A sensible dinner, by Michael Ruhlman/Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I got an email last week that made my blood boil. Yes, seemingly to boil. Not simmer. A blanching-green-veg boil, a pressure cooker boil.

The kind of boil my blood gets when I’m at a restaurant and I hear a woman, grilling the server suspiciously, saying, “I’m allergic to lactose” and then later says, “Oooh, could you wheel that cheese cart over here? Gawd, I love Epoisse.”

I’m just minding my own business, a happy Bertie Wooster moment at my desk before work, dreaming of confiting turkey legs, and an email pops into my box and it’s like someone smacked me on the skull with a cricket bat.

It was from Heather Clayton, an expat living in southern Germany, trying to plan a meal here in the once sensible USA (West Coast, bien sûr), for a diverse group of FAMILY MEMBERS, for her beloved daughter. I’m  reprinting it with Heather’s permission (she asked only to be warned when it would be posted so that she could deal with in-law feedback). Suggestions for her?

Dear Michael,

I am the mother of the bride. My daughter is a third culture kid, having grown up outside the US for her teen years. Consequently, she has been exposed to a wide variety of cultures and cuisines.

Her one request for her wedding day was to have a small luncheon for close friends and family to celebrate the occasion.

We found a lovely Italian trattoria with a slow food, sustainable agriculture/local food philosophy that suits our needs perfectly.

Our problem is my husband’s siblings “special diet” issues. They embody the evangelical wacko dietary fads that consume a certain slice of the upper middle class. We have every variation of diet extremism from the paleo-diet to variations of the casein/gluten/lactose/sugar-free philosophies which means they are limited to brown rice, some grilled meats, and some fruits/veges. Apparently they are worried about leaky guts and fingers swelling from gluten exposure. To compound the problem, there are quite a number of them who follow variations of this extremism—10 to 12 people out of a party of 75 or so.

Since we are hosting our luncheon at an Italian restaurant, we will embrace cheese, pasta, gelato (and wedding cake) etc. with gusto. My husband wants to include his siblings in our celebration. However I have no desire to pay hundreds of dollars for meals that will be picked at, ignored or otherwise snubbed because of their food fascism. I will not have them ruin my daughter’s day by taking up space refusing to eat. If it were a matter of vegetarian vs. meat eating–that’s easy to accommodate. However this dietary demand goes beyond mere plant vs. animal.

The questions is this:

Is there a polite way to tell them that we are happy to include them, however we will not be custom ordering meals to suit paleothic metabolisms and if they insist on maintaining their gluten/lactose/sugar/casein/fat-free diets, we would be happy to see them AFTER lunch for toasts and speeches. I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve had enough family dinners ruined by their food proselyting that I have no interest to give them a forum at what should be a joyous time.

How does a modern bride and her family deal with this issue?  If you are aware of somewhere in the food etiquette world where someone has written on this topic, please send me to them.  I am looking for any input that might be out there.

Dear Heather,

Many thanks for your letter and calling attention to the good term “food fascism” that yes, does seem to reside mainly among the otherwise intelligent upper middle classes.

I do not believe in telling people what to eat. If you want to kill yourself with a raw food diet, go ahead. If you want to give up meat, good for you, seriously, I admire it (though have a hamburger or hot dog from a trusted source every now and then just so you can keep digesting; you did evolve this way after all).

But foisting your diet on anyone or even talking about it in a way that even remotely self-serves or proselytizes, pisses me off.

As you noted in a follow-up email that no one in your party has any serious conditions (celiac disease, shellfish allergies), I would serve whatever the hell makes your daughter happy. I’m sure she’ll want a good variety, and so every normal person can enjoy him- or herself.

But since you know that some of your relatives are a bit touched in the head with regard to their own diet, and that restaurants do charge by the head, I recommend including just what you elegantly wrote in your email on the invitation, politely. “I’m aware many in our big and diverse family may have diets they must adhere to, so if you suspect that our menu won’t suit you, please let me know so that we can let the restaurant know how many people will be attending the meal. If you won’t be attending do let me know, and also let me know if you will be joining us for the celebration following the meal.”

Something like that. Anyone else want to chime in?

We have reached such a pitch of food idiocy it makes me want to scream. Much of the idiocy is sparked by the media that seems to report on every study and trend that comes around the bend. That and an American population that simply cannot think for itself. People, you have six senses! The last one is common! Use it!

The photo above is a good, balanced everyday meal in our house. It makes sense. And I feel good after I eat it. Why has eating become so difficult for so many people?

If you liked this post have a look at these links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved


273 Wonderful responses to “Food Fascism”

  • Curtis

    I completely agree with your approach in this case. OTOH, I am tired of people calling people they disagree with ‘fascists’.

  • Baygal

    I live near the worlds capital of Food Fascists, (why I will go anon), Berkeley. It is almost unbearable to go out to eat, listening to these entitled PICKY eaters. The other big thing is to ask from what farms the menu items came from, then a roll of the eyes if it is not from their fav.
    Heather, a wedding is about one thing….THE BRIDE. I agree with Michael and perhaps would not be so polite by stating the facts. I would invite the rude ones and not answer my phone or emails. Hopefully these ruddies will RSVP, if they state dietary concerns, cross then off your list.
    Personally, I would probably just invite the real people to the lunch and invite the psychos for dessert.
    Here in Berkeley you not only have to deal with the Food Fascists, but also the “chemical sensitive” ones. I once had a patient call and tell me to instruct my staff not to wear deodorant or perfume, the day of her appointment. I bought lunch for the staff the day of her appointment and made sure it was full of garlic and onions…and everyone wore deodorant!

    • Darcie

      Of course I don’t know all the details of your experience, but as someone who has migraines that can be triggered by perfumes and other strong scents, I can relate to someone politely asking if your staff could forego these items when they visit. I see no reason not to accommodate them. If it’s just someone who doesn’t like perfume, that’s different. But it’s not an unreasonable request – it’s not like she asked you to all wear matching clown outfits for her enjoyment.

      • The gold digger

        Yeah, perfume makes me gag. It doesn’t give me a migraine (yet, but I’m sure it is working its way onto the list of triggers – bright light didn’t used to bother me, but now I can’t bear it), but it makes me feel nauseated. Still, I would never demand that nobody wear it. I just wish people would realize how nasty they smell.

      • Jay

        Why wouldn’t I accommodate? Because how much energy must I or my employees expend? If “this” for you, then “that” for another; where does it end? No thanks. YOU go and expend your energy looking for someone who will grant your request. I’m fed up with people who have some special circumstance about smells/ingredients/noises/light/material/etc.

      • Darius

        I apreciate your concerns about bright lights and perfumes causing you a reaction. Want to know a secret? you insurance will reimburse my office the same amount -regardless- of how much ass kissing I do for you.

        Go live in a darkened non-permeable plastic bubble to prevent any exposures to potentially antigenic or allergic substances. Hopefully before you breed.

    • sj

      Baygal, you and I are neighbors, and it is lovely to see someone else from the food wars front line saying EXACTLY what I was thinking. Brava.

    • Petoskystone

      Wow….When it comes to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities,not only are you callous, you’re ignorant. Being a person who has MCS, I can assure you that garlic & onions have nothing to do with triggering an attack. However, scented products (such as deodorant & perfumes) do….exposure leads to migraines, swelling throat, & fatigue, among other symptoms. To read that you vindictively encouraged staff to wear what a patient stated was a trigger is cold-hearted, to put it politely.

      • Jzelouise

        If you are that sensitive -stay home, live in a bubble or get over your entitled self. I travel with an inhaler, epi-pen and benadryl.

    • Lessa

      as a chemically sensitive person (i cook for a living), your client’s request doesn’t seem that bad. I won’t let my staff wear perfume at all and deodorant must be low in the power of scent. I try not to let my sensitivities rule other’s lives. If your perfume gives me a migraine, I leave where you are, but I do wonder what happened to people who think bathing in their perfume is a good idea.

  • Bill McLaughlin

    Such self centeredness is rude beyond belief in that they would presume to force their demands on a celebration that is not for them. I suggest that they be told politely that this is the menu the bride has chosen for HER day. If it doesn’t suit them they are welcome to join the festivities later in the evening.

