A ‘life or death’ decision is not usually associated with going out for a meal with friends, trying a new cuisine or browsing the array of sandwiches on offer in any high-street chain. However, it is part of a conscious decision on the mind of anyone, like me, who carries an EpiPen in their backpack or coat pocket, just in case my judgment alludes me.
Nonetheless, I’m not asking for sympathy because I accommodate my nut allergy into my routine. Quite frankly, life is far worse for some people, and my allergy, luckily, is fairly mild.
Yet, this little fact about me has been on my mind for the past week when I have seen my mundane nut allergy all over the headlines. What does it actually mean to be one of an increasing portion of the population? In 2017, fish, shellfish and nut allergies were amongst the most common type of allergy and more than 25,000 people were admitted to hospital in England for allergy-related illness between 2015 and 2016. This was a third higher when compared to data from 2012.
I’ve never considered my asthma to be a political issue, or seen it up for debate in society in the same way allergies have been. Yet, the implicit trust women like Celia Marsh, or the 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse placed in Pret-A-Manger, when they made the fatal decision to buy their lunch from a well-known and respected chain, is what makes this national conversation so essential.
Almost by spectacular coincidence, the Duchess of York was on the same flight as Natasha and her parents. The Duchess, subsequently, attended Natasha’s funeral and has demanded that food retailers improve their allergy rating.
Yet, I want to ask why this is all being fought out in expensive legal machinations and grief stricken interviews on This Morning? Allergies are nothing new, yet grieving families are having to desperately plead for labelling, which appears as common sense. The Food Standards Agency has launched an ‘#EasyToAsk campaign’, designed to encourage young people, and allergy sufferers, to feel more confident making enquiries at food establishments about what they’re buying. It is quite telling that it has got to this stage.
Most surprising to me was the poster of a young woman stating she “isn’t being difficult” when she asks about allergens. In an era where plastic straws have essentially been outlawed in the space of a few months, why are we still having to remind food providers of the basic need to be open and transparent about their food preparation processes? Since when have sesame seeds become a secret ingredient?
I want to ask, why does this loophole even exist? The 2014 Food Regulations Act stipulates that food outlets such as Pret do not have to cite allergens on packages individually when they are prepared on-site. Even though they are sold alongside allergy-labelled food that’s been pre-packaged and delivered to the store. This causes obvious confusion to customers, who may make the obvious assumption that what isn’t labelled is safe to eat.
Can this really be explained as a simple oversight from a company which proudly boasts 500 stores worldwide? What does it even serve from a commercial standpoint? At the end of the day, the uncomfortable conclusion allergy sufferers have to draw is just one of ignorance. An ignorance that has found it’s way into large corporations like Prêt. It has been a week of reckoning for those, like me, who can sometimes be a bit complacent about what we eat, and where we eat, for the sake of being polite and leading a normal life.
Despite that, language such as ‘tragedy’, ‘fatal decision’, and ‘complacency’ would be more appropriate to an article about gun violence as opposed to an article about sandwiches, coffee shops and customer service.
Featured image credit: Grelens Group