From a young age, you can see that a lot of things revolve around food. Birthday parties turn into slumber parties and dinners out, and dinners out eventually turn into parties with alcohol and lots of parent provided snacks. Limiting food can put a limit on your social life, and when you’re not the person running the school, it can feel almost impossible to speak up about changing the venue of one of these events.
I can’t count the number of times I said, “no you don’t understand,” to my parents while trying to explain to them that I couldn’t just tell my friends I wasn't able to eat at that specific ice cream shop or restaurant. To me, it seemed easier to make up an excuse than it did to explain my food allergies, something I could barely understand the rules of most days.
Being met by the question “so why can you eat at this Japanese restaurant you like but not the one that we picked?” was enough to throw me and make me wish I skipped the whole thing. For the most part though, people didn’t mean the questions maliciously; they just didn’t understand.
And that was the hardest part to wrap my head around.
With food allergies, you’re always on the defensive. You’re ready to fight back against a waiter who doesn’t want you to speak to the chef or a person serving ice cream who was instructed not to bother the manager. In a way, you’re always ready for the fight and the explanation (that shouldn’t be needed, but always is) to defend.
It took me a long time to realize that people aren’t trying to poke holes in my food allergy story, they're just trying to understand so they can do better next time.
I think the hardest part of all is that it isn’t just black and white. I can’t explain to you why one Italian restaurant is safer than another when their menus look exactly the same. But, you can accept that it’s on my safe list and join me for dinner, or you can go out alone and eat somewhere else. And when it’s a matter of life or death, it really is as simple as that.