Thursday, September 2, 2010

Focus on food allergies

I am allergic to seafood. The limited set of marine animals I could eat include bivalves (molluscs and oysters), gindara (sablefish or butterfish) and lapu-lapu (grouper). My co-workers and friends have only seen mild reactions; in those times, I just dash off to a corner pharmacy. But at the worst reactions, I ALWAYS land in hospital and get attached to an intravenous dose of antihistamines (and only my family and cousins have so far seen me in that state).

Because of my allergies, eating out is quite a challenge. I usually interview waiters about the ingredients of the food I'm ordering. So when I happened to see The Food Network's special on food allergens entitled "Edible Enemies", I just had to stop what I was doing and pay attention to the show.

Chef Ming Tsai, the owner of Blue Ginger (restaurant) and who has cooking shows in the Lifestyle Network, was featured in "Edible Enemies". He has a compilation of recipes and potential allergens of each item on the menu. His waiting staff ask the customers if they have allergies. If they do, the staff confirms with the chef if the food items don't have the allergens before the food is prepared.

Food manufacturers in North America have begun listing ingredients in labels using consumer-friendly language; this very helpful for parents whose children are allergic to egg, soy, wheat, and milk (yes, milk!). The labels further indicate if the food was made in equipment prone to allergen contamination. I'm not sure if the same labelling procedures are now observed or if these types of allergies are rampant in the Philippines.

The show also featured the challenges for parents whose kids have food allergies. I totally related because my family went through the same things while we were figuring out what we could and could not eat (my sister had her own set of allergies). Our cousins, aunts, and uncles are often confused about what food we could eat, and wondered at how my parents don't get confused at all.

I guess that comes with practice.