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Food Allergy

Dating with Allergies, a Tricky Business

Finding A Safe Dating Haven

At Zero8, a restaurant in Montreal’s trendy Latin Quarter, couples sit on the terrace on a balmy evening, sharing bottles of wine or quaffing gluten-free beers as they enjoy everything from garlicky bruscetta to Thai stir-fries, pasta and thick-cut French fries. This could be any bistro in this resto-rich city, complete with a “Z”-shaped, burnished wood bar, moody recessed lighting indoors and a pony-tailed, bespectacled owner who bustles around, making sure everything is perfect. But it isn’t.

Zero8 is so named because its menu is free of the eight main allergens: seafood (fish and shellfish), peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, soya, eggs and wheat or any other grain that contains gluten, such as barley, oat, rye and triticale. Its kitchen staff is specially trained in preparing and handling food.

While there can be no 100 per cent guarantee of an allergen-free atmosphere, patrons are delighted and relieved. Alexis Diamond, a 36-year-old freelance translator and writer who’s allergic to wheat, peanuts, soy and dairy, is here for the first time with her boyfriend, software developer ­George Babics.

Over a bowl of gluten-free noodles with a sundried tomato-basil sauce, she says she wants the place to become a destination date for the two of them. “For me to be able to have this, well, we’ll be back again and again.”

While Zero8 is unique on the continent in its level of accommodation for food restrictions, it would be smart to find a couple of restaurants in your community where you trust the kitchen to prepare you a safe meal. Then they can become places to suggest to a date. Depending on the allergies or intolerances, such eateries are not always easy to locate.

The impetus for Zero8 arose from co-owner Dominique Dion’s own bad experiences eating out. He was getting sick in the best Montreal restaurants before his celiac disease was diagnosed. Tired, bloated, suffering eczema and frustrated that there was no restaurant for people like him, he and some partners opened Zero8 in February 2009. He acknowledges that keeping the premises as allergen- and gluten-free is a full-time job. “It’s a challenge when we go see suppliers,” he says. “People don’t understand. They’ll ask me why I’m talking to them about allergies. And I explain to them very carefully why.”

Teens Need To Think Not Drink

“Why?” is a question teenagers ask their parents all the time. Or, more commonly, “why not?” as they lobby for greater freedoms. But with their peers,  teens sometimes don’t say anything at all for fear of not fitting in. For those with allergies, that can have disastrous consequences. They’ll want to tag along to Tim Hortons or Dairy Queen because their friends are going, and need to be overtly reminded of the allergy risks.

Sage Lachman, a 15-year-old ace drummer from Vancouver with a peanut allergy, has even been to concerts where she notes: “It seems like everyone is making out.

“If you’re under the influence of drugs and alcohol, you’re not thinking about your allergy to peanuts,” Sage says, sounding older than her years. “The best thing to do if you go to one of these social events is don’t get drunk and don’t make out.”

Dr. Scott Sicherer, a leading researcher at the Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, makes the same point to all of his adolescent and teen patients. Since dating safely is part of food allergy management in general, he doesn’t lecture, but rather engages his patients in a discussion that tackles high-risk topics head on, from drugs to kissing and more.

Next: Would You Make Someone You Care for Sick?