Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Please RSVP With Your Dietary Restrictions


There was a time when I loved reading the wedding announcements in the Sunday Times.  What’s odd about this is that I have never been particularly wedding-y but I enjoyed reading about how people met, looking at the photo to see if the couple seemed “evenly matched”, hearing whether these strangers had married or divorced parents. It’s amazing what you can surmise form a couple of paragraphs. A few years ago I realized that many of those taking the plunge were younger than me. All of the brides and bridegrooms (weird term) were five, seven sometimes over ten years younger and then the wedding pages started to depress me. So I moved onto the “Modern Love” column and only glance over at “Weddings/Celebrations”, hooray for the rise in gay weddings. On July 1, an article in Sunday Styles caught my eye before I could turn to “Modern Love”.  It was called “The Picky Eater Who Came To Dinner.

The main premise of the article is that people adhering to all different eating regimes (you notice I didn’t say diet…yet) can make socializing a challenge. “Our appetites are stratified by an ever-widening array of restrictions: gluten free, vegan, sugar free, low fat, low sodium, no carb, no dairy, meatless, wheatless macrobiotic, probiotic, antioxidant, sustainable, local and raw.” While I would argue that probiotic and antioxidant were added so that the author could make her list longer (who calls themselves probiotic?) the point is that this is a lot to think about if you’re the one hosting.

The first question is whether it’s up to the host to cater to everyone’s restrictions or preferences. I always feel that guests need to air on the side of not making waves but the article suggests “the locus of responsibility has moved from the eater to the hostess.” I’m not sure if I agree with that “locus shift” but what happens if the host asks about your eating? How much should we divulge? I know the stress eating around a nutritionist can evoke. If I ever said “ I don’t eat wheat, I only eat organic produce, wild fish and grass fed meat friends would rightfully run the other way. I think it’s fair game to state any allergy and give one “no” if asked “I don’t eat meat” or “I can’t have gluten” shouldn’t be off putting. It’s good to follow it up with “but I’ll be fine with anything”, even if untrue, or “please do not worry about me, I would never have mentioned unless you asked.” Manners and healthy eating can coexist.

For me, restaurants are a different case. I cannot tell you how gracious and knowledgeable chefs can be. From gluten free pasta at Maialino to a tuna burger prepared sans wheat at Atlantic Grill, honoring a dietary request goes a long way for customers and is somewhat expected.  Whether at someone’s home or out your eating regime, rules or diet (ha!) shouldn’t get in the way of you or your dinner companions having a good time.  People will have plenty discuss after you say goodnight, who wants to be remembered as picky? And the way things are going it’s only a matter of time before our eating preferences make the wedding announcements. Sally Smith, a vegan from Vermont, and Paul Perello, paleo from Portland, were married today…now that’s modern love.
Do you inform a host what you do or do not eat? Do you think that’s acceptable or rude? Are restaurants different? Do you read marriage announcements in the newspaper?

37 comments:

  1. love this. Since I'm the consummate hostess this really struck a chord with me. It's definitely challenging trying to make sure there's "food for everyone" but I agree with you, those who have restrictions shouldn't make a huge deal about it. I usually try to get something that'll appeal to everyone. I have had friends bring their own foods if they're literally allergic to everything but, otherwise, going with the flow and recognizing what can be eaten out of what's served makes for a much more relaxed communal dining experience!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think that's a good point Shari, given a spread of food everyone can usually find what they need and ask questions to clarify. Curious if you ask your guests if there's anything they don't eat

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great FOOD for thought! This topic has always been so intriguing to me because on the one hand I think that food should be able to be very personal and people shouldn't question other people's choices unless asked. I am stealing this line btw: "please do not worry about me, I would never have mentioned unless you asked."

    I am struck by a thought after reading this; or a question rather, is this conundrum specific to US? In my (rather modest) travel experience I was surprised by how blown away colleagues/hosts were when I told them I didn't eat gluten (I used 'allergic' but that was just to keep explanations simple). They seemed unaccustomed to this sort of concept and most people I saw just ate up anything that was served, fat and thin and allergenic alike. Same in previous job which involved travel to a different country. Sometimes I think we are a little messed up about food over here.
    As for restaurant dining vs being hostessed, I am more likely to be specific about my requirements when I am paying for food and more flexible when I am being graciously served in ones home.

