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#479: Trying to be more social when you have serious dietary restrictions

Dear Captain,

I’m in a very happy long term relationship. The biggest problem we face is we’re both introverts, and have some social anxiety along with it. It’s hard to make friends, but we’re trying. We’re very geeky, so we’re trying to get involved in geek spaces.

Next comes the big hurdle, we have diet issues. He has really bad food allergies, and I’m vegetarian. At home we’re fine, we can work around our issues, but…

Social gatherings almost always involve food. We barely eat out anymore because it’s not worth the risk of being so sick afterwards. The local cosplay group meets inside a pizza place, the local crafting group meets at a BBQ place. Going to someone’s house means feeling like entitled jerks for having to grill them on labels and cross contamination, or hoping they’re cool with us packing our own food.

There’s a cosplay meet-and-greet at a con coming up, at a restaurant where we can tell ahead of time nothing’s going to be safe. Is it rude to request it be held on the patio if that’s an option?

What are some scripts for turning down food invitations? Is there a polite way to suggest social gatherings that don’t take place somewhere that could kill him? Right now we’re both so worried about coming across as Entitled Jerks that we tend to just avoid all the gatherings that involve food, which means we don’t get out much at all. We want to make friends, but we also don’t want to get Frequent Flier points at the ER. How can we compromise?

We’re already learned that saying the specifics of the allergy means people will generally lecture us that there’s no way whatever food could contain that allergen, even if we already know it does, so it’s best to stay vague when declining invitations.

Healthy Hermit

Dear Healthy Hermit,

Since discussions of the host-guest relationship show no signs of abating, let’s continue with a theme. Social connection and food are two very primal human needs (that taste great together) and I expect this will generate a similar amount of discussion.

You mention social anxiety as part of the mix of what is going on. I am in no way qualified to address that. I generally recommend taking all emotional & mental health stuff very seriously and seeking treatment if it is interfering with your happiness and your functioning. This answer will be focused on rituals around event-planning, hosting, and food and some of the written and unwritten rules thereof. If anxiety sufferers want to weigh in with their experiences and specific workarounds in the comments, that is extremely welcome.

Let’s start with parties that are not private friends-only events at people’s houses, arranged through hobby groups, Meetup, Facebook, etc. One of the things I suggest when planning Captain Awkward meetups is that hosts think about a varied menu (both in terms of price and vegetarian options) and also about general accessibility. I think organizers so far have been doing a great job with this, and especially with choosing places that publish menus online so people can do reconnaissance ahead of time. When event-planning, there is no magic perfect place or time or menu that will make everyone happy, and I have a low tolerance for people who do not do the work of planning events or contribute anything at the planning stages and then complain later that it was not somehow perfectly tailored to them, but as a host I recommend doing some very basic work to make sure that it’s not just wealthy meatatarians with super-stairclimbing ability at your parties.

Hermit, keep a few things in mind about the groups in your town:

  • It is relatively safe to assume that people who host these events want people to come and enjoy themselves. They like you just fine, they want you to be included and want to get to know you, and will reward your efforts to connect.  Bonus: You are doing all the right stuff!
  • While it may not feel good inside your head, your worry that you will come across as rude or accidentally do something wrong is a pretty good sign that you are being thoughtful and considerate about your interactions, which is the basis of politeness.
  • The groups meet at those places because those places have been good about accommodating large geeky groups in the past and most members have probably been happy with things. Acknowledging that there is a positive reason that they have chosen those spaces (A good patio! Lots of tables! Easy parking! Into cosplay!) will go a long way.
  • In the beginning when a group is small and made up of people you directly know, you don’t have to think so much about accessibility – it is an easy and forgivable oversight for these planners to have made. They’re not eating BBQ at you.
  • That said, chances are you are not alone and that other people would feel more welcome and included if there were more dietary variety on offer, so your speaking up is a kindness that you are doing both for yourself and for others.
  • Constructive criticism will be best absorbed if you a) have demonstrated some investment in and connection to the group b) offer alternatives and positive suggestions.

Which means that:

Hey Crafting Group, you always have meetings at a BBQ place and I can’t eat anything there, which is why I don’t come. Could you fix that so I can come?,” may not be received as well as “Hey, Crafting Group, could we try X venue sometime? I checked and they’d be willing to host us during this same time slot” or “Crafting group, I will be at X venue on Y day with my glitter gun. Stop by for a little while and join me?

The first is the truth, and a fair question, but the second & third answers imply that you’ve done two pieces of work:

1) Researched alternatives that would work better for you and be accessible and hospitable to others.

2) Possibly eaten a meal at home and then gone to BBQ crafting group anyway a few times to socialize and drink iced tea with these folks. And yes, this will mean a few rounds of “Don’t you want to order something?” “Naw, I’m a vegetarian, but thanks!” Before you go changing it up, go be a part of what it is now and make sure you even like these people.

Also, if you go with this approach, give it a lot of time, and give it a few tries and try it a few different ways before you give up. By “a few different ways”, I mean, there is trying to move the event & trying to host an alternative event, but there is also contacting a few members individually and inviting them out (or over) and making connections that way.

By time, I mean that Commander Logic (awesome at making friends!) and I (pretty decent at making friends!) both needed about a year of sustained effort to make close friendships after we’d moved to Chicago. I don’t want to depress you, I just want to be really honest that it is a process and that the people who look like they effortlessly have tons of people around them actually put in a lot of effort and had many lonely times.

Oh, and since you mentioned crafting, let me tell you about an awesome party one of my friends hosts periodically, known as “Zombie Craft Day” where people bring half-finished craft projects or stuff they’ve meant to get started on for a while and work on them communally. Is it time for a Zombie Craft Day where you live?

As for your specific question about the upcoming cosplay meet & greet, asking to move the event to the patio will have significantly more traction if you’ve been to one of their events and met some of the people at least once before. If this is your first time ever going and meeting these people, honestly, I would eat at home (your partner sounds like they would have to eat at home almost 100% of the time anyhow) and stick to beverages once you’re there. You’ll almost certainly get questions & pushback about why you’re not eating, and here are some ways to answer them:

Partner is on a very strict, medically supervised diet so we ate at home. We’re really glad to meet you, though!”

“We have some strict dietary issues that means it’s often better for us to eat at home. However did you make that jolly hat?”

I strongly suggest that you not go further into detail than this, in order to head some of the interrogation off at the pass. Let people get to know you without the food stuff being the only thing they know about you, let them know up front that there is some complicated food stuff going on, and do what you can to enjoy yourself. This opens the door for next time. “Next time, could we maybe do this on the patio?” “Next time could we do it at X venue? We’ve had really good luck with the food there.

Now let’s talk about parties at people’s houses.

