Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Worry-Free Community

The first Worry-Free Dinners event was amazing!

As Allergic Girl’s assistant and the WFD administrator, I was bit worried about my presence at the first event because (gasp) I am not allergic.

I’m sympathetic certainly. Many people I love, including my sister and some dear friends, have food allergies and food intolerances. I’m privy to their worries on a regular basis. I’m only too happy to let them choose restaurants where they’ll have the best chance of having their needs accommodated.

But I can go anywhere and eat anything.

If I ask what’s in a dish or how it’s made, my questions come from curiosity and taste preferences, not because of the possibility that eating something could set off a string of uncomfortable, painful or even life-threatening outcomes.

So in this new safe dining space, the first Worry-Free Dinners event, one whose creation I was so happy to be a part of, how would I actually fit in?

How would the other diners feel to have me there?

And how would I feel being the odd woman out?

Introductions and conversations started easily; from the first hellos at Lilli and Loo, everyone had something to say. But we were talking about our commutes, crowded subways after long days at work. These experiences I knew first-hand. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when the real issues were addressed, the reasons that these diners came together.

With Sloane’s guidance, very soon everyone at the table was sharing their food and health issues: stories of drawn-out diagnoses, chronic pain, helpful and unhelpful medical professionals, helpful and unhelpful friends and family members. I’m an empathetic person to begin with. Still, with each detail the group revealed I gained a greater understanding, like: oh, I’d heard about this. But that? That really sucks!

In this safe space the group felt so comfortable so quickly, so happy to be with others who could relate. Everyone wanted to share. And everyone found a common connection - even me. Because as soon as the diners sat down together, we formed a group of people who cared enough to listen to what those around us had to say and who wanted to understand what each other’s experiences have been. With or without food allergies, I was a part of this group.

What did I takeaway from this first WFD event? I’m more acutely aware of the issues someone with food allergies faces at every meal away from home. I feel more confident to help my sister talk to a chef, to ask the questions that are important to her. I can do more talking too, to help ease the communication issues that might arise. And I know I can continue to support my friends, those who I’ve eaten with on a regular basis for years, and the new ones I made as part of the Worry-Free Dinners community at our first Worry-Free Dinners event.

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