Monday, November 23, 2009
Complaint Box | Picky Eaters
November 20, 2009, 10:38 am
By SUSAN GOLDBERG
Having friends over for dinner used to involve a minimal and fairly unremarkable to-do list: There were groceries to buy, along with flowers and a couple of bottles of semi-respectable wine. I would put out some guest towels and a collection of fancy soaps that were off limits to blood relatives, and then — voilà! — dinner was served. Preparing for a dinner party these days is far more complex, thanks to a vast and bewildering array of dietary needs that seem to have suddenly overtaken everyone I know.
Dish out the peeves. Send your essays — no more than 500 words, please — to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
An unscientific survey of family and friends turns up one acquaintance who is kosher, two who are more like kosher-style, in addition to two vegans, a smattering of lacto-vegetarians and a couple who cannot digest gluten of any kind. Accommodations must be made for my mother-in-law, who is lactose intolerant, and a friend who is dangerously and inconveniently allergic to peanuts. I must know at least a dozen women who have declared lifelong war on complex carbohydrates. And then there’s my daughter, a wispy and tender-hearted flower child who prefers not to eat “anything with a face” (although she will sometimes make random and completely unreasonable exceptions for hot dogs and pepperoni).
Just thinking about feeding this crowd makes me want to lie down in a darkened room for several uninterrupted hours. The head chef at Beth Israel Medical Center would be hard-pressed to meet the dietary needs of this particular group.
Being a hostess also requires me to navigate the tricky political ramifications of dinner, which means keeping the menu free of veal, foie gras and a host of endangered sea creatures. There are, I have found, an astonishing number people who are breezily neutral on the subject of Kim Jong-il, but consider an entree of Chilean sea bass the moral equivalent of grand-scale marine genocide.
Because of these restrictions, having a simple dinner with the people I love now requires a nutritionist, an Excel spreadsheet and considerably more patience and culinary skill than I possess.
The very last straw was a friend who called before her family came for dinner and — without a hint of shame — presented me with a detailed list of their food requirements: Her husband doesn’t care for shrimp, her son requires a pasta side dish with every meal, and none of them eat the dark meat of chicken, which she dismissed savagely as “dreck.”
I have had enough with people who want to have it their way, and I am done catering to the quirks of food-obsessed numskulls. If you eat in my home, I will grudgingly respect medically diagnosed allergies, since it puts a pall on conversation when a guest goes into anaphylactic shock at the dinner table. But beyond that, I expect you to eat what you can, ignore the rest and not make trouble. On Thursday, 15 people are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and with God as my witness, I promise you this: There will be dark meat.
Susan Goldberg is a freelance writer and editor and a consultant on college admission essays who lives in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
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