I don’t want to explain my allergies at work

A reader writes:

I have very severe and specific tree nut/sesame allergies. I’ve been hospitalized because of cross contamination so I have a fair amount of anxiety around this.

My rule of thumb for survival is “if I didn’t order it, I don’t eat it,” which makes work food hard. People REALLY want me to participate in team donuts or the granola yogurt bar at meetings. I’m just not ever comfortable eating because the risk is enormously high. I get a lot of “here, have a slice!” “Why aren’t you in the kitchen with us?” “You’re not going to take anything?” I fear I appear more chilly in these celebratory moments by not eating.

If I say “I have an allergy,” co-workers typically want more explanation than that or reassurance that it’s totally okay that they’re eating it. This makes me feel like I’m receiving unwanted attention. It also misdirects the reason for the food being there (birthday! babies! wins!) and some people don’t remember from the last time so I think it makes me look like the person whose always talking about it.

One particularly awful time someone brought me a nutty bday cake unaware I was allergic and I faked eating it out of pure anxiety for making a scene.

Am I being unnecessarily awkward? Should I take and then not eat? I really just don’t want to talk about my allergy and I truly don’t expect people to accommodate me. I’m used to it.

People get very, very invested in other people’s food choices.

Allergies aside, in some offices, if you’re eating cake or a burger, you’ll hear annoying comments like you’re “being naughty” by eating so much sugar or “it must be nice to be able to eat that.” If you’re eating a salad, you’re “being good” and also “deserve a chocolate bar.” If you’re vegetarian, it’s “but meat is so good — don’t you miss steak?” And on and on.

But allergies are in some ways the worst. Some people will question you until they can find something you’ll eat (which no doubt stems from kindness and a desire to include you but is often unwelcome). Some people will want to know the precise details of your allergies and exactly what happens to you if you encounter your allergen, and some will want to tell you about how their cousin had that same allergy but then they were cured with essential oils and milkshakes, and some will express horror at how you can possibly avoid that food because they’re sure they never could. And that’s before we get into the people who don’t really believe food allergies exist and try to get you to eat food with “just a little” of your allergen in it.

Humans, man. We’re exhausting.

Ideally, you’d simply be able to say, “No thanks, I’m allergic” and that would be that. Sure, people who want to be polite might still ask if there’s something else they can get for you to eat, but you could say no and everyone would move on. But as you’ve noted, that’s not happening.

There’s no perfect answer that will shut this down entirely and forever, but there are approaches that will minimize the annoyance. The most useful is being resolutely, unshakably vague, followed by a quick subject change. For example, you could say, “No thanks! Allergies.” When the other person presses you about your food choices, you say, “Oh, it’s long and boring! By the way, did you see the new plans for the Warbucks account?”

Often what people want is assurance that you’re okay — that you’re not starving or resentful. If you’re getting that vibe, you can say, “Oh, I’m fine! I ate beforehand. Go ahead and enjoy it!” In this case, you skip mentioning allergies altogether, so it’s a nonissue.

But I hear you on not wanting to seem chilly by hanging back when others are celebrating. Sometimes just having something in front of you will take care of that. It shouldn’t be a slice of the cake you know you won’t eat — you don’t need to go that far, and it risks muddying the message when later you might need people to understand and respect the allergy situation. Just holding a beverage can check off the “she’s got something to consume” box in people’s minds. Or, if it’s not a huge pain, another option is to bring in your own food on days when you know communal eating is going to happen.

All this said, if you’re on a team that shares food on a regular basis, over time you might need to say a little more. Thoughtful teams will want to include you and are likely to ask how they can do that, figuring that there’s probably something they can order for you. If there’s anywhere that delivers to your office with options you would feel safe eating, it’s okay to suggest it. Some offices will happily do special orders when people have specific dietary needs, so don’t feel weird about taking them up on the offer. Or, if you’re more comfortable placing your order directly so there’s no risk of its being messed up by the person placing it, it’s also reasonable to say, “I really appreciate your offer! My allergies are so severe that I’ve found I should only eat something if I order it directly. Would it be okay for me to place the order myself so no one else has to worry about it?” (In this scenario, the company still covers the cost — you’re just doing the legwork.)

But if none of those options work well and it’s easier for you to simply opt out of eating at these events, it might help to say to the people who will notice it a lot, “I’ll probably never eat the food when we do this because of allergies. Please don’t worry about me, though — I’m happy to participate without the food, and I’ll eat beforehand or afterward.” Then if you get more questions, you can use the “it’s a long and boring story” language above.

Also! So that you never again fake-eat a cake someone makes for you, it’s completely okay to say, “This is incredibly nice of you. Thank you! I’m actually allergic to nuts so I can’t eat it, but I’m so moved that you did this, and I would be happy to sit with you and others while they enjoy it.” In other words, be warm but factual, and try to honor the intent (“Let’s gather and enjoy the moment”) without faking your way through it.

And here’s a call for everyone else out there to remember that people with dietary restrictions get very, very tired of questions about it, and it’s a kindness to let people state their needs and then move on.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 534 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily Rowan*

    I don’t have anything to add that Alison didn’t already say, but this makes me SO CRAZY. It’s just not that hard to accommodate people — someone on my team has an allergy, or even a preference I know about? There is always an option that works for them, and if the treats are in their honor, all options work for them.

    1. BadWolf*

      In this case, it sounds like the OP would prefer that no one tries to accommodate them, just not offer them food (or not be upset that they don’t take food).

      1. EMW*

        Agreed that’s what the OP is looking for, but as a person who also has dietary restrictions, if I was organizing food I would want to make sure we had something they could eat. I would need to be explicitly told “Please don’t accommodate me – it’s just too risky for me to eat things I’m not 100% sure are safe.” In my mind, trying to accommodate someone with allergies/dietary restrictions is just something you should do without question. But if someone told me that’s not what they wanted to do, I would honor that request. I don’t think it’s ok to assume that’s the default when going through society though.

        1. Elizabeth*

          If the co-workers are interested in accommodating the OP’s allergies but she doesn’t want to tell them details, could she share the names of some pre-packaged snacks/desserts that are safe and allergen-free for her? That way co-workers who want to include her could do so in a way that doesn’t put her at risk of contamination yet still enables them to include OP as part of the team. All they would have to do is purchase “x brand” of cookies or granola bars etc.

          1. EMW*

            I think from the letter the OP would just prefer to not be accommodated. But she needs to tell people not to accommodate her. In general, kind considerate people don’t want to exclude people with allergies or dietary restrictions. So she needs to explicitly say her preference is to be excluded.

            1. pleaset*

              All this.

              As an organizer of an event at work, it’d look terrible if someone isn’t eating, and if people ask why that person says they have allergies, and then my boss or others get wind of the situation and start pushing on me for not accommodating that person. I need to be able to push back and say “They explicitly asked for us not to make any arrangements for them to eat.” Really. I don’t need the reason, but I need the request to be explicit.

              “Just get it out and get to the solution quicker and with less stress.” Yup.

            2. Fortitude Jones*

              Agreed. Whenever I opted out of food related events at previous jobs due to celiac disease and lactose intolerance, I just told the organizer I wasn’t going to come so don’t bother getting me anything separate, or, if I was coming, that I would bring my own snacks so they didn’t have to include me. It usually worked out well.

              My last company would just give me the organizer’s corporate card and allow me to go buy my own treats on them – that was nice.

        2. Mimi Me*

          Yes. Sometimes the explicit reason is needed. I once hosted a BBQ and invited a friend of my daughters and her family. I didn’t know they were Muslim and that I’d invited them during Ramadan. The little girl was eating but the entire family wouldn’t touch anything and I didn’t understand why. I kept switching things up, thinking it was my offerings that made them say no. It wasn’t until someone in the family explained that they were fasting due to their faith that I was able to understand why they weren’t eating.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              I think it can be an unfortunate side effect of “guess” culture – that people will just pick up on why you’re not eating (or drinking or participating or anything else), and that they will just quietly accept it without saying anything.

              Unfortunately, this (and “guess” culture in general) isn’t really workable in a more diverse world, where people are going to have religious restrictions and allergies and other things. It’s much easier to speak up: “I am fasting today because of my religion, please don’t feel you have to do anything.” “I have allergies and you don’t need to accommodate me, I’ll just bring my own food/eat beforehand; I’m here for the company” (or “I have allergies, here are some things I can eat.”)

              1. GillysGotIt*

                I don’t know of this guess culture. I’m very much anti-hinting. Just get it out and get to the solution quicker and with less stress.

                1. ExpatInTheHat*

                  There’s no one “guess culture.” It’s a way to refer to the communication styles of different cultures and areas – “ask” vs. “guess.” For example America, where I’m originally from
                  is usually considered broadly an “ask” culture – if something seems wrong or someone is confused about or needs something they will usually ask you, or have a conversation about it. The East Asian country I live in now is considered more of a “guess” culture – the usual convention (keep in mind this I’m generalizing both places here) is to use clues from what a person does/doesn’t say, the way they say it, and body language/atmosphere to guess what they’re feeling/what they’d like you to do. Being what they see as “overly” direct can come across as aggressive or rude, or asking for something specific (like say, a dietary restriction) can be seen as a “burden.” So people try to anticipate each other’s needs instead, or often give plausible excuses because they prefer that to feeling like someone needs to accommodate them. Can it lead to misunderstandings, absolutely but when it’s the dominant mode, you kind of just have to roll with it.

              2. Wendy Darling*

                I think also sometimes when you give a reason for something people take it as their cue to argue about the validity of your reasoning. A bit far afield from the food example, but basically every time I’ve said I can’t use a certain form of birth control (usually in the context of “and that’s why I use this other kind that is unpopular”) I’ve gotten pounced on by people who want to tell me why my doctor is wrong and I actually can use it, and it is THE ABSOLUTE WORST. Luckily I can get by without mentioning it ever!

                I’ve seen people do it to people about allergies and they’re like 100x worse, so while it would make it easier for reasonable people if they just spat it out, I understand the reluctance.

                1. SS Express*

                  I don’t want to derail, but I have the exact same issue – I can’t use certain types of birth control for serious reasons, I’ve seen doctors and OBGYNs and done tests and considered all my options and settled on the one that works really well for me, and I’m very happy with my decision.

                  Every time I mention it, people tell me “you should try this thing”, “just so you know, lots of people who can’t use X use Y, it’s the best!”. Every time, the option they’re recommending is something that isn’t suitable for me (usually they’d know that from what I already said, if they actually knew anything about birth control). I even had a GYNAECOLOGIST try to push me into BC I’ve already ruled out for a number of excellent reasons, when the issue I was seeing her about was something completely unrelated. It’s not only boring and annoying to have these conversations over and over, but sometimes quite upsetting to dwell on my various health challenges and the annoying ways in which they limit my options.

                  Sometimes explaining the reasoning for something doesn’t actually make it simpler at all! Often people treat explanations as opportunities to problem solve, even when it’s totally unwelcome.

              3. NotTheSameAaron*

                and then we have what I call the “pushy” culture e.g. “I am fasting today because of my religion, so you should too”; “I have allergies, here are some things I can’t eat and you can’t either.”

            2. Clisby*

              I don’t understand why anyone would keep pushing food on people who are politely declining. Just accept it and leave them alone.

              1. Rana*

                Because in some cultures (including American regional cultures) it’s rude to say yes to the first offer. You’re supposed to demur (“Oh, no, I couldn’t.” “Are you sure?”) and the other person is supposed to reassure, *then* you can accept (“Oh, if you insist.” “Well, if you’re *sure* it’s okay…”)

                It’s only when you combine approaches that people get confused/offended.

                1. EinJungerLudendorff*

                  Also, if you’re hosting people for dinner then it’s implied that they want to eat your food. If they aren’t touching your food then has gone terribly wrong in the arrangement.
                  And the most obvious (and socially terrifying) explanation is that your food is so bad that nobody wants to touch it. So trying to serve them your other (hopefully good) dishes seems like the most obvious solution

                2. Cynthia*

                  My experiences are very different from yours. If anyone is going to say yes on a first offer, it’s an American. And yes, I am one, but I work with and socialize with many who are not.

            3. Shira*

              Speaking from firsthand experience, my first thought isn’t guess culture. It’s just that you get so used to being a minority and assuming that you will need to accommodate your surroundings rather than the other way around. I keep strictly kosher and it’s difficult if not impossible for anyone who does not keep the same rules themselves to cook food that I would eat. But I’m used to it, and I wouldn’t turn down a party invitation just because I wouldn’t be eating the food. (I would explain and turn down a dinner invitation though – like, to me there’s a difference between a big social get together that happened to have a BBQ element and inviting someone over specifically for a BBQ.)

              1. EinJungerLudendorff*

                I am a bit suprised that they accepted a BBQ invitation but didnt make any other arrangements/discuss it with the host.
                Maybe everyone assumed someone else would handle it? Or they didn’t think it might be seen as an issue, or that the hosts would obviously know it’s Ramadan and put 2 and2 together?

                1. LabTechNoMore*

                  From experience, people can get *really* weird about others decision to fast for Ramadan. It’s usually easier to hide it than disclose it. (Though for eating events, I’d usually disclose it … Prompting people to get weirded out, either being clearly uncomfortable about my not eating while they’re eating, or even misguided attempts to “show solidarity” and skip dinner.)

                  Also, if the BBQ went on into the evening (as is customary for BBQs), they were probably just biding time till Sun down, and then could enjoy your food.

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Ugh, people being weirded out by someone else fasting for Ramadan is a pretty big red flag that they’re going to have other racist/Islamophobic attitudes.

                3. SS Express*

                  What other arrangements would you need to make though, if you’re just planning to turn up at a social gathering and not eat while you’re there? It would be different for a dinner party, but a BBQ is generally a more casual event where people are mingling and hanging out and eating the BBQ is just part of that. I think announcing to the host ahead of time that you won’t be eating would likely make it into more of a Thing than just not filling a plate.

              2. Best of Everything*

                Yes. If I’m invited to a casual party during Lent I wouldn’t say anything. A sit down meal, on a Friday. I would lightly mention it. It would be rude of me to turn down the hosts’ nice roast when they know I normally eat beef.

            4. Ellen N.*

              People hold back information about their diets because the information is often interpreted as an opening for them to push back.

              I used to be on high doses of steroids. This induced diabetes. I worked in an office where one coworker liked to organize ice cream socials. I would turn down her invitations with the explanation of my medical reason not to participate. She would say that I should come and join them anyway. I explained that if I saw and smelled the ice cream I would crave some. She would tell me that just a little wouldn’t hurt.

              Another coworker once brought in rum cake and another time brought in fry bread, both foods that are a bad idea to eat if you’re diabetic. When I explained she told me that it’s okay to eat anything I want in moderation.

            5. LiptonTeaForMe*

              Because it is not anyone’s business, but their own. And for those of us with strict confining dietary issues, we live the life and it seriously gets old to have to constantly have to bring it up. Just take us at face value and stop trying to accommodate us, please!

            6. Stephanie*

              People hold back information like this because they get judged or mocked for it.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Or pushed to eat it anyway, as above. So disrespectful!
                If anyone was treating me that way I would want so much to either tell them off or leave. I’d probably have to leave.

        3. Bunny Girl*

          I do think there is a difference between asking a professional kitchen to accommodate an allergy/restriction vs. an individual. If I in an office that was ordering catering, I’d ask for some reasonable accommodation because I know a professional kitchen is more likely to be trained about cross contamination and procedures than an individual is. That’s not to say all commercial kitchens are perfect or there is never any cross contamination. I’m just saying I would be more likely to ask if that were possible. If someone was trying to get me to eat food they made at home, that’s a different story, especially if you have severe allergies.

          For instance, I make a lot of baked goods for people (family and friends) in my own home kitchen. One of my friends has a nut allergy, but it’s not so severe that me using peanuts the day before in my kitchen will kill her, so I happily make stuff for her, and just don’t include any nuts or by-products. But I won’t make gluten free stuff because I use a LOT of flour in my kitchen, and there’s no way I can clean everything in a manner that would totally eliminate the possibility of cross contamination, so I just say I’m sorry I can’t.

          I hope that made sense. I’m very tired. LoL

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            It made sense to me! Commercial kitchens undergo licensing and periodic inspections for a reason – their standards for clean (and for cross-contamination, allergen-friendly, etc.) have to accommodate people with compromised immune systems and severe allergies, among others.

            Home kitchens are not licensed and inspected, you’re cooking for yourself, family and friends, and anyway most home cooks don’t have the equipment or time or staff to do a “restaurant sanitation” type cleaning. I’m always telling friends with food allergies that I’d be happy to cook for them but I can’t ensure no cross-contamination (I bake, too!) and so if you want to be safe, tell me the packaged goods you can eat or let’s go out.

            1. Lucy*

              I tend to say “No nuts in the recipe” (or wheat or dairy) because generally an allergic person knows if that’s safe enough or not. My kitchen could be contaminated and the ingredients aren’t guaranteed. If you’re having a conversation with someone you can say “there’s no dairy in the recipe and I greased the tin with (known safe brand sunflower spread)” but that doesn’t easily fit on a label. Neither of those is good enough for someone who has no reason to trust me or my kitchen.

          2. Former Employee*

            Someone wrote an article about her allergies and how many times she had to use her epi pen and go to the ER. It might have been in the NY Times. One incident occurred at a restaurant she knew and trusted; she had chocolate cake. She had a very bad reaction. It turned out that someone had used the same knife to cut a walnut cake before they cut the chocolate cake. Oops!

            If I were that allergic, I would be very concerned about eating anything I hadn’t prepared myself.

            As a strict vegetarian, I tend not to trust restaurant food unless it’s so plain that I can tell exactly what every ingredient is and how it would be prepared , such as rice and steamed vegetables or plain pasta.

        4. TootsNYC*

          I agree that the OP does need to say, “I have allergy issues, and I just don’t take risks. It’s not personal–it’s just that it’s really serious, and I can’t enjoy myself if I’m worrying about whether the food is safe. It’s easier to enjoy the gathering when I specifically don’t eat. So don’t make that effort for me.”

          I have celiac, and so I don’t always eat foods that are labeled “gluten free.” I did tell our food orderer: “Don’t ever count on my for the GF pizza; I don’t know whether they’ve used the same gloves for the cheese, and I’m not going to risk it.” Because I didn’t know who else they were accommodating, and I didn’t want her to jump through those hoops for someone who isn’t going to eat it anyway.

    2. Health Insurance Nerd*

      In fairness, though, the LW isn’t giving her coworkers the opportunity to accommodate her.

      1. Clorinda*

        She doesn’t trust their ability to do so safely. I wouldn’t put my life in danger to stroke other people’s social feathers either. They can get over it. She might die.

          1. Receptionist/Rocket Scientist*

            Actually, death can be treated by essential oils! I have some samples in my drawer right here if you’d like…

        1. bonkerballs*

          That’s fine, but they can’t get over something they don’t know. If she actually said “I’m deathly allergic to nuts and so sensitive to cross contamination that I can’t eat anything I don’t make myself” or whatever is the actual truth, people would get over it and stop offering stuff. If they don’t know, they’re going to keep doing what they think is polite which is offering OP food.

          1. AngryAngryAlice*

            I’m going to guess that you’ve never existed in the world with a severe allergy to a common food item/ingredient. A shockingly large number of people do not believe/respect allergies the way they need to, and while your script would likely work with rational actors, the world is unfortunately FILLED with irrational people.

            I rarely disclose my allergies/sensitivities without receiving some type of pushback, even if the person pushing back thinks their comment is benign. My fiancé has celiac disease and deals with a much more intense line of pushback/questioning whenever he discloses his severe gluten allergy/intolerance.

            I totally sympathize with LW, because I know where they’re coming from with this; allergy conversations SHOULD be quick and informative, but they often devolve into a long back and forth that becomes exhausting… hence, why LW wants to avoid the convo entirely.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yes, these people are just as aggravating! (And my apologies for using “crazy” above — I’m trying to stop.) “No, I’m sorry, I’m really not able to eat anything if I don’t know all the details.” “But what about THIS????” Argh. No, just no.

            2. 5 month mommy*

              THIS. I don’t even have very severe celiac disease and years ago I diverted to just “no thanks” said over and over. It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it, someone will send you the youtube video of people making fun of gluten free diets, and then get upset when you are not okay with “only one cup of flour” in the flourless chocolate cake.

              1. pleaset*

                “someone will send you the youtube video of people making fun of gluten free diets, and then get upset when you are not okay with “only one cup of flour” in the flourless chocolate cake.”

                You work with assholes. This would never happen where I work. Nothing close to this.

                1. LaurenB*

                  So let’s take the person who is sending a youtube video of people making fun of gf diets. Why is the reaction “oh my goodness, I really need to convince this person that my need for gf food is real, please help me find just the right words to convince him” as opposed to “this person is just really an asshole not worth the time of day and I am henceforth ignoring him other than what I need to do to accomplish my work”? I don’t get why you would care what a stupid person does.

                2. Eliza*

                  LaurenB, the problem is that even if you ignore the people who make hostile comments, you might still be in danger from their actions. As Alison mentioned, sometimes people will deliberately tamper with your food, adding things you’ve said you’re allergic to, to “test” whether you’re really allergic. My ex once ended up in hospital because of a family member doing this to her. It can be safer to not let them know the details of your allergies.

                3. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

                  Like Eliza, I’ve also been there done that with the “test to see if you’re really allergic” food person. It was an ex’s mom and fortunately for me she wasn’t good at being sneaky about it. An all seafood meal every time I was invited for dinner. Got to sit there with just a glass of water every time (quit going after the third meal – I’m not completely stupid) and get harassed about why I wasn’t eating lovely meal that she had put so much time and effort into. That sort of thing gets really old really fast.

                4. pleaset*

                  ” sometimes people will deliberately tamper with your food, adding things you’ve said you’re allergic”

                  Which to me makes the situation even more bizarre. Get out of that organization. Seriously. Get out.

                5. Celiac Bitch*

                  This happens to people with severe allergies and food intolerances all the time. Stop sealioning.

            3. Delphine*

              That’s fine, but I think making sure you’re talking to the rational actors is still important, to avoid situations like this: One particularly awful time someone brought me a nutty bday cake unaware I was allergic and I faked eating it out of pure anxiety for making a scene.

            4. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

              “allergy conversations SHOULD be quick and informative, but they often devolve into a long back and forth that becomes exhausting… hence, why LW wants to avoid the convo entirely.”

              Ok, but how is that any less effort than the current situation where she has to keep saying “no thank you” and pretending to eat things that people don’t know she can’t eat?

              1. LaurenB*

                No, they only have to devolve into a long back-and-forth if you let it. Seriously, I wish Alison would devote time to teaching people how to simply not engage in conversations they don’t wish to engage in. If you volley the ball to me, and I drop it, the game is over. This is a basic adult conversational skill that can be taught for those who didn’t pick it up earlier. The problem is that you are defining the problem as “but they continue to ask me questions because they are annoyed/concerned/curious/skeptical/whatever.” There is no law that you have to satisfy other people’s curiosity. “I’m allergic to X and I can’t eat it” or “No thanks, I’m good” ends the conversation. If you all are continuing the conversations beyond that, that’s on you.

                1. Retired Accountant*

                  I agree. You’re going to end up at “No, thanks, I can’t eat that”, no amount of discussion is going to change that, so get there as quickly as possible. You’re not going to “persuade” them and you’re not going to eat the food, so there’s no benefit to engaging in discussion about it.