I think when you are hosting a party in your house, the best policy is Your Party, Your Rules, You Can Cry If You Want To.

Example: A local friend throws a cocktail party once a year. It lasts for exactly two hours. There is a suggested dress code. There is generally one “house drink” with assorted mixers, and that drink will contain a substantial amount of booze. It is on the top floor of a building, so you will have to climb and later drunkenly lurch down many flights of stairs. Parking in the neighborhood sucks. There is a cat (who spends the party shut into one particular room). The invitation is very clear about all of these details so that people can make a good decision about whether they want to go, and if you can’t make that time slot, couldn’t get a babysitter, never take the bus or couldn’t catch a cab, have massive pet allergies, etc. you are a grownup and can decide that.

Imagine for a second that you’re invited to that particular party.

Say you personally don’t drink alcohol. By all means, go to the party, slide the thing you brought that you know that you can drink into the fridge, and have a good time.

Say you personally don’t drink. By all means, email the host and say “I don’t drink alcohol, but I really want to come. Will there be non-booze there or would it be cool if I brought x (specific thing you like to drink)?” It is okay to ask the hosts question like this, just like it was actually ok in the last letter for people with kids to initially say “The invite doesn’t specify; can we bring our kids?” Since the person invited you, they want you to be there. Go to the party and have a good time.

Say you injured yourself in a .gif creation incident and can’t climb stairs right now. By all means, decline the invitation, and perhaps follow up with the host to arrange a time to see her that is located on the ground floor of something. “I won’t make it, but are you free for lunch next week? I’d love to catch up soon.”

If you have to decline an invite, there is no obligation to give any reason at all. If you do decide to give a reason, and you’d like to be invited to something in the future, make sure you do not say anything snarky, passive-aggressive, or turn the act of not going to a party into any kind of complaint or lament or pressure.

If people are inviting you to stuff at their homes, good news! You’re doing the social interaction stuff right and they want to include you and get to know you better. Right now, we’re still talking about friendly acquaintances vs. friends, so let’s get into how you bring up dietary stuff with, say, a party where the hosts are serving a meal. Good hosts who are having you over for food/drink will generally inquire if there is any dietary stuff they should know, but even if they don’t, it is totally ok to raise it.

Email them (vastly preferable to commenting in an Evite or Facebook group) and say:

We would love to join you! FYI, I’m a vegetarian, and partner has some pretty strict dietary stuff going on, so would it be ok if we brought x dish to share?

Key word being “to share.” When you’re just getting to know someone*, “We brought vegan tamales, have some!” is a better proposition than “We brought weird single-serving tupperware with our own precisely measured portions of food because we don’t trust you not to try to kill us with your good intentions.” Make something delicious and simple that doesn’t require taking over the hosts’ entire kitchen to assemble and pass it around.

Now, you might encounter a SuperHost, who feels that they MUST now make something that they are SURE will be safe and want all the details. At this point you have two choices: Trust them to get it right and risk it OR say, “That is incredibly kind of you, and we’re sorry to be high maintenance! But we have to be really, really careful with it and would feel more comfortable knowing that at least one dish was 100% ok for us to eat. Why don’t we bring x thing with us, and you help us out by listing ingredients of whatever you make so we know what might be safe for us to try? We so appreciate it.”

If they push back at you after that? They are making something that is not really about them all about them, and you are not the ones who made it weird by needing to not spend the next two weeks pooping your souls out of your butts.

Here is the thing:

You get to draw bright boundaries around your own safety. You get to do that without other people’s buy-in to every detail.

Here is the other thing:

As much as this great Get Out And Meet People! initiative of yours is about finding community and people who will like and accept you, it is also about you finding people who make you happy and feel safe and good. This is not a one way audition, where they have all the power to accept or reject you and you have none. Someone who treats you poorly around food, second-guesses your food choices, belittles you around food, makes it hard for you to feel included in the group, makes your very real needs all about them, etc.  is not someone who is going to be a good friend for you.

Also keep in mind: The group is not a monolith. Somewhere in those groups there is someone who will like you and get you and want to help you. Somewhere in there is someone who, once informed of what you have going on, will back you up and help you. “Hey, guys, let’s look for a place with more vegetarian options, ok? Poor Hermit shouldn’t have to eat before s/he comes to games night.”

Now with close friends? Interrogate the restaurant choices, bring on the tupperware & scan the labels in their kitchen. They will work with you! And as you get more comfortable with people, you can start hosting gatherings in your house where you control the menu and have the social interaction you desire. You can start to change the culture of the group, where listing all ingredients on a shared dish or being more aware of diverse dietary options becomes routine.

The advice here is about how to go into new spaces and new communities with the least amount of friction possible, so you have the opportunity to connect with people and aren’t letting the health and dietary issues put you out of the mix (by, for example, avoiding things you really want to go to) before you even get started. I think it requires some work on your part, which may seem unfair and harder than it needs to be. I mean, it sucks to go to a party at a restaurant and sip water all night because there is nothing you can eat, and it sucks to have to do all the work of educating people and navigating THEIR issues with food and boundaries, and it sucks that eating someone’s bread and salt might end in an expensive and terrifying emergency room visit, so if I skipped the “Oh man, that must be really hard” part to get to the advice here is your serving of empathy.

For some hilarious writing about this issue, I recommend the salty and profane work of my friend Samantha Irby, also known as bitches gotta eat. She suffers from Crohn’s disease, and her story about attending a speed-dating event in an adult diaper is truly unforgettable.

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219 comments
  1. Hi Letter Writer!
    Food allergies/intolerances/requirements can really be a pain for sure and the captain has some really good advice.

    One option that may or may not be viable for you is that if your social group has a regular eating place, contact the venue and ask if they can make something that would suit your requirements.
    I have an aunt who cannot have sugar (intolerance, not diabetes), wheat, MSG or fatty/rich foods. If there is a family dinner that she wants to attend she will call in advance and ask if there is something simple that they can make such as steamed veggies or fish and notifies them of her requirements.
    Some places are very willing to help and prepare something specially if you have specific requirements so give it a shot!

    • Vera said:

      It sounds like there are concerns about cross-contamination, though, and that is the sort of thing a restaurant is less likely to be willing (or able) to accommodate.

      • It depends on the eatery. Some are really good about cross-contamination, especially if you tell them that it’s an allergy.
        They also can tell you what sorts of things they prepare in their kitchen if you ask (for purposes of knowing for your food allergy/intolerance).

        It can be hit and miss though and it may be different over here in Aus to the rest of the world. All I know is that over here I’ve seen many places that accommodate very well for allergies/intolerances.

