Two media incidents in the last few days have brought back into focus just how unaccommodating and angry some remain towards people with hypersensitivities and dietary restrictions.
Just when you begin to think progress might have been both made and cemented, along come both Rachel Johnson in the Evening Standard on 14th December, and Vanessa Feltz on This Morning on 18th December, to prove that, for these two women at least, a little inconvenience is simply too much inconvenience after all.
For Johnson, merely being asked as a diner whether she has allergies is ‘dull’. This is a woman who would like to return to the days of ‘intolerance’ when there were no ‘dietaries’. Don’t choose shellfish if shellfish can kill you, she advises insightfully. Just don’t make a song and dance about it, there’s a good little anaphylactic.
For Feltz, being required to eat just one gluten-free meal to accommodate a coeliac is all a bit too much to endure, even though a Christmas dinner of turkey and roast vegetables is basically by default GF, and that staples such as gravy, mince pies and pudding in tastes-the-same free-from forms are all readily available.
As a society, we routinely make accommodations for people disadvantaged or less fortunate, which are reasonable, and whose minor consequential inconveniences on ourselves we willingly accept. We let families and the elderly board the plane first. A wheelchair ramp at the entrance to the bank may mean walking customers have to negotiate a longer route to access it, but that is a trivial ‘price’ to pay for disabled accessibility. And so on.
But what are reasonable accommodations in ‘free from’? I’ve never heard any non-allergic consumer complain about emphasised allergens in ingredients lists, so presume that non-free from folk don’t find a bit of highlighted text an incumbrance. But then, I would have thought the same about being offered the ‘free from’ menu in a restaurant when not required, yet Johnson clearly remains stuck in a previous decade on that matter.
What about unreasonable accommodations? Well, one example: a nationwide ban on the sale of nuts would be unacceptable, clearly.
What about accommodations still to be negotiated? Perhaps the limitations on what food is served on aeroplanes and under what circumstances is an unsettled issue? I’m perfectly willing to go without nuts, but would we all be willing to go without any food at all …. probably not. A balance must be found.
Among all the education and awareness drives that we support and undertake, perhaps we need to remind people what a huge difference small accommodations make to the lives of those living with food hypersensitivities, be it allergy, coeliac or lesser-known restrictions. Thoughtfulness goes a long way.
Furthermore, we perhaps need to reassure the cynical that the inconveniences on them are minimal and even false: a gluten-free dinner can be barely distinguishable from a gluten-containing dinner if it doesn’t involve bread.
I am not one who thinks that we have to be accommodating — or ‘inclusive’, to borrow the woke term du jour — at all costs. I don’t believe those of us who can eat what we like have to beat ourselves about this, kneel down and declare our privilege to the poor ‘free from’ community, patronising them as less fortunate ‘minorities’, and giving in to every conceivable request, every single time.
But I do think we have some duty to ‘budge up’ a little, and do our share to help those with food hypersensitivities when their requests are perfectly reasonable.
Not being dismissed as fussy eaters in the print media? Not being sneered at on daytime TV?
Both of these are perfectly bloody reasonable as well.
Further Reading (Blogs)
Becky Excell — “I’m being forced to have a Gluten Free Christmas”
Ruth Holroyd — Why I hate Rachel Johnson’s horrible article
Further Reading (Media Coverage)
Daily Mail — This Morning star Vanessa Feltz under fire
Metro — Vanessa Feltz sparks backlash