                2. pleaset*

                  “No, they only have to devolve into a long back-and-forth if you let it. Seriously, I wish Alison would devote time to teaching people how to simply not engage in conversations they don’t wish to engage in. If you volley the ball to me, and I drop it, the game is over. This is a basic adult conversational skill that can be taught for those who didn’t pick it up earlier.”

                  All this. A lot of readers here really need this.

            5. Michaela Westen*

              I’m lucky to live and work in a place where people are more respectful and take my word about *my* allergies and *my* body.
              If someone was pushing back like described here, I would stop associating with the person. Life is too short to spend trying to deal with them.
              If it was a work situation, I would only deal with them when necessary for work. If it was my boss or someone who could make my life difficult, I would get another job.
              If I was living in an ignorant area where most people do this, I would move.
              Life is too short!

          2. Susie*

            I’ve told my in-laws many times about my allergies to dairy and cane sugar. They still pressure me to eat pie every time they are having some and when I remind them I can’t eat that without having an allergic reaction they say, “It’s ok; it’s only a little sugar.”

            1. It’s not a little sugar. Anything more than trace amounts will cause a reaction.
            2. There is a ton of butter in the pie crust too but that gets completely ignored.

            There really are people out there that don’t think allergies are real.

        2. Liane*

          This! LW doesn’t have one easily avoided food allergen. She has many. Preparing a dish for someone with even one food allergy can be hard, especially if the allergy is severe. I understand it’s closer to “the surfaces, utensils, and dishes will be clean enough for surgery” than “don’t add [ingredient].” But multiple allergens ups the changes for a mistake.

      2. OP*

        Hi there — OP here, I have my allergy technically on file with HR but they haven’t always accommodated it or are the ordering party.

        Also, for example, if they order 50 pistachio cupcakes and 1 chocolate I don’t necessarily feel comfortable to eat that chocolate cupcake.

        1. Emily S.*

          This makes sense.
          The risk of contamination seems high in the example you gave!

        2. AngryAngryAlice*

          My fiancé has celiac disease and he’s VERY sensitive to even traces of gluten cross-contamination. When we moved in together, we bought entirely new everything for our kitchen including dish towels to prevent cc, and everyone thinks we’re being dramatic about it. But I’ve seen what happens when well-meaning but uneducated people try to prepare gluten free food for us in a kitchen overwhelmed by traces of gluten, so I know how necessary it is to prevent even the possibility of cc.

          I completely sympathize with the ’50 pistachio cupcakes and 1 chocolate’ conundrum; we’ve been through that so many times, and people get so easily offended when you prioritize your safety over their desire to provide you with a cupcake (or what have you).

          1. Minocho*

            I have been this person who gets a little offended. My family equates socializing and getting together with food and meals, so a rejection of the food led to feelings of being rejected. I didn’t push back at all, but it did take me some time to get over my feelings (which were mine to deal with, not anybody else’s problem).

            These people shouldn’t make these feelings impose on the person they’re trying to create closeness with, and I hope I haven’t inadvertently done that to any of my allergic or otherwise dietary restricted friends.

            1. PVR*

              When I first went gluten free, my MIL cried in the kitchen because I had brought my own food and declined to eat the meal she had made… with just a little bit of breadcrumbs. I felt terrible, but also I couldn’t make myself sick in order to make her feel better.

              1. NotTheSameAaron*

                I’ve eaten things I was sensitive to before, to avoid offending family. The trick is to stuff yourself with foods you know you won’t cause a reaction. Then you can say that you’re too full and take the rest “for later” and have only a taste if they insist on you trying it. Remember that the dose makes the poison. A little should only cause a minor reaction, so you can epi yourself under the table if the reaction is bad. Then make your excuses and leave.

          2. many bells down*

            And it probably doesn’t help that even with diagnosed celiac disease people can still have different sensitivity. My dad was like your fiance; he had to have different utensils and his own toaster and everything, but my husband doesn’t seem to react to minor cross-contamination. Yeah, I somehow missed inheriting celiac myself and then married a guy who had it.

            1. WS*

              Yes, my brother has celiac and is extremely sensitive to cross-contamination, his son is not nearly as sensitive, which has made his life a lot easier! Though we think some of that might be growing up in a gluten-free by default household: he’s less sensitised in the first place.

              1. Wendy Darling*

                I worked with someone who was ultra-sensitive to cross-contamination and it seemed HARD. Like, it just seemed like a ton of work, and also super expensive since the only prepared foods she could eat were from places with gluten-free production facilities, and those tend to be spendy.

                I had this moment of initial crankiness that she wouldn’t eat anything I made in my kitchen (HDU refuse my food, the physical representation of my caring???) but once I stepped back to think about it, it makes complete sense and I got the heck over it pretty rapidly.

        3. Lily Rowan*

          Oh, absolutely — people shouldn’t need you to say “no thank you” more than once. And over time, they should remember you aren’t going to eat their random probably sesame-filled food!

          Argh, just leave everyone alone about their eating, world!!

        4. Emarellelle*

          I just said “nooooo” out loud for you. The bagel place we used to go to put their walnut bagels above the blueberry bagels and in the same bin as the plain bagels. The kitchen did a great job of not cross contaminating when they made bagels, only to basically light that effort on fire when they displayed them.

        5. Chinookwind*

          “I have my allergy technically on file with HR but they haven’t always accommodated it or are the ordering party.”

          OP, if the person doing the ordering has this information and does not accommodate it, then it is a health and safety issue the same as having a loose, live electrical wire that only one person is tall enough to walk in to. As I have told colleagues who were shocked that I happily accommodated them (because they had crappy previous employers), if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be doing my job (and I would hand them one of our “near miss” reporting forms).

      3. Lynn Marie*

        Because she does not want to be accommodated; that’s the point of her question. Most of the comments perfectly illustrate the problem – people have great difficulty accepting this concept and keep pushing harder and harder to accommodate because they are not listening. Very frustrating.

      4. TootsNYC*

        If the way she wants them to “accommodate” her is by NOT giving her food, NOT baking specifically for her, NOT trying to buy sesame-free bagels–then she probably should give them THAT opportunity by saying, “I have some food allergies, and so I will never eat the food people bring or order. I don’t like to talk about it, because it’s such a negative, so I won’t be providing more details. But just know that I never eat food at the office unless I order it, or I bring it.”

        1. TooTiredToThink*

          Yep, I feel like OP really does need to specify this. Because in nearly every culture I am aware of – food is a big deal and people will just not get it if you don’t outright say something.

      5. Receptionist/Rocket Scientist*

        She doesn’t want them to accommodate her. She says that right in the letter.

        All she wants is to decline food without a big fuss. The end.

    3. Sarah N*

      Ok, but this attitude here is kind of exactly the problem? The LW’s preference is actually that people NOT try to accommodate them and instead just let them eat food they personally prepared so they know it’s safe. I have known a couple of people with allergies/restrictions that are at this level of severity, and it really is obnoxious to insist that you can “always” accommodate someone when in fact what you’re saying is “I want you to trust me, your coworker, so much that you will literally put your life in my hands and risk a trip to the hospital or death.” You may truly believe you can “always” accommodate someone but it’s not fair to place that burden on someone who just wants to eat their own thing they brought and survive.

      1. epi*

        I agree, the point is to be respectful not to insist that everyone participate even when they don’t want to.

        When you have dietary restrictions, free food usually isn’t free. There is up front work involved in making someone aware, maybe explaining yourself further, finding out if you have the same definition of “nut free” or “vegetarian” as the restaurant, intercepting the only food at the party you can eat… And if the restriction is due to a health issue, there is a further price in having to hope everyone involved got it right.

        Frankly, not all free food is worth that if you’ve already got lunch covered on your own. In healthy environments, most people should be able to participate in the socializing and camaraderie without everyone actually eating a slice of cake. Trying to insist after someone says “no thank you” just increases the risk that people who can’t partake won’t even want to attend.

        Also, as a former vegetarian for seven years, people who tried to advocate for me usually just made things worse. Sometimes I was fine with getting the sad steamed vegetables because my uncle’s birthday was at a steakhouse! At a certain point, I accepted that I was probably eating the occasional undisclosed chicken broth. People who got insistent on my behalf only succeeded in patronizing me and making me the center of a tedious scene I’d already decided wasn’t worth it to me.

        1. goducks*

          Yes. I hate when coworkers discover my dietary restrictions, because suddenly that’s all they want to talk about when food is in the workplace. “See Ducks? We brought this in JUST FOR YOU. Don’t you want to eat it? Hey, what about this. Here’s the complete list of ingredients… oh wait, no you can’t have that, it has XXX in it. Hey, why aren’t you eating this thing that I made special for you???”
          I get that they’re trying to be nice, but it makes the whole event about my dietary restrictions instead of just letting me be and enjoying the event. And they are so hurt if the thing that they made just for you happens to be a dish that you don’t particularly care for, but they made it because it matches your restrictions without ever asking if you’d be interested in the dish at all.

    4. anon today and tomorrow*

      It really depends, though. If you have the type of allergy where cross contamination is an issue, it can be difficult to accommodate people. I’m not going to entirely trust a coworker who says they baked something without my allergen if I don’t know what their kitchen situation is like. A lot of people assume all it takes is wiping down counters and pans.

      People who are so focused on accommodating allergies to the point that they’ll overrule the wishes of someone with allergies are part of the problem. I’d rather go without treats in my honor instead of risking a trip to the hospital. If someone doesn’t want their allergy accommodated just so they can eat treats in the office, listen to them.

      1. Bryce*

        “I know you can’t have chocolate so I made sure there were plain donuts in the assortment” yeah that have been snuggling up against the chocolate ones. I’m sure it’s fine, donuts are well-known for not getting crumbs everywhere.

        Personally I’m just exhausted. I hate being in the spotlight, I hate having the conversation over and over and over and, since most of the things I need to avoid are desserts, I hate that if I just try to pass on food people assume it’s a diet and start commenting on my weight.

      2. Guava*

        Just recently a friend of mine baked me a gluten-free cake from scratch and insisted it had no nuts in it. They were absolutely certain of it. I could tell their feelings were hurt when I refused to try a slice. And then I asked what they used as a flour substitute…and it was nut flour.

        I felt bad making them bring the whole cake home unopened, but I couldn’t take the risk of exposing my kitchen surfaces to traces of nut oil. It sucks all around.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I just said “oooooo” out loud. Wow. O_O
          You should *not* feel bad about protecting yourself from someone so careless. Yikes.

        2. Bryce*

          My mom’s GF (issues developed a few years ago so we didn’t grow up with it) and I have a nut allergy. When I visit we mostly have salads and home-made stews and the like for that exact reason.

    5. staceyizme*

      I think this is one of the cases where it’s better to go ahead an advocate for yourself specifically and officially. Since your allergies are so severe is to be life-threatening, you should seek an accommodation that would ban allergens that affect you at that level from your workplace. It resolves two issues- you don’t have to be the one to communicate the details of your severe allergy and you don’t have to be personally identifiable that’s the source of the ban, assuming that you have a competent HR department. There will probably be some grumbling about the inconvenience of complying, but you won’t have to deal with it alone or even directly. It made me that not many Community treats are served in your workplace, or that you only order such things from a carefully selected group of vendors. That’s okay, though. Most people are accustomed to making some adjustments for their fellow man or woman. This would address the issue in a systematic way and prevents you from having to be the direct cause of any inconvenience, since HR would mediate the message, presumably.

      If you don’t have competition HR or you don’t feel that you need to request this level of accommodation, then you simply have to be more straightforward about refusing foods that you cannot consume. It doesn’t mean that you have to provide any details, or that you have to justify abstaining from certain foods or drink. It just means that you need to be able to confidently say no and move on to the next item on your list. You don’t have to satisfy anyone’s curiosity or gain their approval in order to do so. Another person’s comfort with your food choices is simply not your concern to manage.

        1. Mama Bear*

          My kid has a weird allergy and specific food preferences. Her friends have learned over time to 1. clue us in so we send her an alternate snack, 2. check labels, and 3. often will make sure that something is offered that she can eat. I get that the OP doesn’t want any fuss, but I think that being direct will actually help. Just be consistent about what OP wants, or doesn’t want. The other part of it is that if OP or anyone is exposed to an allergen, then coworkers know when to call an ambulance.

          I do agree that the flip side is when someone says, “No, thanks” people need to accept it and move on. You offered, they didn’t partake, end of discussion. Don’t get offended. It’s probably not about you.

          1. pleaset*

            But thing this is “No thanks” is also used for people just not liking the taste of chocolate or other minor preferences. The burden shouldn’t be on the OP, but I think something firmer is need “No, I have such severe allergies that I must food myself. Thank you for considering me but no need to in what you order.”

            1. TootsNYC*

              actually, people who say “no thanks” because they have a minor preference should be respected as well!

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                As such a person, YES, absolutely! “No, thanks” should ALWAYS be enough and should always be respected, regardless of the underying reason for it. If you want to offer someone food, fine. That does NOT give you a license to demand an explanation when someone declines, and if they choose to offer such an explanation and you have the nerve to criticize or argue with them about it, you are a rude person and shiuld be shamed of yourself. Period, full stop.

                I am a picky eater, I know I am, and I own that. I also know all the rules about what I “should” or “should not” eat, and I am not interested in arguing with you about why I don’t always follow them or why I can’t stand certain foods that others think everyone is “suppised” to like. I had a belly full (pun intended) of those arguments with my mother growing up, and I am emphatically not interested in having another one with some random person who has taken it on themselves to be the food police.

                I absolutely understand that eating certain foods can make some people violently ill or even kill them, and I can well imagine that explaining that might help get some of the food police off those people’s backs. That said, I truly hate the idea of anyone feeling like they have to do that in order to be left in peace.

              2. StaceyIzMe*

                I concur entirely! It’s supposedly “not nice” to notice what people do or don’t eat, other than to offer a selection if you’re hosting and to make reasonable preparations for guests. People who don’t care for what is offered shouldn’t be made to answer for why they aren’t eating, any more than people who offer food should be made to cater to vegan/ gluten free/ keto/ kosher/ halal/ organic/ dairy free limitations. In a professional context, the food is usually a secondary (if not lower) consideration and there is a meeting, a networking session, an award or something similar as the reason for the gathering. Nobody should mind if someone fails to eat (or drink alcohol, another point of contention in some circles).

    6. Lily Rowan*

      Because this is the top comment, I just want to add that in this OP’s case, what people should really do to accommodate her is stop pushing her to eat the work food!

      1. TootsNYC*

        exactly–this is the accommodation she wants. Not special food.

        Just…leave the poor girl alone.

    7. Clisby*

      It is maddening. And it’s not just allergies. My mother didn’t drink alcohol. She wasn’t combative about it; she just didn’t drink alcohol. And yet, many times, people offering drinks just couldn’t accept “No thanks.”

      I’ve run into the same thing with food brought into the office, which overwhelmingly seems to be sweet crap. Doughnuts, cupcakes, whole cake, brownies. I don’t, in general, like sweet food so I say “No thanks.” And then I get “Oh, you can’t be on a diet”; “Come on, you’re so thin, you can have a doughnut” and the like. Listen, people, if I wanted your goddamn doughnut I would have said yes the first time you offered. Just like if my mother wanted that glass of wine, she’d have accepted it.

      If you offer food to someone and that person declines, assume they mean it.

      1. Rana*

        The problem, as I noted above, is that some people do want to be coaxed to eat a “naughty” food so they don’t feel guilty. But after two firm refusals, yeah. Leave the person be.

        (I find this dynamic annoying, too, but it is an actual thing.)

        1. PVR*

          Then that is on them honestly. With so many people having special diets for medical (and sometimes personal) reasons, a firm but gentle no thanks should just be respected with no need to explain. SOmeone who says… I really shouldn’t but… might be looking for confirmation, but someone who has just said no should just be left alone. IMHO.

        2. animaniactoo*

          It sure is an actual thing. That doesn’t mean that you have to play the foil to it, especially when playing the foil can mean that you’re actually being pushy to people who don’t want to be coaxed, they just want to be left alone.

          You can choose to just… let those who want to be coaxed find a way that doesn’t rely on another person to fulfill a script for them. Or not have the donut. Their choice.

          This kind of responsibility managing – it’s okay to participate in as friends who know each other and know what each other really means/wants AND are comfortable fulfilling the role*. Outside of that? Nope. You don’t know enough about the other person, so it’s far better to err on the safe side of letting them manage their own desires without any additional input from you. One refusal is enough, and it’s just fine to leave it at that.

          *Even as friends, it’s fine to say “I understand you want the push or reassurance that it’s okay, but I don’t want to deal with doing this. When I offer, it’s an open offer but I’m only going to offer once. Feel free to change your mind, I promise not to hold it against you.”

      2. Emily*

        I hate eating food people have prepared at home. No allergy but get sick easily from foods like this because I can’t guarantee the person has stored ingredients properly. They may have left milk or eggs out, used expired products and used a dirty kitchen or utensils. I say no thanks and walk off or take an item then toss it away if it’s going to cause offence.

    8. TootsNYC*

      actually, it CAN be hard to accommodate people.

      And it’s asking a LOT of someone to ask them to eat food they don’t know is safe.

      It can kill them!!!

      Our OP doesn’t WANT people to try to accommodate her. She wants them to NOT try to make or buy food for her.

      What’s not hard is shutting up about other people’s food.
      Or, maybe it is hard, because so few people are able to do it.

    9. WannaAlp*

      I have allergies and I can assure you that there is not always an option that works for me.

      Also, even if co-workers present me with a food that they say is free from my list of allergens, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to entrust my safety to their allergen-avoiding skills. Avoiding problematic foods is easier for me with several years of practice, but when I was new to it, I made plenty of mistakes. I don’t want to suffer the consequences for a mistake that they could very well have made in bringing me some unsolicited food because they have no idea how prevalent some substances are in food.

      I try to stick to appreciating their thought (which I do, very much), but in turn, they have to appreciate my wish to not experience multiple health reactions. I wish there was a magic “other people’s comfort” button I could press, though, some people really really cannot get comfortable if the person with allergies isn’t included.

  2. LaurenB*

    I think you are overthinking the extent to which people “REALLY want you to participate in team donuts” (etc.). I think AAM’ers often tend to take small talk / water-cooler conversations too personally. “You sure you don’t want a slice?” falls under small talk. Just like when someone asks about your plans for the holiday, they don’t really care that you’re estranged from your parents and aren’t going home, it’s just small talk. Or when they ask you about your weekend, they don’t really care whether you went to the park or had a BBQ or binge-watched GoT. It’s just small talk; a smile and a “no thanks!” will cut it off. If someone persists past that, you needn’t engage beyond repeating “no thanks, I’m good!”

    1. Alfonzo Mango*

      Yes – the LW seems really emotionally charged and is worried about coming across as offensive or rude when it’s likely not really as big of a deal as they think it is.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Ehhhhhh, as a woman who has sometimes suffered in my career due to “casual office small talk” type stuff (honestly I’ve gotten everything from standoffish to coming on too strong, so like, tbh, I don’t even know at this point), I get why some people get hung up on it.

        It is very easy, as a woman, especially if OP happens to be a woman in a male dominated* workplace, for these sorts of things to become a bigger deal than they need to be, on others’ end. For turning down a donut to become She’s So Difficult. Which becomes Difficult To Work With. Which becomes “when it’s time for layoffs, guess who gets let go”. Which becomes “hard time finding your next gig because of that whole Difficult To Work With thing, which only became a thing because you acted weird about birthday cake…”

        So, yeah, I agree by and large that this doesn’t matter and you can probably do whatever and it’ll be fine/people don’t really notice that much. Unless this isn’t the case in your particular workplace, and people do notice, and it really does become a thing. And only OP knows which kind of workplace she is in.

        *Weirdly, ALL of my struggles with casual social aspects of work stopped when I went to a company and team that is more evenly split or even majority female. Fancy that!

        1. Holly*

          Allison gave really great tips on how to firmly reject food while still staying warm with your colleagues, and I think if that is utilized, there’s nothing to be afraid of here unless OP’s office is truly toxic or out of the norm. I’m sorry you’ve been having a bad experience with office politics, that stinks.

      2. Allergy Mom*

        It can be a fraught discussion.

        Some people do say very inappropriate things. My young child has an allergy. I’ve been blamed for it. I’ve been told it was inconvenient for me to ask people coming to my party to not bring his allergen into my home. I’ve been told allergies aren’t real and I’m overreacting. I’ve even been told that in the past, kids weren’t diagnosed with allergies, they just didn’t survive.

        Others get offended that you “don’t trust” their vetting of a food or place. Some feel you are saying their kitchen is dirty by sticking to your pre packed safe snacks. But not everyone knows where to look and there are cross contamination risks in foods you wouldn’t imagine.

        The you get the people who want to know all the details. How did you find out? What was his reaction? What would happen if it happened again? Have you tried (x, y, z)? Will you be doing oral-immuno therapy? Personal medical details I don’t want or need to share with anyone beyond my son, my husband and our medical team.

        It isn’t always the easy conversation it should be. You can be left feeling like you are wrong, rude, at fault for medical condition or even “defective” (yep, that’s a word I’ve heard in relation to my very sweet toddler and his very very common allergy). After years of that, I can see why LW is stressed.

        1. LKW*

          This doesn’t surprise me but it astounds me all the same.

          It’s not like you’re allergic at me. You might be allergic to me, but that’s different

        2. Shad*

          Wait… people say allergic kids used to die rather than get diagnosed?
          I mean, yes, that probably happened. But isn’t modern medicine great that kids don’t have to die for that anymore? That’s just such a dumb thing to say.

          1. Fiberpunk*

            Right? Like, bring back the good old days when your kid would have died by now so I could bring peanut butter to anyone’s home I wished? How disturbing.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I mean, I’ll mention that a lot of people with severe allergies probably used to die young without a diagnosis before modern medicine advanced so far, but the context in which I’ll mention that is someone telling me that “people never used to have allergies so it must all just be that people are whiners now and should suck it up”. The counter-argument of “well, kids used to up and die of sudden, mysterious illnesses a lot, so until we got a better handle on the rest of the childhood diseases it’s hard to separate out how many of them died of allergic reactions” is one of my go-tos for that.

            It’s a weird, unhelpful thing to tell someone with allergic kid (who presumably wasn’t asking for a history lesson), though.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, I’d hear that as “your kid SHOULD have died” and… yeah, I can’t guarantee my reaction to THAT wouldn’t be screaming rage.

          3. MatKnifeNinja*

            I had a GP tell me that while looking over my mental history.

            “Not many food allergies around when I was young. The really allergic babies just died.”

            Thank you for that trivia Dr. Obvious.

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              Medical. My kingdom for an edit button. He probably thought food allergies were BS just the way the discussion went.

          4. Michaela Westen*

            Yes, I was sick all the time growing up (non-IgE food allergies and both IgE and non-IgE airborne allergies, none of which I understood at the time), and it really bothered me that I would have died young in earlier times. No one said that to me, but I was treated like a freak by almost everyone. I felt I wasn’t supposed to be alive. I wanted to be healthy and strong and not dependent on medication. It took some time to accept that I’m here and should do my best with it.

        3. Zephy*

          I’ve even been told that in the past, kids weren’t diagnosed with allergies, they just didn’t survive.

          What the ACTUAL eff? Who SAYS that to somebody??