  • bob del Grosso

    My view is that if one has the money and patience to accommodate the needs of the fussiest guests, then spend it. If you don’t have it then after making an honest effort to meet their needs (invite them to bring their own meals), try to find a way to let them decide for themselves whether or not they will show up.
    Dismissing them as fascists may feel good in the short term (and to be fair, people who make demands like that are insufferable) but if we invite them, the burden of making them happy is on us.

    • ruhlman

      bob, her point is she doesn’t want to invite them to 1) pay for the food they wont eat, and 2) pay for the food that they will make will lord over her in their not eating of it, and 3) generally annoy the other 65 guests, not to mention the deserved center of attention, the young couple about to be married.

      • MJC

        This IS the point. Ms. Clayton should simply send a copy of the menu to her guests with a polite note that mentions that her daughter came up with the menu, it is set and there will be no substitutions.

        It’s too much to ‘make’ them eat the food that is served. if they are invited, food will be served to them, they don’t have to eat it. It’s not to much to ask that they don’t complain about the food that is served or make a scene with the restaurant staff when their dietary requests can not be met.

        I eat with this type of person way too often. It’s uncomfortable. It makes the dinner unenjoyable. I feel for the bride and her family. It’s a shame that something like this has to be seriously considered on what is such an important day.

      • Karen K.

        So DONE with these people. Unless it is a bona fide disease or allergy, they need to chill.

      • bob del Grosso

        Ah, I see. I suspect that she doesn’t lie them anyway and doesn’t want to bother with them at all. I can’t blame her really, they sound pretty awful. I didn’t invite anyone to my wedding that I had no use for unless I was sure they could be kept in line by surrounding them with people who would intimidate them into silence. Has she considered trying that?

    • Wilma de Soto

      Sorry, but it feels VERY good to say this. You KNOW you’re my boy but considering that most people who are SO fussy about food because they have money do not even cook or know food. However, they wish to bludgeon those who who do into submission because they can…Forgive me but I have to side with Mr. Ruhlman here. If you don’t like the way I do it, hire a cook or more importantly cook it yourself “a su gusto.”

      Fondest regards,


      • bob del Grosso

        Haha Wilma, You caught me trying to be diplomatic when you damn well know that want I wanted to write was “Put a bowl of hemp seeds on the table and tell them to STFU!” 🙂
        Paleo-diet indeed. People should be able to eat whatever they want, but no one has any right to demand being fed in a certain way unless they are paying for it themselves.
        I mean, if someone has a real food allergy (e.g. my son who blows up near peanuts -he’s been hospitalized once) it is totally okay to ask that the allergens not be in the food but that’s it.

  • Dave M

    “Such self centeredness is rude beyond belief…”

    Oh. For a second I thought you were going to talk about the bride. Honestly I don’t think there are any winners here.

  • whome

    Genuine food allergies and dietary concerns with issues like T1 diabetics are one thing. But what the letter and Michael are talking about are folks who have C H O S E N to eat this way or that are a totally different issue. They have made a conscious decision to only eat raw two week old red specked tit mouse lettuce from the hipperthanthoufarmofthehipster in the lower 1/4th acre of an obscure province in Manitoba. Thus the onus for maintaining their diet is squarely on THEM. I would only state very plainly that this is the menu, if you can enjoy it please let me know. If not we’d be happy to see you when the festivities begin and leave it at that. If they want to join and can great, if not less money for you and more food for everyone else. No way in hell would I even consider attempting to placate this type of person, not in the least. Vegetarian is more or less easily accommodated so it’s not so much an issue and as I said genuine allergies and restrictions are the exception. The utter arrogance that comes from the type of food fascist described here is disgusting.

  • Darcie

    I have friends with a number of dietary constraints, some self-inflicted (vegetarian), some not (celiac disease, a horrific allergy to bananas). I make an effort to accommodate them when they are in my home, but don’t obsess over it. If I have many guests and there is but one vegetarian, I will probably make meat and a substantial side dish that can double as a vegetarian entree. I actually enjoy the challenge of planning a coherent meal that takes into account different tastes and needs.

    A wedding is different than dinner at home – it is a celebration of the bridal couple. I have gagged down a lot of shitty food at weddings with no complaint. And if I didn’t like it I didn’t eat it. If I knew they were going to serve something I couldn’t eat, I would politely decline the dinner but join them later. IMO the onus should be on the guests. Don’t exclude them from the wedding reception because you disagree with their food policy. It seems the arrogance is going both ways here. What’s next – don’t invite those relatives who have different political affiliations? Or the uncle who gives uncomfortably long hugs?

    If you really can’t afford it, I don’t disagree with a polite request in the invitation. But expect blowback. I guess the question is, what price is worth offending many of the husband’s close relatives?

    In the above case, surely there is some chicken dish that can be made and fruit to be served – same thing for all ‘special food’ guests, don’t go crazy. I recently did an Italian dinner that featured a grilled chicken breast with a berry sauce that might fit the bill for these folks. Or a simple Tuscan chicken breast and a bowl of fruit. No need to get too fancy. That should suit most of them.

    I agree with Dave M. – no winners here.

    • Clark

      Sure dave. Most. But one might be no sugar, so you’ll have one no fruit or berry sauce. 3 might not eat meat, but 1 of those three also doesn’t do sugar. 1 vegetarian could also not eat gluten so you can’t even give them table bread. The permutations are endless with 10 + people like that. Add that to the other 70 guests and it is incredibly challenging to do from the kitchens perspective. Now imagine there are 4 or 5 courses. Each Course might have 10 different plates of food.

  • Dracil

    Maybe it’s just me, but the funny thing is that as far as I can tell, the photo of your “sensible dinner” would actually fit completely within these future siblings-in-laws you think are being way too picky.

    The other thing that strikes me is the apparent need to put down those who are different. I thought they were the ones who were supposed to be the fascists here.

  • Diana

    Food allergies are no joke, and a person with a food allergy should be able to ask politely if there is any possibility for a dish to be altered or have an ingredient left off without feeling like a rapist. For a while in the late 90’s, there was a fad for sprinkling almonds all over the damn place, and not mention it on the menu. I dodged death many times. now, pistachios are “hot”. “How do I make this dish ULTRA EDGY? I know! I’ll add pistachios!” Yeah, like no one else is doing that.

    So I ask, “hey, would it please be possible to leave off the pistachios? I’m seriously allergic and will have to epipen myself and go to the ER if I eat one. ”

    ‘NOOOOOOOO! You would seriously destroy the Chef’s VISION! His CREATION!!!”

    “I’m sure the Jidori chicken wrapped in bacon donuts is perfectly lovely without toasted pistachio brittle”

    “GOD no, you philistine! I KNEW you weren’t hip enough for this place when I saw you had no skinny jeans or porkpie hat!”

    “Well, OK, thanks, I guess. I’m going somewhere else.”

  • Anne

    If it’s an Italian restaurant, I have a hard time imagining that some simple grilled/roasted meats and good, uncomplicated vegetable dishes are outside their standard repertoire. Is the meal being served family-style? If not, has family-style been considered? It seems like that arrangement allows for much more flexibility in terms of offering a variety of different dishes to accommodate different sensitivities and preferences. It’s certainly much easier to put together a family-style menu of, say, 6-8 dishes that addresses these issues than to decide on one or two main course options that address all possible permutations of dietary preference/restriction.

    I certainly agree that it’s asking too much of the bridal party to bend over backward and cater every single one of the dishes to suit all sensitivities/choices at once. That said, I do think it would show good grace on the part of the hosts to make at least some accommodation. By going the family-style route, you could serve some vegetables, some pasta, some grilled/roasted meats, etc. and hopefully everyone can enjoy at least one of the dishes.

    Of course, that assumes that family-style is an option–for the party and for the restaurant. I realize that might not be the case.

  • David

    The word is “fascism,” Ruhlman. Not facism. Facism sounds like a group of radical vegans that won’t eat anything with a face.

  • DJK

    1) I think you should be thankful that only 13-16% of your friends & family are a little kooky.

