Feeding people like me. Chapter 1. – Am I your worst nightmare? – Fiona Horne

Posted by on May 7, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Seriously… you think we need a blog about this?” Well yes seriously I do. This is not a text book or a guide on how to comply with food allergen legislation, but an up front, here’s how it is, conversation about the joys and pitfalls of feeding people like me and hopefully I will be able to shed some light on how this can be done with the minimum amount of pain and aggravation for you and your team.

My aim here is not to explain the requirements Food information Legislation or list the major food allergens, if you don’t know what they are yet, where have you been? The Food Information Regulations arrived in 2014 and we had other food allergen related legislation before that. So if you’re way behind the curve, you need to book yourself on a course pronto.

Perhaps I should explain who people like me are. Well apart from being the best food business trainer ever. I have coeliac disease. Oh……….. did you hear that? It was the sound of a million chefs collectively groaning whilst simultaneously raising their eyeballs to the sky. Wait a minute….. there were a few there that didn’t join in, ah you must be the ones who want to learn how to give your customers what they really want or in this case, really need.

I may be sounding just a little bit skeptical or even sarcastic? But you see that’s the thing about people like me, years of eating out with coeliac disease has made me distrust you lot in a big way. Whopping mistakes have been made with my food, too many servers have given me that look, that tell tale face that tells me instantly that they don’t understand what I need and that they are about to make me sick, very sick (more about that later). Now there is one good thing about having coeliac disease, compared to having a food allergy, in that if I had a food allergy and saw that servers tell tale face, I would actually be asking myself at that point, “is this person going to kill me?”

There it is, the next question that pops into your head. “If it is that dangerous, why do people like you go out to eat?” I actually had a restaurant manager ask me this once and instantly, a picture appeared in my head of me striking that manager on the head several times with a large frying pan. Well let’s address that question shall we? Let’s think about all of the socializing, life events and just every day living that happen around eating out of our homes?

Nursery school meals

School meals

School trips

Visiting friends

Sports team trips

Birthday parties

Going out with friends and family




Business lunches

Works “do’s”

Xmas dinners

Now imagine having to exclude yourself from all of these because there is a possibility that if you take part, you may be harmed or even die. (What is more likely to happen is that you would go and sit and watch as everyone else enjoys themselves, mouth watering, as your friends, family and colleagues tuck into their meals and offering their sympathy that you aren’t having such a good time as they are. Mmmm sound like fun? Not really.) Did I mention this is not a text book?

The fact is that every day life now revolves around eating out of the home than ever before. To exclude people like me means that we cannot take part in normal life. I hate to harp on about inclusivity but….you know.

Now that we are on the subject of eating out, let’s just tackle something else, embarrassment. When I was diagnosed in 2005, one of the things that really surprised me was my emotional reaction when eating out. This is going to sound really pathetic, but there were times when I was so embarrassed, I would retreat to the ladies loo and have a quick blub. Ridiculous isn’t it? But it happened more than once. It took a couple of years to get used to the fact that eating out was never going to be easy, I was always going to have to cause a fuss and there were going to be lots of people who would judge that I was just doing this just to be awkward, or for attention and place me firmly in the “pain in the arse” box.

Nearly fifteen years on, I am not sure much has changed, except my level of resilience, I no longer worry quite so much about what people think, experience or old age? – you decide. But having been part of the hospitality industry since I first took my first step into catering college 37 years ago (definitely old age), I have a unique view; from the view of a coeliac, I know how tough it can be to eat out for people with health related restricted diets. I also have another view, from that of the caterer, who is continually confronted, by customers who band the word “allergic’ about to describe what are essentially their food preferences, and who, having declared that they are allergic to an ingredient, then set about scoffing down the very ingredient they said they were allergic to, despite your best efforts to keep them safe, undermining all of the training that you have given to your staff and all of the methods you have implemented to keep their food safe. These customers are essentially using allergies and intolerances to express their preferences, it doesn’t do any of us any favours, we are none the wiser as to the possible effects of their eating that ingredient, but should it matter to us? Our job isn’t to uncover them as fake or to ask them for proof of their food allergy,( imagine that, having to produce a doctor’s note before you order your food.) we need to cater for the request and treat it the same, whether it is a genuine sufferer or not.

In other words, our job is to give people what they want .

In my next blog, I’ll be dealing with how mistakes can be made that can harm genuine sufferers.

Key Points to Note:

People can be seriously harmed or die just through eating every day foods

People with allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease have the same rights to eat out safely as everyone else

Eating out with a health related restrictive diet can be really tough and embarrassing

Customers can be frustrating for many reasons but you need to cater for all of them, give the customer what they want and you will reap the rewards


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