It Is a Matter of Manners

I’ve been thinking a great deal since I posted ten days ago on the subject of picky eaters and why they made me peevish.

One thing I have been thinking about is the fact that I had no idea that the topic was going to raise so many people’s blood pressure in so many different directions. I really didn’t think it was that hot of a topic when I took it up. It turns out that I was wrong on that score. Nor did I realize how many folks had opinions on the issue; I had simply been prompted to write because Amy’s post had gotten me thinking. It turns out that if you read responses to Amy’s post, and mine, and to posts inspired by our two posts, you can see that -lots- of people have opinions on the issue of picky eaters. This is obviously a subject that has a lot of people thinking and talking.

The one thing I have been thinking the most about since then was that it isn’t really what people eat or don’t eat that bothers me. Personal food choices are just that–personal, and quite intimately so at that. Each individual has the right to choose what substances to put into their own bodies within reason–no cannibalism, please–and it is not for me to say to someone else that they are wrong for not eating something that I enjoy. In fact, when it comes to dietary choices, in general, I am very easy-going. I have friends who are Muslim, friends who are vegetarians and friends who follow the Atkins diet. I also am friends with people who are lactose intolerant, who have celiac disease, and who have various food allergies.

And I have managed to cook for all of these people, in varying combinations, over the years without making myself or anyone else crazy.

So, why do I state that I disloke picky eaters?

Well, I realized that it wasn’t what people did or did not eat that bothered me, nor was it that they had food preferences that were different than my own. It wasn’t even that some folks had what I consider to be irrational reasons for their food dislikes that bothered me–one could argue that religious prohibitions are irrational in the extreme, yet, I absolute hold religious dietary preferences sacrosanct and will not violate them when I am serving guests for whom they are a chosen expression of spiritual belief and practice.

It isn’t what people eat or don’t eat that gets to me–it is how they go about expressing their choices.

What it comes down to is this: I don’t dislike picky people–I hate rude bastards.

And that is how I realized that the crux of the matter wasn’t food preferences–it was manners.

There are ways to express one’s food preferences in a polite fashion and then there are ways to do it in a rude, obnoxious and childish fashion.

If you express your food preferences politely, you are welcome at my table any time. If you are rude and obnoxious, not only are you not welcome at my table, I will not go out to eat with you, either, because I cannot abide people who treat servers and bartenders as if they were stupid, out to get them or inhuman automatons who are there to bow and scrape and cater to a selfish twit’s every childish whim.

You see, I have worked in food service, and so I have seen how horrible people can be to those in the industry. In fact, if restaurant guests and catering clients were all model citizens with good manners, The Food Whore wouldn’t have as many funny stories, nor would she drink as many lemondrops as she does. (But, one could argue, without her funny stories, the world would be a more boring place–and that is true. In fact, the reason that most rude people I have encountered yet live and breathe is that I learned long ago to laugh at them.)

So, I thought about it and decided that I should write a little primer on manners relating to food, in order to help those confused by the issue get on a little better with the rest of the world. Not that I think that my readers are in any way unmannerly, because they are all so super and wonderful. No, I don’t expect that anyone who comes here regularly will have need of this primer, however, they may know someone who needs enlightened. In such a case, you can email the url to this post to them with no explanation, or print out the primer and leave it on their desk, in their lunchbox or tape it to their foreheads. Whatever works.

This is not a comprehensive list, because I am no Judith Martin, and thus am not really an authority. But this list is just a handful of things that I think are pretty important that might help dinner guests, hosts, servers, customers and family members get along at the table just a little bit better.

Rule Number One of Barbara’s Table Manners is simple–within reason, eat what you are offered, and do so graciously, even if it tastes like ass. This is the big rule that was drummed into my head from early childhood on: if you are offered food in someone else’s home, it is rude to turn it down. It is also rude to explain how you don’t eat whatever it is that is being served to you, unless you have a damned good reason to do so, (like “God will hate me if I eat pork”) and even then, you should try to avoid saying no to your host. If it is something you don’t normally care for, take as small a portion as possible, and eat it, and smile, even if it tastes bad–some might say, especially if it tastes bad.

And after you have eaten it, you praise the cook and thank them vociferously.

Why?

Because when someone cooks something for you, it is an expression of love and fellowship, and such an expression should never be spurned, because that is akin to spitting in someone’s face. Bringing people together at the table to share food is a sacred act, and is meant to create bonds of friendship and community among human beings. To refuse food is tantamount to refusing the friendship of the host and the cook, and in some countries and cultures, this is a dire offense. To accept an invitation to dine, and then refuse to eat what is presented to you as a guest by the host is an even worse offense.

My Grandma always told me that when you serve food to a guest, it is always the best that you can give–and that meant that when you went to someone else’s table, what they served was the best that -they- could offer. Not every person has the means to present a five course meal, but even if they are poor, whatever they put before a guest is the best that their hearth and hands can offer, and it should never be looked down upon, ridiculed or refused. It should be eaten graciously, and many thanks should be given for it.

