Last night I watched Food Unwrapped Investigates, along with some predicted 1.9 million viewers, all on the edge of our seats to see the much awaited Allergy Special, uncovering the shocking truth of eating out with allergies.
Shame on you anonymous chef!
There was an anonymous chef featured who wanted his identity to remain private. The ‘anonymous’ chef was a joke. A caricature of a chef. I sincerely hope that no one really believes the things he said. It was almost as if the whole conversation was staged for the most effect.
This anonymous chef sounded so much like a very prominent celebrity chef. And if it’s not the person we all think it is Channel 4 did a great job of making it sound just like him. I will be shocked and disappointed if it is, especially after all the support in the past for the FreeFrom Food Awards.
Here are my responses to the ‘anonymous chef’:
- Allergies are a huge problem we’ve created ourselves.” – The only thing this chef said that I agree with is that allergies are fast becoming a huge problem for our nation and the world. But a problem we have created ourselves? I don’t think so. No one asks to have allergies. No one chooses to have them. According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, In the UK, 1-2% of adults have a food allergy. This, combined with the 5-8% of children with a food allergy, equates to about 2 million people. A kind response to this would be a kinder one. We have a situation, now how can we help those affected to feel included, to be included. The whole interview with this chef was unkind and showed no empathy. This guy actually thought those with allergies should be excluded from normal life.
- “It’s only getting worse.” – Yes it is. It is growing and fast and it seems that we don’t really know why that’s happening. The number of adult patients admitted to hospital because of allergies has more than doubled since 2013, reaching a record high of 27,172 in 2019/2020. This again from the Anaphylaxis Campaign.
- “People with allergies are weak” – I beg to differ. Every person that I’ve met who lives with life threatening allergies are strong, brave, courageous people. People who do not deserve your attitude. Clearly you don’t have allergies yourself but I’m shocked at the lack of any empathy that you have for those living with them.
- “People with allergies are precious” – Not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that we enjoy having them? That we revel in the attention? That we enjoy making a fuss? WRONG! All any of us want is to be normal and to be treated with respect. But to turn this stupid comment on its head as it deserves – all human life is precious. Even yours Chef. Even yours, to someone somewhere I imagine.
- Society is becoming a Blame Culture – What is a blame culture? Who is blaming who here? About what? Are you implying that people with allergies are trying to blame someone else for something? Nonsense statement that adds nothing to the discussion.
- “If you’ve got an allergy it’s up to you to manage it” – Yes and I do. We all do. We manage it very well thank you. But sometimes we want to go out for a meal and to be able to buy food on the go. In order to manage this condition all we ask is that we can find out what allergens are in certain foods. That is all. As Kate, said, we want transparency. If we can’t get that we will go elsewhere. Or we’ll go without a meal. I’d rather be safe and alive than risk eating something that might contain any of my allergens.
- “The onus is on the person with the allergy” – Yes indeed. It is. But there has to be some responsibility from chefs, food establishment owners, waiting staff, to listen, to understand and to help diners make safe choices. By saying this you imply that you don’t care and don’t think you should have to change anything in order to help us do this. How would you feel if someone died after eating at your pub? Because I think I know where you work ‘anonymous chef’.
- “Allergies are trendy” – Nope. No they’re not. If I could change one thing in my life it would be to not have allergies. They are not trendy. They keep me awake at night. They give me serious anxiety. They give me panic attacks. Sometimes I am too scared to go out for meals. I don’t even trust people to make me a cup of tea. People often don’t ‘choose’ a gluten free diet. Coeliacs are made very ill by even a crumb of gluten. I’m sure if you ask any Coeliac they won’t feel very trendy. What would you call a trend? Are vegetarians, vegans and those with food intolerances just being trendy too? We all deserve respect for different reasons.
- “Allergies are newsworthy” – Very sadly and tragically, yes they very often are. Because people die from anaphylaxis! I suggest you should take allergies seriously because they are serious. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died from her anaphylactic attack. Not news I or anyone wants to read about. A family lost a daughter. A brother lost a sister. Friends lost a soul mate. Yes allergies sadly often are newsworthy.
- Why do we need to change the law for 99.9% of the population who don’t have allergies – Firstly, whilst it is a small but growing percentage of the population who have allergies. get your stats right. If you’d like to check the actual percentages you can find out on google. Do your research because it is law whether you like it or not. It is a basic human right to be able to buy safe food. Safe from food poisoning and safe from allergens. You might not like this but I sure as hell hope you understand the regulations affecting your pub. You are being discriminatory against your customers who have allergies. You are being unkind. Actually I’m being far too kind by saying that. You are actually being vile.
- The tail is wagging the dog – Not sure this is helpful. But basically what you’re saying is that catering for people with allergies is a pain and that most of us are making it up or making a fuss. Just being trendy. You’re implying that the small few are demanding everyone bows to them. It’s just not the case and it’s a nasty sarcastic comment. But if are talking about the tail of the dog, The tail is growing. The tail is angry. The tail is wagging and if you’re the dog you better start taking notice.
- They’re asking us to change our menus – You think? Nope. Again no. You’re wrong again. We are NOT asking you to change your menu. What we are asking is that you are able to inform us of what allergens are in your food. It’s the law actually. You have to be able to tell us that. We would love it if you were able to provide a few options that were safe. But I suspect any allergy people reading this will avoid your pub.