    ReplyDelete
  4. On the other hand....I guess I only have one hand.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have a lot of restrictions in my diet, and I am always upfront about it when I go to someone's house. Basically what I say is that I can't eat many things, but they won't kill me so make whatever and I'll be fine! I always eat something before I go to someone's house, and I bring something that I can eat (and that can be shared with everyone). I think it's perfectly fine to tell a host if there are things you can't eat, but just as long as you don't make it too complicated and aren't rude about it. Some people get really nervous about stuff like that, and the host/hostess should enjoy the process, not be terrified of it. You know??
    Great topic Lauren.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting Gina, I wonder if the "info" or specifics reduces the host's nerves. And yes, seems approach is everything. You're "I'll be fine" is very different than saying "will there be things for me to eat?" And I love the semi-selfish food bringing. I'm a big "crudite for all" but really for me fan. Shush.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Interesting Cameo what you bring up about things being personal. I have no issue sticking to what I feel is best for me to eat and choose to keep much of this to myself. I am sure many of our food choices and particular requests are more common in certain parts of the country. The article had an interesting section on why some people choose to follow certain regimes. Paying for food versus not is a great distinction too. Well said.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ha, I like your "hand".

    ReplyDelete
  9. To answer your last question first, I've barley read the front section of the newspaper for several months now, so, nope, I don't read the wedding section! As for dietary restrictions, if someone has an allergy or doesn't eat gluten due to celiac disease, then, absolutely, yes, they should inform the host (or restaurant) I don't think the host should have to ask them though. My friends are all super accommodating with my gluten free diet, and if we are going somewhere new, I will explain that I can't eat gluten, but I also say that I'm happy to being my own food (plus I always at something before going out.).

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is actually really funny because I just got back from a lentil tour in Saskatoon with 15 dietitians. We had received an email about our dietary restrictions before the trip, I replied that I didn't have any. I would consider what I have to be dietary "preferences" but not restrictions, because from a health standpoint, I can eat anything and feel fine. But that wasn't the case for the bus-load of RDs with us. It was quite funny to see the chef at Monday's restaurant joke about the menu he had to prepare to cater all of our gluten-free, grain-free, no red-meat, no trout etc needs. Eating around an RD can be stressful for some, but eating with 15 colleagues is another dynamic altogether! Thx for the post, made me smile

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ah this is SUCH a conundrum. I usually don't inform a host, figuring I will simply not eat what I don't want to, but imagine their embarrassment when they find out that NOTHING is edible to me, or a "oh why didn't you tell me?!" Then THEY feel bad, and I feel even worse than I might have had I gone ahead and forewarned them of my dietary preferences.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What are your dos/don'ts? That is a conundrum when you get "why didn't you tell me", ouch. Perhaps if the list is extensive give a host a brief/polite summary especially if a sit down dinner where it's obvious what you're eating or not eating?

    ReplyDelete
  13. No trout? Is that like "probiotic"? Maybe, with all RDs there was a comfort level in listing restrictions. Or maybe, there is almost a status-y thing in being careful about what you eat, just a guess. Leave it to you to be easy peasy, ha. And lentil tour, what does that involve?

    ReplyDelete
  14. EA, everyone knows you don't need read the front section in order to read the fun stuff. Interesting, so you see allergy as different, I sort of do too. I have a wheat "allergy" but since symptoms aren't life threatening (eyes swell etc) it almost feels different/less legit. Sounds like you have nice friends, sometimes I get the eye roll- sadly more from my family (mom/sisters).

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have never been the type to tell a host what I will or will not eat. I would rather have a good time at the party than be called out as the picky one (that happens enough). If I KNOW that it will be all "junk" I try to eat something ebfore I go (and then pick at a few things) OR bring something that will fill me up myself OR I'll just stick with a couple side dishes and pray they have a salad. Or there are times that I just eat whatever (nobody's perfect).
    I am curious though about your wheat-free choice. Did you ever write a post about this? I have been contemplating this myself lately and would love to read your opinion. Also, any views to share on on probiotic supplementation, especially in infants?

    ReplyDelete
  16. I truly think that if someone is going to graciously host us for a meal, we should in turn graciously accept the food they are offering...I eat very healthful food but have found that I can easily eat modestly if the meal is something I might not fix myself...now, allergies, that's a different story! If you are going to break out in hives because of gluten or dairy, then by all means share that with your hostess! You can even offer to bring something for yourself so as to not inconvenience your host. It's all common sense! :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I think there are subtleties though, what if you don't break out in hives but you have gI issues from certain foods, or what if bringing something isn't well received? Or what if, as someone below mentioned, there isn't a food there you eat (for gluten free or vegan etc)? It gets tricky...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh, it definitely gets tricky! I went to a BBQ the other day and the only thing I felt comfortable eating at that time of the day was a plate full of fruit. I was very discreet about the whole thing and the hosts were not offended. A person with sensitivities should definitely avoid something that could make them feel badly. I personally handle each and every situation based upon where I am going and who my host will be. Different situations call for different solutions :) I have always been able to find a balance wherever I go :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Agree, I think the status-y thing had to do with a lot of it. Will be posting about the lentil tour, was lots of fun, learned a lot!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think it's rude to inform a host what you eat and I agree with Shari that those who have restrictions shouldn't make a huge deal about it. There is always something that you can grab to hold you over till the party is over. :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. I generally think so too but I think that may be changing

