Yes, I've got a food allergy. Now stop rolling your eyes at me

Posted in 14 April 2015

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At our table we have a vegan, a gluten-hater, a 5:2 dieter, and me, an allergy sufferer. It's quite the supper club. When the waiter comes to take our order we joke that he'll need a bigger notepad.

"Could you see if the chef could do the salmon without the sauce?", asks my 5:2 friend.

I order a pizza. As always when I eat out, I ask him to ensure it's prepared separately from any fish, nuts, and strawberries in the kitchen, as the slightest trace of these foods - even a misplaced fish knife - could trigger a serious allergic reaction.

Something strange has happened over recent years. Just as restaurants have woken up to the need to cater for allergy sufferers, attitudes towards allergies have soured. A host of top chefs recently scorned new EU legislation that requires restaurants to indicate the presence of common allergens in their dishes. Where once was curiosity is now irritation.

Wider awareness of allergies should have had the opposite effect. The number of people admitted to hospital with a reaction to food has increased by 500 per cent since 1990. One in fifty children now has a peanut allergy.

But awareness of allergies simply hasn't translated into knowledge of how to deal with them.

Dr Apelles Econs, allergy consultant at Thames Allergy Centre, speaks of an "ever-growing public awareness of the serious nature" of allergies, which remain "poorly understood and inevitably ignored or, at best, poorly managed".

I hate to say it, but I can't help but feel that my diet-obsessed friends are partly to blame for this lack of understanding.

The surge in restrictive diets, including the calorie-limiting 5:2, loved by George Osborne, the Atkins Diet, and gluten-free diets, has coincided with the explosion in food allergies. When a waiter jots down long lists of dietary requirements, there must seem little to distinguish between those of a dieter, and those of a genuine allergy sufferer. Hence the nonchalant shrugs and rolling eyes I've become used to seeing.

Dr Adrian Morris, allergy consultant at London Medical Centre, agrees. "A huge percentage of the population are now self-diagnosed Coeliacs," he tells me. "There is an epidemic of gluten 'intolerance' sweeping through the nation. Going gluten-free is currently very popular and fed by the media." (Telegraph)