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Possible Double Standard Regarding Dietary Needs/Preferences

So I visited a very good friend this weekend and during a heated conversation she let slip that she finds it difficult to host certain friends of ours for dinner as there are now so many competing food requirements. While I can understand it is tough, I was a bit surprised by this as my friend is a very warm person who loves having people over. On further reflection I noticed that recently however she has been hosting less often.

It turns out she objects to two special dietary requirements that two of our friends' have come out with recently. One friend only eats halal meat (he is an observant muslim but only recently started eating halal) and another friend is avoiding wheat based products (ie. gluten) as she believes she is allergic. We have other friends who are vegetarian, celiac, and on weight loss diets and all these were ok with the host (let's call her X) but not the halal and wheat allergy.

As lovely as this person is I don't really get why some needs are ok and others aren't. If she was even firmer and said she didn't believe in accommodating dietary requests other than for the allergic then I would likely find this more logical, but in the end accommodating a vegetarian for me is no different than accommodating someone who chooses to eat Kosher. Both parties have special dietary needs based on an ethical/philosophical/religious belief, if one is ok the other is so as well.

The wheat "allergy" also gets to me a bit because we have a friend who is celiac and she really can't eat gluten, whereas I think the allergic individual read the book Wheat Belly and then discovered her allergy, but again if this person has made a choice not to eat wheat and I am having them over I'll accommodate.

To Ms. Xs credit she never said anything to anyone else or complained, she just stopped hosting, but for me I didn't get the line in the sand between what was ok to accommodate and what wasn't from her perspective. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

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  1. Maybe Ms. X had it up to "here" with servicing so many needs, perceived and real, and felt unappreciated for all of her efforts.
    Maybe she just needed to vent, and needs a break.
    Many times, people as nice as she hold their feelings in, and are people pleasers, and tend to extend themselves too far.

    From your post, it sounds like the ratio of people to special dietary requests is pretty high.

    34 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      You are likely right, as I said I don't really blame her, I just didn't get why some seemed totally acceptable while others weren't. You are correct also that there are a lot of special dietary requirements to accommodate.

      1. re: delys77

        It's a lot of work to put on a dinner party, even when you have no picky eaters!
        Maybe the task is just too daunting to face more than once in a while.

        It sounds like the wheat "allergy" is really choosing to eat gluten-free.
        I really can't say anything about halal meat and Muslims choosing to eat non-halal.
        Maybe it's hard to get where she lives?

        1. re: monavano

          There definitely are halal butchers in her neighbourhood, but I think it may be as you all have said a question of the straw that broke the camels back. That said, it is possible that there is a value based judgement as well (ie. vegetarians are ok but these no wheat people are getting on my nerves).

          1. re: delys77

            i'm not that knowledgable about halal, but, iirc, she could have the halal people over at the same time as the vegetarian and expect the halal folks to share a vegetarian meal that she would be cooking anyway for the vegetarian.
            no?
            am i wrong here?

            i've gotten away with doing this for folks who are kosher.
            as long as there is no meat at all, they are pretty agreeable.
            they aren't the kind of kosher that expects special plates. . .

            1. re: westsidegal

              For sure, that is pretty much what I do. That or non shellfish seafood as I believe some shellfish are not halal. Switch rice out for any wheat accompaniment and we are good to go for my group.

              1. re: delys77

                I think all seafood is halal. I don't think they have any prohibitions against shellfish like Kosher does. However, even with a vegetarian meal you'd have to be careful not to have anything with alcohol in it, including vanilla extract!

                As far as your friend goes, I don't know why she thinks some kinds of restrictions are worth catering to and others are not, but maybe she just finds certain people less dogmatic or more gracious about it and, therefore, finds it more pleasant to host and accommodate them.

                I recently had occasion to host a vegetarian in a setting where we were going to be grilling brats and hotdogs for everyone else. We were going to make tofu dogs available to the vegetarian (which we thought was a great solution because we thought this person could still be a part of the fundamental activity of grilling brats and dogs) when the word got back to me through the grapevine (not even to me directly) that this person doesn't eat tofu dogs. (In my imagination, I perceive this person turning his or her nose up at tofu dogs, but that's just in my imagination.) No reason was given, but I guess this person now doesn't eat processed foods.

                And at this point, I throw in the towel with this person. I think some accommodations are reasonable, but I don't think every accommodation is reasonable. I think sometimes you just show up and be a gracious guest as best you can, especially when your host has accommodated you and it's not going to make you sick or violate your principles (sp corrected!) in any major way. I think it's okay to put your foot down and say, I'm a vegetarian, but I'm less okay with you putting your foot down and saying, "And in addition to that, I don't eat any processed foods." You eat that way at home, missie, but don't expect me to worry about your latest dietary taboo.

