Food Allergies, Dietary Restrictions, and the Foodservice Industry
Thu, 12/03/2015 - 22:59
Abstract: For modern culinary professionals, food allergies and restricted diets present one of the biggest challenges in daily work. Ranging from an anaphylaxis-triggering peanut allergy to a preference for avoiding meat on Fridays, dietary restrictions and food sensitivities cover a wide variety of potential hurdles, and potentially inspirational guidelines, which foodservice professionals must navigate in order to be successful. On one side, a rise in the number of those with allergies or dietary restrictions presents an added challenge, but on the other, it presents an opportunity. Diners with such restrictions are becoming more and more comfortable with going out to dinner; that there will be some accommodation is now expected by consumers, rather than hoped for. The definition of “food allergy,” according to the Mayo Clinic, is “an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food.” However, according to many experienced foodservice workers, the definition is “an annoying request from a customer who’s probably lying, anyway.” Of the many challenges contemporary chefs, culinarians, and food service professionals face, food preparation and service for those with allergies and restricted diets is one of the most prevalent, as well as one of the most misunderstood. Foodservice professionals will tell you that some of the most [annoying, silly, overblown, difficult, frightening] requests they receive while working are for special adjustments to accommodate a food allergy. When a chef is asked if the signature pasta dish can be made without gluten, his reaction is too often a mix of ire, disgust, and even embarrassment. Should a patron make a simple request that his or her food be prepared away from peanuts, images of anaphylactic shock and ambulances in the parking lot dance demonically through the front-of-house manager’s head. Such requests, however, seem to be popping up more and more often in our world. According to the CDC, “The prevalence of food allergies among children increased 18% during 1997-2007.” About 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, as well as about 18 million Europeans. With such a rapid increase in those numbers, one would think the opportunity to impress customers with special diets might make a chef happy, rather than feeling as though he has been offended. The patience of chefs grows thinner still, however, when such requests are not a matter of health, but a matter of preference. For those who, for various reasons, adhere to a vegetarian or plant-based diet, or who follow certain religious dietary restrictions such as Islamic Halaal, finding a restaurant where the staff is ready and willing to accommodate can sometimes be difficult. For contemporary food handlers, ethics and morality play a massive role in serving such customers. A vegetarian diner, for example, may not know that the house minestrone soup is made with chicken stock in place of vegetable stock. Even after eating the soup, that customer will likely never know. In such situations, the decision to serve certain foods comes down to how much respect for his or her customers a chef has. It is my belief that the largest contributing factor towards the negative feelings chefs harbor over dietary restrictions is a lack of education and experience in handling such requests. Things unknown have always been a source of anxiety for a majority of human kind. That anxiety is why we are explorers and innovators; we subconsciously want to make things known. In order for foodservice professionals to handle the large number of diners who now request special items, it is necessary that they be educated from the earliest stages of their careers to expect, to accept, to interpret, and to enjoy working with those types of challenges. By doing so, the food and beverage industry will be a much more friendly world for all consumers, and a much more profitable one for all industry professionals.
Literary Rights: Off
Major: Culinary Arts and Service Management
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