to make sure I can eat with them and I appreciate it probably more than they will ever know. It makes a huge difference, especially when it’s holiday time and instead of being able to eat what I want, I’m only able to eat a few things. But that’s better than nothing at all.
I hope these tips have been helpful. If you have any to add, please do put them in the comments below.