Names Actually Will Hurt My Feelings

by Jeanne on April 13, 2009

The other day I was chatting with some friends and acquaintances. The subject turned to food. I joked that having my family over for dinner was complicated because we have so many allergies and intolerances.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am gluten intolerant; have recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy to wheat; my daughter has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts; my husband has an intolerance to many tree nuts; and now, it seems, to citrus. I also have Oral Allergy Syndrome to many raw fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Anyway, one of my acquaintances said, “Oh, I don’t tolerate fussiness at my dinner parties. You eat what I give you or you’re not invited.” She said this jokingly, but she was also serious. As soon as she said this, all the energy went out of my body. I get so tired of the “allergies=fussiness” line. For those of us with allergies and intolerances, avoiding certain foods is a necessity–and sometimes a matter of life and death. This is not fussiness. It’s self-preservation. Fussiness is a choice. Allergies are a handicap.

Now, I will admit to being fussy about lots of stuff. I will not eat many things, regardless of how yummy someone else thinks they are. My dad lived all over the world when I was young and always had stories of eating eyeballs and monkey brains. He tried to get us to eat these things. Unh, uh. So, you will not find me eating offal–brains, eyeballs, tripe, sweetbreads, brains, ooze from internal cavities, etc. I also will not eat bugs. Or spiders. Or weird parts of fish, like the fins. I know Judith Jones (Julia Child’s editor) has no patience with this (at least according to her book, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food), but I don’t care. There are so many other things to eat that I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not eating these things. Even if they tasted delicious, I doubt if I could choke them down, knowing what they are. So, if you invite me over for roasted spiders on a bed of monkey brains in liver sauce, sure, my fussy side will come out and I’ll politely decline because I don’t like these things. (and probably gag, too)

On the other hand, if you offer me and my family wheat-crusted pizza with peanut-sauce, with an almond-topped citrus salad on the side, my family will politely decline on the basis that these things could either kill us or make us severely ill for days. Is this fussiness? If I insisted that people eat a little arsenic when they came over to dinner and they declined, would you call them fussy?

Even though my family has many limitations to what we can eat, those things are not everything. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know we eat well. Many, many, many foodstuffs are left that we can eat and we eat these with relish. I will admit to being a foodie of sorts. I like good food, cooked well, preferably fresh and local. And I’m an avid baker. Give me some time to kill and chances are I’ll head to the kitchen to bake something. Of course, I bake gluten-free, but everything I bake is delicious. Because life is too short to eat bad-tasting food.

So, why this persistence in thinking that people who are allergic are fussy? I think maybe it’s because the action is the same–in this case, declining to eat something. But the reason is different. It’s the same as someone requiring an elevator because they have to use a wheelchair vs. a perfectly-healthy person who wants to use the elevator because they don’t want to walk down a flight of stairs. One is a necessity, one is truly a choice.

To be honest, I think that people should feel free to have their own tastes, and should be able to pick and choose what they will and won’t eat. But, ultimately, I hate the fact that people don’t recognize what my family and I go through as a hardship of sorts. It’s often exhausting to be so alert about food all the time. It would be great to be able to walk into any restaurant, cafe, or coffee shop and just pick up something to go because it looked good, without having to worry about its ingredients. But, that’s not a choice I have.

I guess, when it comes right down to it, I hate to be called names. Especially names that don’t describe me. And “fussy” is a name with not so great connotations. It indicates that the name-caller has no respect for me and my choices–regardless of the necessity behind them.

I urge you to read Becky’s rant on her Chef Reinvented blog about her experiences with the casual and sometimes dangerous attitude some restaurants take towards food allergies.

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