Life in the Plastic Bubble: Food allergies and Eating Out

Basically when you have food allergies, you don’t eat out. That kind of normal experience that nearly everyone takes for granted is not an option for you. Whereas food in the grocery comes with labels that are about 90% helpful in helping you avoid thing things that will make you sick, restaurants are not similarly labeled.

Friday night we tried to eat out at a new place in The Fort, a Vietnamese noodle house. Asian foods, if I am alert for peanuts, are strangely easier for me to eat. Rob was a bit dubious. He has learned (more quickly than I ironically) that dining out nearly always ends in disaster. The only safe bets include Subway, Subjoint and anyplace that serves eggs and toast any time of day. The short list of my allergies includes: peanuts, tomatoes, anything citrus, oil, butter, onions, red meat, pig, and chicken. It might not seem a long list but try to find a seasoning or sauce that doesn’t contain tomato or onion. You wouldn’t believe the number of foods that those two things alone knock off the “good foods” list. Vegetarian options are not plentiful when they exist at all and most dishes are prepared with some kind of oil and the more oil used the sicker I will be. 

When we arrived at the Noodle House, I had surprisingly high hopes. We walked in, however, and were greeted with a CASH ONLY PLEASE sign and promptly turned and left. Cash? Quaint. I was undeterred though Rob voiced suspicions of omens. We headed toward a strip mall on 99 Ave and while I hit the ATM there, Rob and Katy ran into the Shopper’s to pick up a registered letter the postlady had left him a note for earlier that day. Money and junk mail in hand we first hit the main post and then returned to the Noodle House. To make a long story a bit shorter, I will quote you Rob’s rendition of our noodle house adventures:

The Fort Noodle House was a total bust.  We returned, with our cash, and were eventually seated.  We looked at the menus; only one kids’ menu item (French fries, chicken wings, pop….wait, did that say chicken WINGS?  For KIDS?)  We looked over the rest of the selections.   There were a few vegetarian selections and we discussed a few possibilities.  But I was starting to get a bad vibe about the place.  It was filling up and it was visibly understaffed.  We decided to nip a potentially bad dining experiment experience in the bud and got up and left.

 and skip to the Chinese buffet that came after.

Normally I can eat Chinese. It’s hard to get into too much trouble with rice and veggies, but Rob had nearly filled a plate for Katy before I realized that this buffet was more Alberta than Chinese. Meat in nearly every dish and onions in the rest. And I was ready to cry. Seriously. Dining out is absolutely not on my list of fun things to do. If I am not trying to make a meal out of side dishes, I am trying to assure my fellow diners that I am really okay with not eating while they stuff themselves in my face. I am not sure which is worse sometimes. Feeling like a leper or knowing that aside from Rob, no one really has much patience with my food “issues”. People with food allergies are generally treated like closet anorexics – we just don’t like to eat or something because no one but the small children of anal retentive overparenters really has food allergies. Even the health profession tends to downplay the idea. I have been told I have an ulcer (nope), IBS (nope) or perhaps I mistook a stomach virus for something more. 

Let me tell you what happens when I eat tomatoes or citrus. I get a bumpy rash on both sides of my tongue leaving it feeling as though I have burned it, and sometimes my lips will tingle or go numb. Then I get horrible stomach pains which then travel through my digestive tract wreaking havoc. 

Yes, I know. That was TMI. But I don’t banish food from my life lightly, and I am as weary of my allergies to food being looked down on or dismissed as I am of smokers who crowd doorways and take insult when my asthma flares. I would rather be a “normal” person, but for whatever reason I am on my way to life in a plastic bubble.

Rob, though, is better than a plastic bubble. Perhaps in a way he is my bubble. When I told him I wasn’t going to be able to eat anything, he sprang into action. Grabbing a menu, he quickly found me suitable entrées and while ordering quizzed the hostess as to the types of ingredients used. Peanut Oil? MSG? Within ten minutes we were all seated and eating.

So the evening ended on a high note. Katy loves to get out and it was nice to not have to prepare an evening meal. I don’t think we will eat there again. It was, in Rob’s words a downtown skid row establishment.

7 thoughts on “Life in the Plastic Bubble: Food allergies and Eating Out

  1. bella and allergymom, thank you for stopping by and the empathy. I am late to the food allergy thing and so it has been a hard adjustment. It is starting to be more normal but occasionally I am frustrated by all the barriers that don’t box others in. I hope the day will come when the food suppliers start to take us all into account.

  2. I wonder sometimes what it will be like when my 6 yr old daughter is an adult and tries to eat out, or worse yet trying to date as a teenager (I hope she will find herself a “Rob”). Right now it is simple…we eat out and I bring along a dinner for her, but she may be less OK with that as she gets older. She is allergic to gluten, eggs, dairy, nuts, beef, garlic and mustard. I understand what you mean about how the list of 7 foods turns into a list of many thousands of dishes and products. All I have to offer is a big allergen free hug. 🙂

  3. Awwww, shucks! Why thank ya, daisyfae!

    BTW, the “bad vibes” about the noodle house were hitting 6 on the Richter scale when I noted that several of their meatier dishes featured yummy stuff like “tripe” and “tendons”. Good Lord! Why don’t they just say, “Have a bowl of our best trash dumpster leavings”?

  4. Difficult to imagine how hard this is – we’ve had a slight taste of it (boo… sorry… bad joke) since my daughter has been a vegetarian for about 6 years.

    I’m always amazed when she’ll ask for a boca buger (bean-based) and be told “we have turkey burgers”… as if that’s the same thing.

    Rob’s a good man! Very sweet!

  5. My new husbands late wife was also allergic to many many things that most people eat without giving a 2nd thought to. They never went out to eat. The best he could do was takeout and most of that would make her sick as well. She was also allergic to nearly every kind of cologne and perfume that is on the market – thus why they never tried eating out. She was going through a trial drug that seemed to be helping her – but she was required to be very “pure” (not having been exposed to offending smells or foods) for a few days before the shot was given (once monthly) and this was very hard since she was a smoker, and refused to give it up. Strange isn’t it…she was allergic to nearly every smell in the world – yet was a smoker and didn’t seem to be affected by the toxins in cigarettes! Anyway, I am sorry to hear you are plagued with these allergies. I am diabetic and though not nearly as restrictive as what you are describing, I can relate on some level to having to really watch what you eat. I am seriously carb sensative so I really have to keep anything white at a minimum or not at all.

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