Normally I would not post to ask the world to adjust to me and my food allergies, but here’s a case where it seems to me it wouldn’t cause anybody any trouble, or not much trouble, so I’m going to ask….
On the whole, this is a great time (if there ever is a great time for such a thing) to have food allergies. The world has become a far more understanding and accommodating place.
When I was a kid, eating out was like walking through a minefield. And if I tried to enlist a server in my cause, all I would get is a blank look. I came to believe that most people on the planet had never heard of food allergies, and when I tried to tell them, it was just the most outlandish thing they’d ever heard of.
And usually, they didn’t get it at all. Sometimes, they’d try to show they understood by saying, “So you don’t like cheese…” To which, if I were in an explanatory mood, I’d say, No, that’s not it. I don’t have the slightest idea whether I would like cheese or not. I’ve never had it. I suspect, based on the smell and my knowledge of how it is made (by letting milk spoil), I would not like it at all. But that is entirely beside the point. If you serve me cheese and I don’t know it, and eat it,I may die. At the very least, I’ll get really sick here in front of you, and it won’t be pretty. So just don’t bring me anything with cheese on it or in it…
… you freaking moron, I didn’t add, athough I wanted to.
But often, I just let it go, not wanting to converse about it any more than necessary. In fact, whenever possible, I’d avoid the conversation altogether. I didn’t eat out any more than I absolutely had to, and when I did I went to places I had been before and ordered things I knew were safe.
Now, at the slightest mention of an allergy problem, most waiters and waitresses become so attentive it’s slightly embarrassing. Some of them go fetch the chef and bring him out to interview me at some length.
As I say, embarrassing. But it’s gratifying to have them on board in the cause of not poisoning me.
Sure, there are some idiots out there who are dismissive of these things — watch, some of them will comment on this post — and regard allergies as a character flaw. But their ilk is rapidly become extinct as our species evolves.
This is also a good era for avoiding hazards with prepared, packaged foods. When I was kid, if I wanted a milk substitute for cooking or just to put on cold cereal, I had to use soy-based baby formula — something I had to make sure the other guys never knew, because they would have given me the business, as the Beav and Wally would say.
Now, there’s soy milk and almond milk and coconut milk and cashew milk and several other kinds, and it’s available everywhere, not just in specialty food shops. You buy it and take it home, and nobody looks at you funny.
Better than that… and here I’m finally getting to my point… makers of prepackaged food have started calling attention to allergens in their ingredients! You don’t have to read all the ingredients any more — just look at the boldfaced listing of allergens at the end! This saves a lot of time.
But it makes me want more…
There are a lot of food products out there that are sometimes made with allergens and sometimes not. And I suppose sometimes the allergens make a difference. Other times, I doubt that they do.
Take soy sauce, for instance. What would you think would be the dominant ingredient in soy sauce, aside from water? Soybeans, right?
Wrong. Unless it’s listed as “gluten-free” soy sauce, as often as not, the next ingredient after water is wheat. Which, aside from being a threat to people with celiac disease, is also an allergen. And while I don’t have celiac (although some in my family do), wheat is one of the things that I’m allergic to. Not as dangerously allergic as I am to milk and eggs, but it can cause my asthma to act up. (One of the things about having a bunch of food allergies is that you become a connoisseur of reactions — I know what allergen I was exposed to by how I react. With wheat, my breathing passages tighten up.)
To my knowledge — and if you know different, say so — there is no appreciable difference between soy sauce made largely with wheat and soy sauce that’s all soy.
So, here’s my question: Why not just leave the wheat out of all the soy sauce? Why go to the trouble and expense of purchasing and adding that extra ingredient, then having to put warnings on your labels about it?
It would never have occurred to me years ago to ask this, because I assumed that to most people, food allergies were such a mystery that it would be asking too much for a food product manufacturer to know something was an allergen and leave it out.
But now I can see, on every prepackaged food, that manufacturers know which ingredients are allergens — they point them out on every label.
So… why not just leave them out? Granted, few of us out here are allergic to this or that ingredient, but why not just make a product that everybody can safely eat?
This won’t work with everything — for instance, soy itself is an allergen. (In fact, I’m slightly allergic to it myself, but so slightly compared to my real allergies, I ignore it and just try to consume soy in moderation.) I’m not asking that anyone leave the soy out of soy sauce.
But it seems eminently reasonable to me to ask, why not just leave out the wheat, always?