Over winter break, my girlfriends and I got together for a Mexican feast. But when it came to ordering, it was almost comical. Two of us (including me) are dairy free, two are gluten free, and one is a vegetarian who eats fish if she thinks she needs protein. So five out of seven of us required special accommodations—and we knew that if one of us got sick, the night would quickly turn from fiesta to failure.
Anyone with a food allergy or intolerance knows how challenging it can be to order in a restaurant. If I could, I’d go for a juicy cheeseburger and a milkshake every time. But alas, my body reacts in unholy ways to dairy and fried foods. Let’s just say that certain substances cause me “severe intestinal distress.”
And yes: I know how frustrating people like me are to wait staff. Sometimes, I feel as if I should wear a warning sticker explaining that my order will take three times as long as anyone else’s. I’ll ask what the eggs are cooked in, what kind of salad dressing is used, if there are fillers in the meats, if the vegetables are steamed or sautéed, and if soy milk is available for my coffee. And that’s just for starters.
In the past, I’ve run into trouble when— unbeknownst to the waiter—a sauce had milk in it or the “steamed” string beans I ordered were cooked in butter. At the Mexican restaurant, a friend who has celiac disease asked the waiter whether the margarita mix had gluten in it, as some do; he assured us that it didn’t. But before she’d even finished her glass my friend stood up, grabbed her stomach, and doubled over. When she started throwing up into the margarita pitcher, we had to carry her out of the restaurant.
Trust me: nobody likes this kind of drama. I don’t want to send my meal back; if I’m out to eat, I’m hungry. And I don’t want to make other people wait to eat their food while mine goes back to the kitchen.
The headaches of ordering with allergies extend past a laundry list of questions for wait staff. Special foods also cost more: soy milk is more expensive than dairy. And forget about soy cheese, a.k.a. “veggie slices.” It just adds insult to injury to pay top dollar for a cheese-like substance that’s more rubber than cheddar. I guess it’s good to have alternatives—but they’ll never be as tasty as the real thing.
— Courtney Sokol ’15