Note: I started writing this the other day, and got to a point tonight where it’s so wordy that I’d like it to simply serve as a background to the next blog to show you where I’m coming from, or as the first part to a sort of “To be continued…”
So, Sunday night we had just come home from our 3rd day of Christmas celebration in a row. Needless to say, we were in a great mood, but pretty tired. I got online to check my email and see what was up in the world of Facebook, and Yahoo! pointed me to an interesting article from Reader’s Digest that made me wretch in horror and disgust. This also pointed to several other articles and blogs around the web that divulge the disgusting inexcusable practices of the people who handle your food daily.
Granted, the actions & situations described are certainly not representative of the majority of your wait staff, servers, managers, cooks, chefs, etc. out there… but I find any number of this kind of attitude and described behaviors to be unacceptable. I was so flustered, I decided to pop some things up on an old message board just so I could sort them out later. I’m not even sure I’m at a point where they’re all sorted out, but I wanted to get writing while this was still somewhat of a fresh topic to me. This was initially just an allergy issue to me, but several other side issues have popped up upon further review. Please, bear with me if I jump form subject to subject before I try to reel it all in.
Generally, I’d like to think that my blogs are mostly amusing… any complaining is usually done within the context of humor, and only marginally serious. I have used this & other platforms to comment on the state of customer service in the food industry before… generally at the “bottom rung” of fast food places as this is where I usually end up due to dietary needs (no shellfish) and budget issues.
This one, however, is serious to me… and I hope I don’t come off as just ranting, and that the seriousness of these issues is conveyed.
If you know me in person, have dined out with me, or have ready any of my lunacy online… you most likely know what I have a severe shellfish allergy. What does that mean exactly? Well, it means that I can’t eat any shellfish, or I go into anaphylactic shock. Not only can I not eat the shellfish (that’s crustaceans & molluscs including but not limited to ,shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, octopi, squid, snails, and probably even scorpions and pill bugs), but I can’t eat any food that comes into contact with it. That means, if you cook shrimp on the grill, take it off, and put my steak on without washing the surface, it’s the same as me eating the shrimp.
I certainly can’t expect the restaurant to clean the grill in between every meal, as that’s certainly not productive on their end… I just usually try to see where the shellfish is prepared, and eat from another cooking surface. That seems easy enough, right?
I get that it’s my responsibility. Yes, I’ve had an epi pen. But I’d really love to not ever have the need to use one. I’ve even considered getting Allergy Cards, but they seem a little pretentious or something… like my verbal reminder isn’t enough.
Well, getting me in to a place with shellfish is an issue in itself. Why? Well in with the aforementioned cooking surface issue… there’s just all kinds of stuff that can run through one’s head. Like not washing a knife when it cuts one thing then another, shares spaces in refrigerators where things may drip on to other things, places where you might grab pizza toppings like crab meat or shrimp without washing your hands before dipping into the next topping, a friend of mine has even told me he had a piece of shrimp show up in his scrambled eggs at an IHOP once… and I believe the same friend even told me that they had a long and heated argument with the servers at a Chinese place where the ‘vegetarian’ eggs rolls contained crab because “crab is not meat”. Oops… Death! (Usually I sadly avoid any Chinese places anyway because of the shared cooking surfaces & probably delicious sauces that can be made with oysters or ground brine shrimp.) This basically makes me never able to completely relax in a restaurant where I’m supposed to be out enjoying myself… it’s an odd paradox.
Generally I can find a safe dish if pressed, and especially if I call ahead… but I need to be in an adventurous mood.
Dining out is an important social activity… a very common social activity that brings with it high levels of anxiety for someone like myself. Not only from the aforementioned game of Russian Roulette Kitchen Edition, but from explaining my allergy to people. Yes, anxiety from explaining to friends, family, business associates, your server, and anyone else who may inquire as to why you don’t want to try a great new seafood place or even Red Lobster or Long John Silver’s. Not only can it be embarrassing where it really shouldn’t be… but it inevitable goes down something like this…
Not me: “Let’s go to T.G.I. Friday’s”
Me: “Well, I can’t really eat much there besides a salad or a baked potato.”
