As my date perused the dessert menu he softly mumbled, “I don’t really want to eat dessert if you can’t have anything. I feel bad.”
I said equally softly, “Please don’t. I really can’t eat desserts out. But it would give me pleasure if you enjoyed some.”
That seems to do the trick and he settled on an allergen-friendly Key Lime gelato. We were at La Lanterna Caffe, tucked into the heart of the former Greenwich Village, now NYU-land, and a cozy mainstay for jazz, sweets, and conversation.
When our waiter/host/GM/tea buyer came around I inquired after the peppermint tea.
He said, “We have two kinds, organic mint and a mint 'mélange'.”
“Hmmm a mix you say? It’s just mint? No almond flavors or something else nutty in that mix? I only ask because I’m allergic to nuts.”
“Nut allergies? Then you should leave right now. No, no I’m only joking. Seriously, don’t eat any of the desserts here. I always tell people when they have allergies that they shouldn’t eat dessert here. You have your Epi-Pen? ("I'm carrying two") Well, you know the story--we can’t control what we didn’t make.”
He then launched into a harrowing Tale of Two Lasagnas. Suffice it to say a nut-pesto contaminated spatula was used with his nut-allergic best friend’s dinner. Facial edema ensued and then an ER visit but his friend was okay. The episode made a lasting and indelible impression upon our waiter/host/tea buyer, which meant now he “gets it.”
After his story, I thought it was perfect time to explain to my date the Allergic Girl protocol in case anything did happen whilst eating out. I didn’t do it earlier because we were going to Shorty’s.32 and I felt confident that I wouldn’t have an allergic issue. But truth be told I should have said something before I ate anything. I’ll admit it: I got a little lazy. But I rectified that at La Lanterna, going through the whole AG med kit, reassuring my date that the likelihood of a hospital trip was very low and giving him the “what to do if…” scenarios. He seemed to roll with it.
I get a lot of questions from readers, or maybe it’s just Catherine of Gluten-Free Guide who’s asked me a bunch of times, how do I handle dating, and dining out with food allergies/intolerances? Or dining out and then kissing someone new with said food issues?
Would you be surprised to hear that it hasn’t been a major issue for me?
With boys that have become boyfriends, they’ve made it very clear early on that they understood the seriousness of the Allergic Girl situation and would do what they needed to in order to be kissable: refraining from certain foods altogether if need be. No drama, no deal: all cool.
Unlike some of the couples in the New York Times, “I Love You, but You Love Meat” article, food allergies and exquisite food sensitivities aren’t about a choice a la vegetarianism. (However, when I was a vegetarian, which was for 17 years, boyfriends were always trying to get me to make an exception and “compromise” and eat meat. Get your mind out of the gutters--I’m talking chicken or steak or duck. But I never cheated on my vegetarian ideals.) Anything where potential cross contamination can cause distress or illness is non-negotiable. This is not to say that there aren’t compromises to be made along the way in any relationship but eating nuts and then wanting to kiss me aren’t one of those compromises.
The last time I said, “To hell with it! Kiss me, dammit!” was two Decembers ago. A guy I was dating at the time had eaten salmon earlier in the evening. We kissed HOURS later. After said major makeout session goodnight, I felt my face tingling and my lips buzzing. When I got upstairs I noticed a saliva trail of hives everywhere his salmon-mouth had kissed me: checks, jaw, neck, ears, mouth. I was a hivey mess! Needless to say, that confirmed I'm still allergic to salmon and I should never kiss someone who has eaten something to which I'm allergic, even hours later.
However what about talking about your food allergy needs with someone new? How to broach the topic delicately, without assuming too much? I find that dining with new friends or colleagues, the subject of allergies comes up rather quickly, especially if one overhears the conversation I inevitably have with managers and waiters and chefs about the Allergic Girl sitch. I've also found that more often than not, in a new date situation, we're both paying close attention to each other on all fronts. So a date will hear me taking about “allergies to nuts and fish” to the waiter and very often that will prompt the food allergy discussion. He’ll ask me if he shouldn’t eat those things either or if they shouldn’t be at present at the table. It lets me know he's thinking about a kiss later which is great and gives me an opening to elaborate on my needs in a gentle way.
The bottom line is there are many ways to go about having the conversation, the important part is that you have it and that you get some serious allergen-free kissing done!