Eating out has always been complicated for many allergy-sufferers, myself included. My parents were always really keen to eat out as a family, so as to not let my allergy feel like a problem. However, it was not without challenge or concern. There are certain cuisines that are categorically ruled out, and when ordering food I would have to ask what the meal contained, as the allergens were not listed in many restaurants. Having to ask what the meal contained every time we ate out made us feel like a nuisance, for asking so many questions. You had to rely on the waiter advising the chefs about your allergy, and then on the chefs to ensure they didn’t decide to just sprinkle some nuts on the top of your food on a whim. There was a great deal of uncertainty as to what was in the food on the menu, and whether or not it was safe. Sometimes, the waiter would say a meal was safe and then return a little while later and say it was not, so it often felt like I couldn’t put my trust (or indeed my life) in them and their hands (and frying pans). This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy many meals out, but there was definitely a level of uncertainty.
All of this changed with the new Allergen Guidance for Food Business regulations introduced by the Food Standards Agency in 2014. Crucially, this includes having in writing which allergens are present in the food on the menu. This now means that the majority of restaurants have a separate allergen menu, which is a spreadsheet of everything on the menu against the 14 major allergens (and often includes vegan options too). I cannot begin to explain how much easier eating out has been for me since then.
…Actually wait I can.
All the uncertainty is gone. I can now categorically know whether a meal is safe for me or not. I have eaten desserts at restaurants!! That’s a big deal!! I feel confident that I am being catered for adequately, with reassurance that my concerns are valid. The physical presence of an allergen menu means that it is clear to the staff that there is an allergy-sufferer to be looked after, and I feel confident that my needs will therefore be relayed to the kitchen. Being able to see the full choice of what I can eat, instead of trying to work it out myself, means that I can chose things I would not have necessarily picked without the allergen menu, as I may not have been confident that they were safe. It is honestly a relief and a reassurance, meaning that allergy-suffers like myself can enjoy eating out in a safe and relaxed environment.
In short, these new regulations have meant that I have visited new restaurants with confidence, and been adventurous with my choices like everyone else. I think that’s the key: although there is a separate menu, the regulations allow me to feel like everyone else in the restaurant, in being able to look at the whole menu and have choice. It is a strange but wonderful combination of feeling like an individual whose needs matter, and just like everyone else without boundaries. It is freeing. Now, anyone fancy going out for dinner?