                And the more I feel like the guest is just making this up as they go along, and what was okay for them awhile back is suddenly not okay today by subtle shades, the more I feel like they should just be more gracious and less dogmatic.

                ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Agree completely. If a guest tells me they are vegetarian, or something else reasonable, I will do my best to accommodate. But please don't accept my invitation to a steak barbecue and then refuse to eat the grilled vegetables that I've prepared for you because I've brushed them with olive oil, or something else equally ridiculous.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      That is really beyond...! As a veg myself the first words out of my mouth after thank you for the invite are can i bring a vegetarian dish to share with everyone (my friends typically have very casual get togethers, no plated courses). Your consideration and special effort are waaaayyy above and beyond to get tofu dogs in the first place.
                      Gah! She is who give us easy going happy veggies a bad name!!

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Most of the vegetarians I know would not be comfortable eating something that is cooked on the same grill as meat and don't get the fake meat. Usually, they offer to bring something to share. If I'm cooking for family and friends, I use separate pans and cooking utensils.

                    2. re: westsidegal

                      That's what I do. I will not buy kosher or halal meat for my own ethical preferences, but would never tell a guest that. I just serve a fish or vegetarian meal.

                      1. re: phofiend

                        i've ended up doing the same thing.
                        over the years i've gradually changed my recipe file so that now all my guests expect that a vegan meal will be served.

                        this means that the halal folks, the kosher folks, the vegetarian folks, the heart-healthy folks, all get accommodated with the same food.

                        1. re: westsidegal

                          Now you just need some hard-core paleos and macrobiotic guests.

                          1. re: Karl S

                            Lol I would have to hit the web for the macrobiotic as I'm not sure what that even means.

                            1. re: delys77

                              I haven't heard of anyone claiming to eat a macrobiotic diet in a long while, although I'm sure there are many people out there still doing so. A macrobiotic diet relies on whole grains as the primary foodstuff, supplemented by cereals and cooked vegetables (and fruits, can't recall if they get cooked or not.)

                                1. re: mcsheridan

                                  Well, there's the raw food cousin to macrobiotic.

                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    Yup. The raw food vegans are just as zealous as the old macrobiotic adherents.

                              1. re: Karl S

                                "I am so sorry to hear that! We would have enjoyed seeing you. I hope you can join us another time."

                                I dare you.

                                1. re: Querencia

                                  I would, if I faced that situation.

                                2. re: Karl S

                                  Nah, lots of overlap with vegan and macrobiotic b

                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                    all i know is that there used to be a macrobiotic restaurant near me called M Cafe de Chaya that served the most delicious veggie burger in the world on the very best burger bun.

                                    i dunno what other things are eaten by people who are macrobiotic, but if they can eat that burger, i'm with them. . . .

                            2. re: westsidegal

                              We keep kosher and our friends make vegetarian or fish meals for us. As to the plates, in my experience, if a kosher person is willing to eat in a non-kosher home, the host's plates are fine. It is not really the "kind" of kosher, rather it is the level of observance.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                westsidegal - No, I don't think you are wrong. As someone who keeps kosher, we appreciate the efforts of our friends to make vegetarian dishes for us. It is a great solution. While I am not allergic to wheat, it greatly upsets my digestion. I simply don't eat whatever has wheat in it. If asked prior to a dinner engagement, I will offer the information. If not asked, I simply avoid the foods with wheat. It isn't that difficult and I won't starve. I could never tell someone what to make or not make for me. I think it is pretty nervy to tell a host what or what not to make.

                        2. re: monavano

                          This seems to me to be the most likely a case, where it just feels like bending over backwards to a point of the experience having lost it's joy.

                          Regarding the halal issue specifically - I can project on this in regards to how I relate to my mother's chosen practice of "kosher style". I'm fairly educated on Jewish dietary laws, and my mom is clearly just picking and choosing the aspects of kashrut that make her life have meaning. Fine in general, but it can be irritating to me when we have to plan meals, pick restaurants, etc. Now, if the Muslim friend is say only eating halal meat but then still drinking alcohol - I can see the moment of choosing the meat just feeling like an arbitrary choice.

                          When it comes to faith and lifestyle choices, I totally respect and understand that for different people certain things can be very meaningful while other things, not so much. And with other people, this really doesn't phase me - but with my mother - ah well. I'm just saying that I can relate to having frustration regarding one kind of 'pick and choose' lifestyle diet while not with another.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            For sure, one of my good friends was once vegetarian but would break down and eat meat relatively often as she said she felt that ethically she shouldn't eat animals but she didn't always have the will power to resist. Needless to say, sorting out a menu for her used to irritate me as well since I knew she often broke her own rules.

                            Again though, she went to the trouble of telling me she was trying her best to be vegetarian so I did my best to accommodate.

                            1. re: delys77

                              100% - in no way do I want to challenge or push how my mother has defined "kosher for her", but it can get under my skin. And while I don't mind sucking it up a few times a year when we do plan home cooked meals together - I wouldn't have it in me to do it more often if we lived closer.

