New Etiquette Rules Make Those With Food Allergies ‘a Problem’

in Managing Allergies
Published: April 4, 2023
Photo: Getty

New York Magazine’s The Cut recently took the internet by storm with its “194 Modern Etiquette Rules for Life After Covid.” Many of the “tips” are frank statements – designed to be a little controversial and edgy. But I was annoyed to discover that, in the list’s section on “Going Out & Staying In,” those with food allergies get tossed under the bus.

It starts at Tip 50: “If your burger is becoming a salad, your restaurant-order modifications have gone too far.” The tip states: “you’re allowed to ask for things based on allergies and preferences. But when your dish transforms into another dish, you’re a problem.” Clearly, the writer who thought up this hot tip does not have any food allergies or other dietary restrictions. 

I’m generously “allowed to ask for things” based on my allergies. But The Cut lumps them in with preferences. My allergies are not something I have choice about. But if because of my food allergies the staff suggests altering a menu item – I’m “a problem”?

But The Cut’s list is just warming up. Tip 51 reads: “No deciding your order at the counter. When you roll up, speak up.” Again, this etiquette rule ignores the valid needs of individuals with food allergies. When we “roll up” to the counter, it’s not as simple as saying “poppy seed bagel with cream cheese.” 

I hate being the person holding up the line during the lunch-hour rush. But disclosing my food allergies at restaurants is one of my most important allergy management strategies. It would be dangerous to not disclose. As I take an extra few seconds to place my order, I’ll now be hoping the person behind me hasn’t memorized this “modern” etiquette guide. 

Tip 102: Eat Anything at Your Desk

If you jump ahead to Tip 102, you’ll read that: “You can eat anything at your desk in an open-plan office. Others can simply leave if they don’t like it.” I guess post-pandemic life is all about what I want to do without giving a care for anyone else? Isn’t etiquette supposed to be about manners? 

Hannah Lank

In my opinion, if you’re in an open-plan office, you should be mindful of those around you. One hopes you wouldn’t have a loud personal conversation on the phone and disturb your colleagues in that setting. So, maybe we should give some thought to the serious dietary restrictions of those around us? If one of my colleagues is cracking peanuts or pistachios in the cubicle next to me, I don’t think the solution is for me to simply leave. Where am I supposed to go? 

The Cut’s list of etiquette rules covers a lot of ground beyond food. Some points are commonsense, snappily written; others come off as judgy. In the media, the list’s biggest controversy has swirled around the guidance on tipping: 25 percent in restaurants; 20 percent in coffee shops. 

However, I feel it’s important to call out this “modern” etiquette guide for its treatment of food allergies. It’s like a throwback to a less aware time. No one reading the list will come away thinking food allergies should be accommodated. The takeaway is that we’re being “precious”. 

As I read along, the Tip 52 had me seeing red. It’s the worst by far and stunningly ignorant: “Don’t foist your allergies onto a dinner party.” Excuse me? 

Dinner Party Tip: ‘Foisting Food Allergies’

The fact that anyone would think I willingly “foist” my food allergies onto a dinner party is absurd. Do the authors think food allergies are a choice? 

Tip 52 continues: “At a dinner party, it’s about what the host wants to do. Just pick at what you can, then eat when you get home.”

This tip displays a complete misunderstanding of the nature and severity of food allergies. It’s also not my understanding of the purpose of a dinner party. Isn’t it about enjoying the company of friends and family and sharing a meal?

If some guests can’t do that because they’re concerned about consuming allergens that could cause a life-threatening reaction, that is the opposite of enjoyable. Is it too much to ask of our close friends that they accommodate our food allergies in situations involving food?

Food allergies are not so hard to understand if others are willing to listen. I am a firm believer that food allergies can be accommodated in social situations, it just takes a bit of work and willingness to learn. Sure, having a guest with food allergies might mean you have to step outside your comfort zone and make a new dish. But that’s a minor inconvenience compared to risking a life-threatening allergic reaction.

I also understand that some people may react combatively to food allergies because they’re scared of causing an allergic reaction. While that may be a default reaction, it’s not a fair one. 

My Own Food Allergy Etiquette Tip

If you have a dinner guest with food allergies, here’s my etiquette tip: Ask how you can best accommodate them. Those of us with food allergies are very used to working around our allergies. We’re more than happy to help find a solution that works for everyone. But let’s be clear – no one’s “foisting” on anyone. Food allergies are simply a fact of life for many people, like hair color or height. That’s how it was pre-Covid-19, and that’s how it is post-Covid-19. 

Apparently though, food allergy ignorance isn’t just a pre-pandemic thing. Unfortunately, articles like this perpetuate misinformation about food allergies and convey the idea that food allergies are a burden to accommodate. That’s simply false – and it’s time we stopped accepting it as anything but.

Related Reading:
My Top Food Allergy Pet Peeves: It Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard
Enough is Enough With the Food Allergy ‘Jokes’
Twitter Jokes About Food Allergy: the Trouble with Disease Disrespect
Panic at the Potluck: What I Learned About Allergy Risks