Sloane Miller is a leading voice in the blogophere for adults with food allergies. She founded blogs Allergic Girl, Please Don’t Pass the Nuts and allergy-friendly dining program Worry-Free Dinners to provide guidance to those dining with dietary restrictions.
I started my blog, Allergic Girl in August 2006 for people just like me: adults with food allergies. I didn’t see anything out there for the adult food allergic community detailing what it’s like to date, dine out, travel; basically live with food allergies. As a life long Allergic Girl, I have a lot to say about the “how’ of living well with food allergies. As a psychotherapeutic social worker, I understand and can explore with my readers (and my private clients) the normal and natural feelings of shame, trauma and anxiety about living with food allergies.
My allergy-friendly dining program, Worry-Free Dinners(and its blog) was started in February of 2007 as an exclusive membership organization, dedicated to individuals with dietary restrictions such as food allergies, food intolerances, celiac disease and other food-related needs. The mission of a Worry-Free Dinners is to teach members how to advocate for their dietary needs, to practice effective communication skills and to enjoy an allergen-friendly meal in the company of the food allergic community.
I started Worry-Free Dinners and Please Don’t Pass the Nuts because there was nothing available for the food allergic community. I love dining out and as I’ve dined out with relative success, without allergic mistakes, for years. I built up a base of knowledge and tips and it was time to share that valuable information in a restaurant setting.
2) What changes have you seen, over the past few years, in regards to restaurants catering to people with special dietary concerns? Have patrons who need to avoid certain foods become more accepted and catered to?
Within the last five years alone, at least where I’m based in New York City, there has definitely been an increase in awareness of dietary restrictions as well as chefs who cater to the allergic and food-intolerant community. In a city where there are 25,000 restaurants from which to choose, standing out from the crowd is crucial. By catering to dietary requests, restaurants can capture that all-important market, one that is growing by leaps and bounds.
Truthfully, I’ve found that patrons with special requests have always been welcomed at restaurants that put hospitality first and foremost and pride themselves on catering to their patrons. I believe ultimately it’s the job of the patron to find those restaurants that care about the safety and well-being of their customers and to patronize them often. Now the rest of the world (chains included) seem to be catching up by creating gluten-free menus, having exciting meatless options and nut-free kitchens.
3) What tips could you give someone wanting to avoid certain foods?
Dietary restrictions (food allergies, food intolerances, IBS, celiac disease, diabetes etc.) and dietary choices (maintaining kosher, halal or meatless diets) are very different concerns. However, all require mindfulness, persistence and determination to maintain. The difference being that with a dietary restriction such as food allergies, one slip can lead to dangerous consequences, including death.
For someone beginning to make a serious and lifelong commitment to their health (whether it be going meatless or dealing with a new diagnosis), my number one suggestion would be to confer with a nutritionist versed in your needs and concerns. The American Dietetic Association has a list of registered dietitians in your area. And if you are struggling with your food restriction diagnosis, I offer food allergy counseling in conjunction with your allergist or nutritionist.
4) What is a little known fact about food allergies that everyone should be aware of? Are there any hidden dangers most people may not know about?
There’s a prevailing belief that food allergies are fictitious, or over-exaggerated. This belief is extremely dangerous. Food allergies are real and can be life threatening. A recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that the American public still believes that there is a cure (there is not) or that daily medication could help with food allergies (it does not). The only treatment available right now is strict avoidance of the allergen; the only lifesaving medication is epinephrine given if there has been exposure to the allergen. It is that simple.
5) Has having food allergies caused you to view food and nutrition differently?
Most definitely. I have friends who eat what they call the “Sloane diet’ because I eat healthfully and consciously, mainly a whole foods diet with few processed foods or ready-to-heat meals. Because of my food allergies, I educated myself about different cuisines and nutrition starting as a young teen. Becoming well versed in nutritionally sound choices as well as dangerous hidden allergen ingredients has helped me to avoid certain pitfalls when eating out (Some examples of typical cuisines and allergen pairings: peanut sauce in Asian cuisine, nuts in Indian curry masalas, fish sauce in Thai cuisine).
One of the best things you can do is use some of the great resources out there to educate yourself on food, nutrition and allergies. I recommend:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for allergies
American Dietetic Association for nutrition
Your local library or bookstore for more information on world cuisines