          1. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

            All too many people. I’ve heard variants of it for 30 years now. People no longer shock me when it comes to food intolerances and allergies.
            However I am pleasantly surprised when I hear “okay, how do you want us to accommodate your food allergy?” at a job.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, but people are being really thick and kind of…antisocial(?) if they’re not taking cues from what’s happened before. You don’t keep saying, “Did you have a relaxing weekend?” every Monday to the person whose answer is always “I worked my second job.” There’s small talk with strangers, and then there’s small talk with the people you see on a weekly basis, where you should have some memory of which normal bland topics aren’t all that bland.

      Frankly, they sound like they deserve a deadpan “Surprisingly, my deadly allergies have not cleared up since last Tuesday,” but I understand why OP doesn’t want to deliver it.

      1. Samwise*

        That doesn’t seem to be the case with this OP, however, since they haven’t shared any info about their allergies at all.

        OP, assume good intentions until you get evidence to the contrary, use AAM’s suggestions, deflect people who won’t take no for an answer if you get them, if “won’t take no” insists then get frosty and send back the awkward.

        1. smoke tree*

          I think the issue is actually that the OP has shared the allergy info but her coworkers keep forgetting and/or misunderstanding and she’s tired of rehashing it and managing their weird allergy feelings for them at every work potluck. It’s hard to imagine how draining this kind of thing can be until you’ve experienced it.

          1. londonedit*

            I think people just forget, though. If you don’t live with a dietary restriction (whether that’s something you’ve chosen, like vegetarianism, or an allergy) then I think other people’s restrictions often just aren’t on your radar. I haven’t eaten meat for 25 years and yet at family parties I still get people offering me sausage rolls. I just say ‘Oh, not for me, thank you!’ and they move on. My sister can’t eat wheat or dairy, and again, even with quite close family members she’ll get people offering her something with pastry or saying ‘I made this especially for you! No eggs!’ (side note: WHY do people think eggs are dairy products?) It isn’t that people are trying to be pushy, or deliberately trying to force us to eat things we don’t want/can’t have, it’s just that when they’re handing a plate of sausage rolls around to 20 people it doesn’t cross their mind to think ‘Oh, I’ll skip londonedit, she doesn’t eat sausage rolls’.

      2. LaurenB*

        So let them be thick and antisocial. In a conversation involving two people, one person can always choose to move on and not prolong the conversation. “No thanks, I’m good!” “Nope, I’m fine!”

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sometimes, yes! But we’ve had lots of letters from people with coworkers who don’t take no for an answer, and that’s a real thing too.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Yup. I’m trying to lose weight, and I honestly had a coworker insist that my not taking a Girl Scout cookie when she offered me one – even after I got done explaining that eating one causes me to binge-eat the remainder or obsess over them near singlemindedly for hours – was extremely rude on my part. I took the cookie, and put it in my pocket. Then I threw it away later.

        1. animaniactoo*

          “I’m sorry. You seem to be confused. Out of the two of us, I have the most right to be concerned about what goes in my mouth and whether it’s a good idea for me to take one. Telling me otherwise is rude. Is there no option for “no” in whatever etiquette you were raised with?”

          (don’t actually say this to a co-worker. to a friend would be possible, not a co-worker).

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yup. There were social/hierarchical issues around trying to back-talk this particular coworker, plus I’m already “difficult” because I’m a vegetarian. So I bit my tongue instead. Fortunately, “save it for later” is socially acceptable in this office.

          2. TootsNYC*

            Or, “I believe in a person’s right to choose–their body, their choice. I choose no cookie–but I really appreciate your offer of one.”

        2. Mimi Me*

          I’m also trying to lose weight and have avoided telling people at work because I’ve already had the “are you allowed to eat that?” conversation from the people I live with. Fortunately I am the mother of those who’ve asked me and was able to use the moment to remind them that it’s MY job to police what does and does not go into my mouth and that it’s never okay to comment on someone’s food choices.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              In the sense we’re talking about, yeah, it’s a decent guideline.

              If you mean, “Ooh, that looks tasty!” then you’re probably okay.

        3. LaurenB*

          But you’re explaining way too much by telling her that eating one cookie causes you to binge-eat the remainder (even though that may be the truth). The issue isn’t whether one cookie causes you to binge (you say yes, she says no, so now the two of you fight about it). The issue is whether your eating habits are anyone’s business beyond your own. The answer to that is no. So rather than make the argument “One cookie will cause me to binge” / “No, it won’t, that’s silly, have just one,” make the argument “I’m good where I’m at, thanks” to which there is simply no counter-argument because how can someone argue you want food you just said you didn’t want?

          1. Just Accept My No*

            Yes! I agree with this and your other comments so much and it’s so applicable in many areas of our lives and interactions. I envision myself just staring blankly in response to someone being pushy after I have already given my first and only response. I do this to my daughter. I say no and explain briefly the reason (my child does need a reason) and then she whines and pleads and I just stare at her blankly. There is nothing more to say. I am not going to get into a back and forth argument. Finally she will say “why don’t you answer me?” and I will say “I already did.” Why engage in arguments and allow yourself to be sucked in? I would say no to food my grandmother offered and she would push and push and ask why and insist that I try it and on and on. I would continue on with what I was doing as if she weren’t talking and when she would insist on a response from me I would calmly repeat my first response with no further explanation as if I hadn’t heard all her ranting. We do not owe explanations to anyone. We do not have to justify our actions to anyone. (ok, there are exceptions) but when it comes to food choices, lifestyles, preferences, a simple “no, thank you” SHOULD SUFFICE. We are not obligated to engage when someone wants more information.

          2. Cherries on top*

            You really don’t seem to get that there’s many people that don’t respond that way and keep on pestering you with their opinions of your relationship with food. It never fucking ends. And often you end up being the rude, unreasonable one.
            Several of my old coworkers would comment on my food with “Euuhh! That looks super disgusting! What are you eating?” (Sits down across the table and stares at you while you trying to eat.)
            Having an eating disorder (and looking quite sick) kind of helps (not a recommendation though).
            People should just really chill about whst other people eat or don’t eat, how much of it and for whatever reason. Not that you can’t ever problematise food, just not at every possible moment.

      2. Soultoast*

        I have a seed/nut allergy myself and run into this often. Sometimes I respond super cheerfully, Great, let me go get my Epi pen and show you how to use it real quick just in case!” It gets the point across and people back off pretty quick. But I only do this with people who can handle my sarcasm.

        1. AngryAngryAlice*

          I would argue that the people who can’t handle your sarcasm are the ones who need to hear that line the most.

          (Also, I love this. May steal it for myself.)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          +1 haha.
          Note: If I knew you were so allergic you needed an Epi-Pen, I would ask you to show me how to use it just in case.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I seem to remember one commenter several years ago saying that a coworker had threatened to expose her to peanuts when she was deathly allergic. Made my hair stand on end to think someone would actually do that. o_O

        1. WS*

          There was a case in my country where a mother deliberately exposed an allergic child in her child’s class to peanut butter because she was frustrated about not being able to send peanut butter sandwiches to school. The allergic child died.

        2. The Office Ghost*

          Yes, people do that. I’m not the commenter you mentioned, but I’ve had people tamper with my food to “test” my allergies. They also “tested” the limits of my medical-related dietary restrictions, like adding lots of sugar to my food when I had to watch my sugar intake, spiking my blood sugar and causing me digestive distress. This was done repeatedly by a small group of people over the course of several months. It took some time for the truth to come out, and by then, their little scheme had permanently harmed my health. This was in my personal life, not at work, but it still changed my approach to food forever.

          Now I never eat any food, in any setting, that has been prepared by someone else. At work I lock up my lunch bag. If I bring a reusable drink container to sip from throughout the day (reusable water bottle, insulated coffee mug) then I never leave it unattended. If I need more food while I’m out, I only get sealed stuff. (bag of pretzels from vending machine, etc.)

          This shit happens more often than people think. So many people have a pathological need to control what others eat.

    4. animaniactoo*

      You have clearly never met people for whom the pleasure of food is increased when shared, and who take great pride in being “providers” and needing to “care” for people by feeding them. Or who need to justify their own food choices by everyone else participating in doing the same thing they are.

      These are the people who think that a donut will cure anything, that the reason you’re not having one is because you’re on a diet, or you just ate breakfast, but it’s donuts and here we are all happy to be sharing Donuts! It’s okay! You can have one too! Discover the pleasure of having a donut! Today! Right now! Yay!

      It totally happens, it’s totally a thing, and it’s really annoying when you encounter it over and over again and a simple “no thanks” is not enough to make it stop. Because it continues to come at you from several angles and you get really really reallllllyyyyy tired of having to repeat it again.

      1. Le Sigh*

        My old office had monthly birthday celebrations with grocery store sheet cake and ice cream. I almost never had any, simply because I didn’t really care for it. I would show up, have a drink, and be polite. And without fail, this one woman in my office — every single time, without fail — had to say in her perma-megaphone voice, “what’s wrong, Le Sigh? You on a DIET?” Some people live in a world where if they don’t comment on everyone’s food choices, they will somehow turn into dust and cease to exist.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        OMG Yes! I generally say “I don’t like muffins (or whatever, but yeah I really don’t like muffins).” If they persist I say “Muffins are gross and make me vomit.” That generally does it.

        1. ThatGirl*

          So, I’m a “food is love” type of person – and I will cheerfully encourage my coworkers to have a brownie, a muffin, a slice of pie, etc – BUT I do know how to take no for an answer, I do not believe donuts cure every ill and if I know you are allergic/on a diet/vegan I won’t even offer (well, unless I make something specifically vegan).

          (But my muffins are delicious, darnit.)

          1. kupo*

            You should not be trying to persuade people in any direction on their food choices. It’s none of your business. At all.

            1. Tomacco*

              Bringing something in to share with the office and offering it to your co-workers is absolutely not the same thing as ‘trying to persuade people in any direction on their food choices’, LOL.

      3. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Yes, I’m sure there could be a whole field of psychology devoted to food and the ritual of breaking bread together and how rejecting food is a personal affront to the individual, the tribe, or even god. It’s sooooooo primal. And it goes both ways in that those that can’t participate in the ritual that is a communal meal, for medical, religious, or other reasons, can feel just as personally affronted at being excluded because the meal is unavailable to them.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          People who get insulted when others decline their food need to grow up and get over themselves, period, end of story. It’s not about them.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Wow. As stated above, it’s almost a primal reaction from many, many people the world ’round. Feeling something, especially something baked into their family and cultural traditions, doesn’t make them immature. Forcing the issue past someone’s comfort level IS wrong, of course, and fundamentally I agree with the sentiment that you should trust people to manage their own food intake. But in many cultures the polite thing to do is refuse food twice and then accept, or to keep urging food at guests to honor their presence, or to fill up any empty plate because it means they’re still hungry. To say these billion+ people need to “grow up and get over themselves” is unkind at best and culturally ignorant at worst.

            Your comment was needlessly hostile in the context of this particular comment thread.

            1. Fiberpunk*

              In the context of this thread, co-workers do need to get over it. No one has some innate right to force food on others, and being offended by it is something they very much need to work on themselves, quietly.

              1. biobotb*

                The comment that Gazebo Slayer was responding to with needless aggression did not make the argument that anyone should be able to force food on anyone else.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              In light of everything posted elsewhere in the thread about people getting hassled because they fast for Ramadan or Lent or keep kosher or halal, it’s strange that objecting to food-pushers who won’t take no for an answer is “culturally insensitive.”

              Not to mention that the whole thread was started by someone who has food allergies that could, y’know, kill her. Anyone who takes that as an offense to themselves really does need to just deal with it, regardless of their culture.

              1. PVR*

                Yes, completely agree!! Sure, it might not feel comfortable to have someone tell you no… but also that is life and applies to a lot of situations beyond food. If we were talking about physical intimacy I’m not sure the “ask three times” argument would hold a lot of water in a culture where that is not the norm.

                1. Indigo a la mode*

                  Come on. There’s no correlation between “offer food three times” and “harassing someone for sex.”

        2. TootsNYC*

          my pastor has frequently said that early Christianity was one of the few religions that did NOT have food restrictions. And that it was theologically important. and strategic.

      4. Tin Cormorant*

        Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who thinks cold donuts are really disgusting. I think donuts hot out of the fryer are one of the best things in the world and I will treat myself to one a few times a year if I happen to be near a shop that sells them fresh, but those things in the box in the break room taste like someone is offering me their leftover French fries from last night’s dinner. Except coated with solidified frosting. Nobody seems to understand this and keeps offering them to me.

        1. kc89*

          lol this comment is killing me

          I enjoy the occasional cold donut but I usually regret them, and office donuts are always just kind of sad looking lol

        2. Mimi Me*

          I am the total opposite. I think warm cakes / muffins / donuts / cookies are the most disgusting things on the planet. If I was to order dessert at a restaurant the first question I ask is if the baked good is served warm and if there’s any option for it not to be. Krispy Kreme briefly had a location here in MA and used the “served hot” thing as a lure for customers. I believe that this is why they closed the location so soon after opening. LOL! (Yes, I know – people in New England are all about their Dunkie’s and that was the real reason).

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Krispy Kreme doughnuts are ONLY edible when served hot. Otherwise, bleah.

            If it’s not KK, I’ll eat any damn doughnut. My way of not gaining eleventy million pounds is to only eat one of one kind (the cinnamon sugar cake doughnut). If that isn’t in the box, I pass. Of course, when coworkers find out that’s my favorite, then they get one for me. *le sigh*

    5. 2 cents*

      Except there are people who won’t take no for an answer. Who go so far beyond boundaries and insist on knowing why why why why and if someone is only prepared to deflect “small talk” then they are liable to get caught up in this crap, so having a script isn’t a bad thing.

      Plus, there are too many people invested in their ideas which can be super harmful. Like when people assume the allergies aren’t real and deliberately give someone shrimp (or whatever) to “prove it” or when they serve meat or meat products to vegan/vegetarians as a “joke”.

    6. Mockingbird 2*

      Maybe — I’ve had people not take my medical problems seriously so I do tend to take it harder when it seems like that’s about to happen — but I’ve also had people not be able to take me seriously. Some people are really, really weird about food and/or allergies and can’t take no for an answer.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I would need more information from the LW before I could agree with you here.

      I used to work with people who wouldn’t take no for an answer, they would drop things off on my desk despite my declining as an attempt to be nice. Then they’d sit around and say “Aren’t you going to eat that?! It’s so good!”

      There are people who take trays around and won’t leave until you take one, etc. Been there, done that.

      I have a full drawer full of candy that people have just left on my desk.

      1. GillysGotIt*

        On that note I can’t stand when people pass dishes around tables – it disrupts everything, everyone watches whether or not you take something, making it generally awkward. We should break this tradition and just let people take what they want, or at most ask for someone to pass it to them if they can’t reach it.

    8. zapateria la bailarina*

      it’s not super helpful to tell OP they’re being overly emotional when they explain in their letter that even after explaining the allergy, coworkers forget and they have to re-explain again and again at every food-sharing event.

    9. Pink Peonies*

      I agree most people are just being nice and don’t care if you don’t want their baked goods. I also discovered after we began fostering a child who had a peanut allergy that I was not direct/sincere in telling people no to food. I was what I considered polite by making excuses to not hurt their feelings, which in turn was not getting the real point across. My MIL met me for lunch one day and was offered a PB something and she said absolutely not we we don’t take chances with nuts, the woman went on and my MIL stopped her and said we do not eat nuts and we don’t take chances that someone else eliminated all nut products you will not change our mind so no thank you and looked her in the eye until she turned and walked away. In that moment I thought it was so rude, my MIL let me know that by not making it an absolute no I will not be trying your food no matter what you have to say that I was the one being encouraging someone who doesn’t have the ability to pick up on social cues.

      1. Clisby*

        I don’t understand why you thought that was rude, but +1000 to your MIL.

        If someone pressed me on why I didn’t want a dessert, I’d say, “Sorry, but I feel nauseated at the very thought of eating that.” Nothing rude about it – I would have started out with “No thanks.” If they can’t just accept “No thanks,” they’re the rude ones.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Be rude. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s always better to be rude than to be sick (or for your child to be sick).

      3. GillysGotIt*

        Sounds very much like something Steve Jobs once told Jonny Ive about him being too kind in not being completely honest with people.

        Also reminds me of my sister walking around the mall food court with my niece when she was a baby. They were raising her as a vegan and a worker at a Chinese restaurant, who was giving out food samples, tried to place a piece of chicken directly into my niece’s mouth. My sister slapped it right out of her hand onto the floor and told her she should never do that to anyone again.

        1. UGH*

          WTF. What if your niece was allergic to soy or gluten or something else in that chicken?!

          When it comes to food samples and kids, the rule should always be to hand it to the adult to give to the child or ask the adult “Can the child who’s with you have one?/May I give this to the child?”

      4. TootsNYC*

        I think your MIL has a point!

        People who are unable to (or unwilling to) pick up on social clues -deserve*- clear feedback. Be firm.
        Say things like, “Please don’t pressure me on this issue; I gave you an answer, please respect that.”

        *”deserve” in the same way that all people deserve respect, and clean drinking water.

      5. Important Moi*

        It’s late, but this may come across harsh. I find that people who are more interested in the performance of being polite (irrespective of motivation) ultimately cause more harm than good to others, but seldom cause harm to themselves.

        Your MIL is a gem.

    10. None for Me Thx*

      For an office bbq, I simply brought my own food, put it on the same paper plate as everyone else, and set to socializing. As a result, I got a snitty passive-aggressive memo demanding that everyone report their food allergies to HR. They were upset that there was a small amount of food left over.

      I don’t like to request accommodations for various reasons. I don’t like to inconvenience people; I don’t know if I can trust what people provide; and to me, it’s very personal health information that I don’t want to discuss it at work. Just let me do my thing in peace!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        They were salty that food was left over?! BBQs are seriously so incredibly inexpensive [I know for a fact because I am the one who purchases things for them, I’m talking less than $10 a head. Oh noooooooooooooooooooo oh nooooooooooooo you didn’t eat your $10 of food, the horror! Why didn’t someone else eat the extra one?

        This reminds me of how when my dad had pizza at work, they would purchase and require everyone to have three slices each. I have never worked anywhere that has been so militant about their freebies. We just buy two dozen donuts for the crew [we have less than two dozen crew members] and then you know, the strays sit in the breakroom for people to pick over. Worse case, I could go down to the homeless encampment around the corner and give it to them instead of throw it away. It’s so minimal and kills the morale by being so frigid! I am angry this happened to you, you may have guessed that though.

      2. GillysGotIt*

        That’s nuts. They calculated that one person didn’t eat the provided food, and there was the same amount left over, so that was you? Food doesn’t work that evenly, I’m afraid.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        I’d say “please don’t provide food for me, I’ll bring my own”. If they persisted after that, I would tell them all my allergens plus my stomach is so sensitive to acid that’s another list of restrictions. That usually stops the conversation because no one (including trained dietitians) knows how to handle it.

    11. LQ*

      I absolutely use the food as small talk. I’ve got weather and …um weather in my pocket. But I also have the thing that is physically in front of us. Elevator seems slow. Food seems good. If humans expect small talk (and even if you personally don’t, unless you’re one of 2 people who has clearly and directly said “I don’t ever want or need small talk” I’m going to assume I’m supposed to follow and do it) then you have to deal with some small talk that is unpleasant. In which case you don’t “No thanks!” because you’ve just shut down that small talk. You “No thanks. Hey did you hear that the Twins are winning a lot.” (This is my one for today. That’s all I’ve got, but so far it’s gotten 3 people excited to have conversations, 2 who are usually resistant to talk at all to me but I need to build relationships with so I’m calling it a win.)

      I know that the just repeat No. because people are the worst comes up here a lot. But I think that for the vast majority of people a no+redirect is far far more effective than No. Because No. lets them think about the No. rather than guiding them to the next place they should go. Most people are happy to be guided in a social context so yes, this means sometimes you take the lead when you shouldn’t have to. Try a no+ rather than a No. If you are dealing with a really horrible person then walk away and disengage, but don’t No. and wait.

      1. Peanut*

        I am a huge Twins fan and this one works every time! They’re usually bad and that’s a good conversation starter too.

      2. PVR*

        This is true… with reasonable people such as yourself. But as someone with several food restrictions, this is a thing that exists. Some people take a no thanks to food extremely personally, regardless of if you redirect or not and it is far more common than you might think.

    12. MissDisplaced*

      Maybe… but some offices are really, really food and treat centric. I’ve worked in a few of those and it can be so weird. At bigger companies you can go unnoticed most of the time and/or people might ask but don’t really care if you eat the stuff or not.

      I got so sick of the one place where the owner would chide me every time he heard me crack a Diet Coke. Was like, YES for the 100th time I know they’re not healthy. I just don’t give a crap ‘cause I like them.

    13. AngryAngryAlice*

      I’m going to copy/paste a modified version of my comment somewhere else in this thread because it pertains exactly to what you’re saying:

      I’m going to guess that you’ve never existed in the world with a severe allergy to a common food item/ingredient or had food restrictions (like an eating disorder) in an office in which people take food personally. Sure, a lot of this might be small talk, but I’m willing to bet that at least 2-3 of the most persistent people who press beyond the first “no thanks” or offer food at every event are being more than just “polite.” A shockingly large number of people take it personally when people turn down food for ANY reason (even if they weren’t even the ones to bring the food in!), and they do not believe/respect allergies the way they need to.

      I rarely disclose my allergies/sensitivities and/or eating disorder without receiving some type of pushback, even if the person pushing back thinks their comment is benign or helpful. My fiancé has celiac disease and deals with a much more intense line of pushback/questioning whenever he discloses his severe gluten allergy/intolerance.

      I totally sympathize with LW, because I know where they’re coming from with this. A simple “no thanks” should be enough, but it rarely is. And allergy conversations should be quick and informative, but they often devolve into a long back and forth that becomes exhausting… hence, why LW wants to avoid the convo entirely.

      Trust me, LW is not overthinking or overreacting here.

    14. Batman*

      Some people can be really pushy about getting you to eat their food though. It’s not overthinking or an overreaction.

    15. fhqwhgads*

      Around the 16th time one has to say “no thanks” at the same gathering, it ain’t just small talk to “not take personally”. It’s a conversation I’m absolutely sick of having.

  3. Amber T*

    All the food questions on AAM have really helped me I think, maybe not as much in my work life, but definitely in my personal life. If I’m providing food/playing hostess, I feel the need the *take care of everyone* and that it’s “nice” and “helpful” to try to make sure everyone is taken care of. But… there have been times that I’ve not taken no for an answer. Which definitely isn’t nice or helpful. I’m trying to switch to – “here are food options available, if nothing suits you, can I get you anything else? No? Okay.” and leave it.

    (I come from a family where love=food, and the first rule of taking care of anyone is making sure they’re fed.)

    1. Le Sigh*

      My ex’s family equates feeding people with love — thank you for working on this impulse! I don’t have allergies and I liked the people and the food they served quite a lot, but if a person says they’re full OMG why can’t people just take that at face value! Please stop watching my plate and hovering — just accept that I had three servings and take that as a sign I’m happy!

      1. animaniactoo*

        Ha! My mom at a meal with my friend’s family, after the 3rd round of “you’re sure you don’t want anything else? no more x? y?” “Do I look like I’m starving?” [said with much grace and humor, but totally blunt]

        1. TootsNYC*

          I have done the “I’m X years old–I didn’t get to be this old by not eating when I was hungry, or by starving myself.”

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        The plate watching is so annoying as an allergic person. Yes, I’ve seen that there is food available. If I was able or wanted to eat it I would have taken some. No need to notice my empty(ish) plate, no need to start asking questions and making me and my medical issues the center of everyone’s attention, just presume that there’s some reason why I’m not eating and that the reason is none of your business. If I decide in the future to come more often to your food-related thing, I’ll email you the entire email list ahead of time so you can prepare, but this time I chose not to start that process and I don’t need anything.

