By Elizabeth Renzetti
“Oh, I forgot to mention – I’m allergic to dairy.” How many of us have heard those terrifying words after inviting someone over for dinner? Well, I’ve got news for you, Ms. Butterfat-Gives-Me-Buboes: You can tell you’re actually allergic to something if you need to carry an EpiPen with you wherever you go. If, upon ingesting a substance, your throat swells up and you die, then you have an allergy. I grant that sudden, violent death is a bummer at most dinner parties (though I’ve been to some where it would have been a welcome early conclusion to the evening.)
You know what else is a bummer? People who no longer know how to behave when invited to someone’s house for dinner. Sharing a meal is communion; it is an expression of love between friends. It is not an opportunity to behave like a spoiled six-year-old at the Manchu Wok buffet. Food faddishness – your dislike of beets, your deep-seated belief that gluten has ruined your life and is causing the world to spin toward Armageddon – has no place at a dinner party.
If you must be neurotic in your eating habits, do it at home, where it will only disturb your partner (who loves you despite your pickiness) and the cat (who thinks you would be much happier if you just had a bite of the tasty spider he just caught.). When your hostess emails the week before the dinner and says, “Is there anything you don’t eat?” what she would really like is a jolly, “No! I eat everything. Bring on the eels!” She does not want to hear about your dairy “allergy” (see above), your conviction that foods cooked above 100 degrees will shorten your lifespan, or anything to do with the state of your bowels. That is a conversation for you, your shrink and your mother, and even then two of those three are sick to death of the subject.
I love having people over for dinner, but these days preparing a meal involves more planning than the D-Day invasion: One guest says she’s a vegetarian, but eats chicken (this actually happened once, and I had to restrain myself from asking when, exactly, chicken became a vegetable), and another won’t eat anything fermented (you would not believe how many things this rules out, including, crucially, wine).
Of course, there are people who are allowed to legitimately restrict their diet, and they fall into three handy categories:
1) observant followers of certain religions
2) moral vegetarians (I have no problem with people who abstain from meat on ethical grounds, but if you’re doing it to shrink the size of your ass, get out of my house.)
3) the morbidly allergic
You can always graciously bow out of a dinner if you’d rather stay home and eat a delicious raw tart of quinoa and goji berries, with a soya-milk chaser. Otherwise, if you accept someone’s hospitality and the blessing of a home-cooked meal, the only proper response is to eat everything that’s in front of you and make delighted noises all the while. It’s only one meal; you have the rest of your life to be picky. Besides, you’re an adult. Smile, be grateful, and clean your plate.
First posted on November 25, 2009