Local MK area writer Emma Norris discusses how allergies have affected eating out during her life and how advances in law and understanding have benefitted her.
Eating at places other than my own home with severe allergies was always an extremely unnerving experience for me as a child; I vividly remember bringing my own packed lunch to birthday parties and sitting in a different room to my peers, who were happily munching away on peanut butter sandwiches and shop-bought cakes and pastries. Even after eating-time was over, I used to sit in fear of being touched with contaminated hands or coming into contact with an un-wiped surface.
Travelling to different countries was just as terrifying; I carried allergy cards with me and used them everywhere I went. After reading and seemingly understanding my allergy at one restaurant in Spain, the waiter left and promptly returned with a large bowl of salted peanuts – just for me! My mum used to pack entire home-cooked frozen meals for us, as trying to manoeuvre foreign supermarkets was always a minefield – in fact it became a running joke in my family that we must be the only people on the planet who’d ever bring an entire pre-cooked lasagne with us in our suitcase!
Even eating locally was tricky – the last severe allergic reaction I suffered as a child was at a nearby Chinese restaurant (which no longer exists) that knew me and my allergies well. Yet, even with this supposed knowledge and understanding, a contaminated wooden spoon meant I was hospitalised for a few days. In fact, even my hospital stay wasn’t free from fear – the meal I was served on the children’s ward contained nuts. Thankfully my cautious nature as a child avoided yet another catastrophe.
From then on, I struggled in the knowledge that, unless people had a real, true understanding of severe allergies, I’d never feel fully safe eating a meal cooked by another person as it relied on trust; oftentimes the trust of total strangers.
This was of course until the European legislation was released in 2011, enforcing that the 14 most common allergens are declared. This allowed me to breathe a huge sigh of relief, as I’m sure it did for many allergy sufferers. Although my local experiences in eateries and establishments as a child were fear-inducing, as an adult I have found that restaurants and takeaways, especially in areas in and around Milton Keynes, cater exceptionally well for people just like me.
Although eating meals cooked by others will always carry some risk, the rising prevalence and understanding towards allergies, intolerances and food preferences has benefited severe allergy-sufferers immensely.