      3. Le Sigh*

        I really value being a good host. But to me, that means a few things–yes, ensuring people have a nice variety of food options to enjoy is important. But making them comfortable in my home or at my event is actually more important. So when I have people over, I take into account vegan and veggie, allergies, etc. (and listen to folks if they give me a heads up about any of it) — I really do want people to have a variety of tasty things to eat. But really, if they choose to abstain from alcohol or not eat my food, it’s none of my business — plate and glass-watching makes people uneasy, as does pressure and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. I’m not owed any explanations for why someone does or doesn’t eat or drink — all I really want is for them to have a nice time and it’s on me to follow those cues.

        1. whingedrinking*

          The first time a friend of mine came over to my place, he was the guest of my significant other. I said, “Would you like a beer?”, he replied, “No thank you, I don’t drink”, and I said, “Okay,” and went back to rummaging in the fridge or whatever I was doing. I was a little blown away when he later told me that he knew from that instant that we were going to be friends, since it was so rare for anyone to neither challenge him nor tell him in tones of constipated seriousness how cool and principled he must be (which he doesn’t consider himself, he just doesn’t like alcohol).

    2. JJ Bittenbinder*

      So much of this is the same for me. I come from a family of Providers and Foodies, and I’m a pretty good baker. I’ve learned to offer once, offer a substitute if it’s something the person is allergic to, then say, “Just let me know if you change your mind” and then get back to talking about something else.

    3. EMW*

      Yes times 100. This is me. Most of the time accommodations are in my wheelhouse if I know about it ahead of time. Although I haven’t run into many people who haven’t taken me up on my offer to make a vegetarian/vegan/nut free options. I assume most of the people I’ve done this for don’t have big issues with cross contamination since they’ve been open to the plans and didn’t have a negative reaction.

      I also just don’t eat any food at my inlaws because they don’t understand what gluten is. They get offended, but I tell them I’m just bringing all my own food and to not worry about it.

    4. Phoenix*

      I am taking a similar personal note from this one – I come from a background with a similar mindset toward food. I try to do things like knowing how my close work colleagues like their coffee or what kinds of snacks they like, so I can be considerate when I feel like grabbing everyone an occasional treat. On top of this, my college roommate and best friend is deathly allergic to several really common food items, so I spent a lot of time making sure I knew how to correctly handle her allergies – not just in food in our shared space, but also in going out to eat, dealing with other people on her behalf, etc. My mom literally made her wedding cake from another state to make sure it was something delicious AND safe for her.

      What I need to remember is that not everyone WANTS me to spend energy making sure I know how to feed them. My best friend takes it as a sign of affection (and has from our early friendship), and my colleagues seem to appreciate that I know what kinds of coffee they like, but I could easily come off as overly nosy if someone told me they were allergic to something because I’d want to know what, specifically, so I can add it to my mental database of “foods not to bring to the office”. To me, that’s a mode of expression for care toward another person; this letter is a good reminder for me that it’s not always going to be read as care, and might instead be received as unwanted and stressful.

    5. Clisby*

      Yes! Please believe people when they say “No thanks.” If they wanted what you were offering, they would have taken it. It goes beyond allergies, celiac disease, etc., although obviously situations like that are way more than mere preferences. If you’re the hostess, you offer what you offer. You should pretend not to notice whether people are accepting what you offer (unless you want to take it into account the next time you have a party.)

    6. TootsNYC*

      My MIL was always badgering me about eating more food when I went over for dinner. I finally had to have a serious conversation with her in which I said, “I know you want me to feel welcome in your home. You have succeeded in that. However, bugging me about food is sabotaging that–I have had times when I didn’t want to come over because I was afraid you were going to badger me about eating more. Please stop, so I can continue to enjoy coming to your home.”

      It worked–but I did have to remind her.

  4. Psyche*

    With the cross contamination issue: Is there a good way to tell people that I appreciate that they made something special for me but I can’t eat anything made in their kitchen?

    1. pentamom*

      Just say you can’t eat anything that doesn’t come from a totally nut-free kitchen. That means you’re not talking about “their kitchen,” but any place, including commercial, that isn’t specially designated to avoid the issue.

        1. Rainy*

          I’ll sometimes add “It looks delicious! Please enjoy it for me!” For homebaked goodies especially, I find that the complement softens the refusal.

          1. Phoenix*

            That phrasing has the added benefit of implying “yes, I see how good it looks, and now you’re rubbing my face in the thing I can’t have if you continue”, which probably helps dissuade people!

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      A simple, “thank you, I really appreciate the effort but unfortunately my allergies are so severe that I really cannot eat anything that I personally didn’t prepare/is packaged in a way I can read the ingredients and the facility warnings/is from X restaurant. I know Petyr really loves that dish so can I tell him you brought some in?”
      If they pry or swear on their life that they didn’t put your allergen in, that would be a good time to relate any scares you had. “I’m sure you didn’t but I ended up in the ER a few months back for a reaction and I’m still really freaked out by it” or “I’m sure you didn’t and really appreciate the effort you put into this but just having the sugar in the same cupboard as the peanut butter can cause a cross contamination issue for me.”

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think the way you just said it “I appreciate that you made something special for me but due to cross contamination issues, I’m unable to take the chance.” After that I think you have to let a coworker manage their own feelings, if they feel hurt or get upset it is on them.

      I have to admit I could see myself trying to make something special for someone with certain allergies and “trying” to keep cross contamination issues in mind. If they refused citing cross contamination issues, I might be a bit disappointed, but I would not hold it against them and would move on.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I like how you’re taking responsibility for managing your disappointment, rather than putting it on the person to whom you’re offering the food to validate you. That’s been a little bit of a learning journey for me and, if I’m being honest, something I still struggle with in areas other than offering food to people. (e.g., I offered you a ride. Why don’t you want my ride?!)

    4. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      I’m the same way – cross contamination could kill me. I just tell people that I have to avoid all places that prep seafood, even commercial kitchens. It’s not you, it’s all about me and what I have to do to take care of me.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The good way is to always stay kind and convey appreciation while refusing the food, as the others have mentioned

      I also want to tell you that if someone takes it poorly or acts as if you’ve kicked their dog by saying “Thank you so much but unfortunately my allergies are so severe that my doctor has told me to strictly adhere to rigid food prep and to only ever prep it myself.” then that’s on them. You should not be held emotional hostage by someone who cannot see that you’re not an ingrate or being rude simply due to your health issues. It’s your health, it’s your life, they should care more about your safety than anything they think of as a gift.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, anyone who cares more about their hurt feefees than your safety is someone whose feelings don’t matter.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Can you imagine that conversation?

          “Gertrude turned down the peanut butter cookies I made her!”
          “Did she say why?”
          “She said she was “allergic”, what nonsense! Crrrrrry crrrrry I worked so hard, I paid so much moniessss”
          “Gurl…she’s allergic, WTF is wrong with you, why are you trying to kill, Gertrude tho?”

    6. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

      Honestly, I’d be scared for someone with an allergy that bad to eat anything I made, even if I KNEW it was fine. My feelings wouldn’t be hurt at all. Cross contamination can happen so easily.

      1. Lissa*

        Same here! I am absolutely paranoid about this kind of thing, because I freak out that my kitchen isn’t clean enough etc. etc. I know my standards aren’t as high as others’, which is fine for me but a reason why I basically never make food for anyone other than myself or my partner – I would feel so horrible if I accidentally made someone sick.

      2. Dahlia*

        I would DEFINITELY prefer to buy something from a safe place or a prepackaged safe food. Allergies are scary.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Right? The normal reaction to knowing someone has an allergy is to want to protect them from harm not to dismiss their medical issues but sadly there are still people who don’t accept medical diagnosis for just about everything out there.

        My first question for anyone that I’m even thinking of sharing food with is to ask about dietary restrictions/allergies and I know only a few people with any of them. Safety first. But then again I like to protect others instead of just throwing caution to the wind when their health is involved, go figure.

    7. Bryce*

      One thing I’ve seen suggested is to say “cross-contact” instead of “cross-contamination”. Contamination is dirty and can sound like you’re accusing them of not keeping a clean kitchen. Contact happens all the time.

    8. TootsNYC*

      I wouldn’t say “their kitchen” so much as “anywhere but my own kitchen.”

  5. CmdrShepard4ever*

    As a society we get very weird about food. This was discussed in a recent thread but in a lot of cultures giving people food is seen as good manners/hosting and refusing to eat even a little is seen as being a bad guest. This does not excuse people trying to push food on you for any reason.

    But I think the biggest part of food for many people is the communal/social aspect of things. As Alison suggested if you can participate in the social aspect talking, hanging out to celebrate the latest (birthday/baby/success) it might go a long way to making you seem part of the team and not chilly/awkward.

    In my office coworkers will sometimes order and pay for lunch together think pizza out of their own pocket. I usually bring my own lunch to save money. But when they order food and everyone is eating it together, I will just bring my own food and eat with them. This allows me to join in the team building/bonding without having to spend money that I don’t want to spend.

    1. Rainy*

      For meetings where food is being offered, I often bring a cup of tea with me, which really does lodge something in the “Rainy should have some of this food!” part of people’s brains.

      Also, if there’s cheese and it’s not vegan “cheese”, I’ll often eat a piece of cheese or two–if you are eating the thing you *can* eat, I find that people are less weird about demanding to know why you aren’t eating the stuff you *can’t* eat.

      1. Bryce*

        Reminds me of some advice I got at a party back in college. If you carry a glass of *something* around, people stop bugging you to drink.

    2. hayling*

      My husband’s aunt is super pushy about food, to the point where when we stayed with her she would ask me hourly if I needed anything. It was exhausting. They were also super pushy about alcohol. I was on Weight Watchers when I went to visit them, and I knew I was basically not going to be able to control any food other than portion size, so I didn’t drink in order to save some calories there. They were *so* confused by it. I finally had a glass of white wine at dinner to shut them up!

      1. Iris Eyes*

        I wish people could get that “What I eat or don’t eat isn’t about you!”

  6. Le Sigh*

    “and some will want to tell you about how their cousin had that same allergy but then they were cured with essential oils and milkshakes”

    Please tell me more about this, thank you, minus the essential oils — really I just want to know more about milkshake-based cures.

    1. 2 cents*

      Well tossing milkshakes onto fascists won’t cure them but makes the rest of us so much happier!

      (But seriously, I would love milkshake based cures as well!)

      1. Le Sigh*

        Apparently Scotland Yard asked the McD’s nearby to stop selling milkshakes and they complied? And then Burger King was like, “nah, we still got ’em!”

          1. Lora*

            …only outlaws will have all the boys in their yard?

            On behalf of Big Pharma, I would like to state for the record that if milkshake cures worked, we would have patented them already, and furthermore it is my personal belief that we SHOULD formulate medications with unpleasant side effects in milkshake, frappe and malted format. I personally would see to this, particularly with respect to the nastier chemotherapies, as a means of addressing any disease where cachexia is either comorbid or a side effect.

            1. Receptionist/Rocket Scientist*

              +1 for “only outlaws will have all the boys in their yard”

      2. Paloma Pigeon*

        This is a big part of the hassle of allergies – people don’t understand that a true allergy means, no you can’t have an organic version of it, a raw version of it, a steamed/sauteed/boiled version of it. You can’t have it, period, and even trace amounts are enough to trigger a reaction, and no, it’s not because of antibiotics in animal feed or pesticides or being too sterile with antibacterial wipes.

        It shouldn’t be incumbent on the individual to explain away their allergy to make the person offering food back off, but I run into individuals who are spreading dangerous misconceptions treatment (hold it in your hand!). When I talk about the science and clinical protocols around allergy treatment some of the ‘have you tried organic’ folks back off. Talking about IgE vs IgG blood levels and corticosteriod medications, etc tends to shut that down a bit.

        1. Astor*

          But also, some true allergies are affected by the way food is processed! So readers, don’t assume someone’s lying about an allergy if they can eat canned fish but not cooked fish (https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(03)70091-8/abstract) or if they can eat muffins that contain eggs but have to avoid scrambled eggs and undercooked brownies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3069662/?report=classic). There’s a lot of weird science out there :)

          (I used to babysit for a kid with these allergies and other more straightforward ones, and so was curious what the science says.)

    2. Rainy*

      A million years ago before I was married, I once had a woman send me a message through the online dating site I was using (and on which my profile mentioned serious food allergies) to tell me she’d love to date me, but only if I let her introduce me to her naturopath, who could cure my allergies with the laying on of hands and some onion water injections or some BS.

      When I politely declined, she said “well at least go see my naturopath–you are choosing to live like this and I’d like to see you make better choices”.

      1. irene adler*

        Onion water injections?
        Curing allergies?
        Bet the FDA would like to hear about this.

      2. Vicky Austin*

        Ugh. What a jerk. Because you TOTALLY chose to have food allergies! And it TOTALLY was her business!

    3. CMart*

      Tragically I believe that’s a joking reference to the various “detox”/herbal shake schemes floating around out there.

      It’s the toxins in your body causing you to have “allergies” to perfectly natural things so drink these shakes to detox your body and you won’t suffer anymore! And actually they’re kind of expensive, so you should probably sign up to be a “consultant” for the wholesale pricing, it’s totally worth it, you’ll save so much $$!

      Buuuuuut if I could cure my seasonal and cat allergies with some sort of frozen custard milkshake regimen I would sign up for that so fast.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Oh god, I haven’t seen those. I’ve taken a FB break in part to get away from a flood of MLM crap.

        I really just wanted to live in a world where milkshakes might cure my anxiety.

          1. Lora*

            Milkshakes are emulsions and can solubilize an awful lot of things, but the real problems are whether it will stick to casein and whether it will form micelles with the butterfat in the milk. If you have to digest it in the lower gut to digest off the protein and fat, that affects the pharmacokinetics significantly. You might not get the correct peak plasma concentration and if the therapeutic window isn’t sufficiently wide you could easily cause liver damage trying to hit the therapeutic window by dosing via milkshake.

            I have given way too much thought to this.

            1. Greymalk*

              I… love this, want to steal it for my A&P students, and REALLY want to be friends with you!

    4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Not a cure, but my dad was so pleased when some sort of chocolate milkshake concoction was on the offered menu at the hospital when he was healing up after some gut surgery! (He was disappointed that when he was on the cardiac floor a decade or so later, they had a different and less milkshake-centric set of options for things you should be eating after heart surgery. This difference makes perfect sense, but he’d enjoyed the 3 milkshakes a day he’d gotten before…)

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I discovered that my hospital offered milkshakes (not on the menu, I joked about wanting one when ordering and they were like sure, what flavor?). It’s not a cure, but man did it make my day!

      2. Good luck with that, CPA*

        I still haven’t forgotten or forgiven being promised ice cream when I had my tonsils out, and not getting any because I threw up from the ether. I was five.

    5. Guava*

      No one’s approached me about naturopathy yet, but if one more person tries to pressure me into trying allergy resistance therapy (where they expose you to tiny, trace amounts of your allergen and build it up over time) I’m going to blow a gasket.

      1. PVR*

        Oh yes, I had a friend tell me this is what I should after an anaphylactic reaction to shellfish and refused to believe me that this option doesn’t exist when I tried to explain what oral immuno options were available because she personally couldn’t live in a world without shellfish. Like, that’s nice, but I guess I would rather live in a world without shellfish than not live.

  7. Aerin*

    Some people simply refuse to get it unless you’re really, extremely explicit. The “oh you’re so sweet but I really can’t” will wash over them like white noise. But if you say, “No thanks, that will literally kill me,” and if they think you’re joking start going into detail about anaphylaxis? Guarantee they’ll drop the subject and remember it for next time.

    1. L.S. Cooper*

      I second this strategy! If people are nosy, then you get to overshare, in explicit detail, how whatever dish will cause you an excruciating death. Obviously, this is something to do if they keep pushing after one “I can’t have this”, but still. Worth keeping in mind!

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        My intolerance isn’t life-threatening, but I tell people who push or won’t let me read labels something like “I ate something with that as an ingredient by accident and was up until 3 am puking. I really don’t want that… and neither do you.” It seems to get the message across.

    2. The Office Ghost*

      Or if you happen to get a really crazy one, they will try to slip it into your food to “test” it.

      Really, don’t use this strategy.

  8. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

    Coming here to say I also have a very severe food allergy (seafood of all types), and while it doesn’t affect me as much now, when I lived in Mobile it was a very different story. Back there I very much operated on a “if I didn’t bring it, I’m not going to eat it” method for food. It did annoy some of my coworkers, but most of them understood. I felt like my allergy was my responsibility, and not theirs. It helped that my boss was understanding, as he had a far more minor food allergy. He set the tone that it was more than fine for me to provide my own food, because if I couldn’t breathe I couldn’t work.
    But I think the key was that I wasn’t expecting others to change for me.

    1. Another Manic Monday*

      I feel you. I have severe allergy toward all types of shellfish and will not eat any food that might have touched shellfish. Anaphylaxis shock isn’t fun.

      1. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

        Yup – I just avoid all seafood serving restaurants – and especially the fast food varieties. And even in a mountain state with no ocean contact I still get the occasional grump about why won’t I go to Arctic Circle with everybody else. Snapped once that breathing was more important to me than not hurting “Sammy’s precious feelings.” It was rude, but at that point I’d been put through 15 minutes of shaming because I wasn’t going to go, and I had just had enough of it.

        (Arctic Circle is a fast food chain out in the Mountain west that does hamburgers, but also a ton of shrimp and fish, all of it fried in the standard fast food style kitchen where there’s no guarantee that my food would actually be safely prepped – I’m allergic enough that just my food being handled by somebody not changing gloves between my food and shrimp means 24 hours of nonstop vomiting if I’m lucky.)

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Don’t feel at all bad about saying that. It was really mild considering how awful they were being.

  9. Construction Safety*

    There a great script in the comments to this AM’s cancer question that can be modified for a bunch of circumstances.

  10. Engineer Girl*

    Oh for heavens sake, just own it. Lots of people have allergies. You see many with peanut allergies.
    “Sorry, I have a severe tree nut allergy and I’ll have a really bad reaction if I eat it”

    By owning your allergy you also help others help you. Most will also be on the lookout for you. They’ll accommodate your allergy. THtey will also understand he cross contamination.

    There will, of course, be one idiot that won’t beleive you. Good news, you’ve found the workplace bully. Never ever eat any thing she controls or offers.

    1. Loaf*

      Agreed! If this is a life-threatening allergy, your coworkers should know so that they can avoid putting your life at risk. I had a colleague who had a life-threatening nut allergy and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. They ate something that was contaminated and went into anaphylaxis and almost died in our office. Please tell your coworkers!

      1. Liane*

        Loaf, I had a close friend in college who had a seafood allergy, not quite life-threatening. A date took her out for lobster. Uhura didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so she didn’t say a word and ate some–and somehow concealed her allergic reaction. She told me she could feel her throat closing a little!! I regret not telling Uhura how stupid and dangerous it was, because allergic reactions can become worse with repeated exposure.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          That’s really sad. It’s infuriating how young women are taught that being rude is the Worst Possible Thing Ever, especially to men who are romantically interested in them. Especially when they feel they need to actually cause themselves harm rather than risk offending someone!

          1. Ponyboy Curtis*

            This is not a normal reaction to a food allergy on a date. We don’t teach our daughters to risk their throats closing to avoid offending a date.

    2. karlyk*

      Yeah, I would think that just saying, “Sorry, I have a severe nut allergy and absolutely can’t eat anything I didn’t prepare or order myself” would be internalized well by coworkers. End of conversation for the foreseeable future. (Except for that ONE coworker who sucks, but you can’t control that person!)

      1. MayLou*

        I agree that reasonable people will not be offended, but I’m not certain it would end the conversation. I’m vegan and don’t drink tea or coffee, my colleague is fasting for Ramadan, whilst another colleague is off caffeine for health reasons. All three of us are daily asked if we’d like a cup of tea, and it’s not until we’ve politely declined that they asker remembers!

      2. PVR*

        I think you’d be surprised to learn it’s not just one coworker but a very common reaction when you have allergies. Many, many people either think you are exaggerating or being overly dramatic about avoiding the allergen. It’s a real thing.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I think this confusion is because the allergy establishment doesn’t step up. They do tests for IgE food allergy and if it’s negative, nothing more.
          The patients are seeing patterns of symptoms according to their diet and few doctors are helping to identify non-IgE allergies, enzyme intolerances, etc. and helping patients manage these.
          So those who suspect a food allergy are on their own. They try avoiding a food to see if their symptoms get better. After a few weeks it doesn’t, so they try avoiding another food. Or a special diet like keto, paleo, gluten-free, etc., to see if that helps.
          And while they’re doing this they’re telling people “I think I’m allergic to ______, … oh wait, turns out I’m not, now I think it might be ______…”
          And people around them who don’t understand this process think they’re playing and stop taking it seriously.

          1. GreatDame*

            How do you suggest someone find more thorough testing for those obscure allergies? My mother is 5’5 and 90lbs because we cannot figure out what’s giving her constant, severe diarrhea. We’ve tried everything and bounced from doctor to doctor – nothing helps. On some days, she’s so sensitized that drinking water is enough to set it off.

    3. Amili*

      Honestly, I make a point of warning my coworkers about my peanut allergy – and it’s surprisingly rare for people to find a happy medium. When it’s not “Oh, it’s okay, I didn’t put peanut in these cookies” (but may or may not have put them in others I was making at the same time) it’s “Oh!! Quick put those peanut butter bars away she’s allergic!”

      Which, the latter is fine … Except it’s consistently from the same people when I’ve repeatedly told them as long as I don’t eat it (or anything contaminated by it) it’s totally fine. My allergy is not quite so severe!

      I think, what I mean to say from this, is it’s *exhausting* managing other people’s feelings about my allergy, and it’s too common to have to do so. (The folks who are medium chill about it though, they have a special place in my heart even if I don’t particularly like them in other ways. In this, they are wonderful.)

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Don’t manage their feelings. It’s on them and you’re not responsible for it. Don’t take what’s not yours.

        1. Amili*

          I’d like to agree, but given I’ve had feedback in the past from managers about being “unkind” when refusing to eat foods with risk, sometimes it really is my problem. :(

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Those managers suck and I’m sorry they tried to make it your problem.

      2. The Other Katie*

        “I think, what I mean to say from this, is it’s *exhausting* managing other people’s feelings about my allergy, and it’s too common to have to do so.”

        Oh gosh yes. I’m allergic to chocolate, and you’d think it was a brutal tragedy, the way some people respond. Reactions range from total disbelief to shock, horror and despair. It’s tiring. Like, I’m not happy about it either, but it’s not the end of the world!

        1. Amili*

          I’d thought peanuts were bad – I can only imagine the reactions to chocolate! (I get a minor version at times as I try to avoid chocolate due to migraines, I can only imagine how much more frequent/intense those reactions would be if it were an allergy!)

        2. Bryce*

          I avoid all nuts and chocolate because of my peanut allergy. I know companies are a lot better about cross-contact now, but growing up those were the major vectors and every other week you’d get a notice from some candy bar company that their stuff wasn’t labeled right because peanuts weren’t an *intended* ingredient but were on shared machinery, and those habits have stuck. Yeah, people get really weird about chocolate. “How can you live without it” they cry? Well, when you can’t live with it and have avoided it your entire life, it’s pretty easy.