        • There are many things that it’s possible to prevent cross contamination from, and if they can’t do that, don’t eat there no matter what allergies you do or don’t have, because if they can’t handle basic cross contamination procedures, they aren’t safe. (I have a friend who can’t eat red meat, and can’t eat anything that touches it. If a restaurant can’t safely make him a chicken breast, I won’t eat there, either, because they’re doing something badly wrong.) But some things — like peanut oil and flour — simply cannot be eradicated well enough to make anything that comes out of a kitchen that uses them safe for people who are very sensitive.

          • UnsuckableButtercup said:

            Hm. You have a point about how basic restaurant-level food safety should prevent many cross-contamination issues, but I have a friend who cannot go to Ren Faires, because the simple act of being downwind of the peanut oil most places use on the turkey legs will send him to the hospital. Also, it’s hard to know whom to consult on the restaurant staff— the honest host may not have day-to-day experience with how strictly the kitchen adheres to the codes. It all depends upon how safely you need (or want) to play it.

  2. staranise said:

    I like the suggestion of bringing things to share. It’s definitely not entitled to bring your own food (IMO, the mark of a good restaurant is that they should be willing to take your tupperware and safely plate your food so that it comes out at the same time/displayed the same way as everyone else… but those are my class issues showing). But when you bring food you’re willing to let other people try, you achieve two things: 1) Indicating that you aren’t trying to make yourself separate because you’re willing to let other people in (instead of possibly coming off as judgmental, like people I know who’d take out their celery sticks at a burger joint and go “I shall eat ethical food loudly at all you dirty meat-eaters CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH”), and 2) Possibly letting other people know how awesome food that is safe for you can be. Because if everyone becomes addicted to vegetarian tamales, or whatever, then it becomes a group norm and \o/ for all.

    • No. Restaurants absolutely do not have to let you bring in your own food, and the vast majority won’t. A restaurant makes money on people buying their food. Restaurant margins are incredibly slim. It is completely unreasonable to ask a restaurant to let you sit and take up space and bring your own food. It may also be against the law for them to do so. In King County, Washington (where I used to own a restaurant), it is completely against health code for any server or cook to handle outside food precisely because it may carry contaminants and may contaminate the kitchen or the server’s person.

      It is completely reasonable to ask a restaurant to prepare food to you specifications, but it may not be possible for them to do so. A bakery (or any place that uses a lot of flour) will not be able to safely make anything gluten-free, because it can take months for a kitchen, especially its ventilation, to be decontaminated. No restaurant that is not certified kosher can make kosher food (although they can make kosher-style).

      But it is utterly absurd and inappropriate to demand that a restaurant let you bring in your own food.

      • Holly said:

        Also it’s against most health codes to bring it outside food.

        • Holly said:

          …which I apparently skipped over in your original comment.

      • Just Sayin' said:

        We had one person in our large party who could not eat safely at a restaurant and needed to provide his own food. We did not ask the server to handle his food. We left with our large party of paying customers so that we could all eat together. They lost quite a bit of money that night and future business from those in our party as well.

    • Also, when you want a restaurant to let you bring in their own food, you are not just asking them to not make money on you, you are actively asking them to lose money on you. They still have to pay the server, the dishwasher, the electricity, the rent… You cost them money sitting there and using their tableware.

      • A Hedgehog said:

        This is why I tip extremely well when I “go out to eat” with family or whatever and I have to bring my own food ’cause all I can have at the restaurant is water/juice. I don’t ask them to deal with my food, I just quietly eat it out of the baggie (and take away my own trash), but “I brought my own because I have a ton of food allergies” has saved me in a lot of situations. (And if I ate beforehand, I’d still be taking up table space, and they’d still have to pay the rent. I feel bad, but…if they had something I could eat safely, I wouldn’t have to do any of this.)

        • I’m still not real cool with bringing your own food in, but if you’re going to do it, at least you’re being discreet and respectful about it. And tipping. Tipping is important.

      • staranise said:

        So, here’s the thing about social anxiety: it means the person in question is ALWAYS AFRAID that they’re doing the wrong thing, that other people are judging him/her and that other people hate them. That’s what social anxiety is. So the LW wrote the letter going, “We are really afraid that these accommodations we are asking for will make us unpopular.”

        So NOW what you are dumping on the LW is, in addition to the original fear, a NEW fear, and in most people with anxiety I know, it gets translated something like this: “Oh god what if I’m a waste of space in this table and if I just order a soft drink I’m making the restaurant lose money on me and I’m so awful, I shouldn’t even BE here.”

        No. Not cool. The LW does not owe you, or any other restarauteur, that much. It is not cool to go into a space where someone is talking about their social anxiety about even being in public, and say, “AND ANOTHER THING, you’re awful for being in public.”

        This is a situation where the LW and BF are never going to eat this restaurant’s food. They can’t take that risk, so if they are in this restaurant, whether they bring their own food* or not, they are just going to be sitting there, taking up a seat. And it is okay for them to do that. Unless the restaurant has a minimum purchase or a seating time limit, there is nothing that says they cannot do that.

        What the LW may pick up from your comment is, “Many restaurant staff dislike it when I don’t pay, so I should make sure I contribute to the tip,” or something. But it is not their job, in between trying to take care of their physical and mental health, to ALSO try to calculate if they’re costing the restaurant money. Not. Their. Job.

        *My personal experiences = seeing restaurants being willing to handle my cousin’s special-diet food. Apparently in many places, this is illegal. Fair enough.

        • Badger Rose said:

          It seems to me that there is a middle ground?

          I mean, I have fairly severe social anxiety… but to some extent, that’s mine to manage. Recognizing that a restaurant is a place of business that cannot remain open if it doesn’t make money is not something that is done AT me. The fact that the health code in many areas (including mine) does not permit servers to handle outside food is also not something that is done AT me. The fact that the server is losing potentially-significant income from people who order nothing or just a soda is also not something that is done AT me. It’s unfortunate and I wish it weren’t so, but it’s a fact, and it’s not a fact that is aimed at my heart. It just is, in the same way that my social anxiety just is.

          I think that an excellent middle ground is to order just a soda or coffee or whatever and then tip extra in recognition that it’s not the server’s fault that you can’t eat [whatever] (or even, just aren’t hungry). It’s what I do, when I can’t eat food at a restaurant for any given reason. It’s not my fault that I have social anxiety and feel bad…. but it’s not my waitress’s fault either, and she shouldn’t have trouble making rent in order to make me feel less bad.

          • JenniferP said:

            Having waited tables for seven years, I feel pretty qualified to say: The group of 9 who comes every week, are pleasant and fun to talk to, who are clearly having a good time being with each other are GOOD CUSTOMERS. Their one or two friends can sit and drink sodas without any stinkeye. There is of course calculus that says that those friends who sit at a table and don’t really order anything are each $20 the restaurant is missing out on, but there is another calculus that says that being nice and welcoming to them is part of earning the rest of the check. The people who aren’t eating wouldn’t be eating there anyway, ever, but by being nice and chill about their presence you are making it possible for all their friends to eat there. And even if that group aren’t regulars, they may become regulars if they are treated well.

