If these pairs of letters look familiar to you then you are probably a survivor of food sensitivities or know someone who is a survivor. Food allergies have been tied to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), depression, headaches, and other illnesses (Ansorge and Metcalf, 2010). For individuals who develop food sensitivities or food allergies, determining the cause can also provoke depression and/or anxiety. The process can be grueling, potentially requiring multiple medical exams to rule out medical conditions and without satisfying conclusions. Individuals can be tested for food allergies but many find that the best way to determine allergens and sensitivities is to engage in an elimination diet.
Once the sensitivity is determined, initial relief may surface… until one attempts to return to their social life. As often is the case, social lives revolve around food and beverages. And although many restaurateurs are aware of food sensitivities, it is a feat to allergy-proof an entire menu. As such, some restaurant chains offer special diet menu options but due to cross contamination, it is always a risk for someone with food allergies to dine out. This is a drag. Furthermore, for some self advocates, to have a conversation with the server about special dietary needs can not only be uncomfortable for both parties but can also lead to inquiries from those you are dining with regarding your sensitivities and allergies due to genuine concern or curiosity. They may be apologetic about the restaurant choice, wonder if you have eating disorder, or think you’re a hypochondriac – all of which can lead to moments of awkward explaining or reassurances. These interactions are strange and wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for dietary needs. For these reasons, I consider food allergies/sensitivities a food disability.
And apparently I am not alone. I wrote this post a month ago and left it in draft mode until I could find time to edit. Before publishing this post, I did a quick search online and came across articles published yesterday speaking to the possibility of food allergies qualifying as a legitimate disability with ADA. See article.
Food disabilities are so common that the language of food chemistry has become mainstreamed. The average person knows more about food composition than ever before. In addition, when shopping for groceries people are reading labels and searching for terms such as HFCS, GMO or they quickly glance for “May contain: wheat, soy, milk products.” Pairs of letters on cereal boxes, cookies, or bread (GF, WF, Soy free, Vegan) can make us feel a rush of joy.
The discussion continues as to why food sensitivity developments and awareness have exploded in the past few years. Regardless, for those who have them, please know – you are not alone. It’s difficult, not everyone understands, it requires adjustment, and for some, grieving the ability to eat “normally.” Hopefully, you have supportive people around you that can help you enjoy your dining experience.