        3. TootsNYC*

          one sort of ironic thing: those of us who say to ourselves, “oh, she’s allergic to chocolate–bummer, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about THOSE calories,” and pretty much leave it at that (well, we might also say to ourselves, “I’ll speak up if I think chocolate is getting near her hands or mouth without her knowing”)–you will not really notice us.

          Because we have manners and don’t talk about it all the time.

          The people whose behavior WILL have an impact on you are going to be the jerks or the too-helpful people.

    4. OP*

      My direct team knows but I would say it’s a stretch that people truly understand the ins and outs of what I consider acceptable for ME to eat (allergies have ranges!). If you don’t have the “does this contain nuts” radar going off in your head constantly it’s not unreasonable for slip ups to happen.

      I’ve only ever worked in companies of 100+ and trust and believe the only person I want looking out for me, is well me :)

      1. Engineer Girl*

        They’re not going to understand totally, but they will try to make accommodations for it. You are still responsible for you.
        It’s bettet than having some jerk try to force it on you.

      2. Libretta*

        Hi OP – Since you are worried about coming off as chilly and are definitely not going to eat – I would try to add some humor. Would you feel comfortable having a pin made to wear on your shirt? Something that cheerfully says “I’m not eating, but I’m happy to be here!” or “I have allergies! But please enjoy!” or “Do not feed OP!” Something that can ward people off or maybe serve as a reminder to people who forget without you having to go into too much detail. If you are a fan of the Simpsons you could do the “Don’t make me tap the sign” scene when people insist. You could carry your own personal plate that had printed on it “OP’s Empty Plate.”

        I get that this is a very serious issue, but being over-the-top instead of very polite works better for me sometimes (I seem hostile when I’m serious, so I try to use humor). If you are being ridiculous – but professional! – maybe they will believe you! Good luck!

    5. Courageous cat*

      Agreed. Like, look, people can be assholes and we all know that, but that’s not a reason to endlessly tiptoe around this, especially with a group of people you might be around indefinitely. Just own it in one sentence, then move on, and push others to as well.

  11. Random commenter*

    Maybe keep some snacks in your desk that you can pull out when work food happens? If people see you eating something, they might feel less worried about you missing out.
    If you’ve got a good employer, they could fund your snack supply.

  12. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Personal preference, which I appreciate OP may not share, but I am much more comfortable in a work context that my coworkers know, at a high level, that I am severely allergic to the things I’m severely allergic to. That way, not only do they understand why I don’t join in with workplace shared snacking and why I rarely eat out, but it also means that a) they won’t deliberately or inadvertently bring the things I’m allergic to into the office and b) if I do become ill, they know what the heck to do about it, which could literally save my life.

  13. Clorinda*

    Sesame is a sneaky ingredient. A lot of delicious foods include tahini, and a person who isn’t DEATHLY ALLERGIC might not be 100% aware that tahini is sesame. Also, I have a son with tree nut allergies and it is really surprising how many people hear that as “peanut” and think pecans don’t count.
    Yes. Yes, they do count.
    A light, non-grumpy, “Sorry, I can’t, allergies!” should be enough though. And if people need details, wave it off. “I don’t want to make a big fuss over it, I’ll just toast the birthday girl with a cup of coffee.”

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think part of that is the privilege of not having allergies, peanuts being one the most commonly known allergies, and lack of wider knowledge on allergies. I only learned about a year ago that there is a difference between peanut allergy and tree nut allergy. For an event that required RSVP’s I had one person who was allergic to peanuts, one person who was allergic to tree nuts, and one person who was allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts. I looked it up, but also reached out to each person to make sure I was understanding their allergy correctly and not making wrong assumptions.

      1. Clorinda*

        My kid can eat peanuts, almonds, and coconut–no other nuts. He’s found it easier and safer not to eat anything with any kind of nut whatsoever, partly because of cross contamination and partly because people find it so complicated when he explains it. Then they ask “why”–as if he selected these allergies and these symptoms a la carte from a range of options.

        1. Carlie*

          Mine is allergic to peanuts and almonds – when people ask “What about other nuts?” I’m always surprised. Like it would be worth it to try and find out? We only know about the two because of accidental exposure – no way would he risk anaphylaxis just to experiment. Nuts aren’t all that.

          1. OP*

            Yeah, I can do peanuts but the texture freaks me out/highly associate with getting sick.

            Have you done blood tests vs skin prick? I do mine yearly and it shows severity of allergies which is how I noticed the sesame reaction was becoming more severe over time.

          2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

            If it helps, when I was a kid, I was told that I should avoid all nuts (except peanuts, which I knew I wasn’t allergic to) because of a reaction I’d had to Brazil nuts. According to my doctor, it wasn’t worth testing, so I diligently avoided nuts for years.

            Some years later, I was actually tested by an allergist (twice: once with a blood test and then a skin scratch test). Turns out I’m only allergic to Brazil nuts, which is a much easier thing to avoid than all nuts.

            Anyway, my point is that actually testing was helpful for me in that I really knew what my boundaries were instead of guessing, and let me eat foods I couldn’t before. And, on the flip side, it can reveal other allergies: I was recently retested and found I’m allergic to dogs when I wasn’t before.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            They might think he had tests that show which nuts your kid is allergic to. I might ask that question because I like to understand allergies.

        2. Sled dog mama*

          Uh, I hate the why’s. That just fills me with rage. I’ve never encountered it with allergies (lucky me), but I’ve been asked multiple times why I have migraines. Um if I knew I would change it genius!

      2. Vicky Austin*

        So, peanuts don’t grow on trees, then? Genuinely curious. I’ve never been to a peanut farm in my life.

    2. OP*

      Sesame is SUPER sneaky and new for me (they’re related to cashews, who knew!) and eliminates entire food groups (asisan, bagels, Mediterranean) without me being explicit or doing a lot of research.

      I have written down your script, it’s helpful!

      1. themaskedfalcon*

        First I want to thank you for noting that sesame is related to cashews, I had no idea but that would explain why I get a slight reaction to sesame seed products. As someone who has mild allergies(scratchy throat, rash, hives, feel like throat is closing, …) to peanuts and tree nuts, I follow the avoidance routine as well.
        When it comes to food at work, I often will have to restate allergies and that ‘no I’m allowed to be in the same room as the items just should not eat them’ or go with the “No thanks, I’m good”.

        1. The Other Katie*

          If you’re to the point of rash, hives, and feel like throat is closing, that’s no longer a mild allergy.

          1. Courageous cat*

            Yeah, my understanding (as NOT a medical professional) is that those symptoms indicate as big of an allergy as any other – if you have those symptoms, you can go into anaphylactic shock just as much as someone who you’d consider to have a “severe allergy” can.

            Basically: go to a doctor.

    3. Michaela Westen*

      One of the few things I can eat is sesame. I’d trade that for my allergy to sugars though.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Oh wow I’ve never heard of anyone else who can’t have sugar!! It messes with my hormones and causes a lot of problems. That plus no dairy and egg means I basically eat Whole30 all the time. Good times.

  14. straws*

    I feel this so much. I have coworkers I’ve eaten with for more than 10 years that still get confused as to whether I can’t have dairy or gluten. When they ask and I clarify that it’s dairy, I still get the “oh wow, I don’t know how you can live without cheese”. It gets old. I haven’t really found a solution beyond gently reminding people, not making a big deal out of it, and redirecting people as much as possible.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      “I don’t know how you can live without cheese!”

      “For you, cheese is a pleasurable experience.”

      1. straws*

        I have a variety of responses along those lines. They vary based on how well I know the person and how grumpy I am that day. I honestly don’t even think about it unless I’m eating something prepared be someone else (rare) or someone is asking me about it (less rare than I prefer…)

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. One of my directors was a lot more specific. He would simply say “want to see me projectile vomit?” But then, we were engineers.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I don’t have a diagnosed allergy, but certain dairy products and I just don’t get along in any sort of large (i.e. normal for others) quantities. My usual statement is “Yes, I’m a bad Wisconsinite. I don’t like beer and cheese doesn’t like me. So [insert random topic here…]”

      2. TootsNYC*

        I’d be so tempted to say, ‘Yes, you’ve said that many times before.”

        Let them know it gets old.

        I have these jeans w/ fashionable rips on them. I was getting dressed and we were going to my ILs’, and I almost didn’t put them on because the last two times I wore them, my MIL had to make a comment about them, or put her finger in the rip, or something. I just didn’t want to deal with it.
        I wore them anyway, and when she said–as I’d predicted, “I like your jeans,” in this sing-songy way, I said pretty curtly, “Yes, you’ve said that before. Every time you’ve seen them, in fact.” And then I immediately got up and said, in quite a friendly way, “Is there anything I can help with in the kitchen?”

        I’m hoping she’ll get the message. But if she says it again, we’ll have the “I would like you to stop commenting on this–it gets really old” conversation.

        I think I’d have that conversation with colleagues I saw frequently.

    2. BadWolf*

      I was having a lactose/dairy issue for awhile and my reply was something along the lines of, ” When the consequences are nearly immediate and unpleasant, it is surprisingly easy.”

      Honestly, it was. Now I’m in some sort of middle stage where I don’t know when too much is too much as “some” is okay and my regrets are later…

    3. karlyk*

      I’ve been gluten-free for 8 years, and even *family members* are still like, “You’re vegetarian, right?”

      1. Margaret*

        And on the flip side… vegetarian for almost 20 years here, and I get “the gluten free pizza is the one over there!”

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I get this regularly at restaurants:
          Me: “I’m allergic to [specific vegetable that is definitely a plant not made of gluten]”
          Them: “Here’s our vegetarian and gluten free menu! The vegan options are the ones with the v symbol by them!”

    4. EMW*

      A lot of people think rice and potatoes have gluten in them. I do not eat food made by these people/restaurants.

      1. MayLou*

        Someone once asked me whether, as a vegan, I could eat jam. I can only assume they’d mentally grouped it in with butter and honey. I gave them a quizzical look and asked which animal jam came from, and they laughed at themselves (it was a friend, not a colleague).

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Yup, I would have assumed the gelatin, too. There’s both non-animal gelatins and animal-based gelatins out now, but I doubt a lot of people are going to go and check the difference unless it’s something they’re specifically looking for.

        1. Lake*

          I thought jam was made with some sort of gelatin and isn’t gelatin made from some sort of animal protein? Based on the way you wrote your comment, it sounds like that’s not true, but I would have definitely double checked before serving jam to a vegan. You can’t expect people to know all of the rules of every possible food restriction.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Most jam has pectin, which comes from fruit. Actually, I don’t think I have ever seen gelatin on a jam label (and I am a label reader).

          2. Bagpuss*

            Not usually. The setting agent for jam is pectin, which occurs naturally in fruit – more so in some fruits than others. These days, you can buy ‘jam sugar’ which has added pectin, or you can simply use small amounts of a high pectin fruit in your jam.

            1. Lake*

              TIL. But that’s not really the point of my comment. My point is that you can’t expect people to know every ingredient in every food and all of the rules of every diet. Being judgmental towards a person for asking a clarifying question about your diet is pretty rude.

            2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              I have also met vegans who would not eat white sugar because it was probably filtered through bone char. People that far down the vegan trail will usually just not eat out any place but specifically vegan restaurants though. (Philosophical rather than allergenic special diets tend to end up at slightly different compromise points for each person adopting the diet, and can shift for that person over time as they reflect on their relationship with their dietary choices. With vegans, I generally make suggestions of places we might go to get an idea where they are on the “try not to order chicken” to “sugar is potentially filtered through bone char” scale of acceptable meal options.)

            3. biobotb*

              Except people might not distinguish between jam and jelly (with gelatin). So it’s a fair question.

        2. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I once witnessed one family member explain to another that she is a vegetarian. The listener’s response was, “Do you eat chicken?” Not sure what plant he thought chickens grow on…

          1. Lime Lehmer*

            I have been told by people that they are vegetarian – except for chicken or fish.
            Why chicken or fish I asked?
            “They don’t have faces”
            Shaking my head.

            1. Sled dog mama*

              I led outdoor trips in college and one girl in put on her form that she was “vegetarian except for hot dogs”. At the time I was actually vegetarian, that was a long week.

              1. Bryce*

                One family I knew growing up used “if it’s in a bun it’s kosher” as shorthand for “we’re at a huge event where we don’t get to pick the food, forgot to eat beforehand and have you ever tried to tell a 6 year-old kid he can’t have a hot dog when everyone else is having one and he doesn’t know they come from non-cow animals sometimes?”

              2. TootsNYC*

                my daughter uses “vegetarian” as a way to just skip right over the fact that she doesn’t like most meats. She’ll eat burgers, and chicken tenders. But she doesn’t like other meat. If, however, she says, “I don’t really eat meat,” she gets all kinds of pressure.

                So maybe that’s what was going on.

                (I’ve suggested she say something like, “I’m cutting back on how much meat I eat” or “Today isn’t a meat day,” or something)

                1. Princesa Zelda*

                  Are you my mother, because that’s exactly what I do! It cuts most questions off at the quick.

                2. Michaela Westen*

                  She could just say she doesn’t like other meats. That would make it clear to me and people I know.

                3. Fred Mouse*

                  My daughter does the claim to be vegetarian, especially for school events. She’ll eat meat on days when her stomach is okay, but not if she is queasy, and it is impossible to predict. We are fortunate that there are other vegetarians (I was strictly vegetarian at her age, and it was a different time, and much harder)

          2. straws*

            Many people assume that my dairy allergy means no eggs. I assume it’s because eggs are kept near dairy at the store or maybe more people are familiar with a vegan diet than a dairy allergy. Still, it’s fun to ask them how they think a chicken is milked and watch them try to imagine it.

            1. JJ Bittenbinder*

              I knew someone who had to be shown the ingredient list on a jar of mayonnaise in order to be convinced that it’s not dairy!

          3. Crivens!*

            “Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?”



            “Yes Dad”


            “Dad all those meats come from the same animal”

            “Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!””

          4. Alex the Alchemist*

            Well now I know how I’m going to respond to someone asking me if I eat chicken when I say I’m vegetarian.

            And it’s so weird that I’ve had to explain to multiple people that chicken broth is not vegetarian.

        3. That Redshirt.*

          Oh yeah, I’d expect that came from gelatin concerns. Some gelatins are animal protein based. My vegan coworkers are very helpful people!

        4. Dahlia*

          Jelly, like grape jelly, usually has gelatin, which comes from animal bones. Jams usually have pectin, which comes from fruits. Not a stretch there.

        5. Adjuncts Anonymous*

          Some vegans won’t eat figs because wasps are subsumed into the fruit during pollination. Sugar has already been mentioned. It isn’t quite as simplistic a question as it seems.

          1. whingedrinking*

            It can get even more intense than that. Some crops require pollination through migratory beekeeping, so some vegans won’t eat those crops.

            1. Pandop*

              The use of agave syrup to replace honey is also damaging bee populations. Which isn’t good.

      2. Allonge*

        Most people have no clue what has gluten, nuts, dairy, meat etc in it. It is not relevant until you have to accommodate someone who cannot have those. No one is born wiht this knowledge.

        Not taking food from people who have no clue when you have an allergy is perfectly reasonable. Expecting everone to know everything about all dietary restrictions is not.

  15. dealing with dragons*

    I have a soy “allergy” in that it affects my thyroid and makes my auto-immune condition worse. So I can eat soy and not immediately die, which can make it hard for people to accept it as a dietary choice. One thing I find useful to do is explain that I’m used to it and I expected this outcome, so usually I’ve eaten ahead or am planning on eating something else later. I think people sometimes feel bad that they didn’t think of you – so clarifying that you’re prepared can put them at ease.

    I also like to use it as a means to educating people about what’s in their food – soy can be in a lot of weird hidden things, like hamburger buns.

    1. animaniactoo*

      It IS everywhere – it’s a migraine trigger for me, so like you it won’t kill me immediately but it will make me really sick in the near future.

      I tend to try to do some form of “thank you for thinking about me, I appreciate it” with a counter of “but it’s just too hard to nail down so it’s better not to try than to take the chance of getting it wrong.” and a side of “I’m glad to be here/that you’re enjoying it”, etc.

      1. Rainy*

        Same for me–and it’s spread to become the whole of the Fabaceae except chickpeas and peanuts. Soy is in so many things, and I have to read the ingredients on everything. I also make all my own bread and buns, because it’s becoming impossible to avoid in commercial bread.

        It won’t kill me immediately, but I have to leave work because my soy migraines are absolutely brutal, and my doctor told me that because of the type of migraine beans give me, I’m basically increasing my risk of eventual fatal stroke every time I’m exposed. Yikes.

        My mother has a thyroid condition and has had to stop eating soy–when she asked anxiously if I ate a lot of tofu, I laughed. Allergies ftw, I guess?

        1. 1234*

          For bread products, try Fox Hill Kitchens. It’s expensive but it is soy free. For tortillas, try Siete foods.

          1. Rainy*

            Oh, thanks for the recs. I actually like making bread (and my stand mixer makes it super easy), but I’ll check them out.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          For others reading this, a bread machine makes it much easier to make bread.

      2. dealing with dragons*

        I won’t even really get sick – my body just reads it as the thyroid hormone so it increases the inflammation in my body and makes my pituitary gland unhappy. It’s essentially like eating a live virus – now my body has to spend extra time attacking this thing when it could just ya know……not.

        Luckily (?) my manager has more food allergies than me so whatever she can eat is usually fine for me.

      3. hayling*

        I also get migraines from soy, and boy howdy, it’s in everything! I’m lucky that additives like “soy lethicin” and soybean oil don’t bother me, but I have to avoid basically all Asian restaurants. Technically some pad thai is soy-free, but a lot is actually made with soy sauce instead of fish sauce, and it’s too much of a land mine.

        1. animaniactoo*

          ditto on the soy lecithin and oil – it’s the actual protein/meat of the soybean that’s an issue for me.

          also ditto on all asian restaurants. And I really like Chinese food. I really really wanna be able to just have some lo mein. or ramen. or broccoli in garlic sauce. Oh, and some teriyaki. I have to stop now because I’m drooling and torturing myself.

          1. 1234*

            You can totally make your own Chinese food! The brand Coconut Secrets makes a soy-free teriyaki sauce. Ingredients: Organic Coconut Tree Sap, Sea Salt, Organic Ginger, Organic Onion, Organic Garlic, Organic Cayenne Pepper

            They also make a soy-free garlic sauce. Garlic Sauce Ingredients: Organic Coconut Tree Sap, Organic Garlic, Sea Salt, Organic Ginger, Organic Cayenne Pepper

            1. animaniactoo*

              I know. I’m experimenting and playing with that now. But it is nowhere near the same experience as “I can’t face cooking tonight. Wanna grab Chinese?” and easily and readily having such dishes that will take a lot more work to make myself. Also because the coconut aminos et al are more expensive than regular soy sauce for learning to make it myself. I’m up for the challenge – but it still greatly reduces how often I’m going to be able to have it after I learn.

              1. 1234*

                I totally get it! But I’m glad you’re up for the challenge.

                If you live near a Trader Joe’s, they also sell their own brand of coconut aminos for less than $5/bottle. Their website says $2.99.

          2. Rainy*

            Same here–lecithin doesn’t bother me, and cheap uber processed soybean oil is fine. I can also do soy sauce, but not temari. The fermentation seems to affect it, for me–same reason I can eat sauerkraut even though cabbage is instant migraine.

    2. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      My mom was actually yeast intolerant. The amount of things that have hidden yeast is really high. The way she explained it to people was that a medication she was on didn’t work when she ate food with her intolerance. Unfortunately that means I will have to pass on that awesome looking loaf of homemade bread.
      I know it won’t work everywhere, but it worked well for her.

    3. Anonysand*

      I too have a strange soy allergy (eosinophilic esophagitis) and I’ll be miserable for days if I eat it. It’s really hard to deal with at work, because half of my office is vegetarian/vegan and they really like to frequent thai and asian-type restaurants or the few vegetarian establishments we have around town- all of which are pumped full of either soy sauce or soy-based proteins (or both!). We all go out for regular team lunches and like you, I just have to explain that yep, it’s an allergy and yes, I’m used to it. I eat ahead or pack my own food for those instances and give the solitary “oh, sorry- I can’t. My allergy is just too bad. Thanks for the offer, though!” or “Ah, I’ll have to pass. It’s got soy in it and I’ll be miserable if I eat it.” Obviously, change the allergen and repeat as necessary.

      And in agreement with you about food education. So many people don’t realize the weird ways that these types of allergens can be hidden in our food. Soy is sneakily hidden in most salad dressings, margarine, chocolate products, certain types of breads, frozen pizzas, etc etc. Most people have no idea.

      1. dealing with dragons*

        for thai food I usually go with pad thai sans tofu or one of the curries. my place is a hole in the wall and I’ve been going since they opened so they’re fine with me making weird orders :)

        one weird thing that’s happening with the trade war is that since soybeans are kinda in a weird limbo, places are starting to switch to pea based proteins!

    4. JJ Bittenbinder*

      I had to give up soy when I was nursing my younger son, as it affected him greatly. It was really an eye-opener (and I was HANGRY until I found a long enough list of things I could eat). I also had to give up dairy at the same time, so it was a lot of label-reading.

  16. hayling*

    “And here’s a call for everyone else out there to remember that people with dietary restrictions get very, very tired of questions about it, and it’s a kindness to let people state their needs and then move on.”


  17. Atlantis*

    I’m sorry this is causing you so much anxiety, OP. Unfortunately food is one of those things that people can get really push about and don’t realize that they’re being overly pushy, or consider that there might be a reason you don’t want any. I know you don’t really want to talk about it, but I do think mentioning it will help. If you treat your allergy in conversation as under control and not a big deal, your coworkers will most likely just follow your lead.

    The next time someone is pushing food on you, I would just say that you have an allergy to tree nuts, and you can’t take the chance of having a reaction, but you appreciate them thinking of you. If anyone freaks out or asks if it’s safe for you to be around the food, you can just inform them that its totally fine for them to eat around you (assuming it is fine) and you just can’t eat it yourself. I promise that unless you have coworkers that tend to go off the rails on things like this, they will follow your lead. If someone is pushing you for more information or how they can get something you can eat, I would just tell them that you’ve got it under control, and that it’s easier/safer/based on your doctors recommendations to eat your own food, and then change the subject.

    Best of luck!

  18. hbc*

    Given how focused this group is on celebrating with food, OP, I think you have to go bigger to go unnoticed, if that makes sense. Get a fancy plastic champagne flute and fill it with water/soda/whatever. Have a stash of “celebration food” ready to bring to parties. Keep a couple of Mardi Gras beads at the ready so you can look festive at a moment’s notice.

    I think if you signal more “I’m celebrating!”, they might feel less inclined to forcing you to celebrate a certain way.

    1. EMW*

      I like the beads idea or a celebratory hat might be a great way to steer the conversation away from food. “Ah yes, I can’t eat the cake but I brought my celebration hat to get in the mood instead!”

      1. Carlie*

        Them:”Would you like to try the…”
        You *hand up in ‘stop’ position* “Talk to the hat.”

  19. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    I would just suggest bringing your own item to the event – a safe doughnut, or salad or whatever. You can eat with the group so you don’t come across as cold, and you don’t need to worry about being food murdered.

  20. Dahlia*

    Not to treat you like a small child, ’cause you’re not, but I know a few parents with kids with really allergic kids, and one thing they do sometimes is send a handful of pre-packaged allergy-safe snacks to school with them for communal food days. Would it work for you to have a small bag of something similar in your desk?