            I’ve seen waitstaff or managers give a large party a hard time for having people not order enough food, and here’s pretty much the result of that:

            -EVERYONE feels shitty: People at the table, people next to the table.
            -It is NOT reflected in a better tip. It IS however reflected in Yelp reviews.
            -If you can eat at any restaurant, would you go back to the one that treats your friends badly and makes things unpleasant? That stuff tends to stay with me, in the “They make good sandwiches, but man, assholes. Let’s go somewhere else” kind of way.

            Plenty of restaurants do have minimum orders stated on the menu, and I get that they have to make money and aren’t libraries or waiting rooms, but I would not put the entire burden of that on people with food allergies who can’t eat the food anyway.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Yeah, as a fellow former waiting-tables person, I agree. The problem was almost never the regular, friendly party of nine where six people ordered food and the other three ordered just drinks. The regular party of nine where only two people ordered anything was sometimes a problem. The regular party of nine that tipped in religious tracts was sometimes a problem. The regular party of nine that was unfriendly to begin with was sometimes a problem.

            But as long as everyone is pleasant and mostly people are ordering something, it’s not a big deal.

          • JenniferP said:

            If you tip in religious tracts instead of money, I get to sort of toss your food as if from a moving car and hope it lands somewhere near you on my way to somewhere else, and your “free refills” will come never.

            Or, what I actually did once (Forgive, I was 17 at the time) was follow them out to their cars and say “You forgot this Jesus bullshit on the table, here you go!”

          • staranise said:

            I agree with your middle ground. After all, nobody is OBLIGATED to do whatever… but it is really, really nice when you take time to be thoughtful and help out, like tipping extra to make up for not ordering much. It’s trying to be thoughtful and respectful to people.

            It’s just kind of the difference between working from the baseline assumption that what you’re doing is awful and you must frantically atone for it, or working from the baseline assumption that what you are doing is basically permissible and okay (if only morally neutral) but you’re going to make steps to deliberately increase the goodwill and mutual supportiveness of the world.

          • Ethyl said:

            (we are out of reply levels, sorry)

            CA said:
            The people who aren’t eating wouldn’t be eating there anyway, ever…

            I think that’s really the crux of the matter — LW and hir partner are already not going out and being a part of these groups, who not incidentally apparently have been meeting regularly at these venues for some time. The question wasn’t “what behavior is ok at a restaurant,” it was “how can I overcome social anxiety and manage eating restrictions to attend group events at eating places with a minimum of anxiety and awkwardness.”

        • twomoogles said:

          I’m not sure that I agree that because the letter writer is anxious, nobody can say ‘You’re doing X wrong’ if they truly believe that’s the case. I think it’s two separate issues, and if it’s wrong to go to a restaurant and not eat, it’s wrong regardless. I’m not sure that it *is* wrong, but I don’t think it’s bad for people who feel that it is to bring that up.

          As someone with anxiety, I would *rather* know if something I am doing is wrong, rather than just worry about ‘what am I doing wrong why is everyone looking at me am I being paranoid now everyone is thinking I’m paranoid aaagh!’ The idea that someone would not tell me if I was doing something wrong to avoid upsetting me is a huge fear of mine. And yes I know my experience is not universal, I’m just giving another perspective on why not saying anything isn’t always the best choice.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Ha, you just said much more succinctly what I was trying to say in about fifteen paragraphs.

          • staranise said:

            With my own social anxiety, I’ve separated things into “stuff that is intrinsically wrong” and “things that will make people pissy with me.” It is nice to know what the social rules and consequences of things are! It’s just, sometimes you’re allowed to do things that make people pissed with you because you’re able to live with the consequences. And I like to separate that from “something wrong”.

            I feel like madgastronomer could have made some really good points about how doing X or Y will not make you a favoured customer. What put my back up was the extreme moral judgment, the idea that if we don’t do things the way madgastronomer likes them done we are BAD. There’s a way to deliver information without coming across that meanly.

        • A) I have social anxiety myself, so kindly do not lecture me about how to handle it.
          B) I wasn’t telling the LW they were wrong, I was telling YOU that YOU were wrong, and that it is very nasty of you to say that “it is the mark of a good restaurant” that they will do something that loses them money, is unsanitary, and possibly illegal.
          C) If you look downthread, you’ll see that I actually gave a whole bunch of advice on how to be a good customer while still doing nothing but drinking soda.
          D) If you are a customer at a place of business, it is incumbent upon you to be a good customer, just as it is on the business to provide good service. Social contract. Just ordering soda does not necessarily make you a bad customer. Expecting them to treat you like a customer when you spend no money at all does, though.

    • To house parties and host-catered venues it is fine to bring food to share or for yourself if the host is okay with it however, restaurants or eateries have to adhere to hygiene and food safety standards and generally won’t get involved with food they have not prepared themselves.

    • Yes, so much, to the point 2) sharing thing. Eating with vegetarian friends who were willing to share stuff and recommend stuff has introduced me to some new dishes that I really like, and now I have more options of things I can buy or cook when inviting other vegetarians around.

    • SilliestofYacks said:

      Sometimes bringing things to share can still mean awkwardly taking your serving before other guests have a chance to cross-contaminate your food, or bringing your own serving of the same thing in a small container for the same reason. I adore my close friends who have noticed, and started inviting me to take my serving of celiac-friendly dishes before they make it to the the serving table!

      • aaltair said:

        Yes, Sillies, yes!

    • Emmers said:

      Would it be possible for a person with allergies to pay a “corkage fee” (only for food, not wine) at such a restaurant? This is the kind of thing you’d definitely have to announce in advance, of course, and you might need to eat cold food (i.e. not have the kitchen staff/servers prep it for you) because of contamination issues, but it could maybe be worth investigating.

  3. Zillah said:

    Oh, god. I so feel you, LW. I have a lot of nasty dietary issues, too, and they suck. It’s annoying but not overly stressful to accomodate them when I’m cooking for myself at home. However, when I’m eating out or visiting someone else’s home, it can get really difficult and stressful in a hurry. Not only am I worried about eating, and sometimes not really eating enough because there’s not much they have that I can eat and I don’t want to impose (which never helps), but I am also worried about imposing in the first place!

    I honestly don’t think there’s any way to completely avoid that, especially as you’re still getting to know people. As they spend more time with you, it’s my experience that they tend to become more aware of your issues and more understanding of the ways in which you deal with them. However, getting there can be really tricky.