    ReplyDelete
  22. For a long time it was simply not eating meat; not so outlandish, right? But when everything unexpectedly got cooked in chicken stock... that's where things went awry. Nowadays, though, it's gluten. I try to be simple and polite and say, "No thank you" without making a fuss.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Sam @ Mom At The BarreJuly 12, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    I don't like informing hosts on my dietary restrictions unless they themselves inquire. Granted I am not incredibly picky (pork is the only thing I don't eat) so I can generally find something in the spread of things a host has prepared.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I can only speak as a host since I don't have any real restrictions. If someone was a vegetarian, or had an allergy to shellfish or something, I would hope they would speak up and would be happy to accomodate them. If I was inviting just a couple of friends over for dinner and knew that one of them hated mushrooms, I'd avoid making something with mushrooms. But if you're coming to a party and you "don't" (as opposed to "can't", which is different) eat anything non-organic or prefer locally raised beef, or are on a paleo diet, then please. Those people need to just make do. If that means eating before you get there and just picking at some fruit, then so be it. If you're the type who is really allergic to many things then by all means, let me know and offer to bring something, in that case I'd probably try to accomodate the person but it might just be easier for that person to bring a dish that they know will be safe. If your eating restrictions are really just preferences, then just suck it up for one day and make some exceptions.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Among my close friends, I have been very open in general about not eating dairy and gluten. Because they all know about my dietary restrictions, they are almost hyperaware of what I can and cannot eat whenever we go out to eat together. Same goes for whenever my friends have people over for dinner - I never have to bring it up. They are generally very thoughtful about making sure there are items I can enjoy safely.


    But if I am among people I am not as close with, I don't bring it up (unless I am asked) and I can usually find something on the table to hold me over for a while. That is when having a snack in my purse comes in handy!

    ReplyDelete
  26. huge fan of the purse snack KO, I am loving that so many people say friends are very accommodating. I wonder if this is because they have restrictions too...

    ReplyDelete
  27. I agree allergy/intolerance different than food preferences. I will point out that certain foods can make people sick without being "allergic' but seems to be the only term that gets people's attention.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Yes, if all someone served was pork, we'd all be in trouble, right?

    ReplyDelete
  29. I have a variety of food preferences. But I never, ever tell a host of them. I figure that since it's mostly my own issue (instead of a medical one) then there's no need to make it someone else's problem. And then I just eat when I get home!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Andrea@WellnessNotesJuly 15, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    I don't have any food allergies and really only have food preferences, so I always say that anything is fine when asked.

    I do make a point of asking when inviting people if they have any allergies and/or preferences. I much rather cook something everyone will enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Actually none of my friends do! But they all know how much suffered before my food intolerances were diagnosed so they are always more than happy to keep me belly-ache free!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Interesting questions! I've hosted two 4 course dinner parties in the past month & emailed all the guests well in advance to ask about food allergies & dislikes. I feel like I truly want me guests to enjoy my food and if I'm putting so much time & energy into it, it should be something they want to eat. I changed my entire menu when I found out that 2 of my guests didnt like mushrooms or shellfish for one party, and again when I found out that 2 were kosher this past weekend. The funny part is, I'm gluten free and avoid telling hosts if I'm attending a dinner because I dont want to put them out ;)

    ReplyDelete
  33. Interesting what we do for others versus ourselves. I wonder if host was one of your guests they'd want to do the same for you...

    ReplyDelete
  34. As I mentioned to Erica (above), I'm thinking as hosts especially with close friends we would really love everyone to enjoy things, maybe we should be forthcoming with restrictions?

    ReplyDelete
  35. I see a medical versus personal difference but if you really will not eat something, does the reason matter?

    ReplyDelete
  36. Great post! This came to my mind on a recent trip with a bunch of dietitians. We had dinner at a restaurant and many listed their dietary restrictions. I think in a restaurant setting that is more than ok. As you mentioned, restaurants are often very willing to make accommodations.
    I think when it comes to a dinner party, as a hostess I always try to keep in mind any dietary restrictions. I have a friend who has many allergies but I still make at least one or two things she can enjoy. It can be a challenge, but I know it is always appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Oh my gosh! I was just reading back several posts on your blog and stumbled across this. I JUST had this question and wrote a discussion on it last week. You've nailed it. Parties are un-nerving for people with allergies.

    ReplyDelete