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Jan 22, 2008 07:55 PM


In her "table manners" blog Helena has told us it is OK to commit the sin of omission in violating the dietary restrictions of a friend. Apparently so long as it is not a life and death issue (such as a peanut allergy) or perhaps a religious tenant (keeping kosher) then there is no problem with throwing someone's diet out of kilter without even doing them the courtesy of informing them.

I have a good friend who has lost about 200 pounds on a carb controlled diet over the past two years. He has been able to greatly reduce his medications, has incredibly improved his cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate, and is a much happier. And yes, one meal can throw off his chemistry for a week or more.

I seem to find that Helena's advice is frequently very different from my own expectation of what constitutes good manners. I find this latest edition to be a particularly grievous breach of edict. This was not a "little white lie". Helena counseled a deliberate action to mislead someone in the early stage of a rigorous diet program, after there was a promise by the cook to observe the dietary restrictions.

I ask the Chowhound board to consider the value of Helena's future here. Do other hounds share this feeling?

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  1. I agree completely. Not only is this a violation of trust, it shows a total disregard for the other individual. This type dribble can make the rest of the content here seem questionable. Much of what is on the Chow side needs to be better thought out. I find little there of value for me.

    1. I originally had this in site talk, but apparently this is classified as a "problem". Based on the other items listed, I thought that would be for "technical" concerns. If there was ever a place to put things to keep other chowhounds from finding it, this is sure the place.

      1 Reply
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        Your post was moved from the Site Talk board here to the CHOW Feedback board because the CHOW portion of this site (all the content you see at the URL, portions of which are highlighted in the right hand section of pages) is discussed here. The message boards (the discussion boards you see at the URL) are discussed on the Site Talk board. We know that's confusing, but the "Site Talk" name is carried over from the older days of the site. The sites are supported by different people, and have some difference in audience, so that's why we have two boards.

        Technical problems with all of are discussed on the Technical Help board, as one Engineering Team supports us all!

      2. I fully agree with you, KaimukiMan. The only reason I continue to read Helena's column is because it's with great humour I wait to see what tidbits of etiquette "wisdom" she has to impart to us next, and it's rather like trying to look away from a hideous trainwreck.

        Honestly, I don't know why Chow keeps her on board. So many people have expressed displeasure at her poor advice over the months. The "don't bring your lunch to work" article in particular will always remain a classic in my mind, but this most recent one has transcended hilarity and gone to the point of just outright violation of basic respect.

        Frankly, I don't even come to Chow much anymore because the fact that they are willing to publish a column like this demonstrates how little their judgment of valuable content differs from my own.

        1 Reply
        1. re: vorpal

          Erm... that should, of course, read "resembles", not "differs".

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. I can see all points of view on this one. My take is that Helena is meaning to be provocative. Her sometimes flippant remarks ("At the last moment, you had to choose between keeping your promise and a properly emulsified and balanced sauce. You quite rightly chose the latter.") are meant to provide a Chowhound's perspective on etiquette, not an ethicist's or a philsopher's. In the Chowhound universe, a few bread crumbs in a South Beacher's diet vs. a properly executed sauce? No brainer. If I want a regular advice column w/a regular point of view, I'll look elsewhere. What I like about Helena is her priorities are a food-driven. It's not like a tablespoon of breadcrumbs will make a jot of difference to this guy's diet - whereas they can make all the difference in the world to a sauce.

            11 Replies
            1. re: originalfig

              I agree that she tries to be provocative, often at the expensive of etiquette and even common courtesy. But an "etiquette" column shouldn't, IMO, be driven solely from the food perspecitve. I love to cook for people, and would never sneak in an ingredient after telling someone that I'd cook something for them that was friendly to their diet. And that is not a "Chowhound" thing, that's a friendship/honesty thing. This said, I've not checked out her stories for a good while, until seeing this thread.

              1. re: originalfig

                The blog made me roll my eyes so much I can't get them down into their sockets. Who would do this? I cook for a number of special needs people in my extended family. I wouldn't do this to them, if I know the needs. How hard is it to take out and reserve some of the less-than-properly-emulsified-and-balanced-sauce, then continue on as needed for the rest? Especially when the guest had declined the invitation initially (this is key), but was assured the menu would be okay for his/her dietary needs.
                Like many, I rankle at really difficult guests (we all have them!), but this was not the case. Upfront info from guest (again, this is key), host agreed, then host reneged. Not OK just for the "chow's" sake. If the responses in the blog are to be chow-driven, then perhaps a letter like this should not even be chosen for responsorial, since the topic is clearly NOT about being purely food-centric, but about being antagonistically food-centric when you know you are feeding someone something they should not/can not/have expressed a need to not have. Provocativeness aside, it just flies in the face of the good information this site endeavors to put out. Likewise, it's sort of crappy host etiquette.

