Clickbait, Fake news and post-truth are the watchwords of contemporary culture. Even chefs tapped into the fakeness hype when Sydney-based Queen Chow restaurant head chef Patrick Friesen appeared to get a bit frazzled at ‘fake food allergies.’’ Patrick posted a photo on Instagram, which subsequently went viral, of three different receipts all with items scribbled out due to fake food allergies. Customers told him, for example, they were gluten free but that they ate gluten as long as it wasn’t bread. Or that they had a shellfish allergy but ate the oyster sauce.
Patrick’s overwhelming request was for diners to not say they had allergies when they didn’t as it made it hard for those with allergies to eat out.
We agree with Patrick for the most part but we think the issue is a bit more complicated than he’s made it out to be. We can see the frustration and agree that diners using the word ‘allergy’ under false pretences is dangerous. Conflating a food preference with a food allergy is a lie. At best, it desensitises waiters and chefs to serious issues at hand and at its worst, it makes a mockery of the gains in allergy awareness made over the last decade.
So why are people telling chefs they have fake food allergies? Customers say they have fake food allergies for two main reasons.
First, diners may say they have a fake food allergy as they don’t like a particular food. When they tell people they have a food allergy however, people become a lot more receptive.
Second, customers who say they have a fake food allergy often don’t understand how dangerous food allergies are. Although food allergies are becoming more common a lot of people don’t yet have a true appreciation of how fatal they can be.
For the above reason, the real way to stop fake food allergies is through education. We need to educate people on what food allergies are and how dangerous they can be.
However, we also need to educate restaurants. Allergies aren’t a problem that will go away. For various reasons, food allergies are on the rise across the western world and are meaningfully higher in the so-called Millennial and Generation Y segments. And we know how much Millennials like eating out (and avocado on toast!).
Restaurants should get better at catering for allergies and offer more allergy-friendly dishes. They also shouldn’t hit out at customers asking for menu changes due to allergies. This is as it leads to stress and even the potential of bullying for those with genuine food allergies. Yes, it may be annoying to have to change a dish, but, living with a severe food allergy is worse.
We could argue that customers shouldn’t eat out at restaurants unless they can eat off the main menu. However, sometimes people with food allergies aren’t given much of a choice as to where they eat. People with food allergies or intolerances shouldn’t have to miss out on social or work events due to their allergies.
At Allergy Out we want to help educate restaurants and customers on how best to deal with food allergies. For that reason, we offer a platform that lets users read and write reviews on how well restaurants deal with allergies. Do read our article on how to make the most of the site to get started!