    The captain has a lot of really good advice. I’m going to say that my personal rule – which may not work for everyone – is that I always eat beforehand if I have any doubt. At a restaurant, that typically means that I just order a drink or something small that’s simple enough that I know it won’t bother me. At a barbecue, that means that I just go, have something to drink, and chat. (The contamination thing is a *huge* problem – I totally get that. My family actually got a second grill when I was younger to just cook vegetables on for exactly that reason.)

    I like the idea of bringing a dish or talking about other options, but for me personally, that tends to raise my anxiety rather than lower it. Ultimately, I want to socialize, not talk about food or deal with food in any way with other people. I deal with food in my kitchen, and that is not stressful. Trying to deal with food + other people? Much more stressful, especially since that tends to involve people asking me more questions about my issues, and I don’t always want to get into it.

    If your partner has life-threatening (or just uncomfortable) allergic reactions from just being in the same proximity as certain foods, though, there may not be a way around at least suggesting other options for dining.

    I am really, really sorry, though. I understand the stress and the difficulties that come along with food issues, and they suck. Huge hugs.

  4. tawg said:

    In terms of going to someone’s house (I’m mainly thinking for parties or movie/game nights or something, but I guess this could be stretched to a dinner party as well?) are there any frozen things/food mixes that are safe for your partner to eat? I have some friends with food allergies, and when I host a party I always ask if there’s a finger food that is safe and tasty for them, and they give me the brand, the product, where I can buy it, and a general description of the packet (my friends are REALLY good at helping me to not pick up the wrong thing). For me, this is no big deal – I have to go out and buy food anyway, so paying a little more attention to what I pick up is not going to be too hard and they’ve already done the hard work for me by identifying the thing to grab. If you don’t have that option, I guess you could always say “We’re going to bring [x thing] for the party, but do you think you could have [y thing] there to drink? We love it and it’s definitely won’t kill us *charming laugh*”. Or some variation there.

  5. I have very little to add to the Captain’s advice, but I wanted to say that as (a) a vegetarian and (b) a person who cannot afford to eat out more than once in a great while, I’ve been to a lot of social events (of the casual organized-through-Meetup.com-or-similar type) at restaurants or bars and not ordered anything. I have to explain myself every now and then, but for the most part people have not been weird about it and have not badgered me or anything. So if eating dinner at home and then going to the cosplay meetup (or whatever) is an option for you, I support going for it–it probably won’t be quite as awkward as you think.

    Best of luck finding your people!

    • JenniferP said:

      This has also been my experience. Events will be at places that offer food, food will be available, but partaking is not mandatory, expected, or all that monitored.

      • Emma said:

        Huh, that has not been my experience, at least at meet-ups in restaurants for large groups of people. The problem is not the other guests but the restaurant staff. If you’re part of a big group and there are several people who are just ordering drinks, not dinner, you won’t actually be asked to leave but the staff will make it very clear that’s what they’d like you to do.

        I haven’t figured out what to do under those circumstances other than just not going, or going, eating something I don’t want and trying not to absorb too much of the stinkeye being given to the other folks who aren’t eating but who are apparently more oblivious/indifferent to it than I am.

        • So what you need to understand is that you’re cutting into the restaurant’s incredibly slim margins, and into the server’s tips, when you order just a soda. It’s especially bad when a large group comes in, only half the group orders actual food, and then they stay there for hours and don’t order anything else. It’s not ok for servers to give you the stinkeye, but try to understand it from their perspective.

          What you can do: Make sure you tip well. If you’re just getting soda or coffee or something (just getting cocktails is more acceptable), tip your server at least two or three bucks, and leave it in cash at your place, especially if it’s somewhere you go regularly, so that your server feels appreciated. If your group as a whole is not ordering anything else, suggest that you move to another venue and not take up space the restaurant could be using to make money. If you can manage it financially, treat your group to a shared appetizer, even if you can’t eat it yourself. I know, it sucks, but the restaurant and the server have to make money. Remind your group that the server and the restaurant have to make money. Remind your group that in most places in the US, servers actually make less than minimum wage because they’re expected to make it up in tips, not all restaurants are ethical enough to make up the difference, and your table not tipping may mean they don’t make enough money to pay the rent. Remind your group that your server can get in trouble for letting you all sit there not ordering things, especially in chain places, whether or not they’re allowed to actually kick you out. Be nice to your server, and remind your group to be nice to them, too.

          I owned an all night restaurant. I had a lot of big parties in, and a lot of them didn’t order enough to pay table rent. Sometimes I did let them know that they needed to order something or leave. If the place was empty otherwise, or if they people were regulars and I knew they tipped well and usually ordered plenty of stuff, I sometimes let them stay. Occasionally, I had people who asked me very nicely if they could just stay until morning, because they were stranded until the busses started running and the neighborhood wasn’t great (and I always said yes to that, even when it got me the stinkeye from my servers).

          • Emma said:

            No, I absolutely understand that! I didn’t mean to seem unsympathetic to servers or restaurant owners – I know why it’s sucky for them and why they would really rather we weren’t taking up tables and not eating anything. I live in Ireland, so the servers are getting a slightly more reasonable wage than in the US but it’s still not exactly great.

            My phrasing was unfortunate; I was trying to suggest that even if the folks you’re eating with don’t mind that you’re not eating, the restaurant staff might well – not that the restaurant staff would be unreasonable to feel that way.

          • Clearly you are fairly reasonable simply by being concerned. Really, it was more general advice, rather than based on the assumption that you didn’t get it. Things to pass on to your less cluefull friends.

          • naath said:

            In my experience it really depends on the nature of the food-place; if the event is *primarily* “lets get dinner” and everyone is going to, say, a pizza place and you don’t eat pizza – well, it’d be pretty rude to go and have coffee and no pizza and sit there for hours. On the other hand if the even is mainly “lets sit in the pub all evening and btw the pub serves food” then I think it’s not rude to show up and just buy a coffee or a soft drink especially if you are with a big group who are collectively buying stuff throughout the evening.

            I generally wouldn’t organise a social event in a sit-down meal place unless the main purpose of the event was to eat at that place; I think holding a crafting event in a pizza place would be a bit silly really – you’d get pizza all over your crafts and you’d be taking up restaurant space for ages not eating.

          • Pubs are, in fact, different, especially if most of your group is ordering and continues to order drink and/or food, although you should generally try to order at least one thing yourself.

          • twomoogles said:

            This is an interesting discussion! I’m curious, is there a general rule for a ‘percentage’ of people ordering food at which it’s OK? I mean, I would never go to a sit-down restaurant and expect them to be happy with half or more not ordering. But what if it’s a few, and most people do order?

