The allergy man and the purple flower

I have a fairly severe nut allergy, discovered at a very early age – and with some drama – when my mum fed me a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Such lifelong weaknesses are occasionally unpleasant and ever so slightly limiting, but it’s a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things.

What it means in practical terms is that Chinese, Indian, Thai and most North African meals are out, as are lots of things prepared in factories.

The food industry is beset by unhelpful paranoia about such matters (I once picked up a pot of cream in Asda which cautioned ‘may contain nuts’), though in fairness they are hampered by more general confusion about what exactly constitutes an allergy. Responsibility for this latter fact I place squarely at the feet of credulous adolescent adults who have read too much Gillian McKeith and Gwynnie Paltrow, and their medically creative food neuroses. Just to clarify, a feeling of bloatedness after gorging yourself on bread does not mean you are ‘allergic’ to gluten. If you come out in hives and find yourself vomiting and shaking uncontrollably as your throat closes up, then that’s closer to the mark.

You’d have thought that avoiding factory-prepared food would be easy enough, but in fact it isn’t at all. It’s fascinating how often, even at quite expensive places, kitchen staff are unable to say exactly what goes in the food they are serving. A happy consequence of this is that I end up eating a lot of freshly-prepared, simple food, with minimum levels of mystery ingredients, so it’s not all bad by any means.

I do however spend a lot of weddings enjoying double melon (not a euphemism). I have it for my starter, then later for my dessert (normally garnished with a few grapes and a slice of orange) and I’m fairly certain that if it were permissible to serve melon as a main course then I would have encountered triple melon by now. Of course I don’t really mind. You go to weddings to see people you like get married, and anything else is a bonus.

Last weekend though, I had a quite remarkable experience at the nuptials of my friend C, a Tokyo resident from Buckinghamshire who for some reason decided to get married in a storybook chateau in Western France. At the beginning of the five-course meal, the American owner came over to check that I was the one with the nut allergy, and placed a small purple flower on my side plate. As each course arrived, the waiting staff veered off and provided me with my own versions of anything hazardous, and even reassured me that the little bits in the brioche were olives, not little chunks of poison.

The whole experience was so lovely that I think I am going to start a campaign for anaphylactic types to start wearing purple flowers in their buttonhole when they go out to dinner (instead of those ugly bracelets). You could have purple flower-friendly restaurants, purple flower-friendly puddings, purple flower-friendly pesto…

Purple flower-friendly chocolates. Now that really would be something.

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