For those of you who don’t know, I have A LOT of life-threatening food allergies… so many that even I forget what they are sometimes! I’m allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, eggs, lentils, peas, Dijon mustard, kiwis, and bananas (yeah... I know the bananas one is weird. I have no idea how that one happened). I always carry an epi-pen on me, and you can easily find me sniffling my way through spring semester.
When I first moved to LA from Seattle, I was terrified of having to adjust to a new culinary lifestyle. I had already spent so much time finding where I could eat safely back home, and the idea of doing it all over in a huge city with a very diverse menu seemed a daunting task. I had no idea where was safe to eat, and I was too nervous to go out and try new restaurants. I was already settled with the idea that I’d only be eating store-bought oatmeal until my mom got me in contact with Lindsey Pine, a registered dietician at USC who helps kids with food restrictions navigate the jungle of restaurants at USC. She was able to pass along some wonderful tips and ideas on how to eat (safely) in Los Angeles and on campus.
I understand how important it is to read a label in person, and I also understand the awkwardness of interrogating a food worker about ingredients. So, for those of you still feeling uncomfortable with food, I have created a few tips and tricks with what I learned from Ms. Pine and my own experiences.
But before I get into that, it’s probably important to mention you’ll be spending a lot of time around Viterbi. If you get hungry, Seeds (by Ronald Tutor Hall) has several allergy friendly packaged products where you can read the label, and Lemonade (right above Seeds) is pretty good with answering questions about food. If you want something a little closer to Viterbi, I recommend talking with Lindsey Pine to get clearance for the allergy-awareness section of Parkside Hall, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner all without the major allergens!
And here are some tips!
1. Don’t be afraid to ask, and I mean really ask about how food is prepared/what its contaminated with. It’s either a few moments of awkward interrogating or your life.
2. Speak with a chef instead of a cashier/waitress. Usually employees just serve your food, so it’s best to have your questions answered by those who directly make your food.
3. If you’re feeling uncomfortable about eating something (i.e. a label wasn’t clear about allergens, a server wasn’t sure, etc.), don’t eat it. It’s as simple as that. It’s never worth risking your health because you feel obligated to eat something.
4. This one is a random, but if your friends/family all want to eat out somewhere you can’t, just order a drink. I usually get hot water with lemon. It’s an easy way to feel comfortable both socially and health-wise.