Dismissing sensitivities - one's fad is another's frustration

Posted: 2016-03-22

An acquaintance of mine lost three days of her vacation to feeling very ill when her waiter was too busy to answer her questions accurately.  “Are the chips gluten free?” was met with an eye roll and “They are corn chips, yes, they’re gluten free”. She inquired again on her next visit being told that their standard corn chips contained wheat but they have gluten free chips available. She was frustrated as she found out her original waiter had been there for years and was well aware of their gluten free options. The restaurants apology and their comment that sometimes that waiter “doesn’t handle requests well when he gets busy” did not make up for her three days spent sick in her hotel room.


Living an alternative food lifestyle, be it food allergy, celiac disease, or a sensitivity has become easier, but there is still a great need for education and awareness about all types of food needs. Public awareness and increased demand have created choices, allowing more options in safe food and dining. Continued conversation will work to change dismissive attitudes to understanding. Much of my work is with food sensitivities. Over the years people have shared stories like this one that continue prove the continued need for this conversation.


When someone has an allergy, there is an understanding of zero tolerance for the offending food. If you have seen someone experience anaphylactic shock, you know the dangers and the urgency. In the same way, Celiac disease has the word “disease” right there. Even if someone doesn’t understand what wheat gluten is they likely understand it is serious.


Saying you have a food sensitivity, on the other hand, is not as well understood. When it comes to having a sensitivity, there is confusion as to what it is and what it actually means to the person experiencing it.


I’m often asked how food could do this to a person. There are many answers to that question, but let me ask you this one. If I told you to take all white sugar, chocolate and coffee out of your life what would you say? This is where most people respond, “Oh, I couldn’t do that! I couldn’t function”. Those happy feelings and the boost you get when you eat those delicious foods are the effects those foods have on you - you just happen to like those effects and what they provide. Now, if coffee, etc. made you so sick you couldn’t go to work or to fun events most days, this might cause you to have to give them up. Not to mention, you can usually tell that chocolate is in a dish, but a lot of sensitive prone foods can be more hidden.


It has become commonplace to have a vegetarian option. We have come to respect that choice. We don’t tell the vegetarian their views are a fad and they should just get over it, even though many people shift in and out of the veg lifestyle for various reasons. We also respect taste preferences. When you request no mayo and the sandwich arrives with mayonnaise oozing out the side, there is no shame in calling this to the attention of the wait staff.


Ethical choices or taste preferences are many times placed above someone’s health, wellbeing and their ability to function. When someone feels better by not consuming a food, how much better does better have to be before a person can say they need to eat X free? What is healthy and feeling good really worth to us? What does it mean?


Those with sensitivities don’t typically come with a document of diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or doesn’t have true, life altering effects. We may not understand the how and the why but something is happening in their body.


The story above didn’t happen in Duluth, but it could have. We’re in a unique pocket of awareness that offers options not always found in other cities or even huge metro areas, but there is need for improvement, awareness, and education. Here in Duluth there are people, practitioners, stores and restaurants that offer choices and support to those with special food needs. Let’s just make sure we all continue to chat.


Copyright 2016 © by Judy Breuer; All rights reserved.

This article was published with permission in the Sunday March 20, 2016 issue of the Duluth Budgeteer News as "Food sensitivity is nothing to sneeze at".