It used to be that the only people who had to worry about different meals for different dietary issues were hospital dieticians. Now it’s anyone throwing a dinner party.
Take my buddy Sara DiVello. This nice, accommodating Boston yoga teacher invited four couples over for dinner — all friends of her husband’s from college. “I asked if there were any allergies,” she says, “and no one had any.” So she got everything ready to make baked angel hair tibale, an Italian concoction of pasta, beef sausage, mozzarella, eggplant and assorted other tidbits. Something for everyone … to complain about.
“On the day of the party,” DiVello says, "the emails start cascading in. One person was trying to go wheat-free to see if it helped her migraines, another was lactose-intolerant and couldn’t stomach the mozzarella. A third ate chicken but not beef or pork, still another was vegetarian, and one was eating only organic.”
Solution? I mean, her solution? (Mine would’ve been to put a bunch of little cereal boxes on the table and tell the guests, “Go wild!” Or maybe I would’ve had the party catered by one of the many ovo-lacto-beefo-gluto-sugar-free vegan caterers out there who just roll in a giant rice ball and call it a night.)
But what DiVello, clearly a nicer person, did was this: “I ended up making the dish with chicken sausage, to pacify the non-meat-eater, with a version without cheese for the lactose-intolerant person, another version with the cheese but without the chicken for the vegetarian, and yet another with just the chicken and the cheese and eggplant but no pasta for the wheat-free-migraine sufferer.” And of course it was all organic. Because why pay the mortgage when you can throw a party for 20 of your pickiest friends? Make that your husband’s picky friends.
How to Deal With Fussy Guests
Look, it’s one thing when your loved (or even well-liked) ones have life-threatening allergies or medical conditions. One friend of mine has failing kidneys, so she can’t eat protein, and for her, I’m happy to whip up a meat-free meal. I’d even consider giving her a kidney (uncooked, of course). But when someone’s just beginning to question their [fill in the blank] tolerance, my own tolerance starts to waver.
My friend Dan handles it this way: Every December he throws a lavish holiday party that’s big on everything except food. One year the theme was “Yuletide in Paris,” and he dressed up like Napoleon. Last year it was “Greek Bail-Out Christmas” — he went as Zeus.
But for eats? The Baltimore publicist doesn’t serve any. He tells his guests it’s a potluck, figuring that everyone will bring something they can enjoy (even if no one else can. Who wants some sugar-free, wheat-free cupcakes or salt-free, fat-free, Lipton’s-Onion-Soup-free dip? Anyone?) What Dan does serve is a lot of liquor and alcohol-free cocktails, because, as he puts it, “Aren’t more people interested in the drinks than the food anyway?”
(MORE: How to Have a Potluck Dinner with Panache)
Personally, I’m more interested in the food, but I’m slowly becoming the odd man out. Look what Monique Ramsey, my friend the medical social media maven, had to whip up at a birthday party where the guests included her mom (gluten-free), her stepmom (no meat or sugar), her daughter (no dairy) and a family friend recovering from radiation therapy for cancer (with a sensitive mouth full of sores).
Ramsey orchestrated a mix-n-match meal of tacos and toppings, including charcoal grilled beef — with a thoughtful grilled cheese sandwich for the guy who’d had radiation — and everyone was thrilled. Except for cancer survivor. He pushed aside the sandwich and pounced on the meat. "This is delicious,” he told his hostess. “It’s the first real food I’ve had in two months!”
I see a lesson in that. We do have to take food issues seriously. But sometimes giving guests a chance to ignore them is the best party favor of them all.