                              What I will confess to though is that if I see her "eating into" a situation that I know breaks her own rules, I won't speak up. We were once at an Indonesian restaurant that had those "shrimp chips" on the table (which in fairness, I don't know if they actually contain shellfish extract/flavor or not), and as she started chowing down on them, I just kept my mouth shut.

                              1. re: cresyd

                                I knew a man who 'kept kosher' but had a special pot for lobster. Yet, when he was an invited guest, he made a big deal about not eating at my house since:
                                I am not Jewish
                                I don't keep a kosher kitchen
                                Finally, he did agree to eat some unpeeled fruit on a paper plate.
                                Never again.

                                1. re: Sherri

                                  Yeah..my mother has occasionally used the "oh, I'm kosher I can't eat that" when the real answer is actually "I don't want to eat something that you specifically made".

                                  There are definitely aspects of my mother's dietary choices that I do believe are apart of how she experiences faith. And then there's the rest.

                                  1. re: Sherri

                                    Sherri - Argh, it is not good when someone says they are kosher and they aren't. There are many of us who do keep kosher and do not eat what is not. I feel badly that you had a frustrating experience and I hope you understand that not all who keep kosher are like the man you described.

                                    1. re: samsaulavi

                                      My mother is like this, and 100% uses "being kosher" as her way of saying "I'd rather not eat this".

                                      For better or worse, I think we're now in a place where a number of people use religious or medical restrictions as convenient ways to not eat what they don't want. While in a situation like a flight where you ask for a kosher meal or express to a restaurant that you have an allergy - so be it. But when it's around people you socialize with (or family members), it can get grating to the point where hosting meals/food at home can just become one request too many.

                                  2. re: cresyd

                                    I confess I have done the same. One of my vegetarian friends was enjoying a "vegetable soup" made by another friend who I know makes his own chicken stock and I was 99% sure there was meat stock in the soup. Since she had already eaten most of it and I knew it would make her feel badly I didn't say anything. I did ask the friend who had prepared the soup if he used chicken stock and he replied yes and then realized his omission. He won't make the mistake again and she doesn't need to feel bad about it.

                                  3. re: delys77

                                    you are a good friend.

                                    i normally try to control my calories and sometimes fail abjectly.
                                    still, my good friends are kind enough not to confront me with my favorite lemon cake (with lemon curd between the layers) when i go to their house.

                                    that would be like trying to set me up for failure.

                              2. As a -- ahem -- middle aged person, I might guess that it might be a straw and a camel's back thing. In my younger days I could have 6 people sit down at my dinner table and happily eat (or discreetly avoid) whatever I chose to serve. I gradually learned the food preferences of my closest friends, and happily accommodated their (unspoken) preferences. I, like many cooks, want to please the people I serve.

                                It seems, however, that nowadays, the preferences are (loudly) spoken when accepting the invitation. If there are more than 2 "special" (i.e., different than my normal diet) requests, I find it a little overwhelming. Sometimes it makes me feel like I would need to be a short order cook (with a well stocked larder) in order to break bread with friends in my home. So, I find I am less happy to host than I used to be.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: dkenworthy

                                  This reminds me when I was a kid and we would be invited for dinner. I would often ask my mother what we would be having and she would always laugh and tell me she didn't know and that it would have been rude to ask the host/hostess what they were making since whatever it was we were going to smile and eat it.

                                  1. re: delys77

                                    Indeed, one of my co-workers at a winery in Healdsburg back in the 80's always hated hosting guests at the winery because the food was so "frou-frou". He always had to stop at McDonalds on his way home to get enough to eat. To his credit, the guests (or the chef) never knew there was a problem.

                                    1. re: delys77

                                      And your mother was completely correct, delys77. I can be a "difficult" eater, but that's my problem, not my host's. I've told my child on more than one occasion that you will find something on the plate that you can happily eat, you will pretend to enjoy everything else, you will graciously thank the host, and if necessary, we will stop on the way home for something quick to eat.

                                      Then again, we have no life or health threatening allergies or religious requirements in the family.

                                  2. She reached the tipping point, that's all, and I don't blame her one bit. Maybe we all should just host potluck dinners where each guest brings what she or he can eat! Entertaining is tough enough!

                                    1. Without hearing your friend's comments, I can't and won't judge her or her motives. However, as others have indicated, it could just be too much for her, whether it's the cost, inconvenience, availability of halal meat, or derision for the faddish and wildly unscientific Wheat Belly book.