            My gaming group and I (20-30 people) goes to a chain restaurant every single week, they set aside a whole section for us (we go in a seriously off time, so there’s usually not many other people there). There are usually at least a few people who don’t order on any one occasion, but those people might order every other week…the staff seems to like us, we all tip well, etc.

          • It, naturally, changes from depending on the restaurant. I ran a little bitty ten top, but we had a lounge area in the back that often hosted gaming groups and soforth. I didn’t start getting cranky unless it was half or less of the group ordering (especially since many of them ordered appetizers to share around in addition to their own meals), and at least a third ordered something for every hour or so they were there. Regulars were often excused from this rule of thumb, if they were generally nice to have around, and just forgot this week or everybody was broke (like after a con).

            As the Cap’n mentioned, attitude from the customers goes a long way. A happy friendly group gets a lot more room before I start getting cranky than a snotty entitled one does.

          • JenniferP said:

            The fact that it was a ten-top makes your “aaaah don’t take up seats” stuff in other posts make a lot of sense. A lot of gamer/trivia stuff here in Chicago is at the Mystic Celt, which can best be described as cavernous. It has at least two separate and distinct (and large!) back rooms in addition to a front dining room and a kind of middle-space with booths. The menu isn’t a vegetarian’s paradise, and cross contamination would be a concern for sure, but it’s the kind of place I was thinking of in the OP when I said “there’s a reason organizers meet there.” It’s not super-expensive, it’s right near a CTA stop, in a safe area, and can absorb a bunch of gamers for a few hours. It’s a pub so it’s ok to just order a drink, many people can find at least something on the menu they can eat.

          • A local group occasionally hosts a BarCraft at a local restaurant on Sunday afternoons, and my first time in I looked around and cringed at all the people who only ordered a pop (with free refills). We were taking up half of their tables and probably half of the group wasn’t ordering any food! I made sure to order more than I had intended and tip much better than I normally would, trying to spread some goodwill around so that we could conceivably be allowed to keep doing this. They even opened the restaurant an hour earlier than normal. So I encourage people who don’t have dietary restrictions to splurge a little if they’re able, to help with goodwill from the restaurant owners :)

        • Ann said:

          Would slipping the server a fiver be an appropriate strategy here?

  6. Nothing helpful to add, except that the Bitches Gotta Eat speed-dating essay was one of the funniest, hardest things I’ve read.

  7. I’m a non-drinker (in Australia, land of the big drinkers) and while there’s usually a few questions at the start, no-one really cares that much and they’re usually happy to have a driver! People get more confused over my inability to drink soft drinks.

  8. Sarah N. said:

    Having to educate people over and over again doesn’t just seem unfair. It is unfair. It’s unfair and tiring and, in general, pretty awful, but you’ll get some funny stories out of it and meet some good people along the way.

    LW, the unfortunate fact is that there are going to be a lot of people who don’t respect your boyfriend’s allergies. They will eat things around him that he has told them not to eat and they will offer him food that they know he can’t eat because they think it isn’t a big deal. These people will otherwise be perfectly nice, fun people, but sadly, you’re going to have to cut them out of your life. It sucks, but in the long run, it is worth it.

    You don’t want to hang out with people who don’t respect you and your boyfriend’s boundaries about food. You especially don’t want to hang out with people who will basically poison your boyfriend (and you will meet them and it will suck). It will take time to build a personal community that respects what you and your boyfriend need in order to be healthy, but as it starts to come together, it will be beautiful and hanging out with them will not be unfair and tiring and pretty awful. It will be fun and safe and worthwhile.

  9. This is very good advice. I was vegetarian nearly ten years. I still don’t eat meat often. People would act like I wasn’t eating meat AT them.

    “You’re so high maintenance! You CHOSE to be vegetarian.” -Family during road trip. I requested that we get basically anything besides Ruby Tuesday’s, Applebees, or TGIFridays, which at the time offered few or no vegetarian dishes. Food court Chinese or Taco Bell would have been fine. Subway had a really good salad. But other people would only eat at places they could get a burger, so I was boned.

    There are good reasons I stopped going on family roadtrips. It’s hard enough being trapped in a car with your family, it’s worse when you’re mostly eating potato-related foods and coffee. (This is an exaggeration. I also had beer last time.)

    It’s not the food so much as the lack of compassion from my family. It was more important to them that they not be inconvenienced than that I be comfortable. It’s kind of absurd because they’ve gone far out of their way for me in big things like helping me move cross-country. But ask them to accommodate my diet? Ridiculous.

    Awkwardeers, you are a compassionate bunch of people and I imagine you wouldn’t act like this, but sometimes it sucks to have different dietary needs. Your kindness to your vegetarian friends is appreciated.

    • bearcatbanana said:

      I’m so with you on this one. “Even though I definitely eat at Taco Bell and Chinese food at the food court (when I feel like it), I simply DO NOT WANT that right now ergo you being a vegetarian is preventing me from eating the exact thing I want ergo you are the worst.” Geez, I’m not abstaining from meat AT you.

      • Really glad other people have had this experience too. It’s really not hard to feed a vegetarian who doesn’t have other food issues! All the omnivores in my family are far pickier than I am.

      • lizzieladie said:

        I grew up in a not very vegetarian friendly area, where for a long time there was a list of restaurants that I could eat at, and if I was really lucky there would be two things on the menu for me to eat any given place. My younger sister was notorious for pulling “But mooooooooom I really want chicken sandwich from KFC, and it’s not fair that I can’t have one just because Liz would have to eat mashed potatoes and mac and cheese for lunch.” But she was ten, and my Mom was a saint about either shutting her down or taking us to two places. The thought of adults pulling that shit is pretty disturbing.

    • Sunshine said:

      I had just written something about my family that was very similar. The food situation with my family is unbearable, but unlike other people who consistently disregard my boundaries I can’t stop seeing my family. Although I think that not eating out with them would help, it doesn’t necessarily get rid of the problems I’ve had with them when eating in. Basically my family sucks about this stuff.

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      Yup. When I came over to eat at my parents’, I got leftover plain rice. At my mother’s wedding, the “vegetarian option” was pasta with, I kid you not, the salad from the first course dumped in and sautéed. When my stepfather took me out to dinner to celebrate my own college graduation, I was stuck with the bread basket. No butter, it had gelatin in it.

      I’m not complaining. I feel privileged to be given a chance to stick to my principles, such as they were. But when I see comments where people are genuinely accommodating or interested in learning how to be, I want to hug them and give them a high five.

