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