To be a good guest, one should therefore be humble.

Barbara’s Second Rule is a corollary to the first rule: in order to be a good host, make every effort to know what your guests do and do not like and can and cannot eat; in order to be a good guest, make your dietary needs known to your host ahead of time politely and remember that there is a difference between what you cannot eat and what you will not eat. A good guest should understand that his host is under no obligation to please his palate so long as she does not serve food which will cause her guests bodily harm or death. A good host should do his utmost to provide for the comfort of his guests, while a good guest will do her utmost to not be an undo burden to the host.

For both hosts and guests, this means that discreet inquiries, done privately, on the subject of dietary needs are a must for successful dinner parties.

Guests should also strive not to be an undue burden on the host by not making unreasonable requests. If one is a Muslim on the Atkins diet, and is genuinely allergic to a number of foods such as milk and almonds, one should then also not give the host a list of foods that one simply does not like. Stick with what is a genuine problem, and leave the rest be.

For hosts, I say this: if you have vegetarians dining with you, please do not cook vegetables with meat and call them vegetables. It is not cute, clever or compassionate to do so. It is rude. Do not secretly put pork in the green beans and then “forget” to tell your Muslim guest. And for goodness sake, treat food allergies as serious health problems because they can be deadly. You don’t want to kill anyone do you? I didn’t think so. (Do you really want to have someone come to your door in the middle of a dinner party, and when you open it, you find it is the Grim Reaper? If you think it would be fun, please view Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and see that while it can be funny, it really puts a damper on the evening’s entertainment.)

Barbara’s Third Rule is a corollary of the First and Second Rules: please do not make ugly faces, icky noises or derisive comments about other people’s food. Whether it is served to you, or is on someone else’s plate, if you don’t care for it, Keep It To Yourself! No one wants to hear you make gagging sounds if they are eating meat and you are a vegetarian, nor do vegarians want to hear you go on about how terrible tofu is. If you don’t like it and you aren’t eating it, leave the person or persons who are eating it alone to eat it in peace for goodness sake. Else you risk never being asked out to eat again.

Rule Number Four is not related necessarily to the other three rules, but it is very important nonetheless. When one is out at a restaurant, please treat your servers as human beings, because that is bloody well what they are. They are not there to be your personal emotional punching bags. They work hard doing a physically, emotionally and mentally demanding job in order to make a living wage, so please don’t make their life worse by acting like an arrogant ass with a sense of entitlement.

And while you are at it, here is a thought: learn the the difference between bad service (an inattentive, surly server who never brings water or remembers what you asked for), a very busy night when the restaurant is filled with loud tables and the waiters are harried, (the service is slow, but the waiter is apologetic, never forgets your requests, and is running around like a chicken with his head cut off, but still getting everything done), and cases where the server is not at fault, but the kitchen is (a steak is medium rare instead of medium well, but the server takes it right back to fix it with an apology and a smile.) Once you have figured out what good service and bad service are, tip accordingly, and never, ever stiff a server unless they are truly out of line with your party.

And never ever say some stupid crap like, “The restaurant should pay the servers a living wage so that I don’t have to tip,” and then use that as an excuse not to leave a tip, because that is a crass bullshit excuse to just be a tightwad. If you go out with me and say such a thing, guess what? I won’t go out with you again. End of story.

There are lots of other little rules that could be added here–and I welcome folks to leave their own musings on manners here in the comments section. Afterwards, perhaps we will collate them into a grand listing of table manners for the twenty-first century. We can keep adding to the big listing as situations arise and warrent inclusion.

Oh, and one more thing–remember this: manners are not just for guests, hosts, company and restaurants. They apply to everyday home meals, too. In fact, I would say it is just as important to treat your family and intimate friends with great courtesy and manners as it is to treat strangers and guests, because manners make life go more smoothly. Families have enough stress heaped upon them from living in close quarters day and in and day out; it never hurts, and in fact helps to alleviate stress if we all just treat each other with a bit of mannerly kindness on a daily basis.

Manners matter, every day, and in every way.

So–now that you know what I care about when it comes to table manners, what do -you- care about most?

53 Comments

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  1. I totally agree with you. I have come to the conclusion, after living in France for a while, that many Americans seem to have food allergies while many French people don’t. I’m wondering if it has something to do with all of the processed food Americans eat, such as breakfasts cereals. Interesting topic, in any case.

    Comment by Linda — November 1, 2006 #

  2. I held my tongue on the last post here, and I’m much more agreeable with what you’ve posted here. I’m definitely a picky eater, but I don’t force my food preferences on other people. I will, in fact, happily cook things I won’t eat for other people.

    But I do have to disagree on the topic of what constitutes good manners. You say that you should eat everything you are served by the host, even if you don’t like it. Well, I have a very strong gag reflex, and I’ve learned the hard way that when I’m eating foods that bother me, I will, in fact, vomit. Now, that has to be much ruder than politely skipping a dish as it goes around the table or avoiding the parts that I know will set me off. I don’t make a big deal about it, I just quietly eat what I can.

