Thursday, April 4, 2013

Courteous Eating: When Your Friend Has Special Dietary Needs

Disclaimer: I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who does not have allergies but has been a vegetarian for many years, and who currently eats vegan as much as possible.

It can be pretty tough to figure out where a large group is going to eat together. This gets harder when one or more people in the group have some kind of dietary need, like allergies or Celiac disease, or are veg*n (that's a combination word that lumps together vegan and vegetarian). And when you have a craving for a place that doesn't meet those needs, it can be frustrating.

But you have to adapt. As a general rule, people who will eat anything can have a meal that eliminates something. It won't hurt you to not eat nuts because someone is allergic, or to have a single gluten-free and/or veg*n meal. Really. I promise. But when the table is flipped it can cause serious problems. People with allergies, including gluten, can have severe health implications. Even people who are veg*n, even though it is technically a choice, can get sick from eating meat or dairy if their body is no longer used to processing it. It's just rude to deny someone health and comfort because you have a craving.

Trust me, being on the other side is awkward. I have felt very guilty in the past because I made my friends go to a couple of places before we found something I could eat. I don't want to make people I care about suffer, or be inconvenienced, but at the same time I am not going to compromise myself or sit there hungry. One would think that a compassionate person would never make their friend starve to satisfy their own desires, but you'd be surprised how many times I've had people argue about where we're going when I've said I can't eat somewhere.

We already do our best to be accommodating. As much as stupid jokes might fly around about veg*ns being smug and annoying, most of us just want to have dinner without conflict. So if someone says they have a need, even if you don't interpret it as such, honor it. Check ahead if a restaurant has veg or gluten free options, or if they can make things without allergens. And no, I don't just mean a side salad or "you can probably pick the chicken off." I mean food. I mean an entree. One that is made without meat/gluten/nuts/etc. It's just the nice thing to do, and trust me that your companion will appreciate it.

You can go out for a nut-encrusted steak with a side of gluteny bread tomorrow.

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