Allergies and Language Barriers

Have you encountered a situation when you are unable to communicate your allergies and their severity due to an obvious language barrier? Perhaps you have traveled to a different country where they spoke primarily french, portugese, spanish or another language you may not be very familiar with. How have you dealt with these situations. Have you trusted them when they said that your food would be safe? Have you trusted the hotel staff who seemed convinced no animal had ever been in the room? Do you try and learn some phrases before your trip if you know that your language may not be spoken where you are going?

One trick my parents and I came up with a few years ago was to have someone translate a few key phrases and words for us and write them all on separate pieces of paper for us. When we went to the Dominican Republic years ago, we at least 3 different notes in spanish that we could give to the chef for assistance. One would say: “hello, my name is Erika and I have SEVERE, life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, …” another said “can you please help me find something safe to eat?” and the notes went on. I found it extremely helpful to have everything written down, because I didn’t have to worry about not saying something correctly, or mispronouncing it. I felt safe, knowing the chef had very specific messages. The chef on this particular trip was awesome. He did not speak a word of English, though he would nod or shake his head when pointing at items in the buffet, to express whether I could eat it or not.

I find it truly amazing how despite talking, gestures and written communication can be a very successful means of expressing thoughts.

Are there times you have found it impossible to communicate your allergies? Maybe when eating out, or renting a room at a hotel, when you are asking them about cleaning products they use and their pet regulations… How have you felt in those situations? What have you done? Do your friends or family try and assist?

My thought on this topic is to try and have a few phrases in the languages of the place you know you will be visiting. If you live in British Columbia or any other province or territory.. and will be visiting Quebec, don’t worry, there is English and French, though it does not hurt to go prepared, with a few notes and phrases!

Have you become a better cook as a result of having food allergies?

If you are anything like me, having severe food allergies and sensitivities has made me healthier. Living with allergies has made me much more aware of what I eat. I must say, most of the credit can go to my soy allergy as it seems like there are preservatives in almost everything these days! The soy allergy has kept me far away from any processed foods and cold-cuts at the deli as well as the marinated meats and most sauces you would find at the local grocery store. As a result, I have  spent a fair bit of time looking up recipes, getting ideas from others and trying new ingredients that I had never heard of before, and hadn’t the slightest clue how to pronounce!

I absolutely LOVE to be in the kitchen and try new recipes and spice blends. The aroma in the kitchen when cooking curry, or when a tasty soup is on low and simmering is AMAZING! Preparing the vegetables is usually a little time consuming, however it is always worthwhile. There is nothing like a home cooked meal! And all of ours are just that. If you don’t cook much and the idea of cooking more from scratch seems like one that is not going to happen, I highly recommend sitting down, brainstorming a list of the meals you enjoy most and the “comfort food” meals. Then, have a look online, as there are so many variations and some a lot easier than others! Finding recipes from someone who lives with allergies, or even a gluten-free diet is an added bonus, as they will likely have suggestions for substitutions and such ( ie: milk, eggs ).

A few sites I really like for recipes are;

My Gluten-Free Goddess

All Recipes

Living Without

Allergic Living

I learned how to cook fairly young and am very thankful to my parents and grandparents for that. If there’s one thing I would recommend, it would be to teach your kids how to cook. 🙂

If you are eating out with food allergies, one of my best tips is to keep it simple! Remember, the more different ingredients in the meal you order, the more risk. This is just something I have learned through experience. I’ve would also rather eat out with friends and socialize over a simple dish so I am not fearing a reaction. In my mind, there’s no point in risking it. However some restaurants, you might feel confident that they have you covered and truly “get it” and in these situations you might be more confident trying something different. I have asked for fancier dishes in a few restaurants where I had a really good talk with the manager and chef and felt confident that they were being as careful as they could possibly be in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. More on this train of thought to come in another post!

And, if you are interested here is an article about just this topic; “How Food Allergies Have Made Me a Better Cook”

Where to Eat out in Victoria, BC

Check out the “Resources” tab as I will be adding more local businesses to this tab over the next few days. If you live in Victoria, there are many great options for eating Gluten-free and great stores to shop at. As always, I can only post about what I know, so if you’ve been to another restaurant or cafe that has wheat-free or gluten-free options, please share! 🙂

Zero8 Restaurant in Montreal – A real treat!