Not me: “Huh?” [Looking at me like I'm an alien.]
Me: “Well, I have a severe shellfish allergy. I can’t eat anything like shrimp or lobster, or any cooking surfaces that it touches”
Not me: “Oh, well just don’t order any.”
Me: “Well, that’s not enough. I’ve had a trip to the hospital just from eating onion rings fried in the same fryer as shrimp. If they have grilled shrimp, I can’t get anythign off of the grill… if they have fried shrimp, I can’t get anything out of the fryer.”
Not me: “Well, can you get steak?”
Me: “No, they probably make that on a grill.”
Not me: “Well, can’t you get chicken?”
[Mind you, I have ad this conversation with seemingly intelligent reasonable people.]
Me: “Well, no… if it’s grilled, well… we covered that, and if it’s fried… that’s a no go either.”
Not me: “Well, that sucks. What about … [Names 400 other restaurants, all with prominent shellfish dishes on the menu]… I don’t think they have any shellfish.”
Me: “No. No. No. Nope. Unh-uh. No. No. Nope. No… ” ad nauseum. I suggest somewhere else, usually less “classy” because let’s face it… those are the places with no shellfish.
Not me: “Sigh, OK.”
[I look/feel like an idiot.]
Then sometimes, one of these gems gets tossed in…
Not me: “Well, that’s just stupid. I’ve never heard of that.” or “There’s no such thing as food allergies.”
Yes, because you have never heard of it, I must be wrong. Off to Joe’s Crab Shack!
Not me: “My uncle Jim’s wife’s neighbor’s cousin’s roomate’s gerbil’s vet’s dry cleaner’s podiatrist was allergic to jelly beans, and he ate a quarter of a jelly bean and swelled up and went to the hospital and stuff and just kept eating bigger pieces until he built up a tolerance”.
Not me: “Have you tried it lately? My mechanic’s wife’s niece’s ex-husband had a neighbor who outgrew his allergy to strawberries.”
First off, this type of behavior is stupid… even if the story is real. It is possible to build up tolerances (allergy shots), and to outgrow allergies… I am well aware of my limitations and have been told by more than one allergy doctor that my allergy is to great to attempt allergy shots and that I’ll never outgrow it.
My favorite comes from family & old friends…
Not me: “You used to eat at Long John Silver’s! You can’t be that allergic.”
I know. It’s WEIRD. I get it. Believe me, I get it. I ate shrimp like a madman when I was young, and each exposure to shellfish since I discovered the allergy kind of seems like the bee sting thing to me, each “attack” gets worse. After the last one… I don’t want another one. But science seems to lean toward this being more random and not a straight road to a deadly end. I really don’t want to be the guy to solve/prove that one.
And, please… if I do go to a restaurant to eat out with you… don’t orders shrimp or lobster and ask me if it’s OK. Every fiber of my being is screaming “No, it’s not OK. What are you, a psychopathic masochist that’s into mental torture?” while I tell you it won’t bother me. Again, clearly my own demon to wrestle with… but really, do you want to be that person?
Still, I feel pressure all the time to just go with the flow, deal with it, and order a salad. Believe me, a salad more often may be a good idea in my case. It’s still just not an enjoyable or relaxing thing for me at that point. We may be conversing, but I’m obsessing over every unidentifiable piece of everything in the dressing and really not processing much of what you’re saying. Imagine that I told you there’s a box of rat poison in the kitchen right on the shelf between the flour and the sugar, they’re all in identical unmarked jars and there’s only one scoop used in all of ‘em. Do you wanna eat there?
This is really just to show you where I’m coming from. I realize that it’s not your problem. I realize that I have some real issues to deal with surrounding my problem. I realize that this is not a terminal illness or anything that serious. I’m not trying to get a pity party going for myself. This is simply to let you know what’s bouncing around in my mind.
It hopefully won’t be long until my next not-unrelated blog… basically pulling quotes form the aforementioned articles and responding one by one.
I’d really like to hear everyone’s opinions of my rant here… am I out of line? Over-dramatic? Illustrative? Insane? Do you think like me? Do you have an allergy?