Friday, February 5, 2010

You Don't Eat WHAT?

Dear Mrs. Ditter, All my friends seem to be deciding that they can't eat wheat, or cheese, or some other thing that is a staple of most human diets.  Help me out here. What is the difference between a dietary need--like an allergy to peanuts--and a dietary desire--"I don't like to eat wheat because it makes me feel bloated"? Do I have to cook three different meals when I invite people to dinner? Run the menu past every single person (no eggs for her, no meat for him, she hates lentils, etc.)?  Or just make a nice dinner
and hope they damn well enjoy it? -- Frustrated Cook

Hmm. I'd go with option C: make dinner and let them make their own choices from the food in front of them. But that's probably because I'm occasionally fed up (ha! see what I did there?) with the cooking situation at my house. I cook for one wheat-intolerant person, one lactose-intolerant person, one vegetarian, and one person who must have chocolate at each meal. And we all know who THAT is. But I digress, as usual.
Your question, I don't think, is really about what is the difference between a dietary need and a dietary preference. Anaphalactic shock and mild bloating are worlds apart. If you know your dinner guest is allergic to shellfish, don't serve it. Your question is more about what does a good host or hostess do when faced with a social world run amuk, a world in which people seem to expect others to unquestioningly acquiesce to the latest food fad or imaginary dietary hiccup?
Well, there's always the unstated Option D: Stop inviting people for dinner! 
However, if you insist on being hospitable, you could ask when issuing the invitation, "Do you have any food allergies of which I should be aware?" That kind of sets the parameters right there: You're asking about allergies, not preferences.
Here's where control leaves your spatula-clutching hands: Once you have issued an invitation to dine, it's up to the invitee to say, "We'd love to come for dinner. Jordan is allergic to peanuts and I don't eat any animal products." Or "I only eat meat during a full moon; let me check my calendar." Or "I'm on a thirty day potato-free diet, but I can eat anything else." Or whatever they say. 
So if they say they're allergic to something (and remember, you have opened yourself up for that information), make sure there are other dishes they can enjoy. But don't fret about it. If you make six dishes and they decide that four of them are off-limits, well, that's their choice. You've done your part.
As usual in these sorts of situations, common sense and common courtesy can go a long way toward making such a dinner pleasant for you and your guest. And let me digress once again: I'm allergic to shellfish, and there have been plenty of occasions when I've quietly made a delightful dinner by eating only side dishes. Sometimes, no one needs to know...something that we all seem to have forgotten in our disclosure-crazed world.
Comments? Below. Questions? Leave them in the comments. Anonymous, as always, is just fine. And thanks for reading.


  1. Dear Mrs. Ditter,
    How do you deal with gossip in the work place? I recently had to go
    to someone and tell her that I didn't like her behavior--she was
    actually polling a group about what someone else had said. She
    responded by saying that the other person had lied to her repeatedly
    and she was trying to get the facts. While that may be true, it was
    a very inappropriate move.
    I have a little power--it's more like influence on the group-- but
    not ultimate power, like to hire and fire. I don't want to get
    embroiled but I can't stand that kind of junior high school behavior

  2. Dear Anonymous, thanks for the question. That sounds like a tough situation and I'll tackle it next week.

  3. Mrs. Ditter,
    Where does that name come from? I mean, other than your parents.

  4. Ditter is not my family name, but is a name on my mother's side back several generations. It's German in origin. Is that what you meant? If you meant, What does Ditter mean? danged if I know. I've tried translating it using several different online translators, but it just comes up "ditter." So, for my purposes, it means "no-nonsense, well-grounded, sensible person."

  5. Okay, folks. Just heard from one of my linguistically talented sisters that the closest she could get to a translation of "Ditter" is "deute" which means "interpret." I'm sure if she's wrong we'll hear from one of you here in the comments section...won't we?

  6. Hey Mrs. D - so, as someone who has dietary restrictions due to religious reasons, I'm on the 'giving' end of this "what do you eat?" situation very frequently. Here's what I've found that works well; when someone who doesn't know me well invites me to dinner, I'll say something like "I just want to let you know that I'm a vegetarian for religious reasons. Eggs, dairy, fish all OK, just not poultry, red meat, or shellfish. I've found it's always easier if I'm up front about this, because otherwise my hosts get uncomfortable if they've prepared a lovely chicken and I don't eat any. That being said, I'm coming for the company, not just the food, so please prepare whatever makes you happy to prepare, and I'm sure I'll have a delightful meal with you no matter what."

    This seems to have worked well for me, because it does put everyone at ease. They can cook vegetarian if they want, or not if they don't, and no one has to feel awkward. Just my .02 worth...

    Oh, and I completely agree about happily making a meal with side dishes if either I forget to mention something ahead of time, or my hosts choose to make a non-vegetarian entree regardless. It is about the company, after all, or we'd all just be going out by ourselves to restaurants and sitting at lonely tables for one all the time ;-)

  7. Thanks, I appreciate your input. Your method balances the responsibility between host and guest quite nicely, which is what one would hope for from sensible adults.

  8. Wow. Someone actually thinks I'm a sensible adult? You made my day! (Sorry, I know this is supposed to be for semi-serious comments, but I honestly couldn't resist this.)

  9. Dear Mrs. D.,

    These days I'm feeling bad about everything. The Republicans, global warming, food additives, cholesterol, eating meat, not composting, not recycling (enough), not giving to Amnesty International, or Emilys List, or The Farmworkers or Morris Dees or the Democratic Party etc.etc. (can't afford it and who wants to employ charity triage?),going off my diet,my greying hair, my addiction to Hugh Laurie and mindless television, the disgusting state of American culture, pervasive violence against women in this country and all over the world, people who don't know the difference between "its" and "it's", Sarah Palin; I worry about the president, the economy, the terrible psychological toll of the job losses in this country, the greed on Wall Street, the upcoming elections, Sarah Palin, the religious right, Haiti, New Orleans...and much, much more. There doesn't seem to be anyplace to put my mind where things are good and decent. How many Jimmy Stewart/Henry Fonda/ Gregory Peck movies can a girl watch? Can you help? And please don't tell me about sunsets and rainbows, new babies and chocolate - well, chocolate maybe.
    Signed, Disconsolate

  10. As a person with a severe food allergy that NEVER gets invited to anyone's home for dinner, I would so much rather be invited to your house, eat nothing that you prepare, and enjoy your company for the night. Heck, I'd even bring my own food. I would just love to go, you could cook whatever you wanted. I'm just saying, if it's you're (anyone's) concern about what to cook for someone, worried that they'll be allergic to it or or, INVITE them! Serve plastic food, it wouldn't matter, it's about the time with friends. A good glass of wine never hurts either, don't know many people who will turn that down.

  11. Anonymous: Thanks so much for your insight. It's all about the time with friends, isn't it? Your attitude is generous, mature and loving. Let's clone you!