I recently caught the tail end of an interview on CBC. A medical student was lamenting the fact that as as an individual with a disability, she was merely tolerated in her field; that her peers (and the system) still had a long way to go when it came to acceptance and accommodation.

As a food allergy mom, I couldn’t help but see a parallel. When it comes to the food and restaurant industry, people with food allergies are tolerated at best. At worst? We are forgotten, neglected.

Whether it’s the lack of accessible allergen information, feigned or real ignorance about a dish’s ingredients, or the sweeping “may contain” warnings that make everything off limits, many a food allergy parent will agree: this industry doesn’t always make it easy for our families to eat.

With the exception of some exceptional allergy-friendly spots, it can be difficult to find a restaurant that welcomes us with open arms. We’ve all seen the eyerolls and heard the exasperated sighs.

I understand that there’s a lot of fear here. Fear of the unknown, fear of being held responsible, fear of that scary word (liability) that gets thrown around whenever the topic of food allergies comes up.

But all this fear makes me wonder why this industry wasn’t sold on the motion to make epinephrine mandatory in Toronto restaurants. Couldn’t it have saved some lives and saved their butts at the same time?

Sadly, the motion was deferred (indefinitely), so the food allergy community knows we aren’t going to see EpiPens tucked in beside a restaurant’s first aid kit anytime soon. But there are other ways to make establishments both inclusive and safe. Allergen charts on menus and websites. Allergy safety procedures in the kitchen. Mandatory food allergy training for staff. Accommodations when it comes to substitution requests.

A lot of work? Sure. But consider this: When a restaurant is “allergy-friendly,” it opens itself up to a niche market that is not only loyal, but remarkably good at spreading the word after a positive experience. From a marketing perspective, it is well worth the effort.

Perhaps thanks to the Culinary Institute of America (and their allergy-friendly syllabus), more and more chefs in New York have begun to begun to see food allergies as a creative challenge rather than an inconvenience, resulting in restaurants that are allergy aware, inclusive and accommodating.

This small shift in thinking hugely impacts an entire community of people. 1 in 13, to be exact. And that number only multiplies when you add to it their colleagues, friends and loved ones. Do the math—that’s suddenly a whole lot of people.

Toronto restaurateurs, I challenge you to shift your thinking, get creative* and open your doors to a community of people that is hungry for allergy-friendly spaces.

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