  21. Tired Engineer*

    Oh, that’s rough! I feel that, though I don’t have food allergies I have a condition that makes a lot of foods hard to eat, and I particularly don’t like to talk about it at work (it’s personal and kinda gross, you know?). What really helps me around the office is just saying, “Thanks for letting me know about X, I’ll get around to eating it later!” since people don’t keep tabs on whether or not you did. Or if people inquire about not touching food at meetings, saying “I had a big breakfast” or something similar. Sometimes I’ll even bring in my own food that I know is safe to eat!

    People are THE WORST about being nosy about other people’s diets. Hopefully things get less awkward for OP!

  22. Manchmal*

    I think the OP just has to own it, and let people have their feelings however irrational they may be. I think the OP is smart to have a hard and fast personal policy about food. The stakes are high! She should just be really matter of fact. “I have a severe allergy, and I have a personal policy not to eat anything I didn’t bring or order myself.” This can be softened with “thanks, I appreciate the offer, but…” or “it was so nice of you to think of me, but…” as necessary.

    If people have weird reactions, I think the OP can move on, leave the conversation, change the subject, or even just acknowledge that the other person is having a strange reaction. Such as, “Wow, you seem really interested in my allergy!” or “you seem really invested in this!”

    I’m not sure if the OP doesn’t want to talk about the allergy at length, or ever. I think it is cutting off the most direct route to not want to talk about it ever. Allergies aren’t a big deal, and everyone knows someone who has one. I think the better strategy is to not get sucked in to talking about it at length, or with specifics. If people press on specifics, the OP can just say “It’s such a boring topic for me, let’s get back to work topic A/your recent vacation!”

    1. LaurenB*

      I think you are spot on. The OP seems very comfortable with the choice to have her policy be “not touching food unless I order / prepare it.” So let other people be uncomfortable with it. So what? It’s not the OP’s job to manage other people’s feelings.

      I do agree that there’s a bit of unnecessary drama that could be avoided by the “Oh, I’m allergic to X, so I can’t have Y.” This is the year 2019, tons of people have allergies or follow special diets for other reasons, it’s just not the big deal OP thinks it is.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        You’re being awfully dismissive of a real problem. If it were that easy, the OP wouldn’t need to write in. It’s great that you haven’t had to deal with pushy coworkers, but they exist and it’s not always as simple to shut them down as “Oh, I can’t have that.” It should be. But it’s not.

      2. smoke tree*

        You would think by now most people would be at least moderately understanding about allergies, but it really varies. As with anything food related, you get a whole lot of emotional baggage attached. People get offended if you won’t try something they made, people are skeptical that allergies are real at all, people want you to educate them on allergies, people want to test you by giving you a small amount of the allergen to see if you’re really allergic, people want to police what you eat, the list goes on. I think it’s comparable to pregnancy, where exhausting, invasive and patronizing questions seem to be weirdly culturally acceptable. But it’s especially gross to think that some people are happy to prioritize their feelings over your personal safety. I don’t even have allergies myself, but I’ve noticed all this by being close to a few people who do.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, my sister gets all of this. She isn’t allergic, but she can’t eat wheat or dairy because of a medical issue. While it might not be an allergy, it’s a serious concern for her, as eating anything that contains wheat or dairy would lead to several days of extremely unpleasant and debilitating symptoms. Usually she’ll try to head off any discussion by just saying ‘I have to avoid wheat and dairy’ but half the time people want a whole debate – ‘Oh, are you coeliac? No? Then why can’t you eat it? You’re not properly allergic. And you can’t have milk? What about goat’s milk? What about the lactose-free stuff? And you can’t have eggs? You can? How come you can have eggs? What would happen if you ate some cheese?’ Just imagine how draining that is, and imagine how rude it is for people to basically force her to discuss her private medical issues in public and justify why she can and can’t eat certain things. Of course, in an ideal world in 2019 people would understand that different people have different allergies and food preferences, but unfortunately that’s definitely not the case.

  23. BadWolf*

    I totally get OPs reluctance to have a conversation turned to her or attempts to bring “acceptable food” — I have sometimes had this issue in the past where people have actually thought I couldn’t have something when it was really just a food preference (and one that I could just eat the thing anyway). Anyway, then I feel bad that they went to extra trouble. In the OPs case, it is worse if people go to extra trouble and the OP still declines.

    Or if someone brings in a cake and the OP declines and suddenly the cake ingredients are being dissected and the person purchasing or making the cake starts feeling bad or awkward. Or the birthday person feels some sort of third person guilt.

    There’s the malicious side (just a little allergen!) and there’s the killing with kindness side.

    I have a friend who has a pretty serious allergy. I was sharing a dessert item (prepackaged) and tried to offer it to her, paused, looked at the package to read the ingredients, then awkwardly offered it again realizing that even if I thought it was fine, that didn’t mean it was fine unless Friend personally examined it. And ended saying, “I don’t want you to feel left out, but I don’t want to poison you.” Friend declined snack in the end. Awkward. Friend is good sport.

    1. BadWolf*

      ETA: Even with what I said above, I think you should consider telling your coworkers. I’d feel terrible knowing I was trying to share cake with you when you allergic to it. I’d also feel wonder if I previously acted poorly that made it seem like you couldn’t tell me or it wouldn’t be worth it. Not to dumps extra feels on you…just that if your coworkers aren’t jerks, they’d like to know.

  24. No one you know*

    I have developed an allergy to dairy since starting at my current job. It’s awkward in that people who saw me eat pizza or whatever during my first year are confused that I now say I absolutely cannot pick shredded cheese off a salad and safely eat it.

    I’ve just been firm in saying it’s an allergy I’ve recently developed, no, I can’t eat the food that was brought in but I’ll be happy to eat my own food at the same table, and yes I absolutely miss cheese.

    1. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      Ugh, yup I’ve had that convo more times than I want to count. No I can’t just eat around the shrimp and fish in the gumbo you made. My allergy doesn’t work that way.
      PSA: please accept a person’s experience with their allergy and what they can and can’t eat. And if somebody says it’s just safest for them to eat only food they make, please don’t be offended. We want to participate, but we want to do it in a way that is safe for us.

      1. Mushroom ex addict*

        I wish more people would follow the trust the person’s experience with their allergy or intolerance statement. My mother in law being one of the people I wish would follow this. I am allergic to mushrooms (ok so probably just intolerant of a couple kinds of european/American ones, the asian ones don’t seem to bother me and the reaction I’ve had in the past is uncontrollable vomiting for 18-24 hours not anaphylaxis). My daughter loves mushrooms, I’m perfectly capable of cutting up and cooking them for her and hubby, they can be in the fridge with my food I’m just not going to eat them except on very rare occasions and only very specific ones, and only when I’m at my house because if I’m going to be sick I’m going to be in my own home. MIL won’t let any mushrooms in her house when I visit, not as a snack for my kid, not on ordered out pizza nothing. This is mainly hilarious to me because it took the first 6 years to get through to her that no I cannot eat X because she cooked it with mushrooms. The severity of this “allergy” has decreased over time and over that time she’s gotten more fanatical about keeping the mushrooms out when I’m there.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          It sounds like non-IgE allergy. I know of a case where a woman had cyclic vomiting syndrome from non-IgE allergy to apples.
          Depending on which part of the immune system is reacting, it can change or even go away over time.

      2. No one you know*

        My reaction isn’t so severe that I have to eat only food I make myself, thankfully. We tend to order food in for a lot of meetings. The office favorite place puts cheese or dairy based sauces on EVERYTHING. I can and do eat things from there ordered without the cheese or sauces but I’m also very likely to have to throw out the lunch since the place is unreliable on special requests. I tend to eat a lot of vegan food just to avoid incidental dairy which causes it’s own problems of people thinking I’m vegan and having to explain myself when I eat meat.


    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have a friend who developed a dairy allergy as well, we used to dive bomb into all the cheesy cheesiness growing up. So when it started trying to murder he from the inside, we were both devastated!

      I’m so exhausted by people who don’t understand that allergies are fickle beasts who do not play by their rules. Yes, they can be developed later. Yes, our bodies change with age and environment. I’ve never had seasonal allergies either until I dropped into a part of town my brother lived in that had a ton of imported “fancy” trees around to assault me. Then I moved and my body is all “This is not the same pollen we’re used to, sufferrrrrrrrr sufferrrrrrrr.” *face desk*

      1. Iris Eyes*

        There really needs to be a movement around low allergen landscaping. There is something just as pretty out there that won’t make people miserable. *goes off to grumble about allergenic and invasive species…*

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Yep. Over the last 5 or so years, I’ve really made an enemy out of dairy. And since my reaction to it ranges pretty wildly, I don’t eat it a lot and I don’t eat it when I’m out away from my house because my reaction could be anything from just not feeling good to a really bad coughing attack to actually vomiting. I am phasing it out, but it is awkward for friends to be like Oh but you ate pizza the other night at your place? Well yes because if I’m going to be sick, I’d like to be at home.

  25. S*

    This. Is. So. Annoying. I have celiac disease and I’ve explained to the same coworker MULTIPLE times I can’t eat gluten or most processed foods because of the cross contamination. She still doesn’t understand why I can’t go eat cookies or cake that’s in the conference room. This is actually an improvement from my last job, where one asshole started a rumor I had an eating disorder because I avoid gluten and dairy (both a common issue for celiacs). I’ve really grown a thick skin from all these experiences, and have just come to the conclusion that some people aren’t the brightest or empathetic, but unfortunately I have to work with them.

    1. LaurenB*

      The thing is – it is of no consequence that your coworker “doesn’t understand” why you can’t eat the cookies / cake in the conference room. It is of no relevance to YOUR life. So she doesn’t understand. Well, we’re all puzzled by various things, and I’m sure she’ll find a way to move on with her life after about 30 seconds. I don’t “understand” why my coworker has that tattoo I find unattractive, or that hair cut I find unattractive, or why she lives in a part of town I think offers nothing. So what? She’s not obligated to justify her tattoo, hair cut or living arrangements to me, and it’s of no concern that I “understand” her reasons for her life choices.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s relevant to your life when it’s a coworker you’re trying to maintain a decent relationship with. That doesn’t mean they’re obligated to satisfy the person, but people are looking for polite ways to shut this down that aren’t chilly because these are work relationships.

      2. Aleta*

        Ehhhhhhhhh, IME that isn’t how it works. People quite frequently MAKE it your problem if they don’t understand why you can’t eat the thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever had someone just drop it in my entire life. It’s great if you’ve never had to deal with people being pushy like this, but OP obviously has reason for concern and it’s very dismissive to act like this is never a problem.

      3. ket*

        You say “she’ll find a way to move on with her life after about 30 seconds,” which shows you’ve never dealt with some of these people.

        Search for the Reddit threads with names related to “Tricked into eating something I don’t eat at work. Is this illegal/a toxic work environment?” Some terrible coworkers will use the food stuff as a venue for anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. This particular situation ended up in an out-of-court settlement if I recall. Took a little longer than 30 seconds. I’m sure the terrible coworker still “doesn’t understand” and that doesn’t matter — but the other woman is still out of a job.

    2. WellRed*

      You don’t need it, of course, but you have the permission of everyone here to stop engaging with this coworker on this topic.

  26. CupcakeCounter*

    Not telling your coworkers about your allergies probably isn’t the best course of action here. Be as matter of fact about it as you can without giving any detail. “Sorry – I have some severe food allergies and find it better to only eat what I brought”. Follow up with “A long, boring list of things that seems to be in everything” when asked about what your allergies are. If any rise to the airborne or touch level (my friend’s son once got to use his epi-pen because he borrowed the pencil of the girl next to him in kindergarten who had a PB&J for breakfast), absolutely do tell your coworkers what that one is.
    Otherwise just go with a too many to name strategy.
    And do as the others suggested and bring your own snack or at least a nice beverage to these events so you look like you are participating as that should curb a lot of the questions.

    1. Earthwalker*

      I like the ambiguous “long boring list” because it doesn’t provide an opening for anyone to explain that sesame seeds aren’t really nuts, or that whole wheat bread doesn’t have carbs, or that if you’d just TRY some cheese you’d like it, or that they heard that food allergies are all in your head, or whatever awkward thing that well meaning but mixed up people say.

  27. Kitty*

    I don’t have any food allergies thankfully but I am intolerant of lactose, gluten and soy which covers a lot of ground and almost always guarantees that when my small, friendly office has cake, as they do for all our birthdays, I can’t partake.

    I have felt very self-conscious about being that awkward person but my office is small enough that I haven’t had to have the conversation too many times except with new people, I am very matter of fact about it and my colleagues very accepting.

    Honestly, my undiagnosed intolerances caused me such a lot of problems that now knowing what the problem is, I am genuinely quite cheerful and pragmatic about not being able to enjoy whatever treat is being bandied about and I think my colleagues can tell.

    That said, whoever is picking up the treats usually makes an effort to pick up some jelly (jello) or gluten-free option for me.

    I do understand your not wanting to make a fuss and having to have that food conversation for the nth time but I think a cheerful, matter of fact tone and perhaps a rehearsed line that slips off your tongue about multiple allergies to boring to go into might defuse the situation.

    In your situation and given your sensitivity and the severity of your reactions, I also wonder if it might not be wise to let people know you have an allergy in case you end up getting triggered?

  28. Sharikacat*

    In a normal office, stating you have a food allergy really shouldn’t be an issue with coworkers. Normal people will be willing to check with you beforehand on any food ordered or brought in (or make an honest mistake in forgetting, even if it’s every time). Things only get awkward when the allergy has wide-sweeping effect- no one can have *any* nuts in the office, or being able to only choose for office lunches one specific restaurant that’s 30 miles away, etc.

    In a normal office.

  29. Phony Genius*

    Can we talk about this from the other perspective? Many people have a hang-up that they can’t eat around somebody else who is not eating. It can feel really weird from the perspective of the eater. Maybe some of this is people not wanting to be uncomfortable while eating. I have been on both sides of this, so I know it can feel awkward either way.

    1. LaurenB*

      Then they need to get over it. There are plenty of times someone will be eating around someone who isn’t eating. Maybe someone is a diabetic and needs to eat at certain intervals during the day. Maybe someone else missed breakfast and is eating granola bars at 10 am. Maybe someone just isn’t hungry for the cake at the 2 pm birthday celebration. Again, this is a “your hang up is no concern of mine.”

      1. Genny*

        This is a little harsh. Etiquette says it’s rude to eat around others who aren’t eating and that if you’re hosting, you should offer food to your guests so that they don’t have to ask for it. Neither of these things apply in the work world, but it can be hard to turn that on and off. It’s still something individuals need to work on instead of making others who aren’t eating uncomfortable, but it might help the OP to reframe this a bit in her mind from “people being pushy” (though some of them probably are being pushy) to “people trying to be polite and inclusive, but missing the mark”.

        1. Courageous cat*

          I don’t think it’s harsh. It’s not hard or difficult as an adult to “work on” letting people make their own choices surrounding food – it shouldn’t need to be a long gradual process. People should be able to make the decision that it’s not their business what other people do, and move on.

          Sure, it doesn’t always play out that way, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

    2. Dahlia*

      Wait, if I’m not hungry, I should force myself to eat so someone else doesn’t feel awkward? Uh, no, I believe in listening to my body, not external opinions about it.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Actually, I think I’m asking how someone who feels funny eating around a non-eater can change their mindset. Such people have likely been conditioned to believe that this is impolite.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I think it’s a great question, and it’s a good thing to work on. I always feel awkward eating around those who are not. I have practiced asking once, “Do you mind if I go ahead?” or “Will this bother you?” and then letting it go, but I agree with you that it goes against a lot of messages that I’ve internalized.

        2. Clisby*

          That seems really odd to me in the context of a workplace.

          I agree that if I invited someone to dinner and they couldn’t eat even a single thing I had prepared, I would feel strange eating around them. However, if I invited someone to dinner I would either (a) already know if there were certain things they just couldn’t eat or (b) I would have asked about it, so I could provide something they could eat, or (c) if it was such a severe situation that they need to have complete control over their food, I could just say it was perfectly OK to bring their own food.

    3. Klingons and Cylons and Cybermen, Oh My!*

      A “hang-up” is merely a preference. Allergies and diseases are MEDICAL CONDITIONS which must always take top priority over anyone’s feelings. I find this very easy to understand, even though I don’t have food allergies.

    4. Holly*

      Someone could have disordered eating or anxiety they compulsively need someone to eat while they eat or else they feel guilty/whatever other negative feeling and that person may have to remove themselves from the situation. But it’s definitely not the norm, and definitely not a healthy attitude to have towards food that OP should go out of their way to accommodate when it would literally make him or her ill.

    5. Nous allons, vous allez, ils vont*

      That’s…their problem, not anyone else’s?

      It’s not up to other people to force themselves to eat because someone else has hangups.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Then they should go eat their snacks somewhere else instead.

      Also the whole point is that you offer someone something and they get to make a choice, if they say “oh no, I’m fine. You go ahead though.” then that should remove the person from feeling their “guilt” for eating in front of them.

      My partner had to come to the understanding that we are different people. I am a strange person who hates hot food, whereas most love to gobble it up while it’s fresh out of the oven. So I’ll make dinner, he gets his food and settles in and enjoys while I hangout waiting for it to cool down to room temp-ish. I even put my pizza into the fridge when we get delivery so that it cools down faster because I haaaaaaaaaaaate hot food that much. I’m not ever going to ask anyone to hang tight while my food gets to my liking, while their food gets cold and less edible/enjoyable to them!

      It’s a world of compromise. Be thoughtful but don’t push your thoughtfulness down their throat! If they say “no, I’m fine, thanks!”, accept it. If they’re secretly not fine, that’s on them, you are still guilt free.

    7. CommanderBanana*

      Yes, but IMHO “feeling uncomfortable” is less of an issue than “potentially serious allergic reaction.”

    8. Aggretsuko*

      Huh, I’ve only run into that with people who have a hangup about hanging out with someone else who isn’t smoking pot. (And alcohol, to some degree, but I usually just say “I have to drive home” and nobody objects.)

    9. lol*

      Poor baby boohoo. I want the nice lady to risk death so I can feel better about my snack!

  30. LoV*

    I really don’t understand why people feel the need to pressure to people to eat. If someone doesn’t want to take whatever food is being offered, that should be enough all on it’s own. No explanation needed.

    1. Rockin Takin*

      There’s a lot of cultural ties to this, I think. Like when I go to my in-laws, it is considered extremely rude to not accept anything, especially food (they live in Asia). You can keep saying no, but they will wear you down until you agree to eat. It can be exhausting, and extremely difficult to deal with when you have dietary restrictions.
      I have to remind myself that it comes from a place of love. For them, this is how they show love and respect.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah honestly it kind of drives me crazy. I have a friend whose mom gets totally bent out of shape because I always come over to eat after dinner because it’s just easier for me to eat at home. I have some food sensitivities and restrictions and I’m cutting calories so I prefer to weigh my food out and you know, it’s just easier for me. But she takes a lot of offense that I don’t want to eat over there and just nags and it’s really exhausting. I don’t understand that attitude.

  31. CupcakeCounter*

    One weird note I noticed…
    My mother has a dairy allergy. My sister is lactose intolerant.
    People give my mother a really hard time asking lots of questions but my sister gets none of that – as soon as she tells them she can’t have it because she is lactose intolerant everyone immediately nods, usually says something along the lines of bummer or that sucks, and moves on.
    Maybe we need some food allergy commercials to normalize it.

    1. S*

      The irony is that I’ve seen a lot of movies, tv shows and commercials that make fun of people with food allergies and especially those who avoid gluten. It would be great if someone could make a non-snarky commercial showing why people avoid foods they are allergic/intolerant of and the horrible effects that come from consuming those foods.

    2. No one you know*

      I say my somewhat mild dairy allergy is severe lactose intolerance, sometimes, just to avoid A Conversation About Allergies. Lots of people seem to think that a food allergy needs to be life-threatening but most understand that some foods “don’t agree” with some people.

    3. Batman*

      I think it’s because people don’t understand what allergies are and also because lactose intolerance is much more common than dairy allergy. So they’re more used to hearing about it.

  32. Essess*

    A simple “no thanks… due to many life-threatening allergies I cannot eat anything that I haven’t personally made but I appreciate you thinking of me.”

    Simple and direct, without any offense. If anyone starts prying, a “I’m not going to bore people with my medical history… please eat and enjoy yourself.” Repeat if necessary. You’re not making a fuss, and you’re not insulting the offerer.

    1. Klingons and Cylons and Cybermen, Oh My!*

      If anyone is insulted by someone else’s desire to remain healthy (or alive), that person has a HUGE problem.

  33. Rockin Takin*

    I have IBS and acid reflux, and sometimes it is pretty severe- like to the point where I’ve suddenly been sick at work. I’ve thrown up at almost all my jobs at some point or another.
    I cannot even count how many times someone has given me unwanted diet advice, or suggested probiotics like I’ve never heard of it before. Usually I just smile and say “oh interesting” and change the subject.
    What’s worse is the people who try and tell you that your illness must not be serious, since you don’t physically look sick.
    OP, I hope you find a way to manage these conversations.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Ahem – IBS can be caused by certain types of food allergies.
      If you want to track those down and haven’t already, keep a food and symptom diary and look for patterns.

  34. Jennifer*

    “No thanks. I have pretty serious allergies to nuts.”

    “Allergic to what?”

    “I’d rather not get into it. It’s not that interesting. Hey – did you hear Meghan had her baby? She’s so cute!”

    It’s smart not to eat anything you didn’t personally prepare if your allergies are that severe.

  35. Hopeful Future Accountant*

    If someone tells you they have food allergies and you’re trained in the use of an epi pen, is it appropriate to ask if they have one and where it’s keep on case it’s needed?

    1. Deadly Nightshades*

      For me, yes. I appreciate people knowing about it, because I appreciate being alive. But, honestly, I don’t eat things I am allergic to/might be allergic to/can’t confirm I’m not allergic to/am not 100% sure of because an epi pen is not a solution to anaphylaxis. In many situations (depends on severity of reaction, how much of the allergen I’ve consumed, etc) all it does is buy me the 10 minutes until an ambulance gets there. Particularly when it’s a food allergy, it can sometimes take a few minutes for the food to be digested enough to hit someone’s system and cause a reaction, and that can mean that someone has had more than just one bite of whatever they’re allergic to. So yeah, definitely it’s important that someone knows where the epi pen is at all times, but it’s not safe to rely on that to stop a reaction. (Plus they’re $500 without insurance so even if that’s the only treatment I need… it’s not worth it.)

  36. MatKnifeNinja*


    I have anaphylaxis to walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and shell fish. I schlep 3 Epi pens around. Been on a ventilator twice for anaphylactic reactions to hidden nuts.

    I eat no bake goods outside of home. Period. Other food items, I can finesse.

    The only accommodation I want food allergy wise is people do their thing and NOT worry about me. Have your chocolate tortes, nutty bars, brownies with walnuts. I absolutely, positively HATE we people make a big deal about something being safe. Coin flip it’s not. Someone tried, wasted their time and money for something I can’t eat.

    So many people are doing keto/GFCF/intermittent fasting, a zillion different diets, me not eating bake goods (including bread) should not be that big of a deal.

    I really don’t eat at work anyway (I hate scarfing my food). Me not eating the random cupcake isn’t a big deal.

    The only people that know my medical issue is my boss and HR.

    A relative bought me a chocolate/Nutella torte for my birthday. She knows about my hazelnut allergy. That was a fun party. :(

  37. JJ Bittenbinder*

    In jest 4 words, Alison summed up so much:

    Humans, man. We’re exhausting.