    Comment by Becca — November 1, 2006 #

  3. “I don’t dislike picky people–I hate rude bastards.”

    Now THAT is I can agree with you 110% on.

    I think these are great guidelines for being a good host and a good guest.

    My biggest pet peeve is when I’ve invited someone for dinner but they get there and say “I already ate.” I just spent 3 hrs cooking for you and you tell me now that you already ate? That makes me enraged.

    I also am annoyed when someone leaves most of the food I gave them on their plate.

    Comment by Gluten-Free by the Bay — November 1, 2006 #

  4. [...] I just read the most recent post by Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries (who, I will say, is probably my absolute favorite food blogger to read) regarding picky eaters.  It was a follow up to her post from a few days ago in which she states that one of her biggest pet peeves is picky eaters. [...]

    Pingback by Peppermints & Gingersnaps · picky, picky — November 1, 2006 #

  5. In an ideal world, hosts and hostesses would automatically check with their guests about religious and health restrictions on their diets. In Real Life (TM), except for a few of my close friends, I can’t think when anyone last checked with me about what I could or couldn’t eat. In general, people expect you to share their menu, whether or not you can digest it. I fully expect to go to an acquaintance’s house for dinner some evening and be served at least one dish I can’t eat because of my tyramine sensitivities. If this happens, I’ll simply say, “Thanks, but no thanks! I’ll just eat X—-” (where X is another dish on the table), and explain about the sensitivity.

    Comment by Kiwi C. — November 1, 2006 #

  6. Oversensitive picky eaters like me appreciate the clarification.

    Comment by Mel — November 1, 2006 #

  7. And don’t forget the additional fall back of the manual incentive to be mannerly…

    The Smite, as in, to go upside the head! :)

    -=Bryian=-

    Comment by Bryian — November 2, 2006 #

  8. Bra-fucking-vo. Wonderful post. You said everything I would have, but way better.

    Comment by Garrett — November 2, 2006 #

  9. “I don’t dislike picky people–I hate rude bastards.”

    I think if you boiled this entire topic down in a Le Creuset dutch oven, this would be the sweet reduction. I couldn’t agree more.

    There are however people who disagree with your definition of rude. Maybe I’m more easy going than most, but, if I toil for two days preparing a divine meal and a guest very politely and discreetly takes one bite and doesn’t finish it, I will not be insulted. I completely understand what Becca was talking about when she commented about her “strong gag reflex.” That may be rare, but I know it exists to different extents with many people. We may not be able to comprehend this reaction to a food, but being able to accept (even with complete internal discord) the differences and realities for each other is something I find very valuable and necessary.

    If that same guest displays gratitude for the meal offered, participates in the conversation and employs manners generally considered polite and appropriate for the occasion then I feel that guest is completely welcome in my home. I do not take offense. If they arrived and announced they had just eaten, then they might get a swift kick in the ass.

    As for people who treat people in the food service industry rudely–ugh. I’ve never held such a job but I always treat them with respect and will never tip poorly except when completely deserved (and that has happened VERY rarely). I used to know people who I’d generally classify as “good folk” who turned into completely impudent, insolent insolent jerks when entering a restaurant. Go figure. Needless to say, I’m not still friends with them!

    This has been a rather long comment and I thank you for once again offering up such stimulating topics. I do feel that manners (at least in America) are becomming a lost art. Etiquette 101 should be a required school course since it appears that parents are often poor teachers in this field.

    Comment by Kevin — November 2, 2006 #

  10. Excellent, ruminative follow-up post.

    A few quick observations:

    I’m endlessly fascinated by food and food culture, but, alas, am burdend with a small appetite. New friends eventually come to understand that I, “eat like a bird,” and this has no bearing on the quality of the food I am served…in fact, I prefer small plates and long meals where I can delight in what’s offered over the course(!) of several hours. Concommittantly, I will try anything(and if I find a cuisine challenging I’ll file it away as something to go back to…I like to think this gastronomic pedagogy has allowed my palate to mature over the years)…then again…if a guest doesn’t finish everything that’s on her plate it doesn’t occur to me to take offense…the converse, really, I secretly worry that she thinks she might be doing me(the cook) a disservice…when, truth is, I’m simply happy to be laughing, and talking, and joined by my friends(new or old)—any compliments on the meal are icing on the cake. I will never be a member of the clean plate club. Unless(to allude to yet more Monty Python) one would enjoy having Mr. Creosote to dinner—”it’s just a mint, wafer thin!”

    and to make a long comment that much longer:

    I was taught to tip, not by my parents, but by the waitresses of China Fortune(Athens, OH). 17 yr old freshman that I was…I cluelessly frequented this yummy Chinese restaurant with no idea that I was actually expected to tip. Until one day, I was mortified, my waitress came over during the meal and said, “you never tip, you supposed to tip, why you never tip!?”

