Making Room at the Table for Food Allergies

The holiday season brings many opportunities to eat with lots of different people in lots of different places – so I thought I’d post an article I wrote a few months ago for on those with food allergies and intolerances. If you aren’t familiar with HPN’s website, I highly encourage you to check it out! It’s chock-full of information from people who are all contributing to the food movement in unique ways.


Someday I’d like to have a large, summer camp-style wooden table with long benches in my dining room. I love being able to have tons of people in one space and to feed them family-style meals, everyone pulling from the same big pot as it gets passed up and down. Food is a strong unifying force, allowing us to meet together in the same space and share at least one basic thing we have in common: we all get hungry.

However, some of us may feel as if we’re dining alone, even in the midst of a group of friends. The rise of food allergies has made it very difficult to actually share a meal. My friend Seth can’t do dairy; my sister can’t do egg whites; one of our farm customers is allergic to red pepper.

Six years ago, I was told by my doctor that I needed to go gluten-free. I was sad for a bit, until I realized that the best way to deal with this would be to celebrate all the many foods I could still eat – not dwell on what I couldn’t.

And yet the biggest challenge in being gluten-free was not walking on by when I came across a bakery in town. It was when I was at the table with other people.

Do I have to tell them I’m gluten-free? Do I eat the meal they made with breadcrumbs anyway? I don’t want them to think I’m high-maintenance…

I was told by a chef recently that I am “one of the kinds of customers that chefs get annoyed with.” He said it with good humor, but I understand the sentiment. Can it be exasperating nowadays to throw dinner parties when everyone seemingly has some kind of intolerance? Absolutely. But, let’s consider how we got here. Have you ever noticed that your grandparents’ generation didn’t know very many people with food allergies? It was rare, not something that happened with every other person you met. Looking back, we’ve had some changes in the last few decades – pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers. Long-distance travel by our fruits and vegetables. Depleted soils. An increase in cheap, processed foods. We’ve weakened our immune systems because even our “healthy foods” don’t yield as many nutrients as they used to. As Joel Salatin says, food allergies are just one way nature is screaming to us, “ENOUGH!”

I believe we are in a phase of our world where we must accept these allergies and learn from them. I think we can return to a time where peoples’ bodies are not turning in on themselves, unable to process ingredients that used to be common.

In the mean time, let’s be gracious to each other at the table. Restaurant patrons and dinner guests? Be kind to your servers, chefs and hosts. They must go the extra mile for you, which, let’s face it, is inconvenient. Show them your appreciation for keeping you safe at the table with your kindness and your generosity (bigger tips and bigger hugs, people). Chefs? You love executing creative challenges – that’s what feeding people with allergies can be. Please know that the sudden surge of allergies and intolerances is not just in people’s heads – it’s just that we’ve finally started listening to our bodies say, “ENOUGH!”

We’re seeing the many ways industrialized food can fail us. Now let’s focus on how clean food can heal us when we share it together at the table.

What is your experience with food allergies and intolerances? Do you have any ideas for how everyone can enjoy holiday entertaining together?

– This article first appeared on

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About Brie Aronson

Brie Aronson came to Polyface from southern California. During college, she was diagnosed with food allergies and had to begin asking about the source of every single thing she put in her mouth. This led to an interest in all things food and she sought out a way to learn how it can be produced ethically and sustainably. Her desire is to help people shift their focus from counting calories, being intimidated by their kitchens, and being disconnected from the land to one that experiences the life-giving enjoyment of food. Having completed the internship in summer 2010, she now assists with the buying clubs and sales building, leads school tours of the farm, and will be the summer 2012 farm cook.

6 Responses to Making Room at the Table for Food Allergies

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I developed a severe allergy to peanuts when I was fourteen. At first I thought it was horrible, especially around the holidays when all of the goodies I loved to eat contained some form of peanuts. I am now a mother of four children, ALL with food allergies. My oldest three are allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. My youngest, who is two years old, is allergic to eggs, dairy(milk protein), wheat, fish, tree nuts and peanuts. Talk about a cooking challenge! Luckily I cook from scratch. Going out to eat is rarely an option for the youngest one. I feel that the rise in GMOs is the problem. Man has messed with, concocted, sprayed, and “improved” food so much that now our food is making us sick rather than keeping us healthy. The food we eat now is not the same food our grandparents ate. My family (under the guidance of many of Joel’s books) has started raising pastured poultry, free-range chickens for eggs as well as expanded our better than organic(we use NO chemicals, not even organic approved) produce garden. We are trying to offer our community food that has integrity along with nutrients. Polyface has been the biggest inspiration to our family and when the going gets tough I pull up past Hen House posts as well as pull out some of Joel’s books and get the inspiration I need to keep on working. We are now considered the lunatic farmers surround by GMO fields and CAFOs.

  2. Greg says:

    We sell eggs down here in Floyd and I had a customer several years ago that had an egg allergy. She bought some of ours from pastured hens fed Layena, bugs, and grass and she was able to eat the eggs. True story and impressed the heck out of me.

  3. Erin Phelan says:

    Great post, Brie!

  4. Joey Vero Gage says:

    Thanks for the post, it really resonated with me. I am definitely one of those who often doesn’t want to make a stink about my sensitivities and it can be very awkward to eat out or at the homes of others. I think that one of the most helpful things we can do for people when they’re dining in our homes is to put the recipe or just the list of ingredients next to each dish. It takes a few minutes upfront, but it saves a lot of question time (that can feel embarrassing to some people who don’t want to call attention to their food issues), especially if you have a group with diverse allergies/sensitivities.

  5. Joseph says:

    Dear Brie I have never had any kind of allergies that I was aware of until the end of last summer, now gluten and oats make my throat painful, dry, burning feeling, itchy and sometime tickly when I sing. I just become a voice education major at my college studying opera but my allergies to most foods make it almost impossible to sing. oats, gluten, almost all fruits, dairy, pumpkin seeds, most seeds and some fish.

    have you every had any symptoms like?

    and have you ever been able to eat non GMO wheat’s of the heirloom variety?
    I am wondering if i will ever get over these allergies and eat fruit again?


  6. Kathy says:

    Dear Brie,
    As a child cantaloupe made my throat itchy. As an adult it is complete anaphylactic. My allergy worsened as I got older. I can’t eat any melon. I don’t know why. But my children are all fine with eating melons. But both can’t eat pineapple and I can. Strange world.