Guest Post: Nicola of Nikki Writes, on Navigating With Food Intolerance

photo credit: These glass floors creep me out... via photopin (license)
photo credit: These glass floors creep me out… via photopin (license)

Nicola and I have lots in common.

We’re copywriters and bloggers. Parents to three kids. Navigation in a world where no food can really be taken for granted.

Today, Nicola is here to tell about her experiences with public reaction to food intolerance. As dad to a peanut-allergy child, I know the world well. For every kickass teacher who looks out for your kid, there’s a truckload of ignorance right around the corner.

Please give Nicola a warm welcome on the CD. She’s a talented writer, thoughtful commenter and champion for children everywhere.

photo credit: These glass floors creep me out... via photopin (license)
photo credit: These glass floors creep me out… via photopin (license)

‘Can I have a jug of water please?’

We don’t do water’

‘What do you mean ‘you don’t do water’, it comes out of a tap’

‘You have to buy it by bottle’

Quote from a server at Krazy Kingdom play gym, West Yorkshire.

This is funny right? Servers in cafés and restaurants come out with some corkers. On this occasion I laughed and told her that I had every right to a jug of tap water and there was no way I was paying for it. Of course, she was in the wrong and her supervisor had to set her straight (and apologise to me).

On another occasion, in a different place, I had this conversation:

‘Do you have anything that is Dairy free here?’

‘Is that the same as Gluten free?’

Quote from a server at Costa Coffee, Riverhead, Kent

Seriously! Again, this is funny, but in an unbelievable kind of way. I said never mind I will check the ingredients in your two gluten free offerings myself.

When it comes to trying to find something gluten and dairy free when you are out and about, it isn’t always easy and the staff often have no idea what ingredients are in the products on sale. This is what happened to us when we were taking too long to make a decision on what to buy:

‘Excuse me, you can’t stand there you are blocking the way’

‘But we are trying to find something without gluten or dairy that our son can eat’

‘But there are other people here needing to be served’

Quote from a server at Starbucks, Rockefeller Centre, New York

Ok then, so because we had to look a bit closer at what was on offer rather than just grabbing the nearest thing, that meant we were in the way and they were not interested in helping us. Great!

We walked away.

Poor service is one thing but lack of education is another. It is the responsibility of the companies to give their employees some basic training. We may laugh at these little faux pas but it is not funny, not really. Not when something like this happens:

‘Can you please make sure that the veg doesn’t have any butter on?’

‘Yes, yes, of course’

When he brings the vegetables to the table they look a bit glossy. I taste them and they are overwhelmingly salty.

‘They have butter on them’

‘No, no they don’t. No butter’

Quote from a server in Spider restaurant, Pamporovo, Bulgaria

photo credit: These glass floors creep me out... via photopin (license)
photo credit: These glass floors creep me out… via photopin (license)

Except they do have butter on them and he is either blatantly lying or ignorant.

Now it gets serious, especially when you are dairy intolerant. Luckily for my 5-year-old son I tried them first just to check.

Restaurants don’t get it do they? Some are more helpful than others are, but the majority still think you are an inconvenience.

My son recently had gluten-free pasta in a local restaurant. He asked for it plain, with a bit of olive oil on it. He likes it like that. Straight after he ate it he had an upset stomach. The server assured me that they definitely used oil and not butter, but something was not right. Either they lied or they did not use gluten free pasta at all; perhaps there was some cross contamination somewhere. It any case, plain gluten free pasta and oil should not have made him ill.

He is lucky that we are there to fight his battles for him. It helps that he is only 5 and cute and so most of the time restaurants make allowances and try to accommodate him. What happens when he grows up? He won’t want to stand up and make a fuss; that would be too embarrassing. What will happen is this – he will eat what everyone else is eating and suffer the consequences. Until he finds his own tolerance levels or until he realises that he can’t carry on pretending that his intolerances don’t exist.

I’m saying this as if I don’t believe that restaurants will have changed by then. I hope that they have, but if large chains don’t bother to train their staff on the basics, what can I say?