    That was a slap upside the head I certainly had coming(I suppose I always knew I was expected to tip…but, lacking guidance and being a self-centered teen on my own)…

    You can bet I apologized and from then on learned what was expected of me as a diner. Consequently, as I’ve mentioned before, I went on to form a wonderful friendship with the proprietess and her workers. Kudos to them to step up and say something to me. I still cringe a li’l whenever I think of my public reprimanding.

    Comment by Christopher Gordon — November 2, 2006 #

  11. Ah, now we’re in violent agreement. Except that I consider dislikes to be just as valid as allergies or religious restrictions.

    Like you, I am very strongly in favor of being polite, grateful, eating what you can, always finding *something* you can eat (and communicating well such that that can happen, if necessary), and thanking and complimenting your host excessively.

    Comment by Danielle — November 2, 2006 #

  12. Before I read all the comments:

    I was recently taken to dinner at a Thai restaurant. I have not eaten much Thai food up to now, and was a bit apprehensive as I’m a recovering picky eater. (I say “recovering” because my husbands very catholic food tastes have lead me by example to at least trying things. )

    After a lovely meal of Tamarind encrusted Tilapia (yummy) the waiter heard someone say something about my birthday. As we were preparing to order dessert, which I was not going to have, the waiter told me I was not to order as he was bringing me somethign for my birthday. A very sweet thing to do that left me a bit nervous.

    I have NEVER liked coconut. Mom used to make cookies with coconut, and German Chocolate Cake; completely ruining the chocolate cake with coconut topping. Imagine my distress when I was presented with a bowl of homemade coconut icecream. I smiled, and said thank you and delicately took a small taste. I DO have manners.

    Holy Smoke!! That was the best ice cream I have ever tasted. If you put a bowl of your favorite chocolate ice cream and this coconut ice cream, I’m having the coconut! It was the most delicious thing I’ve tasted.

    I would have missed it all if I had exercised my prior committment to saying “ick”. It’s much easier for me to try new foods now, as I’m always hoping for another wonderful food experience like the Thai homemade coconut ice cream. WOW!

    Comment by Psyndi — November 2, 2006 #

  13. 1.

    And never ever say some stupid crap like, “The restaurant should pay the servers a living wage so that I don’t have to tip,” and then use that as an excuse not to leave a tip, because that is a crass bullshit excuse to just be a tightwad. If you go out with me and say such a thing, guess what? I won’t go out with you again. End of story.

    Let me just take the moment to say that, of course, waiters should be paid a living wage. That they aren’t means we have to tip, but they really really ought to be.

    And if you’re going around saying that and not tipping, you need a smack upside the head. A statement like that is like saying “I know that if I don’t tip, I’m stiffing some person out of their rent money”, and that is NOT okay.

    2. I agree with the person who said it’s not rude to not eat it all – however, you should be unblatant about it. Try it at least, and if you can’t eat it, don’t make a production about how you’re not eating.

    And if called on it, as one happened to me when my sister asked me why I didn’t want a second muffin, come up with an answer besides “Your cooking sucks” – since this was my sister, I felt fine in telling her honestly that the muffin was quite good, but the combination of chocolate and blueberries isn’t my thing.

    Comment by Uly — November 2, 2006 #

  14. Excellent post Barbara. Not much has been said about eating for business – or better put – food and eating when the occasion is related to work and business. I remember reading one time where “father” told his “son” when having a business meal, regardless of location, eat and don’t question too much what you are being served. Allergies and religion were not in question here. He later became one of our most successful embassadors and stated that this was the best advice he ever received. When participating in a business meal in a restaurant or at a home part of your career success or lack of it can be affected by how you handle sharing a meal with others. Your business, your company, your candidacy in politics, your country (insert your whatever here) can rise or fall with the sharing of each business meal.

    Comment by Maureen — November 2, 2006 #

  15. Well, I have to add my vote for disagreeing about eating everything on your plate, everything offered.

    I was always taught that the only polite thing to do was to TRY everything. If you do not like something, that was fine, but don’t make a face/comment or any other unpleasant gesture to display that opinion. A lady will never show that opinion at the dinner table. Also, if the bowl of X comes around and you know that you can’t possibly down a spoonful of it, it is O.K. to skip that particular course. Wasting food is just as rude as making rude comments/grimaces if you force yourself to take a bite.

    Am I a picky eater? You bet. Can’t stand cheese. I’ve tried it periodically, and to this day, the only “cheese” I can eat is cheesecake. Do my friends know how picky I am? Most of them have no idea. I order accordingly at restaurants. No, I do not ask for the meal to be altered in such a way that it no longer resembles the original dish. I just order something I KNOW I will be able to eat and enjoy. In their home, I give everything a taste. If I find something I particularly enjoy, I ask for seconds and make sure I tell my host how wonderful it is. Usually, that alone detracts from the fact that I tried something else and didn’t particularly care for it.

    Comment by Maggi — November 3, 2006 #

  16. EXACTLY!

    I know some very picky eater who are particularly specific about there preferences. I coined a word for it: pickular!

    I ask these people what they do not like, and if they don’t tell me honestly and I end up cooking the one thing they hate most in the world…they damned well better eat it and not make faces.