                I don't often read the" Helena" pieces, but I would suggest that the writer of same check out the myriad posts on this site for a few tips on how to deal with such dietary issues. Flippancy in lieu of hospitality does not really cut it. And can ruin the friendship.

                I'm done; thanks for the rant opportunity,

                1. re: originalfig

                  "It's not like a tablespoon of breadcrumbs will make a jot of difference to this guy's diet"

                  sorry, but that's precisely where you - and helena - are wrong.

                  for one thing, the bread, however small the amount, DOES make a difference on a biochemical level for someone who is in the early stages of that type of diet plan.

                  and even more importantly, it's an ethical issue.

                  you stated that you like helena because "her priorities are food-driven."

                  as opposed to what? morality-driven?

                  hey, i'm as concerned with the quality of my cooking as anyone; in fact, i take great pride in the food i serve to my guests. but i'm sure as hell not going to betray a friend's trust or knowingly sabotage someone's efforts to improve their health for the sake of salvaging a sub-par condiment. i have more respect for people than that. it's too bad you, helena, and her other supporters on this issue don't.

                  i'm thankful i don't have any friends who would be so cavalier and disrespectful about my dietary restrictions. i suffer from severe gluten intolerance, and if my host played such a low trick on me, it would make much more than "a jot of difference." i'd be sick for days.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    It doesn't matter whether something makes a difference or not (who knows?). I believe that there is a social contract between cooks and the people they cook for, whoever they are and whatever their requirements are. The basic principle is: Never lie to someone about what you are feeding them. This includes tricking kids into eating weird veggies in their pizza sauce. If you'll deceive a loved one about what you're giving them to ingest, why should they trust you about anything?

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      Yes - I agree. It's one thing not to disclose if there is no reason to disclose, but the situation described in the "blog" is completely different.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Pikawicca, you make a compelling point. Now I'm curious - does me not telling my anchovy-hating brother that there were anchovies in the pasta sauce, which he lapped up, a lie of omission? This isn't a trick question, I'm genuinely curious! Cheers.

                        1. re: originalfig

                          Well, I'm sure it's not a mortal sin, but why would you feed your brother something he hates? Granted, a bit of anchovy adds depth of flavor to many dishes, but I don't like the basic deceitfulness involved. Did you reveal your use of anchovies to your brother, or just chortle to yourself over having tricked him?

                          1. re: originalfig

                            I'd say that he's technically not an anchovy-hater if he liked the anchovies in the dish! I'd tell him about it, in the hopes that he would realize that he'd happily broaden those horizons a bit with the knowledge, but I suppose that's a bit of wishful thinking on my part. Not everyone would respond that way.

                            Back to the main point, though- I do think this is unfair and deceitful.

                            Who knows what medical conditions a person might have but not want to talk about? For example, what if the South Beach Diet was only part of the story and the friend had celiac, but chose not to share that because he thought the diet reasoning was enough?

                            Granted, I think that guests should absolutely, positively share all dietary restriction info with a host (especially when there are life-threatening allergies involved, for example), but I am sure that it can be very hard for some people to talk about medical conditions.

                            How far into personal detail must someone go when they say "sorry, I can't have any carbs at dinner"? Shouldn't that be enough?

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Yikes! Clearly this hit a nerve. I guess I didn't view the breadcrumbs/south beach thing as that big a deal, ie as sabatoging a friend's health. Obviously I would feel differently if it were about gluten intolerance or something like that...I'm sure it must be hard for you to deal with a serious disease like that and must face a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to your diet request. So, I understand why this might be a sensitive topic. No offense meant to you, and I assure you that if you came to my house for dinner, I would not feed you gluten! :)

                          1. re: originalfig

                            i wasn't taking personal offense to your post, i was just pointing out that i don't think we should look at this as a case-by-case issue. regardless of the "reason" someone can't or won't eat something, it boils down to ethics, period. he graciously excused her of any responsibility by turning down the invite, she insisted he attend, made a point of promising that she would respect his wishes, and then out and out lied and violated her word - and his trust.

                            but i appreciate that you wouldn't poison me with gluten if i was a guest at your table :)

                            1. re: originalfig

                              Whoops, just saw your post... I kind of reiterated what you said without reading this first! Clearly, I agree.