Monday, June 1, 2009

Rethinking Manners

I was having lunch last week with a couple of dear friends, Pascale and Peggy. They laughed about showing up in my blog because of our lunch, so of course I have to comply! Of course, if they really didn’t want to show up in my blog, they shouldn’t have made really insightful observations about adults with food allergies! But they did, so now they’re fair game.

Over tasty salads and iced tea on the patio at Red Butte Café and in between discussions of bike races and kids’ sports, Pascale told me that since she’s learned about food allergies from me, she has started asking her guests about food allergies whenever she invites friends over for dinner or a party.

And she’s surprised at how often her guests admit to food allergies – even people she’s known for a long time and has invited over before. They didn’t offer the information on their own. She had to specifically ask them before they’d admit to it.

“Why didn’t they just tell me?” she asked, a little exasperated. “If they would just tell me, it’s easy to change a recipe or make something different! I’d much rather cook something they can eat, than cook something they can’t eat and then feel bad when they don’t touch it.”

You know, most of us don’t think about it that way. Like I wrote about back in April, we were brought up to have manners. You know the ones:

“Don’t ask for food. If the hostess offers you food, you can have some, but don’t ask.”

“If you don’t like something, just say ‘No Thank You’, and don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“Eat what’s on your plate. No complaining.”

So it’s understandable why we adults assume we shouldn’t tell the hostess that we have food allergies. It would be rude, we think.

Guess what? It turns out it’s not the same thing at all. Think about it. There’s a difference between a taste preference, which you can perhaps overcome by trying a tiny bit and smiling through your gag reflex, and a food allergy that can threaten your life.

The more I’ve thought about Pascale’s comment, the more I realize that informing your hostess of your food allergies before the party isn’t rude. In fact, it’s polite. Why? Because getting there and then not eating the food will leave the hostess wondering why. Did you hate the food? Did you hate her cooking? Did she put too much spice in it? Are you mad at her? Even if you tell her about your food allergies at the party, after she’s cooked everything, she’ll still be embarrassed. Part of being a hostess is seeing everyone eat and enjoy your cooking. Another big part of being a hostess is supposed to be anticipating your guests’ needs. If you don’t know those needs, you can’t accommodate them, and it kind of sets everyone up for failure. And embarrassment.

I’ve never really thought about it all this way. And if Pascale’s experience is typical, a lot of adults with food allergies probably haven’t really thought about it that way either. So on behalf of well-intentioned and good-hearted hostesses everywhere, the next time you’re invited to a party, don’t wait to be asked. Go ahead and mention your allergies. She’ll be glad you did.


Shari said...

Tell Peggy and Pascale hi from me!

Kaylie said...

After I had my baby and people were bringing over food, they asked first if there was anything I wouldn't or couldn't eat. I really appreciated it. So nice not to have to choke down a steak when just looking at one makes me sick. I may not have food allergies, but there are lots of people who have special diets such as vegetarians, diabetics, low fat, etc., and it's always nice when people make the extra effort to accomodate.

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

It makes you feel like people really do care, doesn't it? So glad you wrote!

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

Shari, I will!

Pascale said...

One more thing I meant to tell you: I've also learned to look at my recipe ingredients more carefully. I have a couple of recipes with some exotic ingredients (just a couple - you know I'm not really much of a cook!). When someone told me she was allergic to shrimp, I carefully looked at the label of one of the ingredients in my dish, and sure enough, it had shrimp in it. Luckily I was able to make a substitution. Thanks for your blog - I've learned a lot about label reading from you!

And hi right back to Shari!