I found out the other day that a close colleague with whom I share a small office is allergic to nuts. A discussion about awkwardeaters.com led to these revelations and I was stunned to find this out after having worked with her for almost three years. She had never so much as mentioned it before or made any reference to having to be careful about what she eats. 

This set me thinking... how many other colleagues and friends may experience unknown food allergies and intolerances? Is their reason for not sharing this information that they don’t want to be thought of as ‘awkward eaters’? If so, I really hope this website will provide a means of helping them to see that they are in good company and not to shy away from explaining why they avoid certain foods. After all no one would want to be responsible for sending someone to hospital by unknowingly feeding them with hidden allergens...

I was further horrified when I realised that I very often include foods containing nuts in my lunches and snacks. I am leaving traces of my nut filled lunches and snacks all around the place and she has been risking a life threatening allergic reaction to the very foods that I eat at my desk. Why, I wondered wasn’t this something that she had revealed to me when she first joined our small team or at least dropped into the conversation before now?

One of the reasons she gave for not ‘coming out’ is that she is only allergic to raw nuts and these are easier to avoid. Is this an experience suffered by many with nut allergies and does it apply to other foods too? The protein in foods is denatured in cooking and this may account for the difference, but to assume that all the nuts in a dish are sufficiently cooked to not cause problems is a bit of a blind leap of faith. Nuts could be added to some dishes towards the end of cooking or after cooking and then would presumably still lead to a potentially serious allergic reaction.

The main reason for keeping quiet about her allergy is the usual one of not wanting to make a fuss or make others feel uncomfortable. I guess all awkward eaters go through this to a greater or lesser degree. By and large I am very open about my need to avoid cow’s milk products these days, but I wasn’t always so up front. It was only when I was increasingly suffering the consequences of eating foods that affected me that I began to get it into the conversation sooner rather than later.  An advantage of being upfront about it is that no one thinks you are being rude by refusing their food and if more people talk about their food allergy, intolerance or other dietary restrictions the more accepted we all should be.

I’m certainly going to be much more careful about what food I take into the office from now on. No more little tubs of walnuts and Brazils as nibbles and I’ll be stopping eating lunch at my desk...come to think of it that wouldn’t be a bad thing!

If you have a food allergy or intolerance that you keep hidden from friends and colleagues let us know. If you are allergic to raw, but not cooked food items we'll be very interested to hear from you via the comments box below.

By Gilly Weaver | 7th January 2013