Cool Tools: Allergy and Health Translation Cards

In restaurants in foreign countries, it’s one thing to mime the animal you’d like to have cooked up and served to you; it’s another to act out food preparation preferences like “No Cilantro.” And even if there’s a handy phrase section in your travel guide, often times you won’t say it correctly. Even when traveling through China, the word I know for cilantro isn’t always how other Chinese people might say cilantro, and our dishes still come with the forlorn herb sprinkled throughout.

But if there’s something of greater and graver concern, such as a peanut allergy, it’s fairly difficult to convey a peanut which makes no sound or movement like a cow might. Enter Select Wisely’s Allergy Translation Cards. On the order form on its Web site, you can choose from a menu of foods and languages into which you’d like the phrase “I am allergic to [food]” translated. And if visiting a country in which that particular allergy might be ignored, there are even Strongly Worded cards to drill the point into a waiter’s head: “If I eat this food or any food that has been cooked with it or touched it, I will need immediate medical attention.”

The cards also list items that may be curbed based on religious practices, such as alcohol and pork. There are even cards for health care purposes, such as “I am diabetic” or “I am allergic to penicillin” which would be useful in my case, since it actually was administered to me as a child in Beijing only to have me break out in a vicious rash and draw the allery conclusion; of course, my parents forgot to tell me about this incident and I took penicillin a couple decades later for my wisdom teeth and had the same rash appear and the doctor warning me I could die the next time.

I think Select Wisely could benefit more by producing cards for foods we hate. Enough people dislike cilantro the way I do that there’s even a Web site called Ihatecilantro.com which details the genetic background of why people develop a gag reflex to it,  but Mexicans will continue to put it in all their cooking unless I pull out a threatening card explaining I could die from eating it (I probably wouldn’t, except that I just wouldn’t eat it and will die from starving). Jon would wave the “I can’t eat olives” card vehemently around Italy, Greece and Turkey. Until then!

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