Dear Sibyl, Is it me, or does everyone and their uncle have a food allergy/aversion/snobbish avoidance these days? I've found it increasingly difficult to share meals and prepare food for others without objections from gluten-free, only-eat-local-everything, on-a-cleanse, vegan, paleo-diet friends and family members. I used to crave the communal intimacy of a shared meal, but now it seems "what I'm not eating" dominates the conversation (and makes my allergy-free, trying-to-stay-sane self question if I really should be eating that dairy/gluten/egg-rich muffin). Am I being insensitive?
Eating the Damn Muffin Already
Dear Eating The Damn Muffin Already,
I wish you were my dinner guest.
Recently, we had a couple we were getting to know over for dinner. I had baked a delicious dessert, since they were bringing the food. The meal was saucy take out, rich in butter and spices. When I brought out the salted caramel cake I had made from scratch, I was shocked that neither one of my guests were willing to try it. They demurred, saying that "Sugar is poison, you know", and that they are cutting it out of their diet completely.
Stunned, I set my cake back on the stove, and, due to the calls of my toddler, who had been promised a special treat in honor of our guests and had even helped to bake it, I cut the members of my family slices and passed them out, leaving our guests to watch us consume a whole bunch of homemade poison.
Their choice to eat greasy take out and then refuse cake baffled me, but everyone deserves to do whatever they want with their body. Really what bugged me were their terrible manners.
We live in a time of shifting ethics about food. There used to be a cuisine that was considered "American", that everyone was expected to eat. In an age of growing education about where our food comes from, who benefits from our consumption of it, and how to best feed our bodies, people are making more informed decisions about food than ever.
This is a really positive thing. I would like nothing better than to use only local ingredients, from companies that respect the land and pay their workers a living wage. I want to serve my family healthy food that will help our bodies grow strong. However, I am not willing to give up the common decencies of community to do so. My motto is "People are more important than things." And that includes my current food philosophy.
So, what to do, if you have been invited over for dinner, and you know your hosts do not eat the same way as you? First of all, ask what's on the menu, and what you can bring. If you are a strict vegetarian, tell them so ahead of time. If you have no food allergies, but would like to eat a certain way, offer to bring a salad or special gluten-free bread, and make that the focal point of your meal, eating sparingly what your hosts have provided for you.
Sharing food is such an important part of community building. Another vital aspect of community is truth telling. So, if you're on a diet, say you're on a damn diet. Don't couch it in New Age terms, and definitely don't judge other people's food choices, especially not in their home.
So, to answer your question, are you being insensitive by not loving all the new diets people are trying? Well, unless you are placing a pig on a spit in front of your vegan friend or inviting your gluten-free buddy over for Bread Fest 2013, nope.
If you find yourself irked by Macrobiotic Mary on your friend list, why not do something with her that is not centered around food? I'm sure you can agree on an indulgent movie to watch together, to make up for the decadence missing in her diet. Just make sure you order exactly what you want at the concession stand, and stand by your choice. But get the small popcorn---she’s not going to share.
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