      • Before my guy’s allergies but after going veg, my family invited us over for a big BBQ. There was steak and ribs and BBQ chicken and hamburgers and hot dogs and fish and all manner of meat everywhere. Not a starch or vegetable in sight, not even grilled corn or baked potatoes. I went inside and boiled some pasta.
        “Oh that’s right, you don’t like meat very much, do you?”
        Somewhat worse, I’m not vegetarian by choice. I’m allergic to one of the animal proteins. It’s mild, so cross contamination doesn’t hurt me, but it took me ages to figure out I wasn’t just the single most unlucky person who was always getting food poisoning every time I ate meat.

      • bearcatbanana said:

        “When I came over to eat at my parents’, I got leftover plain rice. At my mother’s wedding, the “vegetarian option” was pasta with, I kid you not, the salad from the first course dumped in and sautéed. When my stepfather took me out to dinner to celebrate my own college graduation, I was stuck with the bread basket.”

        Holy crap that’s awful. So sorry for you. My fam isn’t even that bad. I did have the co-workers who, for my “congratulations on your new job, we’ll miss you party,” brought a cake I couldn’t eat. That’s when I realized that office parties don’t even have to be about the person they are for. Sometimes, they are just about cake.

        • UnsuckableButtercup said:

          My family got way better about it. I do think the fact that this happened right around the time they realized that just because I was the “designated problem,” I was not “the problem,” and that my literally-crippling ADD was not, in fact, faked for their benefit, was not a coincidence.

          But this still doesn’t solve my basic problem, which is how to celebrate the awesome of people who ARE good at having people with special dietary needs over.

          “Sometimes, they are just about cake.” Bearcatbanana, even if you are 900 years old, you are wise beyond your years.

        • Cactus said:

          Oy vey, that’s awful. At my old job, I was in charge of birthday/going away party treats (a job I loved so much that I baked something on my own last day just because it was someone else’s birthday), and the whole point of it for me was to make something they liked. Luckily, our only people with restrictions were a few vegetarians who ate eggs and butter, but in my time there I dated both a vegan and a gluten-free/dairy-free/millions of other allergies person, so I learned a whole host of baking skills for allergic people.

      • JenniferP said:

        Ugh, your family sounds terrible about this stuff.

      • It’s totally legit to complain about this, though. It’s not that you’re going to starve overall, it’s that your family’s not respectful of your needs. I bring dishes to things where I can, but I hate going out to eat with picky omnivores. (Not people with allergies or intolerances. Just picky, as in they won’t eat anywhere that doesn’t serve French fries.) And I don’t know about other people, but when I just eat junk food or bread because no one will

        • …stop anywhere but burger joints…it’s hella frustrating.

  10. Husband’s best friend has Crohn’s triggered by celiac. He eats at our house, but I am uber, uber careful (everything gets washed – from my apron to the tea towel, all ingredients get bought new, all labels are examined beforehand). No cross-contamination. However, I’d have never known about the parts-per-million cross-contamination equals death issue if I hadn’t stayed in their house in the weeks before he got hos diagnosis and witnessed what gluten can do. Now I am as careful as they are, but other friends have poisoned him.

    • misspiggy said:

      Great example. I don’t know what can be done about people’s difficulty with understanding this stuff unless they’ve directly experienced it. I’ve been very obtuse myself with people who have serious food issues, while at the same time complaining that some friends never acknowledge my disabilities. It’s very difficult for most people to face up to how cruel Nature can be.

      I’ve found being really blunt and repetitive about (my issues) has helped, but there’s still a good proportion of my friend groups going, “lalala I can’t hear you”. I know I’ve been very grateful when friends patiently explain their food issues to me, and it has taken me three or four repetitions to remember, particularly when I don’t see people frequently. So I guess people in these situations might want to do several reminders with friends before they decide someone is never going to get it, and is dangerous to be around?

      • misspiggy said:

        Erk – while of course avoiding situations where poisoning may happen in the meantime – sorry!

      • UnsuckableButtercup said:

        Yes to this. It was huge revelation to me when I learned that most people only retain about 25% of what they hear only once, even if they are vitally interested in it. I tended to take forgetting stuff way more personally before that, not to mention beating the hell out of myself when I happened to forget anything…

    • manybellsdown said:

      Oh yes yes. I feel the LW’s anxiety secondhand. My husband and son are celiacs, and my husband reallllllyy dislikes having to go somewhere and ask what’s in all the dishes. Especially when people stick gluten in foods that don’t need it (pancake batter in the scrambled eggs to make them fluffy! Flour in the mashed potatoes so they go further!) and he has to ask the server to check. Generally he eats before or after we go out, if he’s not sure. And we have some wonderful amazing friends who will always make sure they’ve stocked up GF beer and snacks before they see us!

      Also I want to second the part about your friends wanting you to be happy. I’ve got vegan friends. Me, personally? Vegan would bore me to death if I ate that everyday I would like a nice piece of cow now tyvm. But I love my friends, so I will try making a new exciting vegan recipe for them! Vegan AND gluten-free. You can imagine.

      After all, even when you’ve made something everyone can eat, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a success anyway. I make a great white chili. But I didn’t know that one of my best friends is a cilantro-hater and I’d just popped a big handful into the pot. So she didn’t have any and now I put the cilantro on the side. Because learning! People probably won’t get it right the first time or even every time, but you know they care if they’re making an effort.

      • Jenna said:

        I’m celiac, and there are places I can eat, and others I will never ever trust again. I despise unlisted ingredients. It MATTERS if you used wheat flour to help brown the meat. It MATTERS if your ranch dressing manufacturer uses modified food starch as a stabilizer(modified food starch roulette: they use whatever is cheapest. Is it wheat or corn this time? Who knows?). If you accidentally put gravy thickened with flour on the vegetables, you can’t just rinse them off. You can’t just pick off the croutons. Rice pilaf has pasta in it, usually. Soy sauce has wheat in it(why? WHY does soy sauce have wheat?). Italian and British restaurants are almost impossible to order anything in besides tea, and perhaps a salad(often a dry salad).

        It never occurred to me that wheat could be in scrambled eggs, but, that explains SO MUCH! Argh.

        The safer restaurants tend to be not chains, and are often mid range or higher end places. Chains tend to have lots of things made off site and may use my nemesis modified food starch. Higher end restaurants and some tiny mom and pop places tend to make more of their own dressings in house, and would never think to use modified food starch. I love places where the staff know what I am talking about when I say “celiac” or “gluten intolerance” and go back again and again to places that treat my concerns seriously.

        When hosting friends with varied food allergies or concerns, I try to take their food concerns into account when planning, and it is ALWAYS ok with me if they bring something of their own.

        • Soy sauce has wheat in it for the dumbest reason: It’s what makes it that rich dark brown.

          • Then why is wheat-free tamari just as dark? (Or can be. Not all soy sauce is that dark, but there is definitely tamari that is.)

