• -Natalie

What It's Like Going to a Bar With Food Allergies

I approach the bar entrance, where groups of people are gathering around. It's late at night, midnight to be exact. The summer breeze sweeps through my long hair as I walk into the outdoor bar. I am surrounded by various different conversations about business, work, and dating.

The hostess introduces herself, but I quickly spot my friends in the back left corner. I say thank you as I point out my friends and begin walking over. I walk through the crowd, many of them smoking, laughing, having a good time. I try not to inhale too much. I don't have asthma but I do have severe environmental allergies and cigarette smoke can sometimes cause them to flare up. My anxiety level always slightly rises when there's a lot of smoke around me.

The bar is crowded and the music is loud. I am happy to see my friends and excited to have a good time. My friend Hannah has a glass of white wine in her hand and my friend Joanna has a fancy cocktail with some mint leaves sticking out of the glass. I'm allergic to sulfites, so wine, champagne, and beer are not an option for me. When it comes to hard liquor, I have to be careful due to my tree nut and fruit/vegetable allergies. Whiskey is one of my safest options since I am not allergic to wheat.

The waiter comes over to introduce himself while handing me a menu and asks what I want to drink. I tell him I'm fine, thank you. He insists that the bar makes great cocktails and begins describing a few. I tell him again that I'm okay, thank you. I don't feel the need or want to explain that I have food allergies. Even ordering just whiskey is a big ordeal due to cross-contamination, and I don't want to deal with it tonight. I decide not to drink. I just want to move past the ordering stage and talk to my friends.

The music and the vibes relax me, and I feel a sense of relief that I can take a break from working and studying. Hannah begins to tell me about her new guy. Just as she starts getting to the juicy details, the waiter comes back. He insists that I should at least order a glass of wine and jokes that he doesn't want me to become dehydrated in this summer heat. I fake laugh and tell him once again that I'm good, thanks.

Joanna starts telling us about her new job. She's upset because she's fighting with her boyfriend's roommate and he yelled at her the other day. She couldn't focus at work and was crying all morning. As she begins telling us about her conversation with her boss this morning, the waiter comes back with three shots on a platter. This is on the house, he says.

A couple of the other bartenders come to our table with more shots and insist that we all take a shot together. Hannah and Joanna hold up their shot, and I join in on the cheers. Everyone then proceeds to drink it, while I put mine down on the table.

"Why aren't you drinking?" one of the bartenders asks me. "Do you want a different type of alcohol instead?" I tell him that I'm okay and that I'm not drinking. "You should have told me, I would have brought you a shot of water so you can join!" he says. That was nice. Bartenders don't offer that every time.

The problem with water shots is that the shot glass is not always clean. Cross-contamination in a bar is high (thing all the garnishes that go on/in drinks, and peanuts on bar counters). Furthermore, the bartenders themselves are usually drunk.

Two nights ago, I took a water shot. And then was anxious for the next 20 minutes hoping that I wouldn't have a reaction. Was I overreacting? Tonight, I just hope the bartender doesn't offer it again so I can just avoid the risk. The last thing I want to do is begin explaining to the bartender why it's risky to even do a water shot.

Joanna feels bad. She starts asking me why we don't meet up at one of our houses instead so that I can eat and drink safely. This isn't acceptable to her. I explain that just because I can't eat or drink doesn't mean I want to miss out on the bar atmosphere. I do enjoy being at bars, it's more than just the drinks. It's the vibes, it's the music, it's the people. It's the getting dressed up and taking pictures. I just always feel a little bad for the bartender that I never order anything.

Hannah is a pediatrician. She comes up with an analogy for Joanna. A patient who is afraid of needles will most likely cry during a vaccine or blood test. But when that patient is very sick, when they are weak and fear for their life, they will beg for that needle with medicine.

You see, life-threatening food allergies are the same. Someone who is on a voluntary diet will sit at a bar and watch people eat snacks and try to curb their craving. But with food allergies, there is no craving. There's no choice. I can't cheat. If I eat that, or if I drink that, my throat is going to swell up and close. I won't be able to breathe. In my mind, there's nothing here to crave.

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