Forbidden food

I was at a buffet recently and a Somali Muslim man was asking the staff what foods have pork in them. It started when he was looking at some marinated chicken and it was a little hard to tell what the meat was. The labels aren’t always right at that restaurant either, so it is better to ask. He finally was able to get a cook to come out and tell him what to avoid. Even going vegetarian isn’t safe if you can’t eat pork. This is the South. Vegetables are just a vehicle for pork here.

I was thinking about how hard it is for him to figure out what is OK for him to eat. There is a language barrier to deal with. There is the fact that he is in an area that isn’t always hip to other cultures. I wonder if he has the same problem I have when I’m trying to get something that doesn’t have peppers in it. I’m allergic to peppers, but no matter how I ask, I still get food with peppers in it. I’ve decided it is just flat out ignorance or indifference. The waiter just doesn’t know what is in all the dishes, or just doesn’t care. He doesn’t think to ask the chef because he doesn’t understand how serious the situation is. Nothing ruins a nice evening out like getting really sick.

If you are asking for religious reasons, do you feel the same way I do, or differently? I’m sad and frustrated when I keep getting served food with peppers even though I was assured it is pepper-free. Sometimes I pick out the offending bits. Sometimes I can’t pick the bits out because they are too small and I have to send the dish back. Sometimes I am just so tired of it all that I send it back anyway to show I’m not kidding.

There are no forbidden foods in mainline Christianity. You can eat anything you want, and many do, to the point that they get to meet their Maker sooner than they planned. So if you are in a predominately Christian area and you ask for no pork or no shellfish, and you get it anyway, do you take it personally? Do you see it as religious discrimination? Do you think they are attacking your faith?

If waiters are insensitive enough to serve something to someone that will make them sick or kill them, they are insensitive enough to serve something to someone that is religiously forbidden. It won’t kill you if you eat pork or shellfish. God won’t strike you down if you accidentally eat a forbidden food. It is the intentional consumption that is the problem. In an ideal world, waiters and chefs would take every food concern seriously. Until then, we have to either assume they are just clueless or we have to eat at home all the time.

Dude, I’m not kidding about the peppers.

I have a food allergy. I’m not alone. People all over have things that they can’t eat. Sometimes the things they can’t eat are by choice – vegetarian, kosher. Sometimes the things are not by choice – gluten issues, IBS, celiac disease. Restaurants are coming slowly to understand that people aren’t kidding when they ask if something has an offending item in it.

But not always.

I am allergic to peppers. It took me years to figure out what the offending thing was. I’d eat something and get sick. I’d eat something else and be fine. I had to do a little sleuthing to figure out what the constant item was. Once I figured it out, I told my Mom and she said “Oh, your grandmother had the same problem.” She could have saved me a lot of trouble if she’d mentioned that, but that was par for the course.

Perhaps the issue is raw peppers. Raw onions are a problem too. Cooked, not so bad. And perhaps the issue is green peppers, and not red ones. I’m not sure. I’m not really excited about finding out. I don’t get sick to the point of death – it just feels like it. And my tolerance to it gets lower and lower each time.

My husband and I were out at a restaurant once and I’d said I couldn’t have peppers and he overheard the wait staff complaining about it later, that they thought it was a stupid allergy and I was just being picky. He was very very angry. It isn’t something I’ve chosen. I don’t want to have to be sick every time I eat peppers. I’m not excited about the fact that so many restaurants think that putting peppers into everything is the way to make anything have a taste to it. You can’t imagine how hard it is to pick something safe to eat these days.

If you are a server at a restaurant and you don’t understand what it is like to want to die because of something you’ve eaten, you need to stop being a server. If you don’t get that someone is serious about it, be grateful that you don’t have that food issue.

I went to a friend’s house and his Mom made gazpacho. I’d never had it. I didn’t know that it had raw onions and green peppers in it. I was very very sick. I was surprised. I was miserable. I learned the hard way what gazpacho was. Normally I can see the peppers or onions and I can pick them out. I pick out a lot of onions and peppers. I’m just used to it. But I can’t pick them out if they are liquefied.

This isn’t a sickness that causes death (I hope). I feel really ill. Everything gets a little weird. The colors get brighter, sounds get closer, and everything gets really intense. I have to take myself to a quiet area and lay down for about 30 minutes, and then the feeling passes. It is really intense. It is kind of like dropping acid, but without the fun part, and not for 8 hours.

Places think they have to spice everything up to make it tasty. It is like thinking all music has to be at 10 in order to hear it. If you only hear 10 all the time, then you’ll never appreciate 5. Food can be very tasty and not spicy. When restaurants put peppers in everything, then I’m left with nothing to eat.

I can have a little bit, but that little bit is getting smaller every year. I don’t know where the line is. It isn’t so bad that I can’t be exposed to peppers at all. It isn’t like the kitchen has to use separate utensils and cutting boards to make my meal. It isn’t like I can’t be exposed to them – I can have fajitas that have been cooked with peppers. I just pick them out. I can have salsa, but I just look carefully before I eat and don’t get the peppers. It is time consuming. It gets old. But it is what it is.

I won’t die from eating peppers, I think, but it sure doesn’t feel well. It is very painful and scary. Perhaps it isn’t an allergy, but a food intolerance. I say it is an allergy so people will take me seriously, but it doesn’t work.

I’ve learned there are some things that invariably have peppers in them. Anything with black beans. Spinach dip. Some veggie burgers. I’ve learned these things the hard way. Normally I can figure it out, but every now and then there is something that sounds promising but perhaps suspicious. I can ask, the waiter says no, and I wait 20 minutes for my food and it has peppers in it. I can tell. It is like an electric burn on my tongue. Then I dig around and find the peppers. Sometimes I just pick out the peppers. Otherwise I have to wait another 20 minutes for my meal to come, and by then I’m really hungry and miserable and my dinner companion’s food has gotten cold.

We went out to eat this Sunday, and it was 3 in the afternoon. We were tired and hungry. My meal had peppers all in it, after asking. I thought about picking them out, but I didn’t do that this time. I called over the waiter. I pointed out the raw green peppers. By this point I’m tired of it all. Sure, it was late in the day and I was on the weepy side of low blood sugar. But I’m also sick of telling people about a food allergy and being ignored. It isn’t something to screw around with. He apologized and got me the tilapia – something safe (usually). We waited and waited and it came and I was tired of the whole thing by then. My husband didn’t eat his meal. He waited for mine to come. His was cold by then and mine was very bland and boring but it was food. The manager came over and apologized and comped our whole meal. He understood because he too has a food allergy. He said they use peppers in almost everything there. We’ll never go back, which is sad because I’d heard such good things about the place.

Years back I went to a tex-mex place with a boyfriend. It was late in the day and he had to go to work. I’d asked the waitress if one item had peppers and she said no. I told her I was allergic. Turns out the other two items on my plate did have peppers. We didn’t have time to wait for it to be fixed. I just started crying. I was hungry and tired and frustrated. I just want to eat. I don’t understand why a waiter can’t understand that if I say I’m allergic to peppers, that means all peppers, in all dishes. Not just the dish I asked about. If there are peppers in the rest of the thing I ordered, then warn me before the order goes in.

Or better yet- put the ingredients on everything. That would save a lot of problems.