Picky eaters and dinner parties

Le Duc and I enjoy hosting dinner parties and I'm not above boasting that people have begged for invitations.

He's a marvelous cook of the French bistro persuasion, as witnessed by my hip circumference. (But I have sterling cholesterol levels, so the French diet thing works that way.)

We recently invited a couple to our home. "Oh," said the man, "I follow 'Eat Right for My Type' ", and proceeded to launch into an excruciatingly detailed lecture about his regime
, while his wife glared at him. "Perhaps a restaurant some time", le Duc replied in the politely neutral tone I know (after 23 years of marriage) means "when-hell-freezes-over".

Nancy commented (on my post about fragrance) that people's imposition of their requirements is a form of control and attention.

I often see this from women in their mid-20s and early 30s when they order in a restaurant: "I'll have the Cobb Salad except can I have soy cheese and turkey bacon, and can I have that with ginger dressing instead and just a teeny bit of avocado?" Though phrased as a question, the tone of voice clearly implies an order.

If you don't want the oom
phy fatstravaganza that is an honest to god Cobb, don't order one.

For dinner parties, we accommodate some basic preferences: vegetarians and our friends who observe religious food laws. (Some are observant at home, and not when dining out. As my friend Michel said, tucking into le Duc's baby back ribs, "I belong to the oldest religion in the world... hypocrites.")

We ask new guests if there's a deathly allergy. We have a steak for Christine when we serve gril
led sweetbreads with morels, a dish that we and her partner Jim adore. We love her and realize they're a stretch for some people.

But if you don't eat food that's on the menu of a good French or Italian restaurant, you wouldn't want to break bread with us, and vice-versa.

At our dinner parties,
I have experienced:

1. A man who refused to eat one bite of the four courses prepared. "I don't eat that" is all he would say. What did we serve? A first course of sauteed sea scallops. Blanquette de veau. A simple frisee salad. Homemade raspberry-apple tarte. His mortified girlfriend told us he lived on cheeseburgers. (At that dinner he lived on wine and bread.)

2. A first-time guest who told us cheerily, "I eat anything!" As it turned out "anything" did not include jambalaya or salad. Didn't like 'spicy food'; didn't eat shrimp, tomatoes, lettuce.

3. A longtime friend on a special diet for years: no red meat, no fruit, no sugar, no nightshade vegetables, no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol except beer. Le Duc bent over backwards, grumbling, for her. Then she fell in love and suddenly it was bagels with inch-high cream cheese, plate-obscuring T-bones and rafts of Champagne in bed with the beau. Guess what? No adverse effects.

I tell my sons, "When you bring a girl home, I don't care about her family background. I don't care what colour she is, or what she wants to be... just don't bring me a girl who peers warily at her plate and says, 'What's in this?'."

I was reared to eat what was served, with gratitude for the labour and generosity involved, to contribute to the conversation at the table, and to thank the hosts.

What has happened to make people so picky, even when they don't know a chick pea from a lentil?


NancyDaQ said…
As you might have surmised by my response to yesterday's post, I have some of these people in my life too.

It's my opinion that hospitality is not limited to the host. The guest has responsibilities as well.

Unfortunately, DF is one of them, but he realizes he's a pain. He's great about taking me out to dinner rather than subjecting me to his dietary vagaries, neither making me cook nor eat to his preferences. This solution works for now, but it could be an issue when the knot is tied. I have yet to take him to a dinner party, but hopefully he has enough sense not to be rude.

I have a friend whose husband's diet is also quite limited (mostly cheeseburgers, like your dinner guest). He's willing to bring his own food to gatherings, but he's missing out on a lot.

Then there was the vegetarian houseguest who neglected to disclose this until after I'd bought and made food for the weekend. Had I known, I would have made different menu selections and save us both a lot of hassle.

My own sister pulled a similar stunt the last time she came out on vacation. I had grilled fajitas and she declared she couldn't eat them because she was on the Zone Diet. Grrr...

I admit, I monitor what I eat pretty closely. But I balance that with the social niceties when I'm a guest in someone's home.
Duchesse said…
Nancy: I'm sending anyone who turns up with a food preference "surprise" to the corner, where they can get a really good falafel. Doesn't everyone eat that? If not there's a supermarket 2 blocks away.

It's not my problem if they don't tell me. If I'm really honest I wish people would just EAT, already. I buy mostly organic, very high quality food and if that still is not what they can eat, the relationship will likely not continue around a table.
Anonymous said…
Add to this, people that make a big issue of what they will and won't eat, commenting (usually negatively) on all the food thats on the table. I hope your friend broke up with cheeseburger boy too.
Anonymous said…
I'm kind of on the other side of the issue...as a diabetic I have very strict diet restrictions. However, when I'm having dinner at a friend's (or a stranger's) I can usually find something to eat. Our friends know of my illness; but, as a host, would you be upset if I mentioned it to you as a potential guest? I never know whether to say something or not.

I will say, though, that I do not inflict my boring diet on guests! I love having guests so I can splash out and create a great meal. Then I get to taste the food!

Of course, I keep my diabetes under tight control.