    I have not read your blog in a couple of months. It was refreshing to pop in to check on it and find this post.

    Comment by Tatyanna — November 3, 2006 #

  17. As a Brit I have to say that the attitude towards tipping in the US is truly bizarre.

    In the UK when someone is paid minimum wage, then it means that – and you aren’t expected to earn part of it in tips. Tips come on top of the earnings. Thus a tip is what it is supposed to be – an extra bit of money for someone who has gone above the call of duty. You don’t ness tip for “good” service, you do tip for “exceptional” service (and possibly leave tuppence for “bad” service.)

    In the US I agree, to not tip is wrong; and I do think that unless the US changes the laws regarding earnings to get tips to not be expected, not tipping is not a comment against the culture. A better protest would surely to write to the relevant politicians and get them to change the laws!

    Comment by Kath M — November 3, 2006 #

  18. A good rule of thumb is to assume that the person inviting one over for dinner is really hoping to please guests with a special meal. This seems so basic, but people somehow just don’t learn it.

    Re. Kevin’s comment above, I WISH we could compensate for the fact that parents don’t teach their kids manners anymore, but having taught both kindergarteners and Ivy League freshmen, I have to say that the mentality that separates school from real life sets in early and dies hard. In our fast-food culture, it’s amazing at what an early age kids start to think of McDonalds as a special meal, never mind that that Happy Meal does NOT fit the model of “healthy food” that even Cookie Monster has been promoting for the last decade, nor has it been lovingly prepared just for them as part of a convivial occasion.

    Anyway. It’s worth noting all the same that the rude bastards aren’t necessarily the people who don’t want food more adventurous than a burger and fries. People who eat out frequently, in restaurants or at the homes of friends or associates, don’t necessarily think of eating out as an occasion to think about the feelings of others. It’s just a meal. One SHOULD warn one’s host about severe food aversions in advance, whether solicited or not, since to the host, it’s NOT just any old meal. As much as I like to cook, I’m surprised to realize how little I “entertain.” In fact, living in a new town with a new baby and no job, I’ve only cooked *one* dinner for a non-family guest in the past year. I don’t hesitate to admit that under those circumstances, I would have had to harbor a major grudge if that *one* guest had dismissed my food. It may not be fair to stake one’s culinary self-esteem on a single guest, but how much more appreciative we would be of our hosts if we assumed that we were that important to them! Out of respect for the effort involved in playing host, I have eaten some astonishingly rare beef, despite my distaste for red meat–even though the meal was catered! I hope that makes up somewhat for having rejected even my mother’s macaroni and cheese growing up . . . .

    One final (unrelated yet important) point: As Kath M’s comment reveals, we would really do ourselves a favor if we made it easier for the foreign diner to clue in to the tipping system in the states. I’m not quite sure how that would best be accomplished, but I know that a lot of stiffing could be avoided if people understood that a tip is really not optional here. My husband, who grew up in Asia, was mortified when he finally realized that the pizza delivery guy who came to his dorm at Northwestern was getting ever more surly because he expected to be tipped. The concept of tipping simply doesn’t exist in Japan.

    Comment by mdvlist — November 3, 2006 #

  19. I read both of these posts, and my opinion actually changed halfway through. The first time I read, I was pretty completely unsympathetic to people who didn’t want to eat certain foods. I’m Chinese, and whenever I cooked stuff that my (white) roommate considered “gross,” I would get really offended. (And for good reason, I believe.) Also, I’m kind of a food snob and really picky about what I buy or order in restaurants, but if someone invited me over and made dinner I’d never let on if i didn’t like it; I’d eat anything, even if I hated it.

    But then a few weeks ago I contracted E. coli from an underdone burger, and it was an immensely painful experience and now when I see ground beef I have a really strong gag reflex. I feel like it’ll be a long, long time before I’m able to eat it again. I don’t feel like that’s the best option, but I’m slightly more sympathetic to picky eaters–from now on if someone’s picky about something, I’ll try to assume they have a good reason that isn’t just that they’re rude.

    Comment by Kelly — November 4, 2006 #

  20. Perhaps it’s my generation, but Barbara, your comments express the way I was taught as a young child and the way my wife and I tried to teach our children. From what I’ve seen we seem to be the exception, now days!

    When our son was very young, he was a very picky eater. For example, he wouldn’t eat mushrooms in any form or cooked carrots.

    After we worked on hime a while, we now have a son who eats almost anything!

    Keep up the blog! I’m sure you’re busy with a new preemie, but I’ve missed your clarity and humor!

