When is an allergy not an allergy?

Mushrooms - a food allergy or a common dislike?

Is it really an allergy or just a dislike? 

Lunch today was more than my usual sandwich. I shared the time with friends at one of Wellington’s favourite cafe/deli’s – La Bella Italia. The menu was fabulous and I was totally spoiled for choice. Not only were the offerings on the menu many and varied, but the specials described by our italian waiter sounded even more tempting in his heavily accented english.

However, one of my friends did not enjoy such luxury of choice. She’s allergic to seafood. How damned inconvenient is that!!!

I am so lucky. I’m not allergic to anything…I can eat whatever I like and feel genuinely sorry for those who do have food allergies. It must be incredibly hard having to watch food intake so carefully especially with young children.

Allergies these days seem so much more commonplace than they were when we were growing up. I don’t recall any of my friends having problems with food. We grew up in an era where you ate what you were given – absolutely everything on your plate – especially at anyone else’s house and even if you loathed it. There was certainly no room for saying “Oh, I don’t eat mushrooms, I don’t like them”, and pushing them to the side of your plate.

My Dad was Polish – in Poland tripe something of a national dish. My mother decided (only once) that she would cook some for him. The smell as it was going through the first cycle of cooking was disgusting and I mean truly disgusting – there’s no other word for it!

She had all the windows open and assured us that after the lengthy preparation (I think she had to boil it for several hours at least twice), we would all really enjoy it. It duly arrived in front of us and we spent much of the evening pushing it round the plate wondering how on earth we were going to dispose of the white gooey rubbery nodule-covered mass without actually eating it. I remember my stomach heaving with the first forkful – watched over by my father of course.

The house rule was that we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we’d eaten every morsel on our plates.

Thankfully our parents left the kitchen for a few minutes, so we took the opportunity to secrete the offending meal at the bottom of the rubbish bin. Even though we assured them that we’d eaten every scrap, Mum never ever cooked it again. Many years later when she and I were visiting Polish family in London for lunch, she told me her one fear was that they’d serve tripe – which they did! It was in a soup this time…naturally I did as I had been trained to do from childhood – I ate it all and said how delicious it was.

It wasn’t!

Only this time my stomach wasn’t heaving with each spoonful. Let’s face it (no offence to my Mum) it was cooked by someone who really knew what she was doing!

So getting back to allergies – I would be really interested in finding out how many people say they are allergic to something rather than owning up to simply not liking it. It’s far more acceptable isn’t it. I’m not saying that my friend was trying to hide a dislike of seafood – not at all. I mean, what’s not to like?  But maybe, just maybe we are far more sympathetic to the word ‘allergy’ than we are to ‘don’t like’.

If you serve a meal to someone who then says “Oh I’m sorry I can’t eat asparagus – I’m allergic to it,” we apologise profusely and beat ourselves up for not asking them earlier for a brief on what they can and cannot eat. How thoughtless we are…

Or are we?

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