March 10, 2023 | OPINION | By AJ Fabbri, Opinion Editor
On a frigid Friday night near the start of February, I, and almost 20 others, gathered for a friend’s birthday party. We were about to embark on a legendary journey to Olive Garden, the anticipation of which brought back magical memories of sinking my teeth into the chain’s famous breadsticks. Sadly, I would never experience that magic again.
Shortly before I returned to school, I learned of some unfortunate news that would forever change my interactions with the food market, everywhere from King Soopers to the Rastall Dining Hall to, yes, even Olive Garden.
It all began back in the summer of 2021. At this point, I had known for years that I was allergic to sesame. I found out through a long series of reactions that my doctor characterized as “mild anaphylaxis,” because they consisted of common symptoms of anaphylaxis, minus being unable to breathe.
I had never needed Epi-Pens in my life, but my doctor thought it would be a good idea to prescribe them to me in case my sesame reactions ever evolved to include suffocation. Especially since I was about to leave for college, I agreed that his assessment was reasonable. I had been considering allergy testing by then, so I decided to visit an allergist a few weeks after receiving my Epi-Pens.
Just as I had suspected, the test proved that I was allergic to sesame. Very allergic. I underwent an allergy prick test (please excuse my lack of scientific knowledge, I’m a political economy major), which involved small injections of allergens under the upper layers of skin on my arm. If my immune system reacted to an allergen, a bump would form, and the doctor would gauge the strength of the reaction.
The doctor first injected histamine, a chemical that the immune system releases in allergic reactions, as the control test. This was supposed to result in a bigger bump than any other allergen injection. It did not. Somehow, sesame managed to form a larger bump than histamine.
I asked the allergist why I was fine with sesame oil even though I was so allergic to sesame, and he explained that the heat from creating sesame oil denatures whatever protein triggers my immune response. Because of this, I only really needed to worry about physical sesame seeds and tahini-based products like hummus. It was easy to avoid, but I had to remain vigilant in case food manufacturers tried to sneak sesame into something that did not call for it.
After this allergy test, I learned of a new law that Congress and President Biden had passed, which declared sesame as the ninth major allergen and would go into effect in 2023. I was very excited about the law, which would mandate bold labeling of sesame on ingredient lists, making it much easier for me to avoid. I just had to hold out until 2023.
Thanks to the beauty of laissez-faire capitalism, the law that was supposed to make my life easier made everything worse.
To avoid being sued for cross contamination with a major allergen, nearly every major bread manufacturer in the U.S. decided to add sesame flour to all their products. Cleaning up manufacturing processes would simply be too expensive. These corporations had multiple years of notice, so they have no valid excuse to do this, save for preserving a negligible percentage of their profit margins.
Back at Olive Garden, as my friends eagerly dug into the delicious-smelling bread sticks, I sat there hungry and defeated. I asked our waiter to confirm if what I had read about the chain adding sesame flour to their breadsticks was true, and she said that it was. Thankfully, Olive Garden did not manage to put sesame into their pasta as well. It was a truly sad day for my life with a sesame allergy, and I quickly discovered that its effects were much more far reaching than Olive Garden.
Thanks to corporate greed, small amounts of sesame are now in countless foods that used to be no problem for me. I quickly found myself relating to the experiences that Marynn Krull outlined in her Catalyst piece, “Poison in My System,” which I highly recommend reading and covers the struggles that Colorado College students with allergies face when trying to use our Bon Appétit meal plans.
As Rastall, the hamburger buns that I would use to make chicken sandwiches now contain sesame. Although they do not and have never had sesame seeds on them, they now have sesame in them. Bon Appétit was unable to assure me that the chicken tenders, a Rastall staple when all hope of finding edible food at other stations was lost, were free of sesame.
Last week, I had an experience straight out of Krull’s piece. At Benji’s, my orders had consisted of a chicken sandwich without the bun (sad, I know, but a solution nonetheless). It was the only item on the Benji’s menu that I knew was free of sesame. This time, the cashier refused to add “no bun” to the order, which had posed zero problems in the past, and I was left feeling judged and without dinner.
I can’t eat much food at CC dining options anymore (The Preserve is an exception). This has even impacted my social life, as I don’t see people who I used to interact with at dining halls nearly as much as I used to. There is no way that I will tolerate being on CC’s full meal plan next year. It does not work for me anymore.
There seems to be no escaping the great sesame apocalypse of 2023. The mini bagels that I used to eat nonstop? They now have sesame. Sesame-free bagels? Sesame. Wendy’s food? Sesame. Chick-Fil-A? Sesame. Grocery store muffins? Sesame.
All non-sesame buns that I have encountered since the start of the year now contain sesame. I used to seek out non-sesame buns because, you know, they didn’t have sesame. Now they do. What’s the point?
In 2023, the only fast-food joints that I know have safe bread-based options for me are Starbucks and McDonald’s, which I have started to call “The Golden Arches of Salvation.” Ironically, despite its explicit use of sesame, Asian cuisine now feels much safer for me than American food because it does not involve sneaking sesame into things that in no way call for or benefit from its use.
This is what I would call a market failure of proportions more cataclysmic than even global warming (maybe not quite).
In short, f*ck the food industry. Seriously.