    2) I think you should be especially thankful that what they’re kooky about is what they eat.

    3) I don’t think it’s likely a coincidence that the kooky family members just happen to belong to your husband’s side of the family, rather than your own.

    Family is a pain in the ass. Inhale. Invite them without qualification. Deal. Exhale when they leave.

  • Lou

    I think it would be entirely appropriate to advise them about your food philosophy in choosing the particular establishment and of the menu options at the luncheon. Point out this is a personal choice of the bride and designed to make her day special from a culinary perspective and expects those partaking of the special meal to enjoy these particular choices. If the choices are problematical and do not satisfy their particular culinary choices they will be most welcome to join the festivities at a later time in the afternoon.

  • Three Pipe Problem

    DJK’s comment is a good one. Heather is being a stereotypical mother-in-law, can’t come out looking good from escalating the drama this way.

    As an aside, the conservative medical view is now that 13% of the US population has either gluten sensitivity or celiac disease detectable by genetic testing. Yep, that’s 13%. Recently Scientific American featured a cover story to the effect that the “leaky gut” may well be the common denominator behind all autoimmune disease.

    That being said, I’ve never found it difficult to avoid gluten in most restaurants, even given fixed menus at functions I can usually find something. And sometimes I just don’t worry about it at special occasions. It seems quite easy, from the host point of view or the guest point of few, to make a few small accommodations so that people can stay on their diets. Almost any menu that operates has to offer a variety of foods to cater to these different diets on a daily basis, and handles such requests as a matter of course. But I’m sure you all could fight about it if you want to.

  • Kimber

    I haven’t been to any wedding celebrations for awhile and don’t ever remember being given advanced notice of the menu items. It probably is a good idea to eliminate wasting the cost and food, yet there’s usually a voracious eater that would be happy to consume a second helping, esp. since it seems smaller portions can be the norm. They could let them bring their own preferred meal and eat in the car. .

  • BrandonA

    I’m embaressed by my fellow paleo eaters she speaks about. Yeah sure I avoid beans, wheat, cheese most of the time. But a wedding? That is the reason I eat well during the week so I can go all out and celebrate when needed. I tend to eat paleo but would also recommend not doing anything special for them.

  • Ted Hentson

    “Much of the idiocy is sparked by the media that seems to report on every study and trend that comes around the bend.”

    Whoa. I have to disagree. It’s not the media’s fault people don’t know what to eat or how to cook. Try pointing that finger at the industrial food complex that moved home cooks from the stove/oven to the microwave, or that label packaging in a manner that dupes their own customers with false claims of immunity or heart-health. Or blame the eater himself — who isn’t smart enough to discern the difference between a moronic raw food diet and Pollan’s simple advice to eat more plants, less meat. Or to choose what writers they read more carefully. Just because it’s on the web, doesn’t make it true. Readers have a responsibility to figure out who to trust. If they get their food-news from an untrusted source and end up all whacked out over a nutty diet, it’s their own fault. I’m surprised your post was so emotional, and disappointed you dirt-bombed the media over it, when there are many other factors at play.

  • deb belcore

    The restaurant sounds lovely. I follow the Paleo approach to eating, and it is easy to find appropriate items almost ANYWHERE. To Anne’s point – just pick the meat and veg, and dont draw attention to yourself!

  • Mark Preston

    While I see a large number of responses, already here; I cannot resist posting the following: Sentimental Vegetarianism by P. Morton Shand

    New York : Knopf, 1928 – (page 160)

    The Sentimental Vegetarians are the most numerous and illogical of the different sects of dietetic vegetarians, quasi-vegetarians, frutarians, nutarians and the raw vegetable nourishment stalwarts. If the pretensions of the sentimental vegetarians are to be taken seriously, not only must humanity forgo all animal foods, including milk and eggs, from ethical motives, but true to the essentially democratic principal of “sois mon frere, ou je te tu,” every single race of mankind should be constrained — by force of arms failing peaceful persuasion, since the offence is greater in the eating than in the killing — to abstain from meat nourishment for all eternity.

    After making the world safe for vegetarianism, the next step would be the organization of armed, vegetarianized, humanity (or vegetarianized armed humanity – it does not matter which, but propagandists would declare there was a world of difference) to prevent non-carnivorous animals being devoured by carnivorous, and to put a stop to the outrage of carnivorous animals preying on each other.

    • mantonat

      That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. The person that wrote this is actually an adult?

  • Steph

    As someone with the lactose problem, my mother knows I’m coming to lunch and she makes her homemade macaroni and cheese, I bring the probiotics and indulge in one of the best memories of my childhood. On Easter, my mother’s lamb and colchannon await, and my sister and I share our probiotics. If guests can’t handle the choices and etiquette begs they be invited, they should eat a meal they can tolerate before the event and come and socialize perhaps in an adjoining venue while other paid for guests nosh, so they can be present and on time for the toasts and celebration after the main meal.

    • Annabel

      I believe that if you have a lactose allergy you can still eat cheese, as the sugar is converted into something else in the cheese. Of course, some people are allergic to all dairy products, not just milk – a young cousin of mine is, poor lad, although he has learnt to adapt to it. You can make macaroni cheese using tomato juice or tinned tomatoes for the sauce, rather than milk – I often do, although I have no food allergies except a mild one to some seafood.

  • A gourmet

    Dear Mother of the Bride,
    How lovely for you and your daughter to embody the evangelical stance of “slow food, sustainable agriculture/local food philosophy that suits our needs perfectly.” Because you believe it is a correct philosophy surely your inlaws are “wackos”.

    You mention that “My daughter is a third culture kid, having grown up outside the US for her teen years. Consequently, she has been exposed to a wide variety of cultures and cuisines.” Don’t know what a third culture kid is, but if she’s been exposed to all of these cultures and cuisines then surely she’s been exposed to all kinds of personalities. Including her paternal relatives (I’m sure that all of her maternal relatives are normal and certainly not wacko to any degree).

    Since when is 75 people a small luncheon? If you can’t afford to host 75 people then don’t.

    And in your post you say that most of these “wackos” eat only brown rice, grilled meats, vegetables and fruit. Um, except for the brown rice, exactly how hard is that to accommodate at this Italian restaurant that is so lovely? If you don’t want to give them a forum for “proselyting” then don’t. Simply change the subject. Have a list of subjects with you if necessary.

    This should be a “joyous time”. Yes, it should be. For everyone–you, your daughter, your husband AND your in-laws.

    • Stephanie Struble

      Miss Manners would be proud of you. Everybody involved in this wedding needs to remember that people are more important than food.

  • Peter Pienkowski

    Almost everyone in my family has a number of food allergies and my father is an allergist, which may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but whatever. To the point of etiquette…to my knowledge, we have never even mentioned allergies or restrictions before going to a dinner party, though close friends do know and probably take some pains to avoid certain ingredients. We may ask if that bit of fried deliciousness is cornmeal’d or flour’d and you may feel bad if we can’t eat it. And, yes, we annoyingly ask our server at restaurants if it’s possible to leave certain ingredients out of a meal, which they are typically happy to do if at all possible. But, with friends, we typically just go to their house and figure out what we can eat. If there is not enough, we stay hungry. It’s not a big deal – this is not the Sahara, I’ll eat again in a matter of hours at the most. Having grown up with a number of food and environmental allergies, I’ve typically tried to make do with what I have or I’m presented with, because I always felt a little weird that I can’t eat this or that. Sometimes it’s just too delicious, and I’ll eat what I’m allergic to as an indulgence, knowing full and well that my lips may swell a little or be chapped or that I may face a, um, “free-er” stool than normal the next morning.

    That said, I don’t think the recent self-centered stuff is the province of allergy sufferers. Allergies have been around for a while and historically, I think people have been more aware of pet allergies. And to compare, I have never, ever seen a person ask someone else to ditch Fido or Kitty if they have a pet allergy and they’re coming over for dinner. If their allergy is severe, they typically regretfully decline the invitation. If it’s not, they pop an antihistamine beforehand or just deal with it. I can’t possibly imagine the deluded, self-centered attitude that leads to scenes like this, but they are becoming increasingly common. Maybe it’s reality TV or years of guidance counselors telling kids that they’re so special, but I blame Elizabeth Hasselbeck. When you start telling people that avoiding gluten/whatever is good for weight loss, you’re just opening a can of OCD on the situation. The type of people who go after every fad diet but never have the discipline to just eat fewer calories are the same type of people who are looking to unload responsibility for their problems on others. But, please, feel sorry for them, they are by and large a miserably depressed lot.