No one is asking you to change your menu, just tell us what’s safe and what isn’t. That is all. To all chefs reading this. We just want the basic allergen information. Because we don’t want to die… If you don’t want to cater for us, say so. Tell us to eat elsewhere. And we will. That is all I have to say.
Ruth said, “Don’t get too excited!”
First of all let me just get my jealousy and disappointment on the table. I was gutted that I wasn’t featured at all, apart from in the line-up at the start. I didn’t get a single speaking word in the entire show after a whole day in London filming! That’s TV for you guys! But now I’ve had time to digest the show and given myself a good talking to, I’m really very proud to have even been involved.
And I wasn’t the only one. The lovely Stefan Manku joins me on the cutting room floor. I couldn’t be in better company there 😉
Perhaps the reason we didn’t make it to the final cut was that our experiences were a little more positive. I managed to order chips in one takeaway (only thing I could have was chips) and could have ordered a safe meal at another high street restaurant.
Stefan had much better luck buying a meal with his nut allergy, he could order a full meal where he went!
So that folks was the possible reason we got cut! It wasn’t any other reason because we are both awesome!
The show did feature my favourite chef, Dominic Teague who runs One Aldwych, a fantastic restaurant in London. His whole menu is gluten and dairy free and he goes the extra mile to keep allergic diners safe. So it is possible to get a safe freefrom meal!
However, we still made it through thousands of hopefuls to even get on the show. It’s a show I’ve always admired. Kate Quilton is really as lovely in real life; she made us all feel really welcome and took the issues very seriously. It’s a great show and always covers some very important issues.
And my niece is still proud of me. She sent me a clip of my bit on the telly and in the background you could hear my sister saying, “Ruth said, don’t get too excited.” Honestly that made my day. It made me laugh. It made me realise that this fleeting moment in my life was just that. A moment. I moment where I was on TV in my favourite shirt, braving the world despite being sore, and going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal – visibly during the filming. In other news my skin is sooo much better now! Incredible to see the change.
And after the dust has settled I still have my amazing family and lovely friends.
I am enough, despite everything I’ve done in my life. I am enough. I am more than enough for some people! I am an author and proud of it.
So back to the show.
Heart breaking viewing
I actually found the show very hard to watch. Tanya and Nadim’s raw grief was heart breaking to see. Their loss was avoidable if that baguette had been labelled and they are so brave, sharing their story and campaigning to get Natasha’s Law into place so that lives can be saved with proper allergen labelling.
It was great awareness for allergies, anaphylaxis and the need for better understanding and care. If you want to find out more about the Natasha Foundation and the work they are doing visit their website here: Natasha Allergy Research Foundation
This also took up a large part of the show., slightly too much time, but that’s just my opinion. It must be terrifying for those who are struggling to get hold of this vital medication. For myself, I’ve found it hard to get hold of AAIs at times but I’ve managed to get them within days, not months by phoning around and driving miles to find them. I’m not playing down the very real problem that seems to be still be happening for some, but I haven’t seen this myself. I think I was lucky. I think I’m good at solving problems and spent a few days just phoning chemists. I also order them a few months before I need them!
They shouldn’t be hard to get hold of. If there are shortages we need to get this sorted and fast because allergies are on the rise and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.
Where were the real stories?
I did feel that the programme failed to address the daily anxiety and fear that we all live with. Knowing anaphylaxis could kill us. Fearing a reaction any day now. Having to put our trust in chefs, to put our lives in their hands. I’m planning a meal out on Friday and am extremely anxious now about going. I will be with friends, one of whom is a doctor familiar with anaphylaxis and I’m sure it will be fine, but there is always that nagging doubt. Will someone make a mistake?
Will the waiting staff understand my allergy?
Will the chef accidentally cross contaminate my meal?
Will I get the wrong meal?
Will I die tonight?
Having had numerous life threatening anaphylactic reactions, the last of which left me in intensive care overnight, with no idea what had happened to me, this fear is real.
The show seemed very rushed to me, and missed out on all the conversations we had in the studio about our own personal journeys and experiences.
All of us lived with anxiety and fear. We all had stories to tell.
Going out to order food is only small part of the problem and one that many of avoid most of the time. Actually eating out and planning where to go, having to check everything, when we just want be a part of normal life like everyone else… it’s endless.
I’m trying to find a link to watch it back and I can’t seem to embed a link. However you can watch it here on Food Unwrapped Investigates.
Buy my book – The Reluctant Allergy Expert
If you are struggling with fear, anxiety and depression about your allergies or your child’s, check out my new book, “The Reluctant Allergy Expert: How to kill the fear that anaphylaxis could kill you.” Available on @amazon in paperback or kindle.
I wrote it to help those with life threatening allergies feel understood, feel heard. I wrote it so you wouldn’t feel so alone and scared. Come with me, I’ll take your hand and gently lead you through the world of living with allergies. It is terrifying but you can live a full, vital, exciting life. You can do anything you want. You may need to take extra precautions but that’s just common sense.
It would make a great Christmas present idea and it’s only £10.40.
And if you have got my book, please pop me a review on Amazon! It will help others to find it, help me sell more books and pay my bills. I haven’t made any money at all from the book yes, this might surprise you to know. Being an author isn’t easy. I now need to become a sales person! Not my natural forte but get ready for the book spam!
Together we can all make a difference.
Together we can raise awareness of what it’s like to live with life threatening allergies.
Did you watch the show? What did you think?