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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Some of my food rules...
I have some dietary requirements.  So do most of the people I know, creating quite a wide variety of things that can't or shouldn't be served or eaten.  These are some of my food rules, which I have found to minimize digestive and emotional upsets:

1) It is a guest's responsibility to inform the host of any dietary requirements. An explanation is not required, but is helpful.

2) It is a host's responsibility to meet a guest's dietary needs, or say if it is not possible to do so.  Other arrangements may be made if necessary.

3) It is not okay to pester someone else about their dietary needs or choices.

4) Not every dish on the table has to be something that everyone can eat.

5) There must be enough food on the table, in varieties acceptable to the diners, that everyone will enjoy the meal and fill up on what is there.

One that is not a rule, but a gradually increasing tendency: As I get less and less pleased by commercial foods, I am slowly buying more things that are just raw ingredients to cook with.  It is a great deal easier to make things that are edible for everyone that way, and the taste and nutrition tend to be loads better too.  The main limitations to this trend are time and expense.  It takes more time to make things from scratch, although I'm finding some handy shortcuts.  Plus organic/grass-fed/free-range/etc. food tends to cost a lot more than factory junk.  Sometimes, though, the good stuff is cheaper.  I'm getting better at taking advantage of such bargains.

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26 comments or Leave a comment
saint_monkey From: saint_monkey Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:29 am (UTC) (Link)
If someone is coming over, I do like to ask them if they have allergies or preferences.

Mostly because I appreciate a challenge!

But also because I like to know up front. My heart sinks if someone looks at a carefully crafted dish and says "I can't stand " < insert main ingredient >.

Finally, I'd also like to be able to point out the dish to someone sensitive to an ingredient. For example, peanuts. Anaphalaxis is a terrible way to begin dinner.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)


I do ask people what they like and what they can't or won't eat. But there are, hmm, several dozen people in community and at least a dozen or so who eat off my table at different times. They all have different parameters. So I tell them to remind me, because I can't remember it all myself. I do usually learn the top few points for anyone who eats with us frequently, though.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: March 2nd, 2010 10:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds like a fair set of rules.
gumnut From: gumnut Date: March 2nd, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
95% of things you find in the average supermarket are bad for you, dietary requirements or no. I'm diabetes prone (in fact I have the gestational version right now) and one of the most depressing things is knowing that there are aisles of stuff that shouldn't even be for sale. This is why our society is drowning in lifestyle diseases...cos most of us eat crap.

(it is good to be aware of what you're eating)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)


In most food categories, a single inedible ingredient will reduce your choices to 1 or 0. If the thing you can't or won't eat is high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, or another ubiquitous contaminant ... then yeah, about 90 to 95% of the store's contents are inedible for you. If you're trying to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, your choices are limited to buying organic and crossing your fingers that none of it was wind-contaminated. (I'm starting to suspect that some folks are allergic to one or more of the GE strains of corn and other crops. I know several people now with a severe intermittent allergy to corn; sometimes it triggers hard, other times not at all. Narrow down the variables to corn, and there are still at least four: normal corn (various strains) and GE corn (3+ strains). And the GE crap doesn't have to be labeled, so if you're allergic to one, you lose "corn.") It's very frustrating.
capricorn01984 From: capricorn01984 Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

If you haven't seen it, track down the old NOVA special titled "Harvest of Fear". Addresses very well in depth the issues surrounding GE foods, corn being a featured one.

We were shown it at the University of FL during my time there.
From: rowangolightly Date: March 2nd, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ya know, I could've written this....

Good job!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Feel free to link or repost.
whuffle From: whuffle Date: March 2nd, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm starting to seriously consider your suggestion of purchasing a very small chest freezer and then buying organic meat through the local 4H program.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm going out to buy my freezer later today, as it happens. I'll get meat from my neighbors (I live in a farming community) later in the season; right now I'm baking for a family reunion, and I don't want to have to bake nosherai (little nibbles) for 100 people in the two days before we go. I did that last year, and do *not* wish to repeat the adventure. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)


Good for you. I hope you enjoy your freezer. See my other recommendation for the book Big Food.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yay!