    As a side note on the picky eaters, my allergist-dad says that, in his experience, patients are often allergic to foods they crave. I’m allergic to wheat and love bread – fortunately, there’s spelt – which I don’t have a reaction to and which also works well as a no-knead loaf. My allergies has motivated me to learn food and learn to cook for myself. You’d be surprised to know the number of “gluten-intolerant” folks don’t know their head from their feet. They’ll eat any amount of crappy bleu cheese crumbled or dressed on a salad that they also demand is prepared half a mile away from anything resembling a crouton. Or will happily eat mushrooms grown on a wheat or rye grain substrate. If their allergies are really so severe that they have made their lives miserable, I tend to think they would have bothered to learn about those sort of things before they bother us. Sometimes, I just want to call their bluff, but, again, I’m trying to feel sorry for these people.

  • Leslie

    The question is: who decides what is a real concern vs. a diet du jour? My son who is in college has always been anaphylactic to milk, egg, nuts and peanuts. He outgrew soy and a few other food allergies. He continues as part of a research study to find out the cause of his life-long allergies. A friend of ours has developed severe allergies to peanuts, sesame and shrimp, foods she’s eaten with gusto her entire life. All I can say is have some empathy. My son would like nothing more than to eat a cream puff or a dish of ice cream. My friend would like to eat her carefree way once again.

  • T in WA

    I have a daughter with a life threatening allergy to Peanuts … I would never in my life ask some to curtail their event menu to accommodate us … we just go and ask if anything has peanuts or uses peanut oil and if it does, we don’t eat (i have no allergy but won’t eat as to support my daughter) most times there is something she can eat and then after the event, we just go out to dinner. It is stressful enough trying to plan multi-family events without having to try to accommodate every like/dislike/allergy … I say plan your menu, invite the family and if they don’t like, they can leave or lump it. Seriously, could we make trying to have a wedding anymore stressful?!?

  • kim mancha

    oh boo-hoo. good manners dictate that if you’re invited to a meal paid for by someone else, you either go, smile like it’s wonderful no matter what you think and keep your piehole shut. if you can’t see your way clear to do so, politely decline. no matter what your relationship to the host.

  • Michelle

    First: I know there are people with REAL food allergies and REAL celiac out there.

    I do a lot of volunteer work with low income/at risk communities. I’ve worked with children that don’t have food in their homes. One thing I noticed in my work is that I have NEVER encountered “allergies”, or people following fad diets(and paleo is a fad and not a scientifically sound fad at that) in these groups. I get so angry when people refuse food and say things like “I can’t eat meat” or “I can’t eat gluten”. NO, you CAN, you CHOOSE not to. The kids I worked with have no choice. No food=not eating.

    Heather, you have every right to CHOOSE to not invite these people. Beyond the waste of money, it is a waste of food. You shouldn’t have to accommodate weird entitlements. And, from my perspective, entitled eaters never stop talking about their issues and RUIN events for the rest of the guests. Are you going to isolate them at one table all by themselves? Who wants to sit with someone picking at their plate? Not me.

  • Christine

    I echo some of the other comments–I don’t understand how hard it can be to accommodate (within reason) any array of dietary needs. Maybe it’s considered gauche, but many weddings I have attended have either had buffets so people can pick and choose what they’ll eat or a set menu to choose from that included some variation of meat, chicken, fish and vegetarian, with a card enclosed in the invitation for people to express their chosen meal. You could enclose the proposed menu with an option “I prefer a simple meal of grilled fish/chicken/whatever and vegetables.” or something. I don’t know. I know the kind of over zealousness you’re talking about, but if peoples’ food choices are the only problem, I think you’re lucky!!!

  • Chris Armstrong

    Thanks for the great post Michael.

    As someone who follows a gluten-free diet because of celiac disease and a grain-free diet because it’s working wonders for me, hearing this story pisses me off too. Before you get up in arms about my comment, it pisses me off for the same reasons that it does you 🙂 I would never ask that someone cater their event based on my dietary limitations or whims. You should cater your event to your own tastes and to no one else’s. If the bride or groom had followed a special diet, then they should make the menu follow that diet.

    My philosophy is and always will be this: if you have special food requirements, it’s up to YOU and only you to make sure you’re doing what you need to do follow those requirements. You should never expect others to cater to you. The only exception to this rule is when you have a restaurant who says they cater to a certain group and then gets annoyed by customers asking questions. But that’s an entirely different subject.

  • Erin

    I don’t disagree with the notion that all the special diets out there these days can be annoying and inconvenient. I work in the events industry, and trying to create food stations that provide something for everyone is a real challenge, given the growing number of gluten-free vegans with allergies to nuts, fruit and legumes. Not easy.

    That said, I think this Mother of the Bride is just trying to pick a fight. There is no way that this lovely Italian restaurant won’t be providing some items that fit gluten free or Paleo diets just fine. They will be serving meat and vegetables, yes? If she tries to tell her in-laws that they essentially are not welcome at a family wedding feast because of their food preferences, she’s gunning for a major family rift that will last long after the wedding day is over. Calm down. Everyone will find something to eat. It’s the guest’s responsibility to choose what they like to eat from the options provided. It’s the host’s responsibility to be accommodating within reason, gracious and welcoming. Don’t do anything that would cause tension and bad feelings on your daughter’s important day.

  • Andy

    I hate it when people have fake food allergies. Makes people who have genuine ones seem like they’re crying wolf.

  • Jen

    I guess I’m not understanding what the big deal is. I know plenty of people who restrict certain foods for a variety of reasons. Can’t she just order food for 50 and then add some simple sides such as salad with the dressing on the side and nice bread? Problem solved.

  • Lucy

    DJK said it best above: Family is a pain in the ass. Inhale. Invite them without qualification. Deal. Exhale when they leave.

    I think you are trying to control things that are far outside your control. Here is what is under your power to control on this special day:
    1. Whom you invite.
    2. The menu.

    You cannot control who will eat any or all of the food so the argument that you don’t want to pay for food they won’t eat is ridiculous. That’s just part of having a wedding. There are probably picky, allergic, non-hungry eaters among the rest of your guests that you have no idea about.

    And you certainly cannot control the topic of conversation. If these people want to talk about the food or how it’s prepared, then that’s on them. If Great Aunt Maude gets drunk and talks about days gone by when she danced on the table or young people just didn’t act the way they do now…then guess what, you can’t control that.

    The day will be what it is. They will not ruin it unless you or someone else causes a scene by calling them out for their rudeness. Just generally ignore them and don’t engage and who cares? Don’t seat your daughter near any of the ones you anticipate will be rude. She will be otherwise occupied anyway.

    The bigger deal you make of this, the bigger deal it will be. If they are your husband’s siblings then you are stuck with them. In answer to your question of “is there a polite way to say you want to include them but not their diet,” the short answer is NO. I would send the invitations with no acknowledgement whatsoever of anyone’s eating habits. If they come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t.

  • Karen

    I agree with your approach. Add a polite disclaimer to the invite stating that if there is any guest who cannot partake in the food that IS being served, please advise… As the others have said, if it’s an illness or disease, you can always try to acommodate. I’ve entertained relatives with diabetes and celiac disease. A few sugar-free or gluten-free plates can be easily managed. More often than not, if these food fascists are allowed, they’ll wind up dictating the menu. I’ve even had one come to my home and ask if I had any organic wine (I do occasionally buy a bottle.) If a person insists on sticking with such a restricted and regimented diet, fine, just smile and be polite when you are at an event, leave the food alone.