                                      Not a week goes by here on Chow that someone doesn't post about juggling the dietary needs (or preferences) of their guests in entertaining. This recent thread was complicated enough for one respondent to suggest the use of a Venn diagram. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/983986

                                      I've read many of these threads, and I rarely comment, as I'm fortunate in having friends and family with minimal dietary requirements. If I had to parse a menu for an observant Muslim, a vegan, a pescatarian, two onion haters, and a dairy-free raw food eater, I'd just give up entertaining, stay home alone, and order a Pepperoni pizza, hold the anchovies.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: mcsheridan

                                        -----------------

                                        . If I had to parse a menu for an observant Muslim, a vegan, a pescatarian, two onion haters, and a dairy-free raw food eater, I'd just give up entertaining, stay home alone, and order a Pepperoni pizza, hold the anchovies.

                                        -----------------------

                                        There's a darn good joke in there somewhere mcsheridan...

                                        "An observant Muslim, a vegan, a pescatarian, two onion haters, and a dairy-free raw food eater walk into a bar..."

                                        Nope. Won't work.
                                        Damn

                                        Walk into a "Dairy Bar".
                                        Nope won't work too.

                                        Double Damn.

                                        Pizza joint? I dunno, seems iffy. LOLOLZ.

                                        Walk into a salad bar--Hmmmmm.....

                                        I;m going to work on this one. I feel an answer is there.
                                        Somewhere.

                                          1. re: mcsheridan

                                            Or, give them a stiff sentence in Food Court.

                                            By Judge Bourdain?

                                          2. re: jjjrfoodie

                                            While you're at it, I was at a suburban Boston Starbucks last night with my knit/crochet group. Three Buddhist monks in saffron robes and sandals came in and ordered to go. I don't know what their orders consisted of but it seemed to me like the set-up for a joke.

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              In my town you will regularly see Benedictine monks out walking around. It is always a good time when you see them in the bar.

                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                Buddhist monks can also eat at McDonald's. I don't see what there might be to joke about. Most people drink coffee, and they probably have tea at Starbucks as an alternative.

                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                  Greygarious might have been thinking about this old joke:

                                                  A Zen master visiting New York City goes up to a hot dog vendor and says, "Make me one with everything."
                                                  The hot dog vendor fixes a hot dog and hands it to the Zen master, who pays with a $20 bill.
                                                  The vendor puts the bill in the cash box and closes it. "Excuse me, but where’s my change?" asks the Zen master.
                                                  The vendor responds, "Change must come from within."

                                                  I'm sure she meant no offense.

                                            2. re: mcsheridan

                                              What...you don't eat anchovies! What a fussy eater you are!! :)

                                            3. The thing those two things seem to have in common is that they are both recent changes that the person with the restriction seems to have made all of a sudden. She may be more frustrated by someone who used to eat XYZ and now all of a sudden has decided that they don't eat X than she is by someone who has never eaten XY or Z as long as she's been cooking for them.

                                              Maybe the switch to Halal is part of a deepening of her one friend's faith, but if she's not a party to his religious thoughts and life, it may seem really arbitrary to her. With the gluten -- maybe that's a well-considered decision come to in consultation with her doctors, but it might seem to your friend like it's a whim based on reading a fad diet book.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                Well reasoned in terms of the recentness of the changes, she did say that was part of the issue. For me however, whether someone has come to the decision last week that they feel strongly enough about XYZ to change their eating habits vs. someone who has been eating that way for years, I still don't see good grounds to make a judgement.

                                                1. re: delys77

                                                  Actually, that's more than sufficient grounds for a host to make a judgement about how many special needs guests to have at a given dinner party. Most hosts can only handle one or two max, unless the hosts have staff. Unusual dietary needs raise sociability hurdles (that's being descriptive, not pejorative) because dining (as opposed to eating) is an inherently communal activity that presumes a fairly high common baseline. You should cut your friend a break. And then some. If you want to be a good friend.

                                                  1. re: Karl S

                                                    Definitely not harshing her just didn't get why these guys were the tipping point.

                                                    1. re: delys77

                                                      Maybe there's no real connection, and perhaps, enough was enough.
                                                      They just happened to be the one-too-many-hoops to jump through.

                                                2. re: Jacquilynne

                                                  I agree; it might seem arbitrary but it might represent a reawakening of faith. My husband went through that (he was raised Hindu), and now won't eat meat (he will eat fish) and particularly beef...both of which he ate when we first met and were married. I guess the easy part for me is that he made this conversion after our children were mostly raised and out of the house...so planning meals for them was never difficult (well, except when they went through picky phases:-). Of course, I know and love my husband well, and I respect his religious beliefs even if I don't totally agree with them...so I would never dream of serving meat in our house now. Because I was with him when he went through this conversion, I understand that it is genuine. In return, he respects my beliefs and doesn't have a problem with me ordering meat when we go out to eat (even a good steak should I crave it:-), and is ok if I keep a package of ham in the fridge for my beloved ham sandwiches I make for lunch. Of course, he reserves the right to refuse to kiss me right after I've eaten that steak:-)