    Regards…

    Tom

    Comment by Tom S. — November 4, 2006 #

  21. Hi there,

    I recently posted my encounter with questionable manners! Great to hear your rules. I would also include Courtesy towards host with respect to eating as another. I was a little wierded-out but after some thought, I think I am not ‘unreasonable’ in asking for a little consideration from guests.

    g

    Comment by gunjan — November 4, 2006 #

  22. Could I add something about my pet peeve: people who talk on and on about their diets, and the calorie content of every dish at a potluck. It’s rude to whoever brought the food, and to the people eating it. I wish these loud picky eaters could hold their criticisms until they are somewhere else, because I certainly don’t want to hear it while I’m enjoying someone’s cheesecake or fancy holiday cookies. Roby

    Comment by Rob — November 4, 2006 #

  23. I had this dilemma just the other day, oddly enough. We went to stay with a very good friend we haven’t seen in a long while and his son-in-law-to-be, a charming young man, made the starters for our dinner. He’s just starting out cooking and really getting enthusiastic and made these gorgeous salads of greens, mozzarella and parma ham. They were beautiful, glistening and delicately balanced, just like the photo in Jamie Oliver’s book. The problem? I’m pregnant and can’t eat: salad (toxoplasmosis risk), mozarella (unpasteurised cheese) or parma ham (raw ham). Yes, my host knew I was pregnant but neither he (50 year old widower with two grown daughters) nor his son-in-law-to-be would have thought to question what a pregnant woman can or can’t eat. My fault. I took the risk and ate it. (And it was delicious!) If there had been a *part* of the salad that was okay for me, I would have felt perfectly comfortable eating just that bit and explaining how sorry I was not to be able to eat the delicious-looking rest of the dish. But as it was, I just kept my mouth shut.

    For what it’s worth, my boy (and the boy or girl on the way) will certainly be raised to eat what’s in front of them, or at least taste it politely, regardless of whether they think they’ll like it. I was trained by my Austrian grandmother, who was mortally offended if you didn’t take seconds of every dish at her table (and would go on for hours afterwards, lamenting the fact that it wasn’t good and what could she have done to make it better…)! I’m hoping to get the lesson through without the guilt trip, though.

    Comment by Meg — November 6, 2006 #

  24. Excellent post, Barbara!

    There are about 5-6 people who are frequent guests for meals at our house.

    One has a severe allergy to nuts, especially peanuts. She is always careful to remind us about her allergy, which is a good thing. I don’t want to kill a friend by being a forgetful idiot.

    Another one of our guests is extraordinarily picky. He has an aversion to anything “green” – which includes almost all classes of vegetable – but he is very, very polite about it.

    Then there is one member of this group who is easily my least favorite person to deal with, food-wise. He is not a “picky” eater, but he always has complaints or “helpful suggestions” about how the food _should_ be prepared.

    Of all my guests, guess which one I like cooking for the least? ARGH.

    Also, I’d like to add an “AMEN, BROTHER” to Rob, who mentioned the rudeness of the Diet Police, who prefer to spend an entire meal discussing nutrition information and probable calorie count of every dish. These people can quite quickly torpedo my enjoyment of any meal. Did we just go to a Weight Watchers meeting together? No? Then shut the hell up. This is appropriate conversation for you and your diet coach, you and your food journal, you and your bathroom scale… but NOT you and your other dinner guests.

    Comment by Kate — November 6, 2006 #

  25. I posted this to CI.com last year on this topic:

    Living in California, I’ve become very tired of “special diets”. In fact, I have deliberately softened my own food preferences (no meat) in order not to be the kind of person I dispise.

    That person is a food whiner. Unfortunately, the reality of deailing with a large variety of people with numerous allergies and religious food restrictions has given the orally neurotic license to assert their childish issues as if they were inscribed in the bill of rights.

    See, I get worked up about this.

    The difference between “special diet” and “food whiner” is one of motivation, attitude, and consistency. It’s best explained through some examples:

    Special Diet: wheat allergy

    Food Whiner: pretending you have a wheat allergy because you’re on the South Beach diet — at least this week.

    Special Diet: my brother is an Orthodox Rabbi. He eats strict glatt kosher, and can’t even eat in my non-meat kitchen without steaming the counters.

    Food Whiner: my wife’s college roomate asked to share dinner, and then bitched and turned her nose up at what my wife made because it wasn’t Kosher chicken. The next night, she shared a pepperoni pizza with her boyfriend.

    Special Diet: I don’t eat meat. When invited out by new friends or to their house, I warn them ahead of time of my food limitation, but point out that I don’t have to (or expect to) eat everything on the table. If I don’t have a chance of forwarning, then I simply quitely eat the things which don’t have meat in them.

    Food Whiner: a daughter who had eaten meat all her life told her mother, less than 48 hours before Thanksgiving, that she had decided to become a vegan. And expected to be accomodated.

    Comment by Josh Berkus — November 7, 2006 #

  26. This was a wonderfully provocative post and I appreciate your stirring the pot, so to speak, to bring all of us to thinking about the sorry state of today’s dining manners. I agree so much with Josh Berkus’s descriptions of food whiners, a particularly unpleasant lot!

    While my grandchildren have been coahced by their parents and (usually) act thoughtfully at tables in homes and restaurants I am going to share this with the older ones and suggest they send it on to their friends.

    As a child of Southern upbringing when good manners were almost the most important part of upbringing, I am really sensitive to this current dip in civility.

