Food for Thought

No matter whether it’s a party for the big game or a birthday celebration, people love to eat. With so much of American culture and gatherings themed around food, it can be difficult for people with severe food allergies to find a seat at the table. 

But, there are ways party goers and hosts can make things easier on their allergy-suffering friends and family, and everyone can join the fun.

UMKC alumna Mary Beth Eversole (B.M. ’04) and host, creator and executive producer of Allergy Actress Cooking, was diagnosed with severe food allergies in 2010. For a time after her diagnosis, Eversole, a voice-over artist and musician, says she lost a huge part of her social life. She would eat before getting together with friends and family. But this inevitably led to questions like ‘why aren’t you eating?’ and when people would learn about her allergies, they would apologize for eating in front of her.

Eversole’s quest for food that she could actually eat without getting sick led her to books, websites, cookbooks, and, eventually, the realization that she would have to cook everything from scratch at home to feed herself. She watched YouTube and the Food Network nonstop to learn cooking techniques and became the go-to expert for dozens of people when they learned about her struggles.

Eventually, the opera-singer-turned-actress used her food allergy diagnosis as a real chance to make the proverbial lemonade: a cooking show that taught viewers to make food that was healthy, allergy adaptable and delicious. Hoping to help people who are newly diagnosed with food allergies and to bring them back to the community of food and to their family and friends, Allergy Actress Cooking was born. 

“I was trying to figure out how to make myself more visible as an actress and my acting coach said, ‘well what makes you stand out on set?’ I said well that’s easy: my food allergies. Everyone talks to me about my food allergies. And he said, ‘Maybe you should consider doing a show about that.’”

Allergy Actress Cooking is Eversole’s way of bringing allergy-friendly foods to everyone at the table and she’s full of advice for allergy-sufferers and their friends and family alike. Here are her tips for hosting an allergy-friendly dinner party.

  1. If you are invited to a dinner party and your friend wants to know what they can cook for you, offer to help them cook, especially if you have a gluten allergy because you have to be so careful with cross-contamination. A lot of people who have food allergies want to be present when their food is made because it’s scary. Or as the host, share the menu. If they can’t have anything you list, offer to make a dish they can or ask them to bring a dish.
  2. If you are going to make food for someone who is allergic, make sure you aren’t using any of the utensils you’ve used to cook other things. Clean another area in your kitchen and don’t prep anything else there.
  3. Check with the person about what specific brands they can have. If you’re baking a pie, ask them what brand. Don’t call the day of. Call at least a day or two ahead of time and ask ‘how can I cook for you?’ Don’t take offense, just say I completely understand.
  4. Have something other than food as an activity. Play a game or watch a movie. Do something that isn’t just food related. Make it fun for everyone.

“You have to be your own advocate. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t feel that you are being high maintenance. You are taking care of your health,” Eversole says.

You can check out Allergy Actress Cooking on YouTube.