Bringing Outside Safe Food In?

Which one of these things is not like the other?

Do you see the Bonne Maman jar in the upper right corner of the frame?

Yup, that's mine, from home. It contains about 3 ounces of Lactaid milk for my tea. I'm lactose intolerant and I don't know one restaurant in New York that offers lactose-free milk. Skim milk, soy milk, sure; but lactose-free, not so much. So, I brought my own for this breakfast meeting at Le Pain Quotidien. [BTW: NOT a safe spot for anyone with a wheat or tree nuts allergy as it's all breads and pastries. As you can see I was having a soft boiled egg that was contaminant free].

You know what? Not one person in the restaurant questioned it. I thought I might get a stray look, a glance, maybe even an eyebrow raise but nothing. It was a non-event. Brilliant! If Lactaid only came in UHT packs I could carry some around with me all the time.


I wonder how many of you are not eating out because of food allergies and food intolerances? Between cross contamination, aerosolyzed protein particles, poor communication between the kitchen and servers and poorer food safety education, there are many very excellent reasons not to leave the safety of the home kitchen.

Yet, there are other equally good reasons to leave one's house and venture out and even if it's a non focused food event there's usually food with which one must contend. Movies, food. Bowling, food. Hiking, food. Skiing/ice skating, food. Art opening, food. College classes, food. Now they even let you bring food into a Broadway theater! Sheesh.

I wonder how many of you consider bringing your own dinner with you to a social food or non-food gathering? I've brought safe foods to social gatherings many times or I've eaten at home pre-event.

Bringing food into a restaurant? Even I have done that rarely, if ever. My sense is that generally restaurants don't like it when you do that. They charge a corkage fee when you bring your own wine and a plating fee when you bring your own cake, I wonder what would a restaurant charge if I brought my own entree--an entree-age fee?

What if a restaurant didn't feel safe accommodating me but I had to eat there for work or a unbreakable social engagement? I wonder what would happen. Could they deny me outside food? Hmmm, maybe I should trying bringing my tuperwared dinner just to see what would happen; it would be an interesting experiment.

Do any of you bring outside food in?


Bo said…
Although veganism isn't the same thing as food allergies, speaking as a former vegan with anaphalactic allergies and food allergies, I'm all for the idea of bringing your own food. It's about taking care of yourself. I remember attending a lunch at Balthazar for a business meeting while I was still a vegan. The only thing I could have was a simple salad and some bread. I asked them if they minded if I brought some food with me. They said it wasn't a problem at all.
Allergic Girl® said…
really balthazar was that cool?
hmm interesting. did they charge you a fee?
We've done it for the Little Man. We've just told the restaurant (family friendly chains) that he has food allergies and no one minds. Usually when they find out what he's allergic to they seem relieved that we aren't asking them to cook for him.
Allergic Girl® said…
i could see that being true here in NYC too esp for kids. they're aren't expected to big expensive food or drink vino, where a resto makes alot of their dough on markup.

im glad you've been able to find places near you that are cool with that.

i bet there'd be a sigh of relief too if i walked into a resto with my list of allergies and a tuperware pack. i may just have to try it out. ;-)
Bo said…
No extra charges. I think they were kind of relieved that they didn't have to deal with me. It's my belief that resturants hate vegans. They can understand people with allergies (you can't control it, it's biology). Since veganism is a choice (there is nothing really wrong with you) they just see you as being uppity. Balthazar just gave me a place setting and utensils. I did get the salad though - to be nice and all. It may have also helped that I was there with three other people who all order heartily. I did it a few other time and no one really seemed to care. I think it's more the small mom and pop places that need every chair making a profit that wig out at such requests.
Sea said…
I think different states have different laws about bringing food in- at least according to gluten-free menus of national chains, they seem to indicate that some states will allow bread to be brought in for sandwiches and others will not due to sanitation laws, or something silly like that.

I've made it a practice to bring my own wheat free tamari to sushi restaurants for ages, though, and no one has ever questioned it. It's easiest when i have one of the little plastic condiment pouches, but I've even brought in pepper jars containing soy sauce... and yes, it leaked.