Tonight my brother, his girlfriend and I all headed to Zero8, a restaurant in Montreal known for there menu which is free of the top 8 major food allergies. I had been wanting to go to this restaurant ever since it opened and was extremely excited to go tonight! There menu is free from:

1. Fish and seafood
2. Peanuts
3. Nuts
4. Sesame seeds
5. Milk
6. Soya
7. Eggs
8. Wheat or any grain containing gluten (barley, oat, rye and triticale)
9. Sulfites (food supplement)

And further details can be found by going to:

We were greeted by friendly staff, all with a welcoming smile and more attention than ever before to my food allergies!

The first thing our waiter asked after giving out the menus was ” do any of you have allergies?” . That and the delicious food, at a very reasonable price, made dinner one of my top 5 experiences eating out yet! I applaud Zero8 for their dedication. There restaurant is also entirely gluten free for those of you who do not tolerate wheat and/or gluten. 🙂 Now does it get any better than that?

My hope for the future is that we see more of these across the country! I would give them a 5 star out of 5 for the entire experience; friendly and understanding staff, great food, reasonable price and safe!

Thank you Zero8. My dinner out was everything and more than what I expected. Next time we are in Montreal we will DEFINITELY return for another meal.

If you live in the area, or will be visiting Montreal, I highly recommend this restaurant. Definitely a great place to take the kids.

Tips for teens when eating out, a short article I wrote..

A short Article I wrote for the AAIA in 2007… from the following link on the Allergy/Asthma Information Associations website:

Tips for Teens When Eating Out

by Erika Ladouceur, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC

There are a number of different ways of approaching different situations from eating out, to going to a friend’s house etc. These are a couple things I keep in mind when I eat out. Precautions are a good thing.

  • If you or an adult is calling the restaurant ahead of time for a reservation, you might want to mention your allergy then. This way the staff/chef will know in advance and possibly set up a meal for you and if not, they will be more prepared when you go for supper etc. (Less to worry about the night of, especially if it’s a birthday party or celebration.)
  • Make sure that you carry your epinephrine auto-injector with you.
  • When you arrive at the restaurant, you can mention to the waitress who is serving you about your allergies, so it doesn’t come up at the same time as all the other orders. (Simply means the waitress is more likely to find out from the chef immediately because he/she doesn’t have to place other orders etc. You have their attention…)
  • Make sure you use the words “fatal” or “deadly” or “anaphylactic” when specifying your allergy. This will have a bigger impact then if you simply say: “I have an allergy to peanuts…” They will be more likely to understand the situation better.
  • Ask for sauces or salad dressings on the side… That way if you see you can’t have the dressing or sauce, you won’t have to return the entire meal. They can just give you vinegar or oil or something else.
  • When in doubt STAY AWAY! If you don’t think something is safe even though the waiter or waitress seems to think it’s ok, avoid it. We know and understand our allergies as well as the foods that usually contain them..
  • Double check, even if you have been told prior that the food is safe.
  • Stay calm if you’re not feeling right, but tell someone right away even if you’re not sure if it really is relevant.

There are a number of different ways of approaching different situations from eating out, to going to a friend’s house etc. These are a couple things I keep in mind when I eat out. Precautions are a good thing…

Language barriers

Have you ever struggled communicating with a chef or caterer or other due to different languages? How have you dealt with these situations? Do you go to a restaurant with a friend or family member who speaks the language? Maybe you take a translated note with you that has a list of your food allergies and the severity of your allergies with you.

There are numerous occassions where I have found myself in a situation like this. Even at a restaurant where the waiter/waitress speaks English, sometimes it is their second or third language. In these situations I have always asked myself the following questions….does he/she appear to understand? Do they seem confused? Do they just nod their head and say yes before you have even finished? Actually, I usually go through this thought process every time I am eating out or someone else is making the food.

In cases where I don’t feel they quite understood the
severity of my allergies, I have always politely asked to speak with the manager. No harm in that!