Pretend Allergies: Controlling the Environment

My friend Anna (not her real name, of course) was eating lunch with me in a restaurant. I ordered a salad, and she asked the waiter if the salad dressing contained nuts. He said it did, peanuts. Anna wrinkled her nose, still an incredibly cute look for her, and said she had a peanut allergy, and could he make sure that her salad had walnuts.

The waiter looked uncomfortable and said that he couldn’t guarantee the salad had never come in contact with nuts. Anna said that a restaurant needed to pay more attention to the medical needs of the customers, and ordered soup.

peanut in salon“I didn’t know you were allergic to peanuts,” I said.
“I don’t like them,” she said, “But the waiter won’t care about that, so I say I’m allergic.”
“Why would you say you are allergic to something you aren’t allergic to?”
Anna shrugged. “So he gets it. Otherwise I have to argue.”
While I ate my salad, I wondered about the client who claims to be allergic to perfume, and asks me not to wear any when I come to visit. Last week I forgot, but she didn’t say anything. In fact, she was wearing perfume. Angel. I am not a fan, but believe in letting people wear whatever perfume they want. Allergy or control freak?

How about my friend who says she is allergic to wheat? How can she eat pasta? I assumed it was spelt, but that doesn’t explain the hotdog on a bun I saw her munching while strolling down the street with her kids. Is this wheat allergy seasonal?

It seems that lately a lot of people I know have medical alerts–allergies and sensitivities. For a while I gave up having dinner parties because there was no meal I could cook that would satisfy all the allergies my friends have–chocolate, strawberries, nuts (ground AND tree), soy, milk, wheat, cheese–aged and new, corn, rice, and eggs. At one point I canceled a dinner party because I could not find enough food that would be OK’d by the vegan, the celiac, and the lactose intolerant who was also allergic to soy. (This sounds like the beginning of a great joke, doesn’t it, “a vegan, a celiac and a lactose intolerant walked into a bar.) In fact, liquor (non-wheat based) might have been the only thing I COULD serve. When I sent around the email canceling because the three menus I had would not please the whole group, I got back one suggestion that I cook all three, and label the dishes with their ingredients (umm, no.) and one retraction of a former allergy. The dinner was back on.

I would be a lot more concerned if I knew these allergies were real. Some of them seem to be control issues or simply a way to get attention and have other people take care of you. And how will I know the difference? And when will I stop caring?

Yes, some people have serious allergies. I once worked for a man who could have died from a single pignole. This isn’t about that. It’s about people who manipulate through fictional allergies for their own enjoyment or their need for attention. Do you think a pet would help? Unconditional love? Oh, you can’t have a pet? Oh, sure, allergies.


–Quinn McDonald is a writer with hay fever who is allergic to one of her cats, but not the other two. She is thinking of becoming a vegetarian. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.