Pretty long article on why food allergy fakers need to stop, and I’ll admit to not reading all of it, as I’m not that interested in the history of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, but it touches on some interesting points. Food industry staff being sick of people who will insist they have a food allergy, requiring the restaurant to interrupt their flow and find a sanitised set of tool to prepare a meal, only to have the person order a gluten-filled dessert later. Or chefs who admit to secretly using non-gluten-free pasta as a way to “prove” that the customer is faking, because they were fine when they left! Or restaurants who charge more to accommodate allergies, to try and weed out the real sufferers.
I have been accused of faking in the past, not by food staff, but by friends. I can understand why it seems that way, as sometimes I will take the plunge and eat something I’m allergic to (though after reading that article, I’m not sure if allergic is the correct word). Anyone who has seen the food photos from our Europe trip would be more than excused for assuming I was a faker. So here’s my history (as far as I remember it).
I can’t remember what age I was, but my eczema had gotten quite bad that I had to see a dermatologist quite frequently (I remember because it meant I could leave school early, yay!). At one point, they brought in a woman doctor, who had this white case. She said that she was going to draw some dots on my back, and prick me with different things to see what I’m allergic to. My back was going to be itchy, but I wasn’t allowed to scratch it. It’s OK though, it’ll only be for a little while!
My parents had drilled into me that it was rude to scratch in front of others, so I sat there in torture as parts of my back got unbearably itchy. I don’t remember much of what was said afterwards, but I did catch the doctors saying that I had a really bad allergy to dust mites (I remember that because I didn’t know what dust mites were at the time). That night, my bed was covered with dust-mite resistant covers, and my eczema improved.
Peanuts (and maybe other nuts?)
In my early teens, my aunt gave me this jelly lolly thing. It said “May contain traces of nuts” on the bag, but I paid it no mind. About an hour later, I had hives all over face, arms, and legs, my aunt was spreading this aloe vera gel over my skin, and she told mum to take me to the hospital. They examined me, and said it’d go down in a few hours, and that I should put a cool compress over it to help reduce the itching.
It happened again at Beanie’s 21st dinner. We had a banquet-style meal, with shared dishes in the middle. I was told that one of the dishes had peanuts in it, so I avoided it, but I didn’t realise that someone had used the spoon from that dish to grab food from another dish. I ended up breaking out again.
I haven’t tried other nuts, and I’m not that keen on doing so, as I’ve never really had nuts in my life, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I know my brother is also allergic to peanuts in the same way (as he found out in kindergarten after coming into contact with another kid’s peanut butter sandwich), but he does enjoy almonds and macadamia nuts, so maybe other nuts are OK for me, too. I don’t think I’m allergic to peanut oil, as I read that it’s used in a lot of Asian restaurants, and I haven’t had any problems so far – at least not that I’m aware of.
I don’t think I was always allergic to eggs, and there are some occasions where I can eat eggs. I remember eating eggs quite often as a kid, either hard-boiled or scrambled. This one time, on Girl Guides camp, my best friend offered to make me poached eggs. I didn’t know what they were, but at the time, I knew that the poaching industry in Africa was worth a lot of money (I didn’t know what poaching entailed exactly, I had only heard about it from episodes of Captain Planet), and so I wrongly concluded that poached eggs were something that fancy people ate. Fancy people have lots of money to spend on good food, therefore, poached eggs must be amazing.
I cut open the egg with my spoon, and all this gooey yolk spread out. I was going to protest that my food wasn’t cooked when I heard the other people complimenting that it was really well cooked, and it was delicious. (Note: My mum insists on food being fully cooked, which probably explains my aversion to steaks that aren’t well done. I had never had anything that wasn’t completely cooked.) So I tried to bury my queasiness and started eating it. I almost gagged right away, but held off to spare the feelings of my best friend. Not long after breakfast, in the privacy of the bush, I threw up.
My experience with eggs has been mixed. At first I thought it was just raw egg, as mousse also made me sick. But meringues, crème caramel, and sponge cake would also make me feel sick. So maybe things that are predominantly egg. Though that’s weird, because I used to eat hard-boiled eggs all the time (I don’t any more though). I’m fine with egg noodles, and when egg is used to bind things like hamburgers. I’m sometimes OK with egg in cakes, sometimes not. I’m sometimes OK with egg in a glaze, and sometimes not. When ramen comes with an egg in it, I’m OK to give the egg to someone else, and eat the rest of it without worry.
I’m not entirely sure what the cause is. GMJoe theorised that I might be allergic to certain protein structures, which may or may not be present depending on how the egg is cooked. I do know that I’m not the only one who is like this, as I discovered Geoff has something similar, though he’s not entirely sure what the pattern is, but he says he’s only allergic to raw eggs, and meringues.