Just hit the library and looked through it. I'll be acquiring a copy, mostly for my Mom. She has a 22 cu ft upright freezer so crammed that she cannot fit in another bag of peas....and since she can't get at the contents easily, she goes out and buys more.

My project, as soon as it's warm enough to work in the garage comfortably, is to empty, cull and organize that freezer.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 7th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC) (Link)


One thing I remembered from childhood is we used to have problems with "losing" things in the freezer. We didn't know what was in it and couldn't find things easily, and that started fights.

So when my partner and I got this new chest freezer just over a year ago, we listed everything that went into it and tried to keep track. We've done pretty well with that, and it has helped a lot. But sure enough, now it is full and we sometimes have a hard time finding things. It needs to be reorganized periodically.

Also, you have to be pretty careful about using things in the freezer, not just putting stuff into it but taking stuff out. When cooking for more than the two of us, I try to include at least one thing from the freezer.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: March 7th, 2010 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

That's what I'm thinking I'll have to do. I'm accustomed to relying on my memory, but no one else can read that without removing it from its casing, which tends to me messy. :) I suspect a lot of what ends up in there will be either meat that comes in quantities too large for the freezer part of the refrigerator, or baking supplies that would otherwise go rancid before I can use them.

I got the perfect example of "stuff lost" when we emptied the old fridge into the new one, though. I'd bought yeast because I couldn't find what I thought I had, and so figured I'd used it up when I wasn't paying attention. Nope. It had just gotten buried. When we did the transfer, I found a total of 2 1/2 pounds of baking yeast. So it went into jars, with 1/2 a pound going to my near-sister and the remainder getting used up as I bake. At least yeast and organic flours don't get freezer burn. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Go for it!

If you can manage that, it would be wonderful.

It's hard to describe the difference in flavors between commercial meat and natural meat; not everyone seems to notice, but many people do. I find that commercial meat has a flatter taste with chemical or metallic notes. Natural meat is richer, often sweet, sometimes with herbal notes if the critter was grass-fed.

For anyone considering a freezer for stocking food, I highly recommend the book Big Food, which explains how to stock freezer and pantry space. You have to make sure that you will use everything you buy. We are still learning about that, but getting better. That pair of recipes I posted the other day was inspired by sticking my head in the freezer to see what we had that would feed 6 people! It's kind of fun when you have learned what kind of things you like to make, so you know what to keep on hand, and then you can throw together something interesting on relatively short notice.
dakiwiboid From: dakiwiboid Date: March 2nd, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Truer words were never spoken

Thank you for your kind attention to your guests' needs. Your guests should certainly show you consideration in return.

This particular rule struck my eye quite distinctly: "It is not okay to pester someone else about their dietary needs or choices." I once had a young person sit down next to me at a large outdoor potluck and start lecturing me about the fact that I was eating meat. I let her go for a minute or so, asked her if it was her first visit to the venue, and then told her that if the hosts of the gathering heard her talking in that way, she'd get a sterb warning about her behavior. Then I told her that nobody likes a missionary, turned my back on her, and went on with my lunch.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Truer words were never spoken

*chuckle* You were nicer than I probably would have been. I have vegetarian friends, who understand that their choices are personal to them, and don't pester other people. Anyone who rags me about what I'm eating is treading on thin ice over shark-infested waters. Usually what happens is my Wolf totem wakes up, sniffs around and finds the militant vegetarian's cute little Rabbit or Squirrel or Deer totem ... who goes "AAAHH! It's a Wolf! We're all gonna DIE! Run away, run away!" And the out-loud conversation is soon over. Sometimes I don't even have to say anything, just look at them.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: March 2nd, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Truer words were never spoken

Oh, what a lovely explanation for the "run awaaaay!" response some of us can engender.

