Pastry Chef Marisa Lown on Eating Well: "It's Not a One Size Fits All for Everyone"

Categories: Chef and Tell

Evie Carpenter
Lown pulls the banana bread out of the oven.
Has the rise in awareness about food allergies been a good thing? Yes, of course. It is estimated that over 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and many go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. However, as awareness increases, more questions also arise. New information regarding food allergies seems to surface almost daily, from improved detection methods to possible treatments. Results from studies, particularly long-term studies, are published that sometimes contradict information that has already been generally accepted within the allergy community. How is the public supposed to best synthesize such an entirety of information while obtaining correct analyses to assist them with making informed decisions that sufficiently suit their particular needs and lifestyle? The clarity and availability of quality information regarding food allergies is a particular focus of my studies, and I hope to be able to better assist those newly diagnosed transition into a quality allergy-friendly lifestyle. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has a wonderful website; I recommend anyone seeking more information to check out their website at Modern Western medicine tends to be more focused on illness rather than wellness, and a nutritionally balanced dietary regimen can be one of the best holistic preventative medicines available.

What is the downside, if there is one? Misinformation, misunderstanding, and lack of compassion. Increased awareness can also lead to more divided camps of opinion and schools of thought, particularly from those that aren't aware of the severity of some food allergies. Not all food allergies result in an anaphylaxis reaction but when they do, it can be life threatening. I've suffered first hand from the laissez-faire attitude of some restaurant staff who aren't prepared to serve a customer with food allergies. Having worked in restaurants, I'm realistic about what establishments I visit and accept the risk of dining out. I recently had a reaction after dining out that was in no way life threatening but still unpleasant. Needless to say, I won't return to dine there again. Lack of compassion and understanding is also plaguing the allergy community; I've recently read articles and commentaries about whether or not non-celiac gluten sensitivities actually exist. Many of the naysayer's comments are reminiscent of schoolyard bullying. Food allergies aren't a laughing matter, or fodder for poking fun at someone who suffers from them.

What changes would you like to see come out of the attention? More restaurants welcoming diners with allergies, and the ability to safely accommodate them. There are some wonderful startups that are currently working to assist and address this issue. I've been assisting a local startup, Qapproved, to help create a comprehensive food allergy training program for food handlers and restaurants in order to create a safe network of establishments for diners in addition to creating allergy-friendly menu items. There is a significant portion of potential revenue from customers with food allergies that currently don't frequent restaurants due to the fear of having an unpleasant reaction to the food they have paid someone else to prepare for them. There is an untapped revenue stream for any dining establishment who is willing and able to make the shift toward more allergy-friendly menu items and safe practices.

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