  • Francheska

    It’s a wedding invitation, The guests shouldn’t get a say at all, eat at home before going out don’t be such a pain in the ass geez

  • Nadine Nelson

    As a person who does food events, I understand about accommodating people’s meals. Weddings are the worst all the way around with drama coming from every front sometimes with people not understanding that planning a big party is very stressful. It is about the bride and groom. I grew up Seventh Day Adventist and am so happy my mom was not so I could come home and eat pork, fish, and all the other things not “allowed” in the diet. Because of this, I respect peoples diets when people ask me to customize a menu, I do it. On my menus I try and have a mix of everything to appeal to all diets. Now though people are taking their eating to the extreme and I don’t think they should EXPECT everyone to adhere to their needs. It is a pain for person planning the wedding, chef, bride, groom etc. If you have a highly specialized diet, I think you eat beforehand and not be unhappy you chose a diet most people can not easily maintain. I believe like religion, it is better to be a living example of what you espouse as opposed to standing on a soap box looking for converters. A wedding is about the bride and groom. They should be accommodated on their special day. That is the most unselfish thing to do. Italian cuisine offers so many dishes that appeal to many diets. If they want to be mad, I wouldn’t engage such stupidity. We all make choices in life and deal with the consequences accordingly. They should be graceful in this situation, not you.

  • The gold digger

    Oh the lactose fakers! My mom and sister cannot have the tiniest bit of cheese or they get very uncomfortable and make everyone else very uncomfortable, if you know what I mean. But they don’t make a big deal about it. My mom brings her own soy milk with her when she visits and that’s it.

    My husband’s parents claim to be lactose intolerant. When they came here for our wedding, I asked if they could just drink some of the soy milk I was getting for my mom and sister. Nope. Had to be Lactaid. Which is expensive.

    They drank about one cup of it over nine days.

    Then they didn’t eat lunch. Because they don’t eat lunch.

    At 4:00 p.m, they had a snack. Asked for cheese. Our expensive cheese. That I hadn’t thought to hide in the basement where they wouldn’t have been able to get it because they can’t take stairs. (Which is why they were sleeping in our bed.)

    1. They didn’t eat lunch.
    2. They wouldn’t drink milk. Or soy milk.
    3. They filled up on expensive cheese at 4 p.m.
    4. And then they weren’t hungry for supper.
    5. Oh yes. They got drunk every night.


  • Jean Marie

    Boy, you really struck a nerve with this one! There are so many people I want to send it to. One of my sons is genuinely lactose intolerant but doesn’t make a big deal out of it. He drinks soy milk and avoids cheese. On the other hand, half of my group of girlfriends who used to be adventurous eaters and so fun to go out with could now fairly be called food fascists. One is going vegan, another avoiding meat, a third must eat a particular vegetable that night and don’t get me started on the trendy gluten-free thing. We both know someone with celiac disease and it’s real and it’s serious. The husband of one friend was recently quite ill so I volunteered to bring a family meal to help lighten her load. She has always avoided dairy but this time I was instructed that she is also avoiding gluten and meat. And no desserts please. While I admire her effort to eat healthy, this is a women who I have seen happily munching on a baguette or working her way through a bowl of pasta. And sharing dessert. It’s all BS and, barring genuine medical restrictions, unfair to people who want to entertain or please with good food and company.

  • Trish

    We have a few people in our office that adhere to special diets, mostly refusing to eat carbs because of the fear of chunky thighs and double chins. It has nothing to do with any real medical condition. And that’s fine, I respect their choice. But they all get up in arms every year when it’s time for our annual holiday party. The requests for special dishes start rolling in without fail. Our boss issues the same response every year, telling them the menu is fixed but diverse. If they still feel they cannot find suitable food on the menu they can feel free to bring their own meal to enjoy at the party. The fact is, one meal with more carbs than they normally eat is not going to kill these people. I’d be much more understanding if they had legitimate food allergies that need to be addressed. So I think the mom here should plan the meal as she sees fit, invite the guests and normal and issue a strong response to anyone who begs for special meals.

  • Firbette

    Just a couple of observations. First, it seems that she has already had extensive experience with these relatives at other events, enough to predict what they will bring to the party. Just because they are in-laws, it doesn’t mean she’s wrong. There is a difference between saying “I’m sorry I can’t eat that” and “I don’t eat that, and neither should anyone else”, and I can see that could add to the stress of the event.

    Second, as has already been mentioned, but it’s worth repeating, the people who avoid food by choice seem to be the loudest and most annoying, and make it really hard for those who have actual medical issues. My daughter was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, and she is unusually sensitive. A small exposure leaves her in severe pain for a week. So yes, we tend to “grill” servers and hosts, not to be difficult, but to make sure what is safe for her to eat. But we try not to be obnoxious or overbearing about it. There are places we simply can’t eat anymore. So we don’t. Thankfully our friends are very understanding, and make sure there is something for her. We often bring her own food, and she is just starting not to feel weird about it. But there have been occasions she has been poisoned in restaurants where they have decided that gluten intolerance is fake, and given her “real” pasta instead of the gluten-free listed on the menu or a flour-thickened sauce they assured us was fine.

    All of which is to say that her *husband* should talk to his family and explain the situation to them. If they can come and take part without spoiling it for the bridal party, then come. Otherwise, show up after the food for the party.

  • Justine Raphael

    Have compassion. Some of us have true sensitivites that require careful negotiations in any restaurant (you wouldn’t believe what hidden ingredients there are and what they can do to some of us). Maybe that shouldn’t be the responsibility of the bridal party, but it also shouldn’t be grounds for excluding FAMILY from a family event! Let us handle the negotiations, but don’t call us fascists for needing to do so. That kind of name-calling sounds pretty intolerant to me, even PICKY. Who are you to decide what is healthy for someone else? I will come to the wedding and eat some meat and veggies happily–why is that not alright with you? You have to see everyone become a glutton over a plate of pasta to have true marital bliss? Really, I can’t understand why what I eat is a problem for someone else, if I can arrange to meet my needs without too much fuss (ascertaining that something won’t make me have a migraine or become sick in various other ways–that involves asking a few questions and then making a decision about which dish will work). You can make this easier by ensuring that there is a dish of grilled meat and simple veggies if you want to, but all I really ask is that you don’t call me names for trying to take care of my health. Wow. Judgement is jumping off of my computer screen….

  • Bea

    Our 20 yr old granddaughter is a vegan. When we take her out to eat she rejects the idea of choosing a restaurant just for her, says “Thats ok, I can always find something on any menu!”

    Special diet people are not always picky and inconsiderate. Some will even eat a bit or more than a bit of foods that upset them, Also I have never known a “special diet” person to fuss at a dinner they’ve been invited to!

    I would say: Have one dish that covers all bases no matter how nasty it is. Just to be nice.

  • Kimberly

    As someone with a wheat allergy (an actual, throat-swelling allergy), i’m both offended and sympathetic at the same time. While i recognize that it can be hard to understand what you don’t personally experience, some people make the choice to eliminate certain items from their diet because it makes a noticible difference in how they feel, or alleviates symptoms of another condition. I don’t ask people to not go somewhere because (for the most part) i can find something on any menu, and i’m sure your in-laws aren’t asking you to do so. It isn’t unreasonable or of great inconvenience to make sure there are dishes that everyone can partake in, not everything on the menu needs to accomodate and i’m sure they will understand that. And last i checked, italians eat a lot more than just pasta, and have a plethora of amazing dishes and antipasto options that can be enjoyable for everyone.

    I’m also pretty sure her daugher isn’t going to look back on her wedding and think “if only my aunts/uncles hadn’t ruined it with their special diets”. A little perspective please.

  • Carly

    People planning weddings AND people with vague ‘food sensitivities’ coming together… Yikes. I can’t think of much worse.

    I think the food allergies/sensitivities thing can be really obnoxious, but honestly, people planning weddings are given to getting really worked up about things that they’ve mostly just *assumed* will be a problem.

    I went to one wedding in Italy, and one of many nice things about it was that food was offered throughout the entire event, a huge variety of meats and antipasti laid out at different times, and entrees carried around family style once we sat down, casually offered to anyone interested in that dish. I think that sort of arrangement – a buffet or family style arrangement with uncomplicated dishes – is a nice one to consider for big groups. Everyone’s taking only what they want, with no mention necessary of why they’re making the selections they’re making.