I brought dessert to a wedding once- best cheesecake ever. ;)

Karen said…
I am gluten-intolerant and allergic to many other things including eggs, corn sugar cow's milk and ginger...they give me migraine and sinus congestion. Due to the migraine, I also avoid a lot of other things like preservatives and some vinegars. So, I have been bringing my own salad dressings to restaurants and no one says anything at all. If they look at my tupperware container, I just tell them I have allergies and they seem to be relieved not to have to deal with it.

When I was in Paris last summer, I brought a dozen homemade GF muffins with me and took one into the hotel dining room for breakfast each morning (although I paid for a continental breakfast so I could have some fruit and water for my tea). No one gave me any grief about that either.

One trend I have noticed in restaurants of late is how many pre-marinated things there are. Makes it very difficult for those of us with allergies. I try to stick to better restaurants, but I had an experience once where the only thing on the menu that wasn't pre-marinated was the scallops! Lucky for me I am not allergic to shellfish.

Allergic Girl® said…
wow ladies! great stories, thanks for sharing.
Jasmine said…
This is a great post. When I started on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (no sugar, no grain/starch), I did avoid eating out ... but then I got brave--bored and lonely!--and started to venture out. I would bring my own plain home-cooked chicken in a Ziploc and pop it right on the garden salad. No one questioned it. Very encouraging!
Allergic Girl® said…
i love that story! i'm gonna try it next time i'm faced with a go and don't eat dinner invitation or go bringing my own dish....
JTmom said…
We have recently begun bringing our own pan and spatula to restaurants in NYC for our 8 year old milk-anaphylactic son. This has gone a long way in minimizing risks of cross-contamination, which are very real when talking about a severe allergy to dairy, which is everywhere in most restaurants. Most restaurants seem to appreciate that we are taking some of the burden on ourselves (although one chef seemed to take the pan and spatula from home as an implicit insult re the cleanliness of her kitchen...). My son is much less anxious about possible accidents when we do this, as are we.
Allergic Girl® said…
super smart idea JTMom!

i'm curious, where have you been bringing the pan/spatula combo? neighborhood places or other kinds of restos here in NYC?
Allergic Girl® said…
from JTMOM [who was having commenting issues and emailed me directly to post this]:

“Mostly more upscale Asian restaurants, since they tend to have less dairy ingredients. We started with an UWS place, Rain, because we know one of the owners, and felt that they would take my son's restrictions seriously. They have been extremely gracious each time we go (we always call ahead, and try to go on the earlier end, when they are not as busy). I would recommend them to anyone with allergy restrictions, although probably not for those with severe nut allergies.

We have also had success at a run of the mill Chinese place, although communication (language barrier) was more complicated. But that is the beauty of the pan and spatula from home -- it reduces the possibility that the chef, kitchen staff may get all the ingredients right (which tends to be less of a problem in our experience) but then sticks the safe food on a contaminated grill or pan. This is where communication often breaks down...

We intend to expand our restaurant repertoire, and in that respect, your blog recommendations are great!!”
Allergic Girl® said…
you may wanna give LILLI AND LOO
a try. they have a GF menu and are allergen friendly. i've been there a bunch and co-owner maggie is helpful and allergy aware.
I remember reading ages ago that Carol Channing brought her own food to restos and I just found the original article in the New York Times from 1995 (thanks Google) when, at 74, she was once again the star of "Hello Dolly" on Broadway. Check this out:

"For years Miss Channing carried her own food in silver containers, to restaurants and social gatherings. Some thought it was an affectation. Not so: her food was prepared with bottled water, because she was allergic to something in tap water, she says. Added to that, was another allergy, diagnosed recently, from her hair dye.

When she stopped using the hair dye, her sensitivity to tap water eased. Now she can eat anything other than sugar."

I love it when people are bold enough to do what they have to take care of themselves without being intimidated by serving staff. Once when I was out to dinner with a doctor friend and his hamburger smelled really bad, he just pushed it aside and refused to let the server know there was a problem, preferring to go hungry rather than call attention to himself or be what he considered impolite.

I certainly understand that restaurants stay in business by selling food and not encouraging people to bring their own, but for the allergic person who otherwise couldn't join their friends it's not an everyday/every meal occurence and the pan/spatula idea is genius!

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