        • Muddie Mae said:

          @ madgastronomer – Just a guess, but it’s probably $0.00004 cheaper to use wheat.

          • This has always been my assumption.

  11. Mr Goldfish has a vast collection of allergies and intolerances (iced tea would be out on several counts), but he’s managed this in a very positive way. He loves food, has learnt to cook around his dietary restrictions and has become a very good cook, using every conceivable ingredient that won’t make him sick, which means that people are curious and pleased to eat whatever he’s prepared. As a result, the our social circle tend to forget he has these restrictions, and instead think of him as an authority on and provider of interesting and tasty food.

    We’re also both wheelchair-users with chronic health problems that make things tough socially; we can’t always fulfill commitments, we can only tolerate so much noise and light before needing to retreat. And that’s when we can physically access a place (which we often can’t, and even folk who know us well are really bad at taking this into account).

    However

    a). People are much cooler if you’re totally up front and say “I hope it’s okay, but I need X” or “I can’t do Y”. If you are vague, if you hang on hoping you can work round the problem by yourself, then it’s more likely to become a problem, to disappoint people and mess up there arrangements.

    b) Try to keep it simple. Folks with any health issue are often grilled about it, which gives us the impression that folks need or deserve a plotted medical history in order to get on board. They really don’t and it’s much better to present the issue as simple as possible (what you can and can’t eat is fairly simple).

    c) As the Captain says, in circumstances where you can’t so easily cheat by eating beforehand (e.g when visiting someone else’s house), offer to bring your own food, or buy in takeout food you can eat, or whatever.

    d) Remember that there are folks who are far more difficult than you are, and they’re getting away with it:

    My Dad is the fussiest eater I have ever met and he has always handled this quite badly. He never tells people that he won’t eat most foods, so he’s often let others prepare food for him in their own homes, only to get there and not eat it or leave half the components of a meal. He won’t even express that he doesn’t want to eat something – he’ll find vague excuses, like he’s not hungry. The family works hard to accommodate him and we often make a main dish and a special dish for him, only for him to randomly be put off that dish and let it go to waste.

    Despite this, perhaps because he himself experiences so little embarrassment about it – he’s not a terribly arrogant person, but I don’t think he realises how noticeable and occasionally hurtful this is – it’s never been a serious social problem for him. People do notice, but (a) they notice how weird he is about it, the strange excuses, rather than the fact he doesn’t eat and (b) even then, it’s not that big a deal.

    At one point, when he was working away from home during the week, he was going out with colleagues for a curry once a week and not eating anything (we call him a “blandetarian”, but he wouldn’t even eat rice, naan bread or poppadoms). I don’t know what his colleagues thought, but he was apparently accepted in the group.

    • So much yes to this!

      I agree that being vague makes it harder. If you straight out say what you can and can’t eat, no one has to play the guessing game of “so what could I cook that they could have?” Because some people are really accommodating and want to cater for everyone’s needs. Being one such person, as long as I knew exactly what was needed, I am sure I would be okay. I have family members with anaphylactic allergies and it is possible to cook for them if you know what to do.
      “Clean knives, use paper towel rather than a teatowel, make sure your pot is scrupulously clean etc.” Or whatever else they need.

      It also really helps to support the “It’s really specific and we can’t risk it so I hope you understand if we eat beforehand/bring our own food.”

    • What would be a better way to handle garden-variety fussiness? As an occasionally fussy eater who has no health-related/ethical dietary restrictions, I would feel pretty uncomfortable about telling the hosts not to make certain dishes.

      • staranise said:

        I tend to focus on the things I can eat. That means there’s definitely going to be something there for me. “I’m always interested in new food, but it’s such long odds that I’m going to find something I can eat much of. As long as there’s [bland edible food] for me, I’ll be fine.”

        From there it’s kind of a negotiated thing. I can say, “Oh, that looks delicious; if it didn’t have peppers in it, I’d totally have some.” Then if they make it without peppers next time, that’s a sign that they’ve got the time/energy/willpower/wherewithal to try to accommodate me. But I set it up as, “I am okay as I am with these limitations. IF there were new food cooked a certain way, then I could eat it. If there isn’t, I’m still okay.” So I’m not telling them not to make a main dish I find repulsive, just letting them know that I will not be eating it, but I’ll have a lot of one of the side dishes.

        I feel bad for being such a fussy eater, since I always got ragged on for it when I was a kid. All my trying has expanded my boundaries of acceptable food, but it’s never really eliminated that there are hard fast lines of “what I can’t eat” and they’re much more restrictive than most peoples’. My achilles heel is really that I cannot swallow food I find disgusting gracefully. I just can’t; even when I try my hardest, nobody is going to be fooled into thinking I’m enjoying things.. I will retch and gag and basically look like I’m dying the whole time. And my “disgusting” includes a lot of things people find delicious, like putting crunchy vegetables in with soft, chewy carbohydrates (like in sandwiches, hamburgers, wraps, stir fries, everything…). It’s just a sensory processing disorder thing.

        • True, it has been a while since there was *nothing* I could eat, and I’ve gotten by well enough praising/eating a lot of the thing I could eat.

      • I’m not entirely sure, and I am sympathetic. It’s tricky, but I think talking about food as much as possible is the key, enthusing about the food you like, and letting folk know what you really don’t like.

        I think most people have a few foods they really can’t abide, and while I do think my Dad handles it badly, I do feel sorry for folks who have a list longer than mine. What’s more, I know from personal experience that any degree of pressure to eat stuff you have an aversion to can make that aversion ten times stronger. As staranise describes, food aversion can be so powerful, it might as well be an allergy.

    • Amanda said:

      I’ve dated a guy like this. He’d always tell.me and his housemate that he “didn’t feel like eating [food ]right now”. We learned to.translate that into “I don’t like [food]“. It was really irritating.

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      Not that it was the case with your dad, but I have seen several cases of emotional abuse, particularly of women, that started with a sniff and a cheery, “No, thanks, I don’t feel like eating the thing you took great pride in preparing for me in a caring manner.” I wonder if this is part of why people can be so distrustful of those who cannot eat certain foods.

      This is why I am so saddened by abuse. It isn’t just a personal choice that hurts you and your partner/child/employee. You are peeing in the pool for EVERYONE.

      • Thankfully Dad isn’t abusive, but I can’t say that power and control isn’t part of the picture. Not in terms of abuse, but rather in the same way that food is the one source of power a small child has over its parents (you can control a baby’s life completely but you can’t force it to ingest), so small children often play up around food, I think lots of adults can demand attention and accommodation around food where they can’t get such a guaranteed results in other parts of life.

        However, I have seen what you describe for sure. My first husband was an eater, but would be suspicious of my food hygiene, express anxiety about how something would taste in advance, compare