    Comment by kudzu — November 9, 2006 #

  27. Great post! You’re right – it’s not the special diets that are the problem. With advance warning, it’s always possible to work around it. In fact, such challenges can lead to exciting culinary breakthroughs.

    I wonder if it’s that people have just gotten too spoiled in terms of getting exactly what they want and in not appreciating the effort taken. I try to think that every meal is a gift and should be treated as such. After all, the alternative (i.e. not having one) is not a joke for many people…

    Comment by Kieran — November 10, 2006 #

  28. I have to a agree with Becca a bit.

    I was taught that it was ok to pass on a particular dish, if you knew that it was something that you didn’t enjoy. More for everyone else who do like the dish. However! If it is simply something new that you have never had, then you should at least try it – as that is only polite. :)

    I just hope I haven’t been thoughtlessly rude (however unintentional it may be).

    -J

    Comment by Judith — November 21, 2006 #

  29. It amazes me that some people treat their servers at restaurants the way they do – like vermin. I’ve worked in food service a few different times, and it can really make you hate the human race at sporadic moments. Great points with that.

    Comment by Traci — November 28, 2006 #

  30. Thank you for this great post. Here is fodder for your next one: please address manners on a rudimentary scale. I would LOVE to hear you write about table manners (because I LOVED this post—I was formerly a server as well!). My 4th and 5th grade sons have friends over whose table manners are DEPLORABLE. As in, downright disgusting: mouths wide open, fingers in mouth, hands a mess, elbows flaring, talking with food in mouth, gaping, greasy mitts all over thier glasses, holding forks like shovels and never using thier knives, fingers used when it should be forks… I am not talking toddlers, either, though you wouldn’t know it. And I actually have some adult relatives who have the same lack of manners (using a knife like an ax, leaning inches from the plate to shovel, making audible slurping sounds when chawing corn off a cobb: gross). I am not asking for perfection, folks, just enough manners so I don’t feel like gagging while sitting next to people at a table. No doubt my manners could stand some sharpening too, but I am shocked SHOCKED at the lack of manners being taught our children today… whew. Can of worms. Should probably hide my identity…

    Comment by janelle — November 29, 2006 #

  31. Thank you for this great post. Here is fodder for your next one: please address manners on a rudimentary scale. I would LOVE to hear you write about table manners (because I LOVED this post—I was formerly a server as well!). My 4th and 5th grade sons have friends over whose table manners are DEPLORABLE. As in, downright disgusting: mouths wide open, fingers in mouth, hands a mess, elbows flaring, talking with food in mouth, gaping, greasy mitts all over their glasses, holding forks like shovels and never using their knives, fingers used when it should be forks… I am not talking toddlers, either, though you wouldn’t know it (i.e. food all over floor, utensils optional). And I actually have some adult relatives who have the same lack of manners (using a knife like an axe, leaning inches from the plate to shovel, making audible slurping sounds when chawing corn off a cobb: gross). I am not asking for perfection, folks, just enough manners so I don’t feel like gagging while sitting next to people at a table. No doubt my manners could stand some sharpening too, but I am shocked SHOCKED at the lack of manners being taught our children today… whew. Can of worms. Should probably hide my identity…

    Comment by janelle — November 29, 2006 #

  32. No blogging for quite a while – hope everything is ok? :)

    Comment by Bri — December 4, 2006 #

  33. I’m also rather concerned, though I’m certainly aware that you have plenty on your plate! I’m just hoping it’s not terribly indigestible.

    Comment by Mary Ann — December 4, 2006 #

  34. I do can’t help but hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

    I offer my support for whatever in life has taken you away from blogging these days.

    Comment by KCatGU — December 4, 2006 #

  35. It’s been over a month Barbara – hope it’s just Kat amazing you everyday and the run-up to Christmas keeping you busy.

    Comment by Scheherazade — December 4, 2006 #

  36. I agree on most points. I believe in tipping properly unless the service is very bad for the reasons you’ve mentioned.

    As someone with allergies, I also appreciate your comments about the importance of distinguishing true food allergies from mere dislike of a food.

    When it comes to food aversions, though, I’ve seen some that can be fairly severe, leading to nausea. The key (and you’ve underscored this already) is courtesy. The guest should eat what he or she can on the plate, and compliment the host on the foods he or she did enjoy, without mentioning the food aversion. That’s just common courtesy, I think.

    Comment by Andrea L. — December 5, 2006 #

  37. I agree with the others. It has been awhile since we have heard from you. I can only hope everything is alright. Hugs to you and yours.

    Comment by Benjamin — December 6, 2006 #

  38. I have a very strong aversion to cilantro. In fact if I eat it, I vomit immediately. Therefore, I think it is silly to expect someone who gets sick from certain foods to try it. Isn’t that rude on the chef’s part?

