Recently I volunteered to cater for my work’s board meeting. I’ve done catering before — how hard could it be? All I had to do was supply morning and afternoon tea and lunch for 10. Here’s the catch: half of them had food allergies.
Still it didn’t seem too hard, as where I live there are many stores catering for those with food allergies and all those I was catering for are reasonable people, none of them expecting to be able to eat everything I supplied. I like to make sure everyone is happy and I wanted to be able to offer at least some choice to those with allergies.
So I started designing my menu around the person with the longest list of allergies. Here comes the hard part. Apart from the allergies to wheat, eggs, dairy, nuts, sesame and soy, he also is allergic to salicylates, which means a lot of fruit and vegies are off his list. I had a mission on my hands but I was not going to let it beat me.
Usually once I have decided on my menu I go shopping (taking about an hour) then prep and cook (around two hours) then pack and take to the venue and dish up (about another hour).
This time I took three and a half hours to shop, reading all the fine print on the labels and double checking. At the deli counter I asked for the ingredients of their salads, explaining that because of allergies I must have an exact list (not just a vague list off the top of their heads then being offered a taste!!!) otherwise I didn’t want it. I decided against this option anyway after I saw someone else being served and some of their salad choice dropped in the salad I was thinking of buying.
Compared to the supermarket, the specialist shops were like a breath of fresh air where I didn’t have to explain about cross contamination and that ‘spices’ on an ingredients list was too vague (exact means exact). When I had finished shopping I was exhausted from the mental stress, and then I had to start cooking.
I looked at my clean kitchen and worried. “What about cross contamination in my own house?” I have no allergies so cook everything I want in it. Even before I unpacked the groceries I scrubbed all surfaces and utensils I was going to use. I also bought ‘normal’ bread and dressings for those on the board who did not have allergies so I was extra careful with the packing as well to make sure nothing contaminated anything else. I also printed out a menu stating the whole ingredients list.
I managed to pull the whole thing together, but I was worn out from the stress involved in making sure all the ingredients were fine for the guests. I slept that night for 11 hours straight.
But I also feel I achieved something. All the board members could eat most things on the menu, it was tasty and it looked good on the plate. What more could you ask for, apart from all the stress!
Allergy New Zealand
PS Our summer issue of Allergy Today is out now. Click here to get your copy!