    I’ve never experienced many of the intrusive behaviors that others have (people asking me if I’m going to have more kids, for example, or touching my pregnant belly; people making a fuss after I decline food), but reading here and elsewhere has made me really notice my own and others’ behaviors and advocate for Leaving People the Hell Alone. I’ve twice had to tell (2 different) men at previous jobs that the person they were “just asking!” questions of seemed uncomfortable and let’s move on. I’d say that, beyond just not prying or asking follow-up questions, we can all be a force for good if we try to shut it down when we see it happen to others. Of course, making sure it’s needed and wanted and not contributing to the discomfort more…

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I was noticing the similarities between the “you can just have a taste” people, and the “you’ll love MY poochy he’s a good boy” people.

  38. LSP*

    I used to work with someone with celiac, and since she and I were relatively close, I was put in charge of her work baby shower. I was okay with a few things being not okay for her to eat, (like some of the crackers and maybe a box of cookies) because I knew she wouldn’t mind if there were a few things containing gluten, but I was determined to make everything as gluten-free as possible. I have a friend outside of work who specializes in baked goods for people with dietary restrictions who made a gorgeous baby-block shaped chocolate cake. When my co-worker walked in to her party, she was shocked when I let her know it was gluten-free. She just figured I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble, and she was content not eating it.

    I think most people with allergies are just fine sitting out on work-provided food, and appreciate when someone goes the extra mile to make sure there is something for them. In OP’s case, though, it sounds like her coworkers can’t seem to remember her allergies, while simultaneously wanting to know all the details, and judging her for not eating something that could cause a serious health risk.

    To hell with those people, OP. If anyone is making things awkward, it’s your coworkers and not you. And the next time the same person seems perplexed as to why you aren’t eating something you’ve already told them you can’t eat, feel free to remind them, as in, “Sorry. Allergies, remember?” Because if this is happening with the same people often enough, they should actually feel bad about not remember something pretty common.

  39. LizArd*

    I work in an office where lots of people have different dietary restrictions, and everybody is happy to accommodate them. When people bring in outside food, they’ll leave a note or circulate an email listing the potentially iffy ingredients, and when we have our once-every-two-months birthday celebration, the office admin checks with all the celebrants to take requests and make sure they have things they’ll be able to eat.

    It may be that these measures wouldn’t be sufficient for the OP, but it’s another data point in the “people may be more chill about this than you fear they will” column.

  40. Pink Hair Don't Care*

    As someone with anaphylactic alergies I say THANK YOU. You cant imagine how many times I’ve heard “Just one little bite won’t hurt” Then I usually dig into my purse and bring out my epi pen and ask if they know how to use this “just in case”. My allergies are life threatening too and just don’t want to talk about them that much.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I love this approach. I’m anaphylactic to some foods and think this will drive the point home further to some people.

  41. k*

    I thankfully have no allergies, but I completely relate to the anxiety about the social aspects of this — right down to fake accepting a cake! I’m vegan and don’t like to talk about it at work very often because it often makes people defensive and just not what I want to get into for work relationships. At my final meeting at my job (which I still work at, long story), my coworkers surprised me with a cake which was so kind and I was just mortified about not eating it and was so afraid they’d realize and then feel bad, when I was so touched by the thought! I cut everyone else a piece and hoped no one noticed I didn’t actually eat any after that. (Now that I’ve been there a few years that probably wouldn’t happen, but oof just remembering makes me anxious)

    But in general I think Alison’s advice is really good — just a, “thanks I’m fine!” then quick subject change usually works. Also, I don’t know if this would really work with an allergy, but I find that a softened version (“no thanks, I don’t do dairy” vs “no thanks, I’m vegan”) usually makes people less likely to further inquire. But I suppose for some people that might just make them push harder!

  42. BlackCatMama*

    OP I totally understand not wanting to bring up food allergies at work. I was diagnosed with gluten allergy a few years ago and it can be uncomfortable when food comes up. People who aren’t familiar with food allergies can be surprisingly invasive when they find out there are things I can’t eat, for example what happens when I eat gluten, am I really sure I’m allergic, I’m sure you wouldn’t notice if I snuck some in, etc. Its easier to avoid the topic of possible.

  43. Kimberly*

    Talking about my food allergies is exhausting because theyre not the Top 8, and especially explaining I can really die from something as simple as cross contaminating a utensil is EXHAUSTING. I empathize with this poster. As soon as I bring them up, people have 6 million questions. I’m happy to educate, but I feel like my coworkers don’t retain the info to the NEXT monthly food gathering. Hopefully the OP can just find a script to repeat to them and bow out gracefully. I usually hang out and drink a soda or juice while people eat.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      My niece’s nut allergy is so severe she went into anaphylactic shock from the nut oils on an airplane seat. She has to request that airplanes cover her seats in plastic. People have no idea how deadly some allergies are, and I don’t know why they just won’t accept someone’s word! “I am severely allergic.” should be enough. Sheesh.

  44. Ms.Vader*

    I have severe and moderate allergies to several popular foods and I have to say – I guess I’m living in a very open and welcoming society about this because I never get pressured to eat if I can’t. My coworkers are well aware as I’ve said my allergies specifically and they don’t bother me about it. I also tried to alleviate awkwardness by making a joke about wanting to test out my epipen. That usually makes a laugh and people move on. Maybe try being light hearted in the refusal while making it plain how serious it is (hence an epipen joke).

    Also side note…I have actually created cards with a list of my allergies to give to servers when I go out. It’s helped a lot – if you ever want to try eating out again, consider this. It reinforces the seriousness and is very easy to follow.

  45. LaDeeDa*

    “I have a severe nut allergy”
    “this doesn’t have nuts”
    “It looks great, but I can’t chance potential death from cross contamination.”

    1. Allergic*

      That’s not the end of the conversation, though. I have some variation on this multiple times a week, and it goes on…

      “Oh, I made it at home so I promise no nuts got anywhere near it!” Big smile and firm shove towards the pastries of death.

      “Oh, just one won’t hurt you though! Come on! It’s a party!” And pushing the murder cookies into my hand.

      “Wow, you can’t even have one? That must suck so much. You poor thing. How on Earth do you manage without (literal devil’s food cake)?” With sad face and too much physical contact.

      And so on.

      It’d be LOVELY if people would follow your script. Sadly, my experience is that at least 8/10 will not.

      1. 1234*

        “Yes but if you have nuts at home at any given point EVER, I cannot risk cross-contamination. Trips to the hospital are expensive! Are you going to foot the bill if that happens? *Smile*”

        “That DOES suck so much but I’d rather be alive than to eat [whatever food you’re allergic to].”

  46. K*

    If I say “I have an allergy,” co-workers typically want more explanation than that or reassurance that it’s totally okay that they’re eating it.

    Well yeah – I want to know if your allergy is so severe that I’m putting you at risk so that I can change my behavior to protect you. If eating my almond butter sandwich then opening the communal fridge that you then touch leads you to the hospital, I want to know so I can stop bringing the thing that may kill you.

    1. Phoenix*

      My best friend recently had a reaction when someone microwaved leftovers with peanut sauce near her in her office – I agree with you, I want to know if I’m going to inadvertently hurt my coworker by something I could easily avoid, if only I knew.

  47. Veryanon*

    People are so weird about allergies. I used to work with someone who had celiac disease. Our manager could not believe that she couldn’t eat even a little gluten. Every.single.time. it was someone’s birthday or whatever, she’d bring stuff that my co-worker could not eat, and then would get all offended that co-worker wouldn’t eat whatever it was. How hard would it have been to pick up a gluten-free option? I started bringing fruit or something else that was gluten-free whenever we had a team occasion – and manager got all annoyed with ME! SMH.

  48. Allison*

    Just a note to say it’s a them-problem not a you-problem – we have someone in my (given, smallish) department who is allergic to several things, and we just remember and don’t make her explain it every time. She brings her own food to pizza lunch and it’s no big deal.

  49. Gladiator*

    Hey OP. I can understand the anxiety that comes with food allergies. I am allergic to wheat and when I’m under a lot of stress, I react strongly to it. Other times I get an upset tummy. When people ask me a lot of questions it gets hard because, yes sometimes I can eat Chinese food, but my body is throwing a fit and can’t right now. I’ve explained it to my immediate coworkers. Everyone over else, I just say I’m allergic and leave it at that.
    People will always insist and all questions. I think have a standard answer will help. Something like “no thanks, I’m highly allergic.” Or “I can only eat things that I bring because of my allergy.” People still so if I want food because they don’t remember. I just shrug it off because it happens every day.
    I find that my coworkers generally care and they bring me gluten free recipes or give me names of bakeries to try even if they forget while offering me their cake. The hardest thing for me dealing with this allergy was to not take anything personal. Even when they meant it to be! I answer once, act bored, and ignore them if they keep on it. If I didn’t want to discuss it, I would usually say “Yeah it’s annoying, but anyways *subject change*”

  50. Dust Bunny*

    “One particularly awful time someone brought me a nutty bday cake unaware I was allergic and I faked eating it out of pure anxiety for making a scene.”

    So . . . I’m confused: Are you explaining this? Or are you offering one-word answers to one person at a time?

    Sometimes refusing to give information draws more attention to a problem than would a short but rounded-out answer. I can’t tell here if you’re thinking that “I have an allergy” is a full answer. I would leave it at that, but then I’d probably want to know more so that if I brought food again, I could try to include you (by ordering from somewhere else, providing a packaged snack of your choosing, whatever you felt was safe), because perpetually excluding people from office snacks is bad, too. Or so I know the things I should definitely not be bringing to the office because I really do want to not poison my coworkers. But humans are curious and sometimes providing a little more information is what one actually needs to do to be left alone.

    You seem to feel you’ve explained this more than enough but there are evidently still people who don’t know about it, and as long as that’s the case you’ll have to keep re-stating it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I mean: If you told me that, I would not pester you to eat.

      But I’d still worry about what else I might be bringing that could be dangerous. Not eating peanut butter at work is a small concession for me to make if it’s safer for somebody else, but I need to know that it’s a problem before I’m able to do that.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      One of my coworkers is a diabetic and also has an allergy to a certain fruit that is commonly included in prepared fruit trays, so we switched from occasional cookies or doughnuts to meat, cheese, and cracker plates and vegetable trays. We still get treats once in awhile but they don’t leave her out.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I’m allergic to raw pineapple (but can have it cooked in things like cakes/muffins) and raw pea pods. The segmented fruit and veggie trays are great because I can simply avoid them (I don’t have contact reactions although pineapple juice cross contamination is a small problem – not a full blown reaction but I can tell).

    3. Jessica*

      Yes, OP, you asked if you were making things “unnecessarily awkward” and I think your efforts to avoid discussing your allergy are making this a little bit more complicated. Instead of “I have an allergy” try saying “I have an allergy to eating some pretty common ingredients, so I can only eat food that I’ve brought myself.” I like the deflection someone mentioned above if you get further questions: “Oh, it’s a long and boring list of random things…”
      I mean, I like to think I’m a pretty reasonable human being (who does lean towards the “I show love by feeding people” side) and if someone has an allergy there’s really just two things I want to know:
      1) Could I easily provide food that this person could eat? (In your case, the answer is no.)
      2) Am I putting this person in danger by inviting them to a room where people are eating the foods that provoke their allergic response? (Again, seems like in your case the answer is no.)

      I know that answering these questions isn’t going to stop ALL of the busybodies, but it might lower the amount of times you’re faced with nutty food and feel anxious about the social ramifications of your allergy.

  51. saby*

    There are so many different foods that people can be allergic/otherwise sensitive to! Truly, life is a rich tapestry. The first year I was in charge of my org’s AGM I was kind of thrown by some of the dietary restrictions, and by the number of people who said they’d just bring their own food. And I even have friends and relatives with very unusual allergies! By this point nothing really fazes me anymore, although sometimes I do have to spend a long time on the phone with the caterer. (The most recent event, we requested a separate meal with no citrus for one person with a non-life-threatening allergy, and the caterer went ahead and changed all of our salad selections for all attendees to ones without any lemon juice in the dressing without telling us. One salad was literally just sliced celery in balsamic vinaigrette. Fun times.)

    I don’t understand these forcing-things-on-you people. I do come from a culture where feeding people is equated with caring (Italian), but one of the key parts of that is bringing them joy with your food. It’s not so caring if you’re forcing them to eat something that will cause them physical distress or even just that they find unpleasant! In fact that is downright uncaring!

  52. This Old House*

    Can you bring your own treat? I find that no one cares *what* I’m eating as long as I’m eating. Or, even better, could you bring enough of something safe to share? I used to feel a little pathetic sitting there with my sad little tupperware with a dairy-free, soy-free brownie, until I realized I wasn’t the only person there who couldn’t eat dairy. I started to get positively excited to bring dairy-free treats.

    Of course, tomorrow’s the office birthday celebration for May, and since I won’t have had time to bake, I’ll probably be relegated to watching other people eat what is in theory supposed to be (partly) my birthday cake. That’s the worst.

  53. frida*

    oof do I feel this. I’ve been allergic to dairy since I was a kid and totally get the “I don’t want to cause a scene” urge. I’ve dealt with a lot of comments (my boss once paused in front of me in the break room, examined my lunch, and said “wow, so you DO eat real food”) that have made me want to just crawl under my desk and hide every time someone proposes a pizza party.
    But at the same time, we do deserve to be accommodated, especially for events FOR US like birthdays! It can be tough, OP, but it is worth speaking up. At my last job I suggested fruit or fancy coffee as a reward as a break from pastries, and people were really on board simply to break up the routine a bit. I also usually keep a stash of safe-for-me cookies in my desk, or make a cup of tea, get a soda, etc when the office is gathering for food. Alison is right, simply having something in your hand can stave off questions. Hang in there OP!

    1. frida*

      AND I’ve found that sometimes I just need to be explicit with people. It can be an awkward talk but sometimes people just directly need to hear, “I’m not eating this because I don’t want to get sick, not because I have a problem with you.” People get really emotional about food!

      1. Mockingbird 2*

        Oooh, I like the idea of pointing out that it isn’t about them. Because it seems like a lot of people take food rejection personally.

  54. MissDisplaced*

    Wow! I’m sorry you have such anxiety over this. What people eat or don’t eat shouldn’t even be a subject people bother you over. I suppose they mean well by it, but still, it gets kind of rude and annoying to keep questioning why you’re not eating something.

    I don’t know if there is a good way to avoid completely, but would it end the conversation quicker to say something like, “Oh, I’m a very particular eater unless I make it myself.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Oh, no, it won’t. It really, really won’t. Telling people you’re “particular” is labeling yourself a “picky eater,” and that’s not going to stop the conversation at ALL.

    2. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      As an allergic person, just no.
      I’m not picky about my food, but I am picky about being able to breathe. Do not equate an allergy with I don’t want to – that just plays into the mindset of “your allergy is all in your head” idiocy that too many of us have dealt with through the years.

  55. Delta Delta*

    I figure people with allergies know better than I do about their own bodies. Apples make my tongue itchy. I might choose not to eat an apple because of this. Peanuts make my coworker stop breathing. I’m not going to push it with her because I like it when she’s breathing.

    1. ThatGirl*

      BTW, that (itchy tongue w/apples) is probably oral allergy syndrome; I have the same thing with kiwi, peaches and bananas when my seasonal allergies are flaring :)

    2. Deadly Nightshades*

      Oral allergy syndrome or a worsening actual allergy. For years I dealt with itching from eating some foods because I liked them (pizza! wings!) and I could pop a benadryl and be ok. And then I ended up in the ER *thisclose* to being put on a ventilator.

      Quick bio lesson from a non-scientist allergic person: you can ‘grow into’ allergies. Your body produces histamines(?) (think if them as little allergen-specific soldiers that float around your body ready to spring into action at the slightest hint of apple) when you’re exposed to something you’re allergic to. They stay in your system in between attacks, so the next time you eat apple, you have more ‘soldiers’ ready to fight it. The more soldiers, the stronger the allergic reaction. Over time, this can develop into life-threatening reactions to things that used to just make you itch. Please get yourself to an allergist and avoid apple anything unless you’re told it’s ok by a doctor. The switch from itchy to not breathing can happen very quickly and from very small amounts of the allergen.

      Semi-related: I also have oral allergy syndrome. Apparently I’m actually allergic to birch, but nightshade vegetables (tomato, pepper, potato, etc) look similar enough to birch that my body reacts the same way. I asked my allergist if there was any way to send a memo to my body telling it to chill out on the stuff that wouldn’t actually kill me and save the drama for just birch. There is not. Oral allergy syndrome can be just as life-threatening as ‘regular’ allergies for some people. (Not to suggest that you are minimizing any reactions, but as someone who didn’t know that until I learned the hard way, I feel an obligation to spread the word to others who might benefit from that info as well.)

      1. Delta Delta*

        thanks for the head’s up about this. I assumed the itchy tongue was a mild allergic reaction of some sort. it seems especially bad in the late summer/early fall (which is evil because that’s exactly when I want to eat all the fruits and vegetables), but then it goes away by the end of September. It’s bothering me now in the spring, so I was thinking it might also be possibly pollen-related. The idea of seeing an allergist is a good one. It might be more serious than I realize!

      2. nonegiven*

        DH gets an itchy throat when he eats cantaloupe, but only during ragweed season.

  56. GlutenFreeEtc*

    I have been gluten free for 10 years, and have other food restrictions. I am also very sensitive to cross contamination so I won’t eat food made by anyone else, including restaurants. At work I’ve definitely come across people who are interested and don’t understand, and some who feel really uncomfortable if I’m not eating or if they can’t accommodate me. I’ve found the best way is to give some basic information eg ‘I’m gluten free and have some other restrictions so I prefer to make all my own food’. That’s usually enough when I say it in a really matter of fact way. If I get the sympathetic follow ups (‘I can’t imagine not being able to eat it’ etc) I again give a fairly bland response (‘you get used to it’, ‘it’s worth it to be well’ etc).

    When people are genuinely interested I don’t mind a quick chat about it, but there have been times when resulting conversations have bothered me and I’ve had to shut people down (someone once started going through a list of every type of food I couldn’t eat and it got kind of upsetting!). When needed, polite deflection worked best (‘it can be boring taking about special diets, but how was your holiday’ etc) rather than showing it bothers me. I find it makes me less self conscious about my diet too!

    For people close to me that really want to be able to share food I let them know something packaged and safe that I like (a drink or snack). It really helps with the emotional side for people who are really wired to sharing food. I think people are unaware of how much they care about sharing food until they can’t! This extends to my close work colleagues, they were genuinely excited to be able to build up my snack collection as a birthday present.

    1. S*

      I really hate when people ask, well, so what exactly happens to you when you eat gluten? I had this question posed to me in a lunch meeting after I brought my own salad – my response was confetti shoots out my ass. :)

    2. Morning Flowers*

      As another ten-year-GF celiac, with additional food restrictions involved enough to require their own spreadsheet, I’ve developed a very effective conversation-ender for people who go on about how they could *never* give up X, Y, or Z. Say as cheerfully as possible, “Oh, sure you could! The gun to your head just isn’t big enough.” And if that doesn’t get the point across, just as cheerfully, “Well, how much pain are you willing to endure for X?”

      I find this works because most people who don’t have these problems genuinely aren’t thinking about the weight on the other side of the scale — they’re only thinking about everything they’d lose, or how hard it would be to cut it out. Not one of them is thinking about *why* doing that hard thing is the right choice. “I couldn’t do it!” is the perfect window to make them actually think about the impact without (usually) throwing the door open wide to nitpicking (“but couldn’t you just … ?”), because (a) they’re now picturing themselves in this situation instead of you, and people want to protect themselves from pain, and (b) they’re thinking about the pain they’re protecting themselves from instead of the inconvenience it takes.

  57. Leela*

    OP I feel you!

    I have a laundry list of allergies but the most severe is gluten, which has the additional frustration of no one thinking it’s real. I am *constantly* having food that’s hospitalized shoved at my face with “c’mon…just a LITTLE bit won’t hurt” and then not only am I annoyed that they’re pushing food I can’t eat on me but doubly annoyed because it’s clear they aren’t taking my allergy seriously. I’ve been hospitalized several times before and I will be again.

    I can’t give OP advice but I’d like to give advice to everyone else: don’t push or question people when it comes to what food people are putting or not putting into their bodies. EVER. Stay out of it, please.

    1. 1234*

      I would just say “I can’t eat that, it will lead to [insert whatever horrible allergic reaction here]. And who wants to feel that way?” Most people would back off or look horrified.

  58. Hava Nagila*

    As far as I know, there are no food allergies inmy office. Then again, maybe I don’t need to know.

    What I do know is that a bunch of us have religious dietary restrictions. While these don’t rise to the level of medical needs, they are still worth being aware of and accommodated when possible. If there is a pizza party, we’ll put the meat and non-meat pizzas on opposite sides of a large conference room (or in two rooms near each other).

    Plus, the keeper of my office’s “junk food file” uses a separate cabinet for Kosher-for-Passover goodies at a certain time of year. Those of us who keep kosher can walk a few feet more to snack on our stuff while everyone else can still enjoy the main stash.)

  59. LQ*

    For the OP it seems like wanting to avoid being seen as someone creating a fuss seems like a big deal. My strategy for this is always turn the conversation back to the other person. It’s easy to get mired in this particular thing. But going into the break room/lunch etc with a strategy can help a lot.

    If someone asks brush them off with a “Not hungry but wanted to hang out and share pictures of my niece/son/grandchild/dog/boat” whip out the phone and show some photos. or “I’m good thanks, hey did you know that there’s a great new Netflix I thought you’d really like…?” or “I’m really excited about the new project…” It doesn’t have to be all work stuff but some of it certainly can be.

    Taking control of the conversation is going to make it much less stressful (I say this as someone who is intensely stressed out by taking control of a conversation, it’s hard but it makes stuff like this so much better). It puts control of the thing back in your hands so you don’t have to just wait for humans to be better, because they won’t be. You want to have 15-20 seconds of something ready to go. The person who is going to drift BACK to the conversation that you left behind after that long is pretty rare. Just grab them and drag them down a different social/work conversational path. Very few people will fight that. Even folks who are weirdly aggressive about food. This will help you seem warm and friendly and keep you from having to fight with them about food. It will require a strategy going in, but once you have a solid one you can reuse it all the time.

  60. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    No advice, OP, just sympathy. To borrow a phrase from yesterday’s post, I wish people would realise we’re not having our food allergies/restrictions at them! We’re living our lives and would like some understanding, that’s all.

  61. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I know I’ve been guilty of trying to find something I can serve a friend… and I was delighted when she let me know her favorite tea. One box of fancy factory-wrapped teabags later, she can feel safe and I can feel hospitable.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I’ve tried to feed friends with specific dietary needs, including religiously only using pans straight from the dishwasher and whatnot. I’ve definitely been bummed when someone still declines to partake, since I work really hard to be accommodating.

      Keeping her favorite tea on hand is a great idea. I’ll see if any of my folks have someone similar.

      Someone phrased it super well; I’m going to butcher it but it was something along the lines of:
      “Oh my dietary needs are so strict it’s just not realistic to ask folks to accommodate me. It’s so much easier for me to just eat beforehand. I really prefer it that way.”