  • Carla

    We had the exact same situation… We bagged the wedding, eloped and spent the money on a down payment for a house. Best decision ever….. The $5.00 bucks it cost for the Judge to marry us turned out to be a real bargain…we’ve been married 40 years….and still don’t miss that wedding!!

  • Leigh

    I’m among the “annoying” in that I choose to avoid foods that aren’t nutritious or that make me feel tired or bloated or trigger food cravings. Entitled? Maybe. But why should my food choices draw the wrath of others? Because you can’t stop eating ding-dongs and are bummed that you gain 5 pounds a year? Save the shit storm of judgment about my personal choices.

    If I don’t want to eat whatever, it’s my responsibility to feed myself before I go somewhere if the food being served doesn’t work for me. And if it’s a pre-set dinner if I can’t go and eat part of the meal or go and not eat, I’ll politely pass.

    This mother in-law seems like she’s making a mountain of a mole hill. If a plate or two (or ten) isn’t polished off, fine. Suck it up. It’s family. Family is a pain in the ass. Stop passing judgment and get off your high horse.

  • Will J

    She already has the right reply, but she needs to edit it a bit:

    [W]e would be happy to see… [you]…AFTER lunch for toasts and speeches

    Nothing else. This is an invitation to a celebration and not a negotiation.

    Similarly, if one is unable to participate, one can simply say that they send their best wishes but regret that they would be unable to attend.

  • bob del Grosso

    The abundance of self-centered whiny “it’s feed me my-way or the the highway” eaters makes me wonder of there is not a national movement of food fascists afoot and, if there is, why they haven’t organized a political wing. I’d love to see that. We don’t really have a credible National Socialist party here in the US. And one organized around the seemingly libertarian idea of freedom of choice would be just loony enough to fit right in to the American political dialectic.

  • Andrew

    Although I agree that there appear to be certain diseases, allergies, or ailments affecting the populace, and thats all fine and dandy like cotton candy. It always seems to me that these often privileged people with level 5 Vegan ovo pesci no gluten/lactose wont drink anything they cant see through type of people have never actually had to starve or eat something just to survive. These are the same people who order Double Ristretto Venti Nonfat Organic Chocolate Brownie Frappuccino Extra Hot with Foam and Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended. This is what turns me into a fascist. I am a poor person, on a cooks wages, with lactose intolerance and a bloody ulcer; this does not stop me from eating spicy pad thai, or still cooking and eating with heavy cream. I often forage/hunt/fish for my own meals out of enjoyment, and sometimes out of need. It is people like those described above that cause to want something catastrophic to happen to our food change to watch these self righteous preachy “foodies” begin to wither and die -all well I happily munch away on burdock root and ramps. Perhaps it is that I have only had one coffee this morning, in a french press, freshly ground, not because I am snob but because that is simply the best way to do it. Perhaps it is because in a few hours I will have to make food for these head in the clouds clouts. Perhaps it is because my stove is dead, as well as my fridge, and I am too damned poor to buy new ones. Perhaps it is because I will not be looking forward to an awesome meal this evening. Finally, perhaps I am sick of this shit too!

  • darren

    When someone starts spouting pseudo-scientific (or faux-scientific) things like leaky gut or the need to “detoxify” I immediately count them as a reliable source for bull$h!t. This has been with us for forever. It springs out of the belief that all you need to be healthy is a really good $h!t, so drink laxatives, sulfurous mineral waters, etc. It’s the John Harvey Kellogg school of treating every ache and pain with an enema. And unscrupulous “health professionals” are more than happy to part the fool from his/her money.

    I work with people that swear they are effected by MSG. So whenever we have a pitch in I load up what I bring with Accent. And guess what? Nothing happens. But the minute they eat something that upsets their stomach and they just KNOW that there’s MSG in their meal. I even work with a girl that claims to be allergic to malt . . . but can eat things with malt in it if it is listed low on the ingredient list. So over the course of 10 years I’ve brought in lots of homemade baked things with increasing levels of malt in them. And, SURPRISE!, no reaction even when malt is fully half of the sweetner.

    No one can deny that there are legitimate food allergies, but self-diagnosing them is garbage.

  • Andy

    I think a good follow up to this article would be her husbands thoughts on his in-laws.

  • Brooke

    I have a medical condition, PCOS, that is strongly correlated with gluten intolerance/celiac. Did I get the genetic test? No. But I do know that when I have gluten I feel very, very sick. Before, when I didn’t know I had an intolerance, I did eat a lot of bread and desserts. But I felt tired and cold all of the time. Since I’ve gone off gluten, even trace amounts makes me ill.

    I will generally ask a host if there is something I can bring if food is being served at a home. If not, I will ask what is on the menu so I can know whether to bring my own food. I will not put my health on the line, but I will also take care of myself and try not to be a nuisance.

    It is completely unfair to make blanket judgments about food choices. And it is absurd to exclude family from a wedding celebration because they might not clean their plates. I would not eat pasta put in front of me, but I would celebrate with you for your daughter’s wedding. How have we wandered so far that the host is now the focus of a party instead of the guests?

  • Deptford Pudding

    When I was a nipper there were very few allergies. My sister had hay fever once a year. In my school of 600 boys one pupil had asthma, and we were instructed to look out for him. No one was a vegetarian of course. I’m sure there may be benefits to following a particular dietary regime, it provides a discipline and can help with weight-loss. But it should never be imposed on others, or even mentioned with the possible exception of vegetarianism. Sometimes I think some people can be just plain rude.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    Invite them and then ignore their food issues. They will not starve. If they start in any way to make an issue, walk away to pay more attention to the bride and groom. In all respects, and as we advise the trout, don’t rise to that fly.

  • Gerry Jobe

    As a father of 2 boys, one with a critical allergy to peanuts and eggs, I couldn’t agree more with this post. It’s time for the line to be drawn between “Preference” and Legit Allergies. I recently had a guest state that he was deathly allergic to onions. After placing his order and addressing the kitchen about his needs, I related to him that unfortunately he would have to switch his choice because of onion in most of our stocks. He replied “Well, it’ll be okay, it’s really more of a preference” or the guy who claimed to have a severe nut allergy who repeatedly kissed his wife on the lips while she was eating Hazelnut Ice Cream. I warned him, but he said “Oh, it’s not that big of a deal” Fakers! Be straight up! And if you do have an allergy, let us know!! Several times I have delivered a plate to a table only to have them say “There’s no garlic in this is there? I’m extremely allergic” or the like. OWN YOUR ALLERGY, take responsibility for it, inform those serving you about it, and if it’s just a preference, don’t dress it up to be life/death. Great read! Cheers!

  • Vicki

    I have a problem with caffeine in coffee, soft drinks and chocolate, sulfites in wine, msg in processed foods and nitrates in lunch meat etc. They cause severe migraines but only if I eat them in quantities. I’ve learned that I can occasionally eat a small chocolate cookie or drink maybe a quarter glass of wine with no problem. It’s when I drink a whole beer or eat a chocolate bar or a cup of coffee that I get the migraine. So when I’m eating in public I pick and choose what and how much I eat and try not to make the people around me miserable.
    I think it’s just a matter of being considerate.

  • dave_c

    I wholeheartedly agree that people are too crazy with their fad diets and claims of allergies.

    However, in this case, I think the Bride’s mom is being overly dramatic. People are there to celebrate the marriage. I don’t see how someone not eating will ruin the bride’s day.

    Also, the husband wants his sibling at the event. I think family trumps menu changes. Most likely it’s the husband who is paying for the wedding. What’s a few hundred dollars amongst family?

    The mom should be a facilitator not a bouncer, nor should she be someone who makes sure all the guest finish their peas and carrots.

