Yesterday, a conversation began in the comment section of John Kessler’s review of Double Zero Napoletana about food allergies and how they are handled in restaurants, and it got me thinking.
While I don’t suffer from any food allergies myself, I’m no stranger to them. My wife has a pine nut allergy – no other tree nuts, oddly enough, JUST pine nuts – and I’m always on the watch for those little buggers whenever we eat out. I’m constantly asking servers about anything suspicious (you can bet dishes with the word “pesto” in there get a thorough investigation). It has given us both a few scares over the years, but none like back when we were dating and went on our first and last trip to the now defunct Mama Soos Café in Buckhead.
While the entire dining experience was interesting in its own right – complete with entering the restaurant to find the entire kitchen staff watching an episode of Spongebob Square Pants in the middle of the empty dining room –dessert defined the evening.
As we stepped to the register to pay our tab, I noticed an enticing little display case of sweet, flakey, pale green baklava. I’m more of a savory-over-sweets kind of a guy, but I have a serious soft spot for this honey-drenched pastry, so I naturally ordered a few to go. As we backed out of our parking spot to go sit at the impossibly long red light at the intersection of Piedmont and Lenox, my wife digs into the bag of desserts and sneaks a bite of my baklava.
Before she has even finished swallowing, she grabs me and says that we need to drive to the hospital. Those weren’t pistachios in that baklava.
I’ll spare you all of the details of how the night played out – it involved fast and reckless driving, being stalked and berated by a woman that I cut off while speeding to get medical attention, and concluded with me standing in a Walgreen’s bathroom stabbing an EpiPen into my girlfriend’s leg – because that isn’t really the point of me telling this story. The point is: whose fault was it?
The baklava was green, but there wasn’t a pistachio to be found. Granted, we both knew she had a specific nut allergy, and neither of us stopped to clarify, but isn’t it reasonable to assume that we were purchasing pistachio baklava? We all know what happens when you assume, don’t we kids? That right. You get stabbed in the leg in a Walgreens bathroom.
When it comes to food allergies, who bears the burden of responsibility?
Is it fair or reasonable to expect restaurants to list every single ingredient in their food, or should the allergic party be more mindful and constantly inquire? Is it somewhere in the middle? One could at least make the case for divulging every kind of nut in a particular dish. Should the diner simply divulge the allergy whenever ordering food, just to be safe?
Where does the restaurant’s responsibility end and the allergic diner’s begin?
P.S. It was totally Mama Soos fault. Why they dyed their pine nuts to look like pistachios, I’ll never know.
P.P.S. And partially my wife’s fault. Why she wasn’t carrying an EpiPen and forced me to scream at an elderly pharmacist to “hurry up or my girlfriend is gonna die”, I’ll never know.