Working at a bakery and living with food allergies has taught me to practice compassion through food
A number of years ago, I “grew out” of a nut allergy. I’m not entirely certain how my body rid itself of the allergy, but after three months of testing, it was confirmed that I was, in fact, no longer allergic. I’m beyond grateful, especially since this is very, very rare, and I feel for those who live with food restrictions.
We need food to survive, and when food and the mere act of eating can be scary — well, the world becomes a frightening and awkward place.
I’ve heard friends say, “If you have so many allergies, why leave your house?!” When I was still allergic, I attempted to casually ask guys not to eat any nut or peanut product before our dates. I always felt weird by assuming we might be kissing later, which made me hate the allergy even more.
I absolutely ADORE food. I was lucky to have parents who introduced me to diverse foods, and encouraged me to try as many foods as possible.
So when I came across an opportunity to apply for a job at a bakery, I jumped on it. Get paid to be around food? Sign me up!
Among my many jobs, I have a part-time job at a Toronto bakery, Bunner’s — the first in the city to cater to a vegan, gluten-free diet.
My bosses have created a world where people whose allergies leave them with no choice but to eat a certain way can experience the pleasures of picking up a cupcake or indulging in a cinnamon bun. It may sound silly, but I get such a rush of joy when a customer realizes that anything in the shop is safe for them to eat.
When you have a food allergy, you hear no a lot. You put yourself in a protective bubble and convince yourself that carob is tasty. So, I totally get it when I see a person’s eyes light up as they bite into a treat. A door that was previously closed gets pushed wide open. And what better door to push open than one to a bakery!
A little boy came into the bakery recently, eyes wide as he made a beeline for the cupcakes. His mom explained that bakeries had never been a safe space for him because of his numerous allergies, and he always wondered what they were like inside.
I leaned over the counter, and I told him that he could have ANY cupcake in the store. After a moment’s thought, he picked out a vanilla cupcake. As I handed it to him, he proudly declared that this was his cupcake — it was the cutest thing I had ever seen. And as his family left the store, he turned to all of us in the bakery, and thanked us.
My boss told me once that she does this work for moments like that. As someone who was previously asked “Why do you leave your house?” when telling waiters of my restrictions, I know what’s it like to be made to feel small over something you have no control over.
I host numerous dinner parties for family and friends because I love feeding people.
A meal is one of the best things you can offer a person; food is this amazing connector, and gathering around a table to communicate is so good for the soul. Over the years, more of my friends have discovered their own allergies and intolerances, and I’ve made it my mission to throw inclusive dinner parties — I never want to make them feel small and embarrassed. “Bring a favorite wine,” I tell them, “but let me handle the food.” That may result in some panic from a friend who has multiple food allergies, but it allows me to explore new ingredients or a completely new dish altogether. I get to discover something new about food, which is a gift they unintentionally give me.
What the planet needs now is even more inclusion and compassion, and we can practice that through food. Sharing food helps us tell our stories and learn more about each other.
Cupcakes for everyone!