My primary totem is (surprise surprise) Hawk; i.e. a predator. My nephew's is very clearly Squirrel. When he pushes too far, all I have to do is *look*. Once he actually ran to his mother (my sister) saying "Mom! O.M.G. Mom, Auntie looked at me! She's scary, Mom. I didn't know she could be that scary.) He wasn't 5 at the time, either; he was 12. Bless my sister, she just raised her eyebrows and asked what he'd done to deserve it.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)


From what I've seen, many people don't cook anymore. They buy convenience foods that are heated or just mixed and heated. I do some of that, but well, I know too much about some of the bad things in food. There are a lot of words on labels that make me put things back on the shelf.

I think a main threshold was crossed in the 1940s when manufacturers started trying to make foods that could be prepared very quickly, because the war really ate into everyone's time and energy. Over the years, more and more convenience foods were introduced, along with forms of entertainment such as television and video games that devour time by the hours. At the same time, we were flushing away our extended families, and now we're losing even nuclear families. There is less opportunity for people to learn how to cook, less time for them to cook, and fewer people to eat with. (Cooking for just 1-2 people is harder.) Then as the corporations gained more power, they were able to FORCE people to buy stuff they don't want by manipulating label requirements so you can't tell which foods have the thing(s) you wish to avoid. So those are all factors.
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ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm always cooking for myself and my partner, and then we have some found-family friends who come over fairly often. (Some of them tend to ask what they can bring, so it can turn into a mini-potluck.) I'll learn the parameters for people I feed frequently, but the list of diners is never consistent over time.

There are limits for me too. In particular, if the list of parameters is cutting out too much stuff, that's when I start putting needs ahead of desires, or putting out a bunch of smaller items and telling people to pick and choose. Sometimes a person has lots of things they can't eat, or don't want to eat -- and two of those people at the same table is enough to wipe out most of the food pyramid.

*chuckle* On the other hoof, I have gotten good enough at cooking to broaden the list for some folks. A number of people will eat things I cook that are in categories they normally dislike. Plus our diversity of ethnic inspiration means that we cook in ways that other people may never have met before. My partner's specialty is East Indian feast food; that comes in very handy. Last night's meal was thawed beef patties in gravy, a batch of homemade potato curry (the leftovers of which are now napalm potatoes), and the remains of the berry cobbler and banana-caramel bread pudding.
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: March 2nd, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been handling cooking for guests that way since I had my first apartment 30+ years ago. To my mind, it was just a part of basic courtesy - and in my circle of friends, it pretty much is. It never occurred to me to summarize it like this. Thank you.

I might serve a dish one person doesn't like or can't eat (while making sure there's something they do like or can have), but I do try to keep allergens off the table because sometimes just the smell is enough to trigger the reaction. So if, for example, I have a peanut allergy to deal with, there won't be a peanut butter stew on the table, or p.b. cookies for dessert, and if my near-sister is coming over, I won't serve mushroom Stroganoff.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)


Some allergies are a lot worse than others; I think nuts and seafood ones are the high end. (Peanuts have a "do not open in the house while sufferer is present" version.) Most are not triggered until eaten. Some vegetarians can't stand the smell of cooked meat. So it varies.
capricorn01984 From: capricorn01984 Date: March 2nd, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a vegetarian I certainly agree with and appreciated this post. Your five rules are simply good sense and had they been taken into account at many gatherings........we would have been able to actually eat a satisfying plate. Oh if they had only seen how reasonable 4 & 5 are!

Blessed be!

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC) (Link)


It really sucks to sit down at a table and realize that you can only eat 1 or 2 things there. That has happened to me a lot; I'm not a vegetarian, but have other limitations. So I try to be considerate of other people's needs.

We've done a completely vegetarian feast here ... hmm, twice I think, for sabbats.
capricorn01984 From: capricorn01984 Date: March 2nd, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just reposted this on my LJ. Thanks for the earlier comment granting permission.
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