  62. Polaris*

    I (VERY) recently identified that I have some level of gluten intolerance, and my anxiety about food issues has been ramping up as a result. Fortunately my office is big enough that it’s easy to “miss” food left in the breakroom, but I haven’t yet had to contend with a department outing or lunch. I don’t have an “official” diagnosis (I asked my doctor, but was told that the test they could run was specifically for identifying celiac, and also that since I’d been gluten free for a couple weeks at that point, I would probably test negative regardless of my actual sensitivity), but I’m definitely not doing this as a lifestyle choice. Trace amounts (as like, a thickener in Teriyaki sauce or something) seem to be okay (so far), but anything more than that is Bad. We’ve retroactively identified it as the cause or major contributor to the chronic pain and exhaustion I’ve been dealing with for over a year. The last time I was exposed, it took less than fifteen minutes for the aches and nausea to reappear.

    I’ve already started noticing how difficult it is to find gluten free options at many restaurants. Department lunches often consist of sandwiches/wraps, pizza, and cookies, with potentially salad as a gluten free option (unless it comes with croutons already mixed in). It’s basically upended my entire standard diet. Since I’m still trying to come to terms with the upheaval, I’m going to be very angry if I get accidentally exposed again, or if someone tries to insist I eat something after I tell them I can’t. (I’m in the process of looking for gluten free recipe variations, but right now I INTENSELY miss a ton of food that used to be my favorites.)

      1. Polaris*

        Well, pasta was a big staple of my diet, and so far I haven’t enjoyed any of the rice-based substitutions that I’ve tried. I’m so glad gnocchi is made of potatoes. I like to use breading when I cook chicken sometimes (also GARLIC BREAD, I miss garlic bread), and croutons when I have salad. Also just straight-up bread for sandwiches and such, I’ve barely started to scratch the surface of alternatives there. It’s kind of hard to remember everything off the top of my head – I just keep checking ingredients at the grocery store and going “Oh, dammit!”

        Also I used to love baking pies and cookies and brownies. At least I can switch from quiches to fritattas.

        1. 1234*

          Are you also allergic to garbanzo beans/chickpeas? If not, try Banza pasta. It’s the best GF pasta that I’ve tried and most resembles “real” pasta. Another decent option, although not my favorite is quinoa pasta and I think the brand is Ancient Harvest.

          For breading chicken, I’ve used coconut flour, almond flour, arrowroot flour, or cassava flour mixed with spices. I don’t eat a lot of garlic bread but one that comes to mind is Brazi Bites Garlic Asiago Frozen Brazilian Bread. Not like “real” garlic bread but it’s still delicious.

          For straight up bread for sandwiches, I’ve found that Udi’s is decent, and I’ve heard good things about Fox Hill Kitchens. Siete Foods makes AMAZING tortillas, even if they are expensive. If you prefer to make bread from a box mix, try Simple Mills. For frozen pizza, I like Cappello’s and Against The Grain. Cappello’s also sells a “naked crust” version if you prefer to make your own pizza. Keep in mind that a lot of the suggestions that I made include nut flours as ingredients (such as almond flour).

          For pies, I’ve heard that Trader Joe’s sells a GF pre-made pie crust but have not bought it because IDK what I would make with it. I’m not a huge sweets person.

          Hope this makes your life a bit easier!

          1. Polaris*

            Thank you so much! I’m collecting recommendations from everywhere I possibly can since this is such a big switch for me. I really appreciate the brand information especially!

            1. LeighTX*

              Different grocery stores offer various levels of gluten-free options, so if you haven’t already done so be sure to check all the stores in your area; you might find a store that has an entire aisle full of GF options.

              As for breading chicken, if you’re not allergic to nuts crushed pecans mixed with butter makes a delicious coating for both chicken and fish. And I’ve found almond flour makes nice desserts, although sometimes the recipes have to be tweaked a bit. Good luck! Label-reading gets easier as you go. :)

        2. Dahlia*

          Crushed cornflakes can make a really good breading for chicken. Actually, I had some frozen chicken tenders that were gluten free the other week and they were just coated in a blend of seasoned rice and corn flour. And I wouldn’t have noticed without looking at the box.

        3. Koala dreams*

          It’s not like croutons, but roasted sunflower seed or pumpkin seed is great on salads, soups and probably even fritattas. If you have some spices you like you can add them when you roast the seeds.

  63. Dana B.S.*

    As a vegetarian, I’ve gotten the whole range of reactions at work – some are positive and kind, but some are just flat out mean. There is the “what-makes-you-so-special” reaction in which they refuse to order me something different, so I never get the benefit of this “reward” (even though veggie options are often cheaper or even free with large orders). Yes, I have eaten potato salad (which I hate) and pickles at luncheons many times just to fit in. Because of how things have gone in the past, I have just avoided telling people unless I’ve been asked explicitly. I get what you are feeling completely.

  64. Exhausted Trope*

    “… people with dietary restrictions get very, very tired of questions about it… ”
    I think I’ll get a tattoo with Alison’s words.
    Speaking as a person with dietary restrictions, this is too true. Wherever I’ve worked, in any food situation, it’s the questions that made me feel so out of place. Just about two months ago, a person I’ve worked with for about a year gave me the third degree about what happened if I ate that particular food. I told her, “It’s gross. If you really want to know, google it!”
    Fortunately, that shut her down.

    1. Grapey*

      Some people that ask about “what will happen” are sometimes trying to gauge if it’s a “will she die if I bring it in the building” level of concern.

  65. Rebecca1*

    I have several different food allergies, and sometimes in this type of situation I say “oh, I have a bunch of different allergies. It’s super-complicated, but I am totally fine with my drink!” That discourages quizzing from most people, because they don’t want to hear about complicated things. OP, since you have multiple allergies (even though they’re related), you could use a similar line with the more relentless colleagues.

  66. 1234*

    I feel really bad for all of the comments above where people have had others question their food allergy/dietary choices! I’m very lucky that my workplace is understanding enough that nobody is offended if absolutely nothing on the menu works for someone and people are encouraged to bring their own food if nothing on the menu works. We always make sure that whatever place we choose has a vegetarian option and gluten free option (even if the GF option is just salads).

  67. YarnOwl*

    I feel you on this! I don’t eat dairy, and at work they are pretty good about accommodating it when we have group lunches but it still comes up. I don’t eat it because of the hormones in it and hormonal imbalances I have, which I don’t super want to get into at work, but people can’t just accept, “I don’t eat dairy.” They want to ask a million questions!
    I usually just say, “I don’t eat it for medical reasons, not very exciting.” I have found that pulling the “Medical Reasons” card usually tells people, “This isn’t something you should pry about further.”

  68. Lime Lehmer*

    I am lucky that my office is nice enough to not make a big deal out of my gluten intolerance.

    They even baked me gluten free brownies for my birthday and though we often have baked goods out, someone brings chocolate covered strawberries at least once a month.

    If we are having a guest, I always ask “do you have any food preferences or allergies?” It is always met with appreciation.

  69. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Suggestion: In most offices there’s usually one or two people who are responsible for ordering food for most occasions (to my dismay this somehow became me!), and if they’re halfway good at it , then they’ll want to know about allergies & other food restrictions. If you’re comfortable disclosing your allergies with that person and let them know some safe options for you, they’ll often take care of you with no fuss or muss. For instance, I’m currently aware of 2 different pregnancies in my office that haven’t been ‘announced’ yet, so that I can make sure the mamas-to-be have sandwich options that don’t include deli meats. When food arrives, I just set aside their sandwiches along with the manager’s meals that I usually have to deliver. Given that we’ve also got vegetarians, vegans, Gluten free, Keto & Low FODMAP in the office, nobody blinks twice when I say that a certain type of food has been set aside for somebody’s dietary needs.

    1. Lynn Marie*

      And I hope that if the OP asked you not to get them any food at all, you would respect that also.

  70. Happy Pineapple*

    You’re making this way harder for yourself than you need to, OP! Almost everyone understands nut allergies and the fact that even being in the same room as certain foods can be dangerous for some people. Your script: “I have a deathly nut allergy, and just to be cautious I only eat my own food. Thanks so much for offering though!” After telling someone once, just repeat “No thank you! I already ate/I have my own food” ad nauseum.

    If your coworkers are total bores and press for more details or try to further wheedle you to eat something, just repeat that your allergies are serious and complicated and that you’d rather not risk it, and then kill with kindness to let them know you don’t feel left out.

  71. jDC*

    I know people can be intrusive but I mean, you could die. A peanut allergy is so coming now that it’s not a big deal to just say you have one and be done with it. You’re overthinking could kill you.

  72. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I think these people just want to include OP, in some way. Are, for example, drinks safe? She could have a soda or something at these gatherings. And I am glad that OP takes responsibility for being safe in her own hands!

    I have a severe but non-anaphylactic egg allergy (I cannot break down the egg white protein, yet neither do eggs make me puke, so I just have to lie around moaning like a horse with colic for several hours), and mild lactose intolerance. My mom has anaphylactic reactions to shellfish. But at the same time, one has to be sensitive to the dietary needs of others besides just the person.

    My wife has gone vegetarian, so I am eating a LOT of nuts and tree nuts to get my protein since she mostly cooks. Sure, I’ll wash up and stay away from you while I eat- I don’t want to hurt anyone. But having me make a total switch to not eating them would cause serious complications regarding my relationship and my fitness level.

    In this age, many people are on different diets, so bringing something or just having something to drink should be NBD. Don’t police it or tell people what they can and can’t eat, and put in reasonable precautions to both protect OP and not force others to overhaul their diets.

  73. Where's the Epi Pen?*

    My manager has a severe nut allergy and we have a small office, so it’s easy to just go nut free here. But when we travel for work, he always tells the waitstaff “I have a life threatening nut allergy, so if you aren’t sure about anything, please let me know.” I asked once and he said that if he just says he has a food allergy, people don’t take it very seriously. I think OP could do something similar and just say “I have a life threatening food allergy, so while that looks delicious, I’m going to abstain.” I can’t imagine any reasonable person arguing with that… although I’d think most reasonable people wouldn’t put the LW in this position to begin with!

  74. Novocastriart*

    You’re finding fault (in your own behaviour) where there is none, and you’re making life unnecessarily difficult for your self (as well as awkward for your colleagues).

    Good, kind people (or even not so good, but mannerly) will always offer you things when they are sharing, or encourage you to participate in whatever group activity is happening – and at work these so often involve food. If you can be *near* the allergenic, go and when offered, say ‘no thank you, serious allergy, you enjoy though!’ and continue to socialise/discuss the matters at hand. If you cannot be around the allergen, say ‘no thank you, serious allergy, you enjoy though!’ and stay where you are.

    Trying not to explain sounds like it’s causing you angst and your colleagues confusion – you don’t need to elaborate, but the quickest way to get it out there and stop it as a topic of regular discussion is to point blank state it.

    I know a couple of people in my office have different allergies (and remember countless others over the years in different places) – so the information does stick, it might just take a couple of events, if you stick to the facts and are friendly in declining.

  75. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    Since we’re doing an allergy post, do you have any suggestions about when the allergy is severe enough that I have trouble even being around the food in question? (Think of it like a fragrance allergy, but to a food. For extra “fun” it is a food that is really, really commonly added to vegetarian options for group meals, and is on the default “veggie pizza”, “veggie sub”, and “veggie platter” options from most vendors.)

    I’ve had to leave “lunch and learn” type meetings before because other people at my table were eating my allergen as part of the catered lunch, and just the amount of allergen in the air in a stuffy meeting room was enough that my lungs felt like they were on fire and my eyes started hurting. (I also can’t eat this food without further allergenic consequences, but I can solve that problem by bringing snacks or a snack lunch. No amount of me bringing my own snacks solves me being able to breathe around other people eating it, though.)

    My immediate co-workers are all really aware by now, but the higher-ups that summon us to these off-site catered lunch trainings don’t seem very open to communication about the food options and tend to see it as complaining about free food if we ask any questions about the menu.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think in cases like that, and if you’re going to be stuck in the same room, yeah, you should speak up to whomever orders the food and ask them to omit it. It’s a little different because you can’t simply avoid eating it.

    2. Princesa Zelda*

      My mom has the same problem with alium and my sister does with capsaicin! So you’re not alone at least.

    3. Courageous cat*

      I’m curious why people don’t just name the thing (allergen) in question in comments like these.

      Regardless, that sounds pretty unpleasant!

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I tend not to name it for a couple of reasons:
        (a) I don’t really want to get into a whole digression about Working Around Specific Allergy X, since the advice I’m looking for wouldn’t really change if it were lettuce, apples, or parsley.
        (b) I’d prefer not to have my postings here come up if someone from my job does a search on accommodating my specific allergy in the workplace, since I’m aiming to be known as The One Allergic to That One Vegetable at work, and the easiest one of those things to keep out of search terms is the specific vegetable.

        1. LawBee*

          One way around that is to give really specific but untrue info in the comments. “I work at a boutique accounting firm in Poughkeepsie, we’ve got a large team but I work in a smaller office (dog friendly, yay) and here is my question” when you’re actually at a Fortune 500 company in Detroit with no dogs and a staff of 150.

    4. Deadly Nightshades*

      I would think that would rise to the level of requiring the whole office to ban that food item, similar to offices that go fragrance-free. I believe life-threatening allergies are protected by the ADA.

      Curious if this works out in practice because I never used to have reactions to airborne/steam/being in the same room before but lately I’ve been having mild (itching, etc) reactions and I know from experience where this is going….

  76. Erin*

    I’d suggest bringing your own food to these celebrations. At my work we’ve had a vegetarian and an lactose intolerant person (both who have since left) and currently have a gluten free person. I’ve seen all three bringing salads, fruit, etc. to our monthly pizza parties.

    That clearly signals that you’re fine, you’re not starving, and you’re not not socializing by hiding at your desk.

  77. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Amen! I don’t know why people care so much about other people’s food choices. I don’t eat fish or seafood. No allergies, I just hate it and don’t eat it. Can’t even take bites of it to be polite. You wouldn’t believe the people who have a huge problem with that and make it their mission in life to get me to eat seafood. It’s super annoying. All it accomplishes is that it makes me not want to be around them. Why do they even care? I don’t care what they eat or don’t eat. So strange.

  78. Princesa Zelda*

    I have an alium intolerance (no garlic or onions for me!) and my sister is allergic to capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers etc. spicy. These are extremely prevalent spices, so we both have always been upfront about our dietary restrictions. I always get the “how can you LIVE without GARLIC BREAD???” reaction, but I don’t really mind it as long as they don’t try to feed me garlic bread. Sometimes I have to remind people that I’m not eating xyz because “allergies! Don’t worry about me :)” but overall most people are reasonable about it. My sister regularly brings up cross-contamination concerns and I don’t know of anyone ever being actually offended. Tbh, it’s probably more of a thing since you’re not bringing it up! People might not always remember your allergy if you tell them, but if you don’t, they’re never going to know in the first place.

  79. Punk Rock PA*

    Ugh, I work in healthcare and people still don’t get the allergy thing. I would regularly get questions about why I wasn’t eating x-y-z or they would only order pepperoni pizza, when eating anything but poultry or fish gets me super sick. And then ask why I wasn’t eating it, or tell me that I can just pick it off. Even lard in refried beans is enough to make me sick. But you think that doctors and nurses would be understanding of food allergies/intolerances. And forget about being vegetarian in the town that I work in, it seems to just offend people. I usually go with “no thanks” which then turns into “I’m allergic to that” or “I would, but I’ll have heartburn for three days and it just doesn’t seem worth it” and they’ll shut up until the next food related event.

    1. M&Ms Fix Lots of Problems*

      You would think medical community people would get it, I agree, however the most mean-spirited I don’t believe you came from an anesthesiologist when I was getting an epidural before my first C-section. I’m deathly allergic to seafood (all seafood), which does have medical crossovers (no iodine or betadine for me), it was all OVER my chart (in fact this hospital made my chart a different color to flag my allergy quickly), and dude was going to smear betadine all over my back because he forgot the chlorapreps. Took me almost punching him in the face to get off his duff (and then send somebody else to get his chloroprep kit, poor CNA). I was NOT amused, but he seemed to think I was way too uptight about the whole event.

      (Yes, for those wondering I did file a complaint about him with the hospital.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Wow, what a scummy doctor. He should lose his license for deliberately endangering a patient as…. what, a “screw you”?

        When I was in the hospital, they cheerfully ignored the dietary intolerance noted on my paperwork. Sadly that sort of thing seems to be common.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          It really is. I have no faith in the medical community at all. Most of the women I know, including me, have given up going to doctors because of things like this (and just not doing their jobs, or caring about their jobs, or being able to do their jobs). But it’s amazing how often doctors (and sometimes nurses) just ignore allergies and what the patient is saying, especially when the patient is a woman or minority.

          I’m sorry that happened to both of you and hope those medical personnel get the health care they deserve in return.

  80. Quinalla*

    I couldn’t read the article, but my brother has severe tree nut allergies (though they are improving with age) and my daughter has severe tree nut and peanut allergies. I definitely understand the desire to not have to constantly be bringing it up, but you either don’t eat and potentially come off rude or just bring it up. I’ve been that sister and that parent so many times, it gets exhausting because yeah, not only do you have to make sure to fend off folks who don’t believe in allergies or don’t read labels carefully or whatever, you also get to manage people’s feelings about the whole thing no matter how clear I am, they usually feel bad that they didn’t think to ask or that your kid is going to not eat the cake/cupcake at the party or whatever. It gets really, really obnoxious dealing with it all the time. We’ve come up with some strategies that work better for us than others, Halloween for example she blurts out her allergy to folks and then we tell them if they don’t have anything, we’ll take what they have and then trade her for something safe at home. That way they get to do the giving candy ritual and know that she will get something safe. Seems a little weird, but people love this, so we do it :)

    However, for work, I’d go to your manager and let them know that you have a severe allergy and it is so severe you can’t risk eating anything you didn’t prepare yourself. Ask your manager to spread the word or go talk to the food organizers yourself. If someone gets you food you can’t eat and you are going to have to deal with them in the future, just thank them for their kindness and explain that with your severe allergy, you can’t eat it, but you’ll give it to someone you know, put it in the break room for others, etc. so it won’t go to waste. If it is someone you won’t ever see again, just take the stuff and say thanks and then give it to someone else later.

  81. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    For the people who want to be helpful and offer food but don’t want to run afoul of this land mine, I personally take the three following steps, as both a baker and someone with allergies:

    1) If possible, know the boundaries from the start. My office is tiny so I know that my boss has chocolate as a migraine trigger and the admin is gluten intolerant and one of my coworkers is allergic to almonds. So I don’t make brownies with nuts on top, I make vanilla cupcakes with gluten-free (not almond) flour. I might wait until, say, my chocolate-avoiding boss is on vacation to bring in chocolate cake. I realize that this would be harder with a bigger office or people with stricter allergies, so I also trust that, if I have made a mistake or forgotten someone, steps 2 and 3 will take care of it.

    2) Label everything. I write a note on top that, if I have the time, lists out everything (butter, sugar, eggs, etc.) or at least “contains nuts” or “has wheat flour, not vegan.”

    3) Put it somewhere I don’t have to see it, and outside of the usual “there’s cupcakes in the break room” email, don’t bring it up at all. If people like it, they will tell me. If only three people eat the cupcakes, I won’t know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s not important that everyone gets a cupcake; what’s important is that someone enjoys themselves eating it.

  82. WakeRed*

    So much solidarity. I discovered some food sensitivies in the last year and eating with other people has become a MINEFIELD. It’s nice that some of my colleagues have sensitivies of their own. I manage it in a couple of ways. If I know there is a work-food thing in advance, I will bring something – bring my own lunch, snack, or even dessert. I don’t want to miss out but I also have complicated enough good allergies that sometimes even I mess up! Also, when I say allergies plural or food sensitivies plural – there’s something about it being many that I think interests people less, ha. Sometimes I just straight-up lie and say, I’m not that hungry, if I don’t feel like discussing my medical history. And changing the topic works every time, even if you’re still talking about food/drink, just to move them along from being preoccupied with your not eating.

    I love your “If I didn’t bring it, I can’t eat it” rule of thumb and might even try saying that to someone next time they insist I have some cake.

  83. Michaela Westen*

    I also have food allergies and it works best if I bring my own food. There aren’t any snack foods I can eat, and ordering in restaurants is tricky.
    I’ve had good results by saying “no thanks – too many allergies”. I bring my lunch every day so when they want to have a group lunch, they order in and I eat the lunch I brought.
    I haven’t had too much trouble with this approach. I say it a few times and they move on.
    Occasionally someone is interested in details and I tell them what I’m allergic to, and it stops there because no one knows how to handle it. I’m different from OP in this way. If given the opportunity, I will hold forth about the medical establishment refusing to deal with allergies like mine, and food processors…
    At a previous job they gave me flowers instead of treats. They knew I love flowers. :)

  84. Not Rebee*

    As someone with varied food allergies (standards, like nuts and shellfish, but also randoms like melons and avocado), I typically just say that “I have a lot of random allergies so I try not to eat things when I don’t know exactly what they are” and that mostly works for people. It conveys that it’s a somewhat long story, why I’m not eating, and doesn’t suggest that if they probe they’d be able to solve the problem for next time so typically I don’t get asked more. The most frequent issue I run into is that any time your office changes the food orderer (even temporarily) you end up with food you can’t eat – like the time two weeks ago we got catered food for the office and literally everything but the salad had peanuts in it or on it (and the salad had walnuts) because Executive Assistant Lady had ordered it instead of Receptionist Dude who usually does it. And because I’ve got so many random ones, it’s almost impossible to expect anyone but my own mother to remember them all…

    I know the burden would be decent, but I’d love it if catering companies started including common allergen ingredients (like food labels do) for their foods on the little placards along with what the dish actually is. Especially because I know I pass up food due to the uncertainty factor that I would actually be able to eat

  85. anon for this*

    I’ve been eating a modified diet for several years now to minimize symptoms of a health condition. I don’t particularly have advice to add, except to say that when someone says some version of “I’m fine feeding myself, please don’t go to the trouble,” this should be respected even if your intention is to be inclusive. It’s out of fatigue for figuring out how to shoehorn out dietary needs around the social template of the moment. Because sometimes I’d rather just bring my own leftovers or eat before or after than think of an order that works for me, just because everyone else is eating take-out/delivery or what have you.

  86. Former Employee*

    This reminds me of those people who are still annoyed that the airlines don’t hand out those little bags of peanuts any more because some people are so sensitive that all of that peanut dust in the air can cause a reaction.

    They just don’t believe that someone can have an allergic reaction to a food they didn’t actually eat.

    This seems to be one of things where an unfortunately large percent of people believe certain things and wish not to be confused by being presented with scientific facts.

  87. CatLady*

    I have severe food allergies too. And at first I allowed others to order for me, but it became too risky as my allergies got worse. I started rsvp’ing to meetings with no food. And brought my own. Then smaller meetings they would order food for me anyway, despite me saying none for me. It took me literally leaving it there for about 3-4 meetings before they stopped. I did address it directly with my boss prior to the meetings so it’s not like I was being rude by leaving it there. I did one time give a list of the questions I asked each time I eat out (when I said that the restaurant they ordered from was pretty safe for me). In the end they wanted me to order for myself just in case. So it is also preferable for me to order for myself, or bring for myself. If there’s a treat brought and I recognize the brand and there’s an ingredient list available I might eat it too but that’s super rare.

    So at the end of the day what I think we all want is to just be allowed to make our choices without anyone making a huge deal of it. Good luck OP! I hope you get left alone soon. I know that feeling. Awkward feeling of look I’m not rejecting you I just don’t want to use my epi pen and go to the ER today.

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