What we as human beings long for most is the sense of feeling included and meaningfully connected with others. Because of this, any form of exclusion, however harmless it may seem, at best does not feed the soul. At worst, as we see and hear about virtually daily in the world of our youth who experience bullying in the form of exclusion (the most common form of bullying), such exclusion can also create anxiety, social withdrawal, impaired self-esteem, and a whole range of other forms of emotional distress.
We can all remember how not so long ago, everyone knew that the polite thing to do when you visited friends and family members (or anyone for that matter) was to just eat whatever food was offered and never make a fuss about it. The idea of special diets was virtually nonexistent, except for those picky eaters, who most people viewed as trouble makers or attention-seekers. Now it seems that these so-called attention-seekers are going viral, with the reasons for their picky eating habits becoming more and more expansive. Is this a fad that will go away or are we stuck with having to carry on our lives, accommodating every peculiar whim that comes our way?
Leading the North American mainstream attention-seekers were the vegetarians. “Seriously, who are these people and how can they survive without eating meat?” were questions that countless numbers of people would ask. Others would talk about vegetarians as if they were aliens of some sort, and certainly not part of the in-crowd. Still others thought it was fun to tell jokes about these idealistic outsiders. While seemingly benign, in reality this sort of subtle social differentiation feeds another troubling trend we are now seeing more of in our society — exclusion.
While vegetarians were in a way the trailblazers of honouring themselves in relation to the food that they ate for ethical reasons, we now see many more people who have chosen to change what they put in their bodies, due to ideological reasons of different sorts. As if that was not enough, research studies that are investigating about how food is medicine (or not) is changing the choices that many people are making in their efforts to live longer and more vibrant lives.
The passion around these food choices becomes even more pronounced, especially in cases where individuals receive diagnoses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autism, ADHD, depression, celiac disease, and food allergies that are thought (or known) to potentially be impacted by various food choices. It now seems that any way we turn, we find that the old familiar comfort food staples and holiday treats may not be equally welcomed and relished by all. This also means that perhaps it is time for us to re-think our now outmoded notions of what politeness really means.
What would you think if I were to propose a new paradigm for holiday celebrations
and other “food sharing” that shifts the onus of “politeness”
from those receiving the food to those offering it?
In reality, such a paradigm to live by is not that difficult. All it requires is the decision to choose to be generous and to make the effort to ask all potential guests about what their food preferences and needs are before creating your menu for a holiday feast. That’s it! Well, almost… It also means being committed to seeking new sources and recipes of food that all of your guests can enjoy. I call this paradigm for entertaining Inclusive Cooking. And while I’ve written an entire book* dedicated to guiding and teaching readers about inclusive cooking and offering an abundance of recipes, and an easy-to-use special diet and allergy chart to make the process easy—regardless of readers’ dietary restrictions, there are increasingly more and more resources available that are making inclusive cooking a breeze to do. You will also be surprised to discover how helpful your guests will be to support such a vision if you take that first step—even if it means that the guests themselves offer to buy or bring food to share with others that they can also enjoy. It really is that easy.
So, as the Winter Holidays approach and you are shaking in your boots uncertain about who to invite to your festive events, now that you know what you can do, you can release your fears and invite everyone possible, even those (like me!) who have historically been difficult to feed. I guarantee you that your kindness will be appreciated beyond your wildest dreams!
*A portion of the proceeds of my book YUM: Food For Living is donated to charity.