Dear New York Post: Vegetarians, People With Food Allergies Aren’t “Picky Eaters”

Yesterday, the New York Post reminded hosts and hostesses across the country of the cardinal rule of entertaining: don’t have friends with allergies or different eating habits, because their company at your holiday dinner party is not worth the additional trouble you’ll go to trying to feed them. Vegetarians, vegans, those who are lactose intolerant, and those with Celiac disease and others who require a gluten-free diet, take note: you’re not someone who has taken a moral stand on eating, or even someone with an allergy–you’re a “picky eater.” And no matter how lively your banter or courteous your manners, you are apparently a host or hostess’ worst nightmare.

According to many of the individuals interviewed by the Post for this riveting piece of prose, vegans, raw food dieters, and those who are gluten-free are not only picky eaters that make dinner parties impossibly inconvenient and full of bland, meat-and-wheat-free food–they’re also horrible people who sometimes cancel plans and have the audacity to ask for separate items. And even when they don’t ask for separate items (because they do the polite thing and eat first when they know that their eating habits may be an inconvenience to others), their behavior–like “picking around” the food that’s there and even pretending to eat is a huge affront. One of the people interviewed even admitted that “I probably wouldn’t have a raw-vegan friend.”

Remember that, raw vegans. You may not have a friend in someone who isn’t willing to make small changes to incorporate the diet that makes you feel healthy and happy.

Equating food allergies (like dairy, or wheat) or religious beliefs with individual choices (like not eating red meat, or, like one of the people interviewed, only eating white meat) is already kind of a problematic way to approach the subject–diets are a choice, allergies are most certainly not–but even if someone’s not eating gluten or meat or dairy for a reason other than a physical allergy, it doesn’t make their choice any less valid. And it doesn’t make them “picky.” Describing alternative eating habits in this way is hurtful, and encourages people to feel anger and resentment at those who eat differently, whether by choice or necessity.

To be fair, some of the alternative eaters interviewed in the piece were pretty untenable as well–like the guy who brings tofu in a Tupperware, which is probably one of the rudest things you can do. But guys like that are the exact reason I’m hesitant to even use the word “vegetarian” to describe my own meat-free diet, because the assumption is that all vegetarians (and vegans, and raw food eaters, etc.) are militant, impolite, and generally social outcasts. Which isn’t the case–and there’s no way that the 7 million vegetarians in American (and 22 million who are “vegetarian inclined”) are all that horrible–but articles like this make it seem like it is. And even if everyone with an allergy or alternative eating preference was a poorly-mannered pariah, is that a reason not to be friends with them, or worse, write off every single person with a food preference other than your own?

Additionally, to those who enjoy cooking and entertaining, the opportunity to try a new dietary restrictions doesn’t have to be a burden–it can be a fun challenge. Before you condemn your friends for their choices or allergies, check out some vegan, raw, or gluten-free cook-books to see what kind of delicious, healthy fare you can whip up. You may discover a new kind of food or style of preparation that’s more nutritious, more tasty, or that jives better with your own digestive system. Horror of all horrors–the hostess may even discover that she, herself, feels better by trying one of the aforementioned “nightmares.”

The tone and content of this New York Post article does nothing to further the discussion surrounding an important issue around this time of year, when people are breaking bread (whether gluten-free or otherwise) with people of different backgrounds and lifestyles. Condemning everyone who can’t eat everything is closed-minded and disrespectful–not to mention terribly rude hostess behavior. New York Post, I’ll remember not to RSVP to your dinner parties.

Image: Lena Sergeeva / Shutterstock

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    • Shiz

      As someone who is gluten intolerant, it is amazing to me how many people think that any food that is in some way “alternative” or “not standard” is 1) gross or completely bland or 2) way too difficult or time consuming to prepare. I had to learn to cook without wheat, and there are actually a scrillion very common, easy and delicious dishes that don’t use wheat. Same goes for meat, or dairy, or whatever. Of course, people will never realize that when there are plenty of articles like this NYP piece for them to read…

    • sara

      WOW, that article was super obnoxious!! I don’t even get what’s so rude about bringing tofu for yourself to an event – as a hostess, if a guest with a dietary restriction I didn’t know a lot about was willing to contribute a dish they could definitely eat, I would welcome that. This especially worries me about gluten free folks since I’ve read that at least for some, the allergy is so severe that they can’t necessarily eat something made with, say, a wooden spoon that previously stirred flour. I am happy to change up the menu a bit, but I can’t afford to re-oufit my kitchen with GF stuff, so in that sort of situation it seems like it would be much easier if the person could provide some definitely safe food so I wasn’t in fear of sending them to the hospital!

      One thing I will say though – whether fair or not, it is really frustrating when people ask for special accommodations to be made and then don’t show up or give very late notice for cancelling, and I have had this happen to me. Actually, this sort of behavior is pretty rude in general unless you have a very good reason, but it’s particularly frustrating if a host(ess) has made special arrangements on your behalf. Put another way, if a host(ess) had made special arrangements to hire a neighbor teenager to watch people’s kids in the other room while the adults eat dinner, then the people with kids for whom this arrangement was being made had better show up unless they have a really good reason! Any time you’re asking someone to do something different that affects the whole party, for whatever reason, I think it’s bad form to bail without very good reason.

