When Food Excludes: As we plan for gatherings to celebrate holidays and our love for one another, great food is a prerequisite. Can you imagine your holiday gatherings without your favorite entrée or dessert? What happens when your favorite meal excludes a loved one with a food intolerance, food allergy, health-related food need, or a different lifestyle or faith? Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, inflammation, Celiac’s disease, milk intolerance, allergies, casein/soy/wheat intolerance, Vegan diet, plant based diet, Kosher foods, plus other individualized food choices, lifestyles, and religious practices abound.
Bury your head in the sand. That has to be the easiest way to continue your plans and enjoy your event, right? Wrong! When you choose to continue cooking and serving meals your way, you often exclude others without malice. You would never work for days to plan and prepare a spectacular celebration with family heritage recipes to harm your loved ones. When you are the one excluded by food, it might feel that way to you.
Imagine yourself sitting at an elegantly dressed table or walking through a casual “come and get it” buffet line with an empty plate. You cannot eat anything. You sit and watch everyone else enjoy the bounty and fellowship while you feel humiliated, different, and left-out. Aunt so and so made one dish that you might be able to eat. She isn’t really sure it meets your needs, but she tried. Do you eat it and get sick to be polite? Do you give-up and eat everything you desire due to a loss of self-control? What would you do? How would you feel? If you can put yourself in the place of your guest, you will better understand how food can exclude.
“Bring your own dish if you have special dietary needs.” I have heard that for years. Sure, I can bring my own dish, but that still means I cannot fully participate in your celebration. What if I asked you to eat a single dish I was going to bring for you instead of the feast which is in front of you? Hmm…
Let’s talk about solutions. Potlucks, gatherings, celebrations, and casual visits planned with everyone in mind will allow your guests and loved ones to feel equally important and nurtured. That is the feeling we want to convey, anyway.
Here are some things you can try: Ask your guests about food needs and preferences before you plan the entire menu. Learn how to make foods everyone can enjoy. Place note cards with ingredients listed on each dish to allow guests to make informed decisions. Share your menu with ingredients listed prior to the event. Ask your guests to share their favorite recipe or ingredient substitutions with you and others bringing food. Modify your recipe. Yes, modify it. Try several times to get it just right. Consider a menu that is friendly to all. Hide the tempting desserts from kids and adults with limited self-control. Make it fun and don’t stress out over serving food to those of us with divergent diets. Celebrate your love and include everyone. Food brings us together, it should never divide us.