Outside a South Philly corner store one night, I was explaining a little about myself to a guy, and the conversation went like this:
“I dated a girl like you before. I broke up with her,” he said.
“It was just too damn difficult.”
I was discussing with him (as I so charmingly do sometimes in meeting people) my food allergies, particularly my allergy to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is responsible for the elasticity in dough and the fact that myself, and many others with an allergy or intolerance to it like people with celiac disease, are “difficult.” This is because we can’t eat bread, pasta and baked goods. We usually can’t drink beer, and gluten is hidden in tons of other unexpected things like soups, sauces and salad dressings.
Food sensitivities are becoming increasingly common in making people difficult. There are a number of studies out there, some estimating that almost 25 percent of adults have some sort of food sensitivity. In addition to that, there are many people who have strong diet preferences, such as vegetarianism.
Eating is a big part of dating. Going out for lunch, drinks, dinner, cooking a meal together, having a picnic, whatever–food is a focus of many dates and get-togethers. If you’re dating someone with dietary restrictions, there are some things you may want to consider:
First, do not make the person feel like their diet makes them tricky, demanding or just plain weird. It’s bad enough to ask a waitress to ask the chef for every last ingredient in a dish to assure the meal won’t bring on anaphylactic shock or uncomfortable hours on the toilet.
People with food sensitivities don’t need to be reminded that sometimes they’re tough to feed. If you’re out to eat with a diet-sensitive date, you will probably make them feel uncomfortable if you fuss over asking the waitress to read all the ingredients in the salad dressings. If you’re cooking for someone, try not to complain about how you had to go all the way to the Forbidden Forest and back to find an egg replacement or xanthan gum.
Second, avoid talking about how much you love eating the stuff they can’t. If you really love ice cream and would much rather be at Franklin Fountain with your lactose-intolerant date, keep it to yourself. It seems obvious, but I feel like people try to identify with me by telling me that they feel bad for me because they really love pizza–or anything else they like to eat for that matter–and it’s such a shame I can’t eat it. While sympathy is hit or miss, teasing people about how much they’re missing out on all of your favorite foods probably won’t come across as cute.
If you really want to be cute, do a little research and look for some places where diet-sensitive foods can be purchased or ordered. One of my favorite restaurants to go to is Sazón on 10th and Spring Garden streets. The couple who owns this Venezuelan restaurant is really understanding of food allergies and special diets. They have quite a few gluten-free options and even more vegetarian options. You can also order certain things on the menu to fit your needs, if you just let them know ahead of time. Also, if you stay away from the specialty drinks and hot chocolates, it’s relatively inexpensive. Plus, it’s BYOB.
Another great option is Sweet Freedom Bakery located at 1424 South St. Everything made in this place is gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, corn-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free, peanut-free, egg-free, kosher and out-of-this-world delicious. I’ve brought my friends without allergies there and they’ve enjoyed it as much as they would any other bakery. Plus, they’ve been on the Food Network. Ooh.
People with food sensitivities may be “difficult,” but understanding what they can and cannot eat can earn you major points whether you’re at a restaurant, cooking, or at a bring-your-own-lunch picnic, fitting for any college budget.
Dana Ricci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.