Allergic? Be Prepared, But Don't Stay Home

After presenting his card at the restaurant in China, Robert Haru Fisher gave very specific instructions to the waiter on cooking his food. The waiter said he understood before going to the kitchen.

But the waiter didn't understand, Fisher knows, because shortly after his meal arrived, he had to be rushed to the emergency room.

The card Fisher presents at restaurants throughout the world — as he has done as a travel writer for nearly 50 years — is not his business card, but a card noting his allergies to peanuts and peas, written in the native tongue.

"Many cases abroad, I presented my card in the local language, and that's the first time they've ever heard of it," said Fisher.

While his work as a travel writer makes him a trailblazer for tourists looking for the best places to go, the fact that he has done so despite his food allergies make him a pioneer for a growing number of people who suffer the same ailments.

With 12 million Americans living with food allergies — and 3 million of them children, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) — many are now globetrotting while dealing with their own dietary limitations. And by doing so, they've picked up a number of tricks to help them make these trips smoothly.

While the rise in food allergies has led to a wider awareness of them, Fisher remembers a time when a waiter in Key West told him that his allergies were all in his head.

"I thought of how many times I'd been hospitalized and wondered if it was still in my head or not," said Fisher.

Fisher still works as a travel writer, currently as a columnist and contributing editor for Frommer's. He said that he has had his allergy cards translated into 35-40 languages, including Lithuanian, Polish, Thai, Vietnamese and Czech. Still, he estimates that he goes to the emergency room once every four or five years.

Speaking Up

Those problems have led him to be cautious, but they haven't kept Fisher from eating out, whether it be abroad or at the Chinese restaurant around the corner from his Manhattan apartment, where he is known as "Mr. Peanut" and where he still presents his allergy card as he would at any other restaurant.

"I always like it when the cook comes out," he said. "It's a good sign that they're taking it seriously."

That kind of personal attention is appreciated as much by a well-traveled writer as it is by a mother taking her allergic son out to eat for the first time.

Gina Clowes of Cranberry Township, Pa., remembers taking her son, Daniel, then 3, to his first restaurant meal at Disneyland's Grand Californian. Daniel is allergic to milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts.

"The chef came out and took our order. No rolled eyes. I had his full attention," Clowes, who founded the Web site AllergyMoms.com, said. "I was in heaven watching my 3-year-old take part in this 'normal' part of life that most of us take for granted."

Disneyland and Disney World have been featured in a number of magazines for people with allergies because of its accommodative policies for them, as well as vegetarians and people who keep kosher. (Disclosure: ABC News is owned by The Walt Disney Co.)

Caroline Barnes of Brookline, Mass., founder of Brookline Families with Food Allergies (BroFFA.org), said that Disney's policy is the reason why she is currently planning a trip to Disney World with her family; two of her three children have food allergies.

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