  • Stephen P

    As a former banquet chef these kind of things drove me crazy. We’d get 15 different special dietary requests for a wedding of 100, then once dinner was served we’d get 15 new and different actual requests and the painstakingly notated preparation and timing instructions would all fly out the window. All of this expensive for the bride and groom (since we would quite reasonably charge for each additional meal beyond those originally ordered), confusing to the staff and especially for a wedding, impossible to execute while keeping a tight time schedule intact. I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to arrange for a special meal type or two – one selection with no meat or vegan and another with no gluten or something like that. Put that in your invitation with a little check box for regular meal/ vegan/ gluten free and beyond that anyone who can’t eat the meal should skip it. The occasion is to honor and celebrate a wedding and the bride and groom, not a self indulgent exercise in demonstration how picky you can be about your food preferences.

  • Tucker Keene

    I’m a vegan, have been for four years. But I don’t force people to accommodate me, I eat vegetarian if I have to. I just have to bring along my lactase pills so I don’t bloat up like a gaseous pufferfish. I also am teaching myself to cook meat though, because I want to be able to cook for friends and vegans actually really get on my nerves, for precisely the reasons you lay out here. I cooked one heck of a Thanksgiving Turkey, and did some fried chicken for Super Bowl Sunday, which apparently were for several guests, “The best they ever had.”

    I must say though, accommodating vegans is easier then it seems. Any vegetable soup made with veggie stock and no cream, served with good toast and some olive oil is a totally doable entree for a vegan.

  • Tess

    I posted this in facebook comments, but figured I would post it here too because I really want to get some feedback…

    Michael’s writing and this discussion has been eye opening. I have been down the “food fascist” rabbit hole for a few years now, and apparently have gotten out of touch with how people like me are viewed. While reading these comments, I found myself agreeing with the majority of what Marilyn was saying, while others were saying that she was offensive and preaching. I also noticed comments like “foisting your diet on others, and especially in a superior tone” and “turn the event into being about them and their food” in reference to people on special diets.

    I’m trying to look at this one issue (of people talking/preaching to others about their diets) from both perspectives. Speaking from my point of view, I have talked to hundreds, if not thousands, of people that have had their lives changed from adopting non-conventional diets. I was one of them.

    Going gluten free was a miracle for me (and no I was not officially diagnosed with celiac). The morning I woke up and no longer had the constant headache and stomach ache that had plagued me for 20 something years, and had the energy of a kid again, I wanted to scream it from the roof tops. I wanted to tell everyone that had health issues about my transformation, and I started trying, but nobody wanted to listen. They got annoyed with me, and now reading some of your comments I think that my passion for helping other people gain back their health may have come off as preaching or speaking in a superior tone. I don’t want to come off like this.

    Some of the people in my life did eventually listen, and going gluten free/paleo has been a positive change for all of them. I have also learned a lot of the science that backs up what I say. So, please tell me how I can help people while not being offensive or ruining dinner parties. Is there an appropriate time to discuss diet and health? How can I bring up the subject without just getting on people’s nerves?

  • Jim

    Yeah, they sound like annoying, self-centered idiots but they’re your in-laws. What did you expect?

    If you can afford the “small” luncheon for 75 I hardly think 10 or 12 people not eating their dinner and wasting it is going to matter to you. Nor do I think having relatively common dishes at an Italian restaurant served just for them would be so expensive you can’t handle it. I mean, we are talking your husbands siblings here as in your daughter’s aunt and uncles and not some third cousins or something.

    Sure the whole gluten sensitivity thing has become a joke which is too bad for the one percent or so of the population who have a legit issue. However as others have pointed out that is hardly the dumbest or most annoying thing in-laws can do.

    Of course, if they were not your immediate in-laws then; STFU, you’re boring and nobody cares, would be an appropriate response.

  • Jessica

    I’m sensitive to lactose (I question if you can actually be allergic to lactose. You can have very serious illnesses that makes you unable to process the sugars found in milk, and milk protein allergies can be absolutely lethal.) My own sensitivity came on by the time I was 15, and it’s due, mostly, because a parent comes from southern Europe. Lactose intolerance is normal. It’s been disputed, actually, if lactose intolerance shouldn’t be scrapped as a diagnosis. Most adults in the world ARE naturally lactose intolerant (a majority of people in Asia for one). Asian diets as a whole rarely contains an abundance of dairy products. When it does it’s in small amounts.

    The latest I heard on scrapping the diagnosis was the sensible argument that if you keep it as an actual diagnosis; you’d make a big part of the world ill. It’s not difficult to adapt your life to a lower dairy consumtion. Plus read up on facts, which would prevent you from writing idiotic things. Most people, including myself, can tolerate some lactose. How much is variable but if you are fully intolerant then you really do need to make life-style changes. The fatter the dairy product (if you take full cream and dilute it until it has the fat percentge of regular full-fat milk, it will have less lactose than the regular milk. hard cheese doesn’t contain any. As for the difficulties of dining. Just shut the f*** up and get on with it. And head for asian foods or other cooking cultures with very little reliance of dairy.

    This is a non-issue. Which you really can’t tell from this reply ;). I just find the whole thing very annoying. No, you are not sick, or even allergic to lactose. You can be dead on allergic to proteins etc. Myself head for the epipen if I happen to eat any morsel of a botanical nut.

    Full allergen free cooking is impossible at a restaurant or even at someone’s home kitchen that isn’t familiar with the constraints. When I have dinner at someones house everyone seems concerned I’ll drop on dead. I usually bring a bento with me, keeps everyone calmer.

  • Jamie

    While I don’t disagree with the idea that the mother of the bride is under no obligation to provide a meal that fits everyone’s specialized diet, I fail to understand the level of contempt and animosity directed here toward people with certain food concerns. Look, I am a foodie through and through – my mother was on the farm-based, slow-food movement decades before it became en vogue – I delight in the pleasure of all food. That said, I am also into fitness – and it is clear to me, despite the fact that I personally will eat everything, it is fundamentally true that gluten is not good for us. It is fundamentally true that people have very real negative reactions to lactose or gluten. Not everyone is going to be as passionate about food as us food snobs, and so the impetus to eat “everything” consequences be damned is not going to be as strong. Who cares? Why do they have to be crucified for it? Why, especially if it is a *health* issue, must it be made into an issue where they’re simply being ridiculously fussy? There is a huge difference between someone who is doing something genuinely healthy like Paleo and someone who is just avoiding all “fat” because they’e fat-phobic. Lighten up, people.

    • Jessica

      There are de facto allergies, as in an immunological reaction. In some people, mostly to particular foods, it can be deadly (milk, ground nuts (such as peanuts), botanical nuts, gluten. I can imagine kosher and muslim diet restrictions, too. Gluten intolerance is not to mess with either. As to offering food to everyone’s particular satisfaction as in diet fads etc, it’s really not possible. I have spoken to restaurants etc., beforehand and most often they are quite sympathetic and try to be as accomodating as possible. If one’s particular dietary preference can’t be accomodated, and I mean preference rather than a dietary restriction due to illness and/or allergy, then maybe you need to re-think what you actually can expect.
      When I’ve brought my own meal, serving staff or the hosts have been helpful in offering me a separate plate and possibility to heat the food separately.

  • Jessica

    It drives me absolutely nuts when people, who don’t like some particular food, says they’re allergic. Makes it all the more difficult for people who are actually allergic and can, potentially die from their allergy. At one point I’ve been involved in a situation where a person didn’t believe her friend to have a very severe milk proteine allergy and was about to serve her milk. Someone fortunately stopped her. This friend is so allergic that even a drop of milk on the skin will turn into an ugly rash at the site.

  • Ina gawne

    As a Celiac – I would definitely bring my own food! For me not to, would be a very dangerous position to put myself in. I do not believe it is up to the host to “look” after everyone’s food issues. It is only mine! Recently, we attended a small wedding celebration – 50 people. It was “pot luck”. Also, I did much of the cooking and was careful to place all of my platters of food away from any food containing gluten. It was fabulous! There were Celiacs, Vegetarians, Vegans, and people with dairy allergies – everyone was happy! People need to start taking responsibility for their own dietary concerns!

  • Beth

    Oh, but fake food allergies are all the rage !

    I’m just worn out from people complaining about “fake” food allergies. My son was diagnosed with servere food allergies at 5 months. Luckily, he was reacting to egg protein in my diet before ever starting solid food. He’s since been tested and diagnosed with allergies (some severe) to six foods. I’m not sure how many people are faking it, but I have no idea why they would. How can anyone be that desperate for attention? Managing one’s own food allergies is difficult; managing those of an 18 month old is frightening.

