No tolerance for food allergies

Food allergiesWhen 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 GM warned us about this rare species of homo erectus 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).  To think that one’s cooking could inadvertently cause the sudden detonation of a valued guest through the medium of a single ingredient was a  terrifying thought for an apprentice chef.

But, it was simpler back then. These days you meet people with a range of food allergies that would fill the shelves of a grocery store. 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.

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.


Chefs, 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.

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 international airlines 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, and 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 have been providing suitable diagnoses that 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 Nigella’s new cook book.

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. 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 plan won’t cover it this time.”

See what I mean? Or perhaps, I am just being a trifle intolerant.

About the author 

Stephen HickmoreStephen Hickmore studied hotel management in the UK, graduating from Clarendon College in Nottingham with the National Diploma in Hospitality Management. Stephen was recruited as a graduate management trainee by Trust House Forte hotels and went on to complete a further years training in several of their three and four star full service hotels. Stephen obtained his first management position as Banqueting Manager at the Dukes in Kings Lynn at 20 years old. By a twist of fate, a year later, he was transferred to set up the personnel and training department at THF’s only hotel in South Africa, the Parkview in Durban. After three years Stephen returned to the UK with THF, but after a year returned to South Africa to join Southern Sun Hotels. Stephen held positions in Human Resources Management with the group until joining the world of Hospitality recruitment and HR consultancy 20 years ago.

During the past 17 years Stephen has established recruitment consultancy and search firm “Hickmore Recruitment”. Hickmore Recruitment works closely with key players in the industry to identify hospitality professionals. More information can be obtained at

In the last ten years Stephen, with partners, branched out into another new venture “The Hospitality Solutions Company, H.S.C”. HSC specialises in outsourced staffing solutions for the hospitality industry, as well as a popular job board Stephen can be contacted on [email protected]

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