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        I think you make a great point–calling ahead to ask the host(ess) if they’d prefer that you bring your own dish might actually be super-helpful! I think it’s only rude if you show up, Tupperware in hand, without letting them know?

    • Chichi Kix

      Well balanced reaction post! I found the NY Post article highly offensive (and certainly NOT in the holiday spirit. Grinches).

      I don’t have many dietary limitations, but I don’t put others down for theirs. I try my best to accommodate them, and you’re right it can be fun. Plus, I’d feel like a bad host any other way.

      It doesn’t take much effort to accommodate those with allergies/”alternative” dietary needs and when in doubt, hosts can ask the invitee for ideas or do a little research. Creative sides, buffet style layouts and a little courtesy go a LONG way. There’s always a way, when there’s a will.

      Those with dietary restrictions can make it easier on hosts by letting them know your restrictions, offering alternatives ()that are NOT tofu in tupperware, and eating beforehand if it seems like a challenge your host is NOT up to. You may also want to host your own dinner party: it’s a great way to expose your friends to the tastier side of your food needs. People often think in terms of what they CAN’T instead of what they CAN: showing them that it’s not the end of the world can make a huge impact. There are loads of resources from trusted chefs that cover EVERY dietary need imaginable available for free on the internet, honestly NO excuses!

    • Katherine

      Wow. How hurtful. I’m grain, grass, dairy, and soy free by medical necessity. If any “friend” did not desire my company because of my dietary restrictions, that shallow individual would be no friend. When I entertain, I make sure to find out about any special needs and make food to accommodate. I recently threw a party for 15 with enough food to feed five times that. By the end of the night, it looked like pirrhanas had attacked the table. They were amazed that all of the dishes were free of gluten, dairy, and soy. The vegetarians left as satisfied and nourished as the omnivores. Bland my butt! I even got a girl who hates coconut to fall in love with a coconut-based dessert. When I go elsewhere, I eat before or take a discreet package of food. Those who criticize can suck an egg. Real friends love you for your company.

      • Hanna Brooks Olsen

        Agreed!

    • Susan

      People seem to forget what hosting is all about!
      According to Emily Post, “The most important thing is to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome.”
      http://www.emilypost.com/social-life/hosts-and-guests/861-holiday-host

      It isn’t about the food. Food is a tool which the host can use to this effect. If things are more important that people then that is an event that I am not interested in attending!

      I host an annual party for all the children and their families in my city who are dealing with severe (anaphylaxis) food allergies. We don’t allow any food and we have a great time!

      I challenge others to host a food free event and maybe offer the money you’d spend on food and drinks to a charity of your choice.

    • Dee

      I must eat gluten-free. It’s a necessity, not a choice. While I appreciate Hanna’s response to the Post article, her statement that bringing your own food to a social gathering is rude was a shocker. I’ve been GF for several years. Early on, when I went to a social gathering, I made it clear to the host that they did not have to go to any special effort to accomodate my diet. I would always bring my own food, including dessert. My super friends have slowly learned to incorporate food items that are GF, and that it’s not a pain to do so. After all, most non-processed food is naturally GF. They have made an effort to learn about the diet, which is good, because as one commenter noted, even a tiny bit of gluten, can cause a reaction. These are not immediate reactions, but reactions that develop slowly after a meal, and make you miserable for days. My friends have learned that the GF foods I prepare is as good or better than anything that is not GF. Having said all this, if I invited someone to a social occasion, and they were horsey or arrogant about “their” diet, I would probably not invite them again.

    • Kathy

      Thank you for coming to the defense of those who those who are bold enough to stay strong in their food choices. We are soy-free by necessity, and we still go to parties where people refuse to believe that it’s a real problem. Makes me very sad.

      I just started this campaign: http://subtractsoynow.weebly.com/
      Would love your support.

    • Migiuel

      I cant believe you people think it’s rude that someone brings their own meal to an event. That is not rude, it is wise thinking. Perhaps it would be more courteous to tell the host, or bring enough of the meal to feed several people (this is what I would do) but it’s hardly rude to bring food that a person knows for certain they can eat in case things at the party go awry. They are looking out for their own health/well-being – better than say they turn up and there is nothing they can safely eat and they just sit there… and the host feels awkward. People are so darn touchy. Come to think of it – the snipey way you talk – I wouldn’t want you as a friend anyway.

    • Susan Schenck, LAc.

      I’m the author of two raw food books, and in the first (The LIve Food Factor) I teach people with such restricted diets how to go to parties and stay raw. It’s really not as hard as you think.
      But over the years I have learned to obtain many of the benefits by being only 80% raw, which gives me more room…and I enjoy these parties more! It’s easy to stay away from dairy, wheat and sugar–the worst offenders—even at a dinner party.