    People who fake it (and those who require designer diets because of their own imagined needs) make life more difficult for those of us dealing with legitimate, and sometimes life threatening, issues. It’s simply common courtesy to accommodate wedding guests with legitimate issues and incredibly rude to request an accommodation you don’t need.

  • pidge

    I myself have special dietary needs. I am lactose intolerant, I have diverticulosis(which turns into diverticulitis and shoots me into the hospital once a year) and I have many many endless food triggers for migraine headaches. If I am invited to an event, I eat well before-hand at home, and then don’t bother to comment on or special order food at the event. Because let’s face it – these are my problems, not theirs, and I wouldn’t dream of saddling anyone with my diet. You’re there for the company, not for the food.

  • Max

    I sympathize. Most people with allergies or special diets prefer that no arrangements be made on their behalf. They’re used to eating the way they do, and know how to work around problematic meals. However, even when this is the case, you can’t stop a well meaning relative from obsessing on their behalf or it somehow causing an issue, even if that means it’s simply a topic of conversation on your daughter’s day.

    Unfortunately, by not inviting certain family members you’re likely to stir up even more drama. My advice is to make a half-hearted effort effort to include a dish or side (e.g. plain salad and grilled meat) they can eat / nibble at, and otherwise ignore the issue. If it’s brought up in the future, explain there were too many allergies / diets to please everyone. Also, the restaurant you’re going to may already know how to address issues like these.

  • Laura

    I think this post and the mean comments are unfair to folks trying to navigate their way out of ill health. Paleo diets, gluten free, casein free etc. are all attempts to stop eating industrial, processed, GMO foods in order to regain health. Some folks digestive systems are more broken than others. Fact is our food supply is in very shoddy condition and it’s starting to make a lot of people sick. Many of these people are just canaries in the coal mine. It could be construed as more fascist for wanting to exclude those who are different. Please practice tolerance and compassion at this special event.

  • david

    intelligence has nothing to do with acceptance of fascism, plenty of Nazis were intelligent. BTW whoever is paying for the event decides what will be served, not the guests, who can choose not to come.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    CRAP!! on bedrest with a bad back but flying on Empracet I could make this response an entire word count of 500+. The first thing to say to future MIL and current Mom is you have no idea the shit storm you will be living through now that Michael has printed this. In fact no idea and I know because I once mentioned a wrong thing on Facebook and had to crawl on bended knee for forgiveness. Clearly the food I don’t really think is the issue here. I don’t know how old your kids are but at a certain age they usually chip in and now here in Montreal families pay for their guests plates which include open bar. No one family has to suffer the financial burdens- only those of their own guests. My thoughts are you won’t have to worry too much about the amount of plates you will be buying for your guests.

    However it is a known fact that no matter how much a host/ess tries to satisfy everyone that is an impossibility so have two choices: vegetable & chicken and you will be safe.

    What is a third culture kid?

    And by the way; I think you have already ruined your daughter’s day;

  • Kevin

    It’s always fun to take the high-and-mighty down a peg, but where I draw the line is when it crosses over into rude behavior on the part of a host. It’s a host’s duty to provide accommodations for each guest invited; whether each guest will enjoy those accommodations to the fullest extent possible is up to the individual guest, not the host. It is not her place to impose a stipulation that each guest must either consume every calorie of whatever food is provided (what’s she going to do: watch them eat every bite?) or refrain from attending. If cost is an issue, trim the invite list. If she is worried about waste she can either order less food or donate any remainder to a soup kitchen (or maybe the hard-working restaurant staff?).

    In this situation it seems that the host is the fascist, not the guests.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    once more so forgive for multiples cause the computer is not going through,,,,,Michael I thought you were going to give me a head’s up when you get to print such a letter :))….Hey what about a Dear Michael column and I could ghost write it – OOPS!!! (no.no)

  • Jerrell Hadef

    Hello! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thank you

  • caitlinvb

    It’s all about the bride.

    That said, I moved from the Bay area to NC. Both agricultural meccas when it comes to fresh local food. Both full of culinary quagmires… but in the end I do believe it’s us that make the problem by publicizing all the trends and fads and empowering the trend away from the eating habits we evolved into.

    And in this instance I do believe it’s even more than that – we’ve also empowered bad behavior and bad habits. Let’s teach our kids to eat healthy, and act healthy. Not to use someone else’s blog as a soapbox or anything… 🙂

  • Trishaluna

    I completely agree with Michael that things have gotten out of hand. We have an Aunt who has lived all over the world and hosts many many folks from all over at her home near a major university – visiting professors, dignitaries etc. She has been doing this for 40 years. She loves to entertain. Recently, it has become such a burden for her to host people in her home. She almost collapsed after trying to accommodate several folks at her home (3 meals a day for 3 days) who had every request under the sun. She didn’t know what to cook/serve. There are true, severe, life threatening allergies and I sympathize with those folks. Also, people keep inquiring about third culture kids – the definition is “to refer to the children who accompany their parents into another society” In simple terms, your an American child who then spends part of your youth/learning/maturing years in a foreign culture. You now have two cultures, your American one and your new culture. After you return home to America you find that you don’t quite fit in. You’re American but you have aspects that the other culture or cultures that you’ve lived in that shape who you are – you are coined a Third Culture Kid.

  • neil

    Does no one else see the irony/hypocrisy of writing about finding a restaurant with the ” slow food, sustainable agriculture/local food philosophy that suits our needs perfectly” and then complaining about food snobbery on the part of others?

    • Laura

      Yes it’s pretty hilarious, given the incredibly angry responses about the so called “difficult guests” 🙂

  • Jeanne

    I am intolerant or allergic to many foods. It’s beyond ridiculous. When I’m invited to this type of a thing, I generally say something like, “here’s what I can’t eat, is it possible to accommodate that? If not, would you mind if I just came and had a glass of wine to share in the experience?” I honestly don’t mind doing this. I realize that my limitations are beyond the pale. But I want to be included. And I am more than happy to eat my meal beforehand and then have a glass of wine (or tea) and hang out with everyone.

    All of that said, I think that the Italian trattoria is an odd choice for a host faced with this situation. It is far from a good choice for folks who can’t eat gluten or carbs, unless you center the meal around cuts of meat. I will say that I get tired of people denigrating special food needs as “unnecessary” because it gets in the way of their first choice desires. The point of this lunch is to celebrate the wedding with close family and friends. Celebration. The point of the lunch is not to have the exact meal the hostess seems to want to give her guests. We have lost sight of the reason behind these celebrations–it’s to gather with family and friends. If the hostess’s choice eliminates a good portion of the people who fall into the “close family and friends” category, then she’s made a bad choice and has lost sight of the reason everyone is gathering.

  • LS

    C.S. Lewis considered “food fastidiousness” a form of gluttony. I can’t say I disagree with him.

  • Anon Y. Mous

    We found a lovely Italian trattoria with a slow food, sustainable agriculture/local food philosophy that suits our needs perfectly.


    Sustainable agriculture? Local food philosophy? Heather sounds like a bit of a food fascist herself. I don’t even know what “slow food” means, but it sounds like some more progressive nonsense.

    I think Heather’s real problem is she doesn’t want the other weirdos disagreeing with her particular form of weirdness.

  • Thresherman

    I’d tell them to grow the hell up and remember that it your daughter’s special day and that you are providing free food and drink in honor of that. On this occaision, they and their colons rank somewhere between I don’t really give a f*** and plain old f*** you. If they can somehow put aside their individual self-centered natures to share in your daughter;s special day, great. If not, your daughter does not need some whiney a$$ed relatives trying to trump her as the center of attention with their pampered poo poos.

  • Sgt. York


    Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

    I guess it takes a food fascist to recognize a food fascist…

  • Scott

    I live in Malaysia, Muslim majority with a sizable Buddhist and smaller Hindu population. So you got halal (no pork or alcohol), vegetarian and no beef requirements there. Though in practise, just halal is the norm – big functions (especially govt) will be entirely halal.


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