Everyone has food allergies or preferences these days, which makes entertaining much more complicated than it used to be.
Thanksgiving dinner will look very different for many Americans. Long gone are the days when you could count on a turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, bread, and pumpkin pie to fill the dinner guests happily. Now there is a slew of food allergies, sensitivities, and preferences that goes along with feeding a crowd of any size.
There was a time when my extended family ate everything, but now it’s far more complicated than that. One aunt is vegan. Another is gluten-free. Grandma is diabetic. My cousin’s husband prefers paleo and ‘intermittent fasting,’ eating only during a four-hour window at the end of each day. My husband avoids white rice, white bread, white potatoes, and sugar while obsessing over his protein intake. One cousin does not like cheese or tomatoes. Another eats mostly fruit. My uncle is allergic to red wine. And I only eat meat that’s been raised free-range and grass-fed on a local farm.
While I understand the importance of respecting others’ dietary restrictions, there comes a point when it takes the fun out of entertaining. Cooking a fabulous, delicious meal, and looking forward to that moment when everyone oohs and aahs and dives in with gusto, has evolved into a painstaking, stressful process where I spend more energy trying to design a menu that satisfies everyone’s needs and preferences than I spend actually cooking the food.
In an amusing article called “Happy (gluten-free, paleo, nut-free) Thanksgiving!”, Globe and Mail writer Sarah Hampson provides some tips on how to handle food restrictions this holiday. In what might be seen as a discriminatory attack by some (but is welcomed by hosts such as myself), Hampson differentiates between allergies and preferences.
No matter how attached you are to your gluten-free bread, it is not the same as being deathly allergic to shellfish or nuts or having celiac disease, so please don’t make it out to be such a big deal.
Hampson writes: “People with severe allergies are bound to tell the hostess at the time of invitation. Even so, as hostess, it’s good to ask ahead of time.” In fact, it can be embarrassing as a host if there is no alternative main dish for a guest.
When it comes to preferences such as vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, or paleo, however, that’s different:
“It’s a handy thing for the hostess to know, but I don’t think the vegetarian should expect a gourmet accommodation of their diet. I do find it a bit precious for someone to make a fuss about it beforehand.”
What Hampson does suggest is that people with strong dietary preferences take the lead and offer to bring something. This takes the burden off the host, while providing the guest with an opportunity to share an interesting new dish.
I wish more people would be grateful to receive a dinner invitation and have the gracious flexibility to be able to enjoy a meal that’s been prepared for them outside the boundaries of their diet, rather than turning it into an awkward and uncomfortable game of dietary musical chairs.
It’s food, people. Let’s just be grateful that we have it.