When I was a kid, my dad, God bless his willing heart, would take me to McDonald’s for a little outing.
This was in the days before McNuggets, so my standard fare was a cheeseburger Happy Meal. Every time, I would get about halfway through it and get “too full,” even a little sick to my stomach. This annoyed my sweet daddy to no end, as he had bought yet another perfectly good burger, and I ought to eat it.
Turns out I had a sensitivity (then called an “allergy,” although we now know that to be a misnomer) to onions, one that caused instant stomach swelling, nausea and great discomfort. After extensive testing, we discovered this along with a long list, about 20 different items, that caused some sort of reaction or another in my body.
In recent years, I’d gotten to where I can eat just about anything without a major reaction, even onions if they’re cooked really well. I got really good at cooking and decided to chase a passion at culinary school.
Then, halfway through school, I start to get sick again. Turns out that this time, it’s gluten intolerance.
I’m not going to use this post to defend gluten intolerance as a valid problem, so if you have an issue with it, read this article recently published in the Huffington Post for some insight.
Why am I dumping all this on you, after promising not to talk so much about my own health? Because some yahoos on Twitter went and got my goat last night.
A cook (who will remain nameless, because I’m charitable like that) tweeted his great displeasure that a guest in his restaurant said she was allergic to seafood, and she had a “mise en place” tattoo on her arm. (For the unwashed, that’s a term for prepping food for production. It’s a sure sign she’s a culinary student or professional.)
I replied, quite sweetly, I thought, that there were several students in our program with allergies and sensitivities, and why was that a big deal?
Here are some excerpts he rallied from his followers:
“ya I’m allergic to stupid. How can you be passionate about stuff your (sic) ‘allergic’ too (sic).”
“if you can’t/don’t taste the food your (sic) cooking, then stop wasting your time and go do something you want to do.”
And my favorite, after I asked why it’s such an offensive idea that people with food allergies/sensitivities might attend culinary school:
“poisoning them would f*** up the curve?”
I realize that these are all neanderthal folk who just like to troll up my Twitter feed, but they unearth some issues worth discussing.
It’s a fact that, for whatever reason, food sensitivities and allergies are growing at an alarming rate. Some of these people will end up at culinary school because they’re good cooks, and they want to cook for other people.
So, some questions:
- What good is a cook who has an allergy or sensitivity?
- Should they be allowed to attend culinary school?
- What accommodations are acceptable for students and cooks/chefs with allergies/sensitivities?
- And on a slightly different tangent, but the one that started the whole conversation: Does a diner have the right to ask for an allergen-free dish, and does the restaurant have the right to refuse them? (I say yes to both, although the situation provides a great customer service opportunity.)
At school, I have never refused to cook anything. Even if I’m having a mild reaction to something, I always power through and finish, just for the sake of doing it. If I don’t feel like I should eat something that day, I get a couple tastes just for verification and move on.
Since my gluten sensitivity came on when I was halfway through school, I had already established a reputation as a hard worker and good student. I think this has allowed me some flexibility to occasionally make a gluten-free version of whatever we’re making in class, although I don’t always push the issue.
The situation may be different for those with full-blown celiac disease or what we now recognize as true allergies, which can be life threatening. The tweeting cook said I should “do my homework” to understand the difference, because sensitivities were, apparently, not worth changing one’s diet over.
I suppose if someone was so food allergic/sensitive they couldn’t eat anything but rice, then maybe they shouldn’t be in culinary school. But otherwise, I think it’s helpful to the world out there, teeming with people who are getting sick from food, to have a trained cook who gets it.
I know I’ll regret this, but let me know your comments below. I’ll probably go ahead and approve everything, stupid trolls included. Bring it on.
Meanwhile, I’m going to just keep on kicking butt in the kitchen, putting out good food. Sorry if that makes you mad.