MrFodder suggested that I try it out, with different things, and I’ve been meaning to, but unlike my other allergies, where I get itchy, this egg one makes me feel nauseated. I don’t always throw up, and sometimes that can be worse, as then I feel uncomfortable for hours afterwards, and sometimes wish I could just throw up to get it over and done with. Though drinking water does help.
This one rarely comes up, but did come up at my cousin’s wedding, as I got the traditional “You’re allergic to stuff” fruit salad dessert. This time it included pineapples. I usually don’t even bother listing it as an allergy, as it’s so rare to encounter pineapples, and the reaction is mild, unlike with peanuts. But this one came up at the recommendation from a “doctor” (I am dubious of her credentials, I think she’s one of those alternative medicine people, but medical insurance did cover her services, so maybe she’s legit?). I used to drink pineapple juice, and she told me to stop. After I stopped, my eczema improved. I’m not sure if it was a psychological thing, but given how rarely pineapples come up, I’m not that fussed about avoiding them. So yes, I’m a maybe faker when it comes to pineapples.
This is the one. The one that makes people say, “You’re just faking it!” I never had cow’s milk growing up. I drank a lot of baby formula, and after that, it was purely soy milk. I think my mum had read too many of those health articles, and I believe at the time, soy milk was all the rage. And margarine being better than butter (which seems to have been debunked and health experts are swinging the other way now). When I finally got to school, they’d have special events like pizza lunches, or breakfasts with cereal (we never had cereal at home). My eczema would flare up. But go back to normal when I had my regular packed lunch.
So that was cut out, and my skin improved. Unlike my peanut allergy, the milk one only seems to flare up my eczema. So if my eczema is under control, then I can afford to have a bit of milk. If my eczema is already inflamed, then I don’t really want to exacerbate the problem. I have found that anti-histamines can help, but if I try to eat something that is almost entirely milk based, e.g. a block of cheese, ice-cream, or a milkshake, then it doesn’t seem to help as much.
The weird one that comes up a lot is chicken parma. It seems they often add something to the crumbing that’s dairy-based, so when I ask the waiter for a parma with no cheese, they’ll ask if I’m OK with the crumb and I’ll say yes. Then someone will say, “But I thought you were allergic to milk!” My eczema has mostly cleared up now, so a lot of people who meet me for the first time will have no idea that I even have it. And if it’s just a once off thing, I don’t really want to explain everything.
Side story time: In primary school, there was a kid who had a crush on me, and I liked him, too. We would sit next to each other in the classroom, as we had assigned seating, and talk to each other all the time. He told me he thought I was really pretty. But then my eczema flared up, and he saw it on my neck and said, “What’s wrong with your neck?” Eczema had been a part of my life as far as I could remember, so it was normal to me, and I casually responded, “It’s just my eczema.” “What’s that?” “My skin gets really dry and itchy.” “Oh.” Then he stopped talking to me, and started telling people that I had a contagious disease (eczema is not contagious, BTW).
Back to main story: I mostly meet mature adults these days, so I’m not too concerned with people freaking out, but unless I think I’m going to eat with them more than once, I don’t want to do the pity dance, where they start mentally going through all the things that I can’t eat and feeling sorry for me. Or I can’t be bothered explaining what eczema is, and usually just say hives.
I’m reluctant to say I’m allergic to things at a restaurant, because none of my allergies are life-threatening, and I am aware of the extreme reaction it would cause in the kitchen. Plus, when it comes to eggs, I don’t know how to explain why I get sick sometimes, and am fine others. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I’m an allergy faker though, as I do get a reaction when eating certain foods (and it can’t be psychological, as I’ve had the reaction even when I didn’t know the reagent was there). Sometimes, I think I will also appear to have had no reaction, as with eczema, it’s a bit of a mind-over-matter thing. Scratching just makes it worse, and so if my mind is pre-occupied elsewhere, and I don’t even notice the itching (like when playing Dota), then the worst part of the reaction can go by without being agitated into a full reaction.
So if I’m out with you, and I order a triple chocolate sundae with peanuts drizzled over it, you can call me a faker, as I just told you peanuts make me break out in hives. But if I order a scoop of ice-cream, it’s probably because I’ve made the trade-off in my head, and I am willing to put up with the itching I know comes with it.
Anyway, I do want to get re-tested, because I would like to know if things have changed. Char also told me that it’s possible for people to build up a tolerance over time, so that’s also something I’d like to look into. And if you’re wondering why I don’t just ask my mum about my results from when I was a kid: well, let’s just say that she’s really into alternative medicine, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t 100% trust her when it comes to my health. I know she means well, but that’s not the path I want to walk down at this point in my life.
And on the topic of paying more for alterations, I always thought that the “soy milk tax” was a normal thing, as they are going out of their way to cater for you. Is it fair for allergy suffers to pay more? Not really. But it’s also not fair for restaurants to have to eat the costs of buying special flours or milks, which are often more expensive than the regular stuff. If the dish costs more to make, then I’m happy to pay more.