Duchesse said…
Cybill: If they commented negatively on what's on the table, I'd ask what they are trying to say. Do they regret accepting the invitation? Do they wish I served something else? Then they would be invited to dine elsewhere immediately.
Duchesse said…
Christine: I wouldn't like anyone to jeopardize their health! I don't consider diabetes, a chronic illness for which diet is a very important factor, in the same category as the cases I have described.

I have a friend who recently underwent chemotherapy and radiation for cancer; he could not eat any raw meat or oysters- so he told me quietly when I invited him.

I never press food on anyone, unlike my mother, who only thought you liked a dish if you accepted a third helping.
Mardel said…
Oh, don't we all have these people in our lives? It all goes back to graciousness. I suppose if one were polite and insisted on maintaining one's diet, one would bow out. How hard can it be to say "I am sorry but my dietary restrictions prevent me from enjoying your company at dinner. Can we meet for coffee, tea, water or a vegan lunch sometime instead?" Ah but that would take the focus away from the star of the show.

And of course there are those who need specific diets for genuine reasons. MY son-in-law is allergic to strawberries, several members of my family have celiac disease and a speck of wheat can be very uncomfortable for them, although not immediately life threatening. But there is a difference between those with a genuine ailment, who modestly take the host or hostess aside and try to work out a way around their issues, and those who make ultimatums and proclamations.

I have a family member who once turned a family Thanksgiving upside down with a last minute demand that everyone eat a Vegan Thanksgiving, (who cares if the turkey went to waste?). (and yes we had planned an alternate main course for her)

I have friend who tells me that the combination of eggs and milk makes her physically ill and she cannot control it. She will not eat custard, quiche, or scrambled eggs if someone has put milk in them. She once promptly disgorged her breakfast upon eating scrambled eggs in the dining room of a bed and breakfast in England. My DH and I (and her husband) were absolutely mortified and wished we could sink through the floor. She swore she couldn't help it. On the other hand, I have noticed that she frequently helps herself to multiple servings of quite a few cakes (many of which I have made) which contain the forbidden combination of eggs and milk without suffering any ill effects. And although she will not eat custard, she will eat ice-cream.

And as to the food itself, everything you describe sounds wonderful (the reason my hips are also a little wider than I would prefer). I think the picky eaters have chosen a very sad path through life. I knew my DH and I were fated to meet I discovered we both loved sweetbreads, squid, and red wine (although not, perhaps, all at once).
Anjela's Day said…
What about people who say "I am not awfully hungry"

I loved your posting tonight!Could go on and on about it ..... It is about dinner time for me and what I wouldn't give for an invite. Hell I'd settle for some take out of your last night's meal. Make that last week's meal.
I realize I live too far away from you but your foods and dinners sound amazing. Wonderful.
When my children were little and their friends would come to stay over, the parents of those friends would sometimes say 'X is such a fussy eater" and yet X was not fussy at all. But beware of the parents who said "My child will eat anything" Those children were the ones who sat there and whom I would end up in exasperation just ordering something so he/she wouldn't starve during the night. Then came birthdays.... a boy asked as soon as he arrived, like a page out of a Roald Dahl story "But is the cake chocolate?" and not dropping it he continued "Well is the filling chocolate" "Do you have ANY chocolate at all in the house?" I had laid on a fabulous party, a magician all the way from New York and favor bags- not crappy favor bags but real wands and crowns and magic tricks all the way from Penny Whistles and then
this child kind of side tracked me- it came down to forgetting one person's taste- I made him Nutella sandwiches and chocolate milk and he had Godiva chocolates- he loved the finger foods provided but, he seemed happier with the Nutella...the party was a huge success- the parents, many of whom stayed for the champagne, sparkling waters and chocolate dipped strawberries (I always provided something for the parents)and lastly the little boy's mother appeared- She was fascinated by the end of the magician's act and I just overheard her son say "Yes mommmmmmmmmmmmmm but guess what, there was no chocolate cake and THAT made it the worst party in the world"
I think it comes down to when children are children and manners are part of the fabric of the family or not.
Duchesse said…
Anjela: Children are a special subset. It's harder, they are often so adorable while at the same time saying, "It's yucky!" Reminded me of the kid who refused to eat anything (in a classic Thanksgiving dinner) then foraged in our cupboards for cereal.

My father, a doctor, told mothers who complained their child was a picky eater "You created this. If you let him get good and hungry he will fix his own eating problem."

So my response now is, "Well, perhaps you will have something you like better for breakfast."

One mother brought her son to play. When I offered him orange or apple juice, he said, "I want Coke." His mother said calmly, "Orange or apple juice is what is offered, Malcolm." I thought: good woman!

Mardel: Some people have strong reactions and sometimes it's unclear if the root is psychological or physical. I am guessing she could manage this discreetly- just have toast, madam.

As people write in with their stories I am beginning to see that I deliberately nurture friendships with people who are relaxed omnivores!
Anonymous said…
To paraphrase the late Duchess of Windsor, "If you accept an invitation to dinner, you have an obligation to be entertaining."

When can I come and entertain you?

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