Eating for the New Normal
Food…you must eat to survive. Food is both a point of survival and the foundation of many social gatherings. If you want to have a successful meeting with a group of potential clients, providing some type of food increases their receptivity to your message. Families do not get together without a large amount of food being available. It is common for little kids to walk into their grandparents’ home and ask what there is to eat, even if they just finished a meal.
Today, when arranging for these gatherings, whether for work or family, the smart person knows that the variety offered must include choices for those on special diets. Not only is the number of people choosing to eat a vegetarian/vegan or plant-based food plan increasing, so are those who are sensitive to gluten, dairy, or any other of the most common food allergens.
As our food has become increasingly processed, the number of people experiencing chronic health conditions has proportionately risen. The term ‘whole-food’ has become a trending word now, as has ‘plant-based’ (which does not necessarily mean vegetarian/vegan). People are choosing to eat less processed. They are seeking to know how their food is prepared and exactly what is being added.
This isn’t a fad, but it is a life/death choice for many. Every three minutes someone walks into an ER room as a result of a food allergy reaction. Over 30 million Americans live with food allergies. Seventy-five percent of Americans deal with food sensitivities (vs allergies). Over 50% have more than one food allergy.
With these numbers, it is not surprising that enterprising restaurant owners are expanding their food choices to include those who have the most common food allergens, such as gluten, dairy, and soy.
From a personal perspective, when visiting a restaurant, gluten-free choices are readily available these days in some areas. Many menus have little symptoms denoting gluten free and vegetarian options. The challenge comes when you have multiple sensitivities/allergies. For myself, I eat a plant-based diet. My major sensitivities include gluten, dairy, eggs, and nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chilis, and eggplant). For most restaurants, this will eliminate the majority of prepared foods. The easiest choice is a salad bar or some type of stir-fry. Then you have to wonder about the salad dressing, the use of butter in cooking, and cross contamination.
Cross contamination dangers can be tricky for those with allergies vs sensitivities. Allergies can be life threatening whereas sensitivities can cause pain and histamine reactions rather than stopping a person from breathing. Most restaurants will note on their menus that they are not able to guarantee safety from cross contamination. All food is prepared in a common area. To be totally allergy safe, a separate kitchen would be needed. The staff would need to be trained in different preparation methods.
The most common steps a business will take when someone requests gluten-free is to change gloves, have one person prepare the food from start to finish (like pizza for example), have separate utensils and (in the case of pizza) a special spatula to carry the pizza that is reserved only for gluten-free.
Even though the number of choices is slowly increasing in food accessibility, I do not automatically assume a restaurant will be a safe place for me to eat. When someone offers to take me out to eat, I normally will thank them, and then tell them I’m not easy to feed. Despite living in a major metropolitan area, it is harder for me to find safe options than it was while traveling in MT during the holiday season. Population numbers do not equate to food accessibility.
Regarding traveling and food accessibility, traveling is extremely difficult when living with food sensitivities. The ‘normal’ eater, while traveling, will stop and grab some munchies at the local travel stop while fueling up. For those like myself, this is not a safe choice. I have to take most of my food with me. Other words, I do not eat. Grocery stores are not close to highway exits. Even when you can find a grocery store, the majority have very few safe items you can grab to eat while on the road.
I remember one trip with my son. It was late at night. We had been driving for hours. I was hungry and exhausted. We finally found a small grocery store. I walked around, trying to find something I could easily eat in the car. I started crying because I could not see any safe options for me. This was a grocery store. It was in a little town of no significant name. Finally, my son founds some stir-fry veggies in the ‘oriental’ food section.
With 75% of the population experiencing food sensitivities, it would make sense for those travel stops to offer more options for these travelers. I can tell you, if I knew of a certain travel stopped made special efforts to offer safe options for the special diets, I would become a loyal customer.
Food accessibility is not only for the near home eaters. Travelers need safe options too. With the numbers continuing to increase, I hope that the common travel stops and fast food restaurants will begin to offer choices for those who live with food sensitivities.
The world is changing. Food accessibility is an important right for everyone, especially