by Andrea Banerjee
At Thanksgiving this year, a few of us were sitting around the table chatting after dinner, having a friendly conversation about family recipes, menu planning and food likes/dislikes.
An older family member mentioned that when her mother was growing up in a time of scarcity, there would never be discussions about food preferences, or the thought of serving multiple dishes. Host, family members and guests alike would eat whatever food was available to them.
It made me realize the privilege of my own dietary autonomy. I felt a new empathy for those that don’t have the same choice and access to information (and consumer products) that we enjoy today. It also made me frame those choices differently, as a new and different set of responsibilities that have replaced simply putting food on the table.
As guests with dietary limitations, allergies and preferences, you may feel anxious about how you or your partner can respect both your hosts and your food values.
Here are some quick thoughts I wanted to share from my own experiences. We’re lucky to have an incredibly accommodating family and community, but I know this isn’t always the case at every event you may have scheduled over the season – with work, extended family, charity events, friends, etc.
1. Remember where different socialized food behaviours come from.
This is helpful for me, especially in light of my thoughts above. Food behaviours have socio-economic, political and cultural contexts that can often explain why certain dishes, traditions and behaviours hold a lot of importance to people. If you feel panic or irritation at being pressed to take a third helping, try a dish you’d rather not, or fielding questions about your lifestyle, take a moment to consider why you and your host are approaching the food interaction so differently. This can often shed light on why something is a point of difference between you, and give you some more patience or a different tack.
2. Stick to neutral explanations when talking about your diet.
For many, dietary choices are not impersonal and are an important part of their values and identity – I understand and respect that. But consider whether you’re prepared to present all of that at a holiday meal. It’s okay to side-step food comments and questions to keep things light. Save the more in-depth conversations for people you feel comfortable with, and who have earned that time and effort.
3. Plan ahead.
Having an empty plate at a dinner party can make your dietary differences stick out – and leave you hungry! If you’d prefer to avoid this, it’s always handy to get some menu details and offer to bring a shared dish that you know you can eat.
4. Be kind.
The holidays aren’t ultimately about food as much as they are about spending time together! Everyone should be able to enjoy themselves, indulge in the food that makes them feel good, and acknowledge each other. It goes a long way to keep an open mind, diffuse conversations and answer questions with honesty and kindness.
5. Stick to your guns.
It’s perfectly okay if you don’t enjoy some of the traditional holiday food behaviours, like overindulging, drinking alcohol on New Year’s Eve, eating turkey and stuffing, etc. (Although I usually enjoy ALL of these!)
Don’t feel guilty at respectfully avoiding them, just as you shouldn’t feel guilty enjoying holiday food traditions, full on. 🙂 When you decline something, try to mention another dish or aspect of the gathering that you’re enjoying to shift the focus.
Good luck with all of your decisions this season – Wishing you a wonderful holiday full of delicious food!!