By Stephen Hickmore

When I started working in hotels, somewhere after the Boer war but before the advent of the fax machine, I had only heard of people being allergic to nuts and shellfish. Our G.M warned us about this rare species of human beings, and we knew that they would invariably explode if we served them a Knickerbocker Glory or a Prawn Cocktail (1970’s food for you chefs under 40) A terrifying thought for an apprentice chef.  To think that one’s cooking had inadvertently caused the sudden detonation of a valued guest through the medium of a single ingredient.

But, it was simpler back then. These days you meet people with a range of food allergies that would fill the shelves of Pick n Pay. Most people I know are allergic to something – Gluten, Lactose, Eggs, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, soya and Mum’s Liver and Onions. The list is endless.

It’s true there is a small percentage of society that have genuine life threatening allergies, my apologies to them. But, How do we explain this sudden general  increase in people with food intolerance?

Is it a build up of toxins in our food?  Changes in Agricultural practices? A communist plot to destroy the Bourgeoisie? Or perhaps, it’s merely a figment of our imagination?

A recent study in the UK found that 98% of the people who said they had food allergies did not, in fact, suffer from the intolerances they claimed. So that means only 2% were actually allergic. Evidence, methinks, that in recent decades we have been making it up.

Chef? Have you noticed the number of questions you are getting about the content of your food? Not excited enquiries about those lovingly matched ingredients that you have spent hours fusing into the perfect dish. They want to know if it has their special food allergy in it! They are petrified that they may spontaneously combust if they eat your –  Oven Roasted Beef Fillet – With foie gras butter roasted root vegetables and grilled porcini polenta (my apologies to Linger Longer)

How is a chef for a restaurant , hotel or airline to cater for all of these Pseudo allergic  people?  Just a look at the choices on SAA international flight gives you an indication of how serious and complex all this is.  You can choose from Gluten intolerant, low calorie, low fat, Vegetarian lacto-ovo, low lactose. What happened to Chicken or Beef?

I cannot help thinking that somehow food allergies have conveniently become big business.  I do not pretend to have any medical knowledge. I faint at a paper cut. However, Medical professionals provide the suitable diagnosis that will entice our so called Allergy sufferers to the expensive parts of the supermarket, heaving with Gluten free Choc chip muffins, Egg free custard and Wheat free Falafels. Personally I’d rather eat a copy of “Chef” magazine !

In my opinion all we have here is some half-baked social disorder.

I think the hullabaloo is set off by our desire to be in control of at least something in our lives. Our hectic and stressful existences allow us few opportunities to master our circumstances. But being free to decide what we can or cannot order from a menu gives us some meaning and helps provide order in our crazy lives. If we create boundaries, we somehow wrestle back control.  “Darling, You know the Doctor says I can’t eat Pizza, I have a garlic, tomato and Italian herb intolerance. Our medical aid won’t cover it this time” See what I mean?

Or perhaps, I am just being a trifle Intolerant.