    Comment by JQ — December 7, 2006 #

  39. Barbara – I think you’re an excellent writer. You’re absolutely right about politeness. Food allergies are one thing – still I’m so amazed at how spoiled and fussy we all are. I love what Jack Kerouac wrote in Dharma Bums in which a Buddhist was asked if he was vegetarian. He responded, “No, I believe all sentient beings should eat what they can get.” We’re so beyond that now in this time of plenty, so we can spend all sorts of time talking about what we can or can not eat, or as I saw on Chowhound recently, what people like and don’t like getting as food gifts for Christmas. Seriously, some of us should do without for a while and then revisit all of this “oh, I can’t… or don’t like….or it makes me throw up…please don’t give me any more of this” nonsense.

    Comment by Susanne — December 7, 2006 #

  40. Dear Barbara,

    I miss your posts and I am concerned. Please come back.

    Comment by Indira — December 8, 2006 #

  41. I too miss hearing from you, Barbara. I know that you had originally planned on taking the time until at least December, so I must exercise patience, which is not one of my virtues.

    I do hope all is well and life with Kat is simply (simply???) overwhelming.

    Take care.

    Blessings of the season upon you and
    yours.

    Comment by Dan Jenkins — December 8, 2006 #

  42. I, too, have been keeping an eye on your wonderful blog awaiting the next great post. Happy Holidays.

    Comment by Christopher Gordon — December 8, 2006 #

  43. It’s true, Barbara, we miss you. I hope you are having an amazing adventure with Kat and are enjoying every minute of it… but if you get a chance to pop ’round and say hello, we’d love to hear from you again! Have a wonderful holiday season!

    Comment by Kate — December 11, 2006 #

  44. Wishing the best of holidays to you, little Kat, Morgana and Zak. Hope all of you are having a wonderful time during the holidays with the wonders of your new baby.

    Comment by Maureen — December 11, 2006 #

  45. So true! Good post. I’m going to link to it.

    Comment by Sally Parrott Ashbrook — December 15, 2006 #

  46. [...] I also make sure that hosts know I don’t expect everything that is offered to follow my dietary restrictions; for example, my mother is making a punch at Christmas, and I can’t imagine a punch recipe I could drink.  I told her to go ahead and make one for the others to enjoy without worrying about my feelings.  Pretty much all I drink is water–with an occasional glass of good beer or German Riesling–anyway. I was very interested to come across this blog post about food manners, in which the author discusses that she realizes it’s not picky eaters she doesn’t like–it’s rude bastards.  I think her points are very valid. I also like the comment below the post where the person distinguishes between “special diets” and “food whiners.” (One person I know told a host that she was not eating any dairy due to an allergy, so the host prepared accordingly.  Then the person drank hot chocolate made from milk–knowing it had milk in it–in front of the host a few days later, which thoroughly irritated the host.) [...]

    Pingback by Through a Glass Darkly » Food manners — December 15, 2006 #

  47. Barbara, I’m with the concerned folks. Both Rosie and I tried to email you about The Spice is Right a while back, and never heard from you. I really just hope you and yours are doing all right. I hope you get a moment to stop in and tell us if everything’s okay.

    Comment by Danielle — December 17, 2006 #

  48. I agree with you.

    Nevertheless, once I had to turn down food though being a guest, and I felt extremely rude and bad about it.

    The problem was this: The host didn´t like to eat cake, but she nevertheless served us cake, one she still had in her freezer from god knows when. She had properly defrosted it and all; only that in between the defrosting and the serving all kinds of mildew bacteria had apparently started to grow within and spread out their strings all through the cake. It tasted like hell! Only the host didn´t realize, because she didn´t eat cake herself – of course not, since she did not like cake. After bringing myself to eating half of one piece, I refused.

    It was an especially precarious situation, because it was my boyfriends mother, and it was the first time we were invited to her house. My boyfriend did realize there was something wrong with the cake, but his tonge is not as sensitive as mine, and he couldn´t put the finger on what was wrong with it.

    Therefore I would say, if something has gone bad, it should be allowed to turn it down.

    Comment by whitelady — December 27, 2006 #

  49. Hey, everyone –

    I’ve just spoken with Barbara on the phone. They are all well, though very busy, and Barbara will be back soon.

    Comment by Hadar — December 29, 2006 #

  50. Yay! Thanks, Hadar!

    Comment by Mary Ann — December 30, 2006 #

  51. Relief. Thank you Hadar. Barbara, we’ll be ready when you are.

    Comment by Elise — December 30, 2006 #

  52. “And I have managed to cook for all of these people, in varying combinations, over the years without making myself or anyone else crazy.”

    Not an easy feat to accomplish.

    Comment by Dining room furniture — January 30, 2007 #

  53. I hate people who refuse food out of ignorance or preference, and also the way the refuse it. Another thing is that the foods they refuse are normally eaten by most of the population.

    My family has taught me to eat what is offered to you. There are exceptions, of course, such as dog meat and alcohol. I easily get intoxicated. But wine I won’t refuse, but 1 or 2 glasses only. Accepting and eating the food offered is a sign of humility and acceptance of hospitality. People might think you’re too high and mighty to commune with them.

    Comment by Ike — June 25, 2009 #

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