Time for one more (and it is a good one):

We took a British Airways flight to New York. I had phoned customer services to order my son a dairy- and wheat-free meal. It was not possible to choose both options on line, so I did not know which one to pick for him. It is better to speak to someone and ask him or her direct is it not? You would think so anyway.

What happened? Well they gave him a children’s meal; a gluten and dairy fest of breaded chicken, mashed potato, yoghurt and a chocolate biscuit. What did they offer my son instead of this meal? A green salad. I mean, for a 5-year-old, come on!



  1. I can’t even imagine as for the most part, my girls don’t have any real food allergies, but still my heart does go out to you that others just can’t get it correct, especially when you specifically order it that way. Truly not right and would upset me to no end of it were putting my child into harm’s way.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      It’s just a practice is absolute diligence for us – always in a friendly, respectful way, but we won’t back down from 100% compliance!

  2. stephrufa says:

    This sounds very frustrating. I have one with nut allergies – but not all nuts and not all tree nuts. Luckily for us – most people understand nuts, I can’t imagine having to explain over and over again about gluten and dairy. Posts like this will definitely help, I hope!

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I hope so Steph – you know how it is, you can’t take anything for granted!

  3. Kathy G says:

    My boys were all lactose intolerant when they were young (but grew out of it). This was more than 20 years ago, long before the problem became more well-known. There was only one brand of lactose-free milk and if it wasn’t in the store cooler your were SOL. Eventually I discovered you could buy drops to convert the lactose in conventional milk. For years the boys knew they could only have milk from the container in the refrigerator that had a big ‘x’ on it.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      You learn and adjust, right?

  4. Kim says:

    Food allergies and intolerance can be hard… I have a hard enough time being allergic to pork products (mostly when it comes time for breakfast or pizza) – I’m glad I don’t have to add dairy or gluten to the watch list.

    I’m sorry you have such amazing luck eating out. Too bad common sense is a rarity… 😛

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Imagining a life without pork …

  5. Nicola Young says:

    Thanks so much for the support. It does get frustrating how lacking in basic knowledge restaurant staff can be. Often we find something will be gluten free, but contains dairy and when you have to avoid both, it can be very limiting. I hate the feeling of being a burden and whether or not it’s just me feeling this way, I’m not sure, but often it’s as though people think we are being over the top or fussy parents. Food intolerance doesn’t cause a severe reaction like an allergy can and the reaction isn’t always immediate. I’m thankful that it’s not life threatening, because if it was, the ignorance towards sufferers would really scare me.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      I love how you incorporated the conversations. It must have been ridiculous to hear them; and even more to read them.

  6. Cecilia says:

    Every allergy is terrible and I feel with everybody who has to deal with it one or the other way. Thanks for your thoughts.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks for checking in, Cecilia – it definitely changes how a family lives, but we make adjustments and make the best of it!

  7. tamaralikecamera says:

    Oh, that last one is rich. There are increasing food intolerances and allergies in this world, and seemingly increasing ignorance too.
    My favorite was someone asking you if gluten free and dairy free are the same thing. Were they raised in a barn? Clearly not, because then they would have known the difference.
    I love when I order decaf coffee, which is only because caffeine gives me the jitters, and people can’t comprehend that decaf doesn’t mean add soy milk. (ick)

    1. Nicola Young says:

      I couldn’t believe that one either, especially from a food service worker. They should have some basic training at least. Costa is a huge coffee shop chain, with franchises everywhere and all they offer is a bland plastic tasting gluten free wrap and some mini cherry bakewells.

    2. Eli Pacheco says:

      The only decaf thing I drink is milk – but from a cow, not from a soy.

  8. Tammy says:

    This has got to be tough. We have a dear friend whose daughter suffers from severe peanut allergies. She even brings her own cooking items when she visits. Any inhalation of peanuts could literally kill her child. I cannot imagine the fear. Nor can I understand a society that doesn’t do more to accommodate the special needs of many.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Some people don’t realize it’s more than “oh, I don’t like mayo …” It’s, “certain foods are a major threat to my kid’s life.”

      We’ve been lucky in that some people have gone above and beyond to make sure our daughter’s food is safe.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.