Food Allergies Are All The Rage

I was discussing this with some of my baker friends recently, and we've all seen this even though we live in different parts of the country. Having a food allergy seems to be a trendy thing these days.

It's not unusual for people to tell me that they have a peanut allergy, or a dairy allergy, or a wheat allergy, or whatever. They usually wait to say something until they're taking a bite from a sample cake, though, which sends me into a panic.

Just as I'm trying to knock the fork out of their hands, they'll inevitably say "Oh, it's okay. I can eat a little, it's no big deal."

Well, then, my guess would be that you don't have an allergy if that's the case.

I've also heard from one friend that she had a client who told her that their child had a peanut allergy. When my friend said they couldn't do the cake, the parent suddenly said "oh, she's not really allergic, she just doesn't like peanuts." What?

So why tell someone that you have an allergy, or that your child has an allergy, if there's no allergy? Is it an attention-getting thing? Do you have a sensitivity and it's just easier to tell people it's an allergy? I don't get it...

I can see that if you have a child who's shown a sensitivity to something that you might be more cautious. But if that's the case, go get them tested to see what's going on. Don't expect other people to make huge accomodations (and it is a huge accomodation) for an imaginary allergy.

Which is, I think, the main point. Pretending to have an allergy makes no sense and is also a huge concern for the people who are preparing your food. As a baker, I'm very nervous about cross-contamination. I can't believe that there are bakers who advertise gluten-free products, for example, when they're also making wheat-based products in the same kitchen. You're opening yourself up to a serious possibility of cross-contamination, and you could really hurt someone who really does have celiac disease.

If you're dealing with a severe allergy or medical condition, trace amounts of allergens can put someone in the hospital, and even kill them. If you don't tell me about your peanut allergy until you're biting into the cake that was made on the same mixer as the peanut butter meringue buttercream, you could be exposing yourself to cross-contamination of trace amounts of peanuts. I don't want to be responsible for that.

In my experience, someone who has a true allergy to something is going to ask before eating anything. Personally, if I had a severe allergy to something I wouldn't eat anything that anyone else made.

The problem with faking an allergy, for whatever reason, is that people will stop taking allergies seriously if everyone claims to have one. If enough kids who are told by their parents that they have a peanut allergy eat peanuts with no ill effects, the one kid who DOES have an allergy will eventually start thinking that she can eat peanuts and be okay. It's the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome, and it's not a good thing.

Additionally, bakers who don't have experience with food allergies and basic kitchen sanitation (and there are a lot with no experience) will start to think that they actually are baking gluten-free when their supposedly "wheat allergic" clients don't complain about reactions. When the one person who does have celiac disease ends up in the hospital because of cross-contamination they'll have the allergy-fakers to thank for it.

So please don't pretend that you have an allergy if you don't. It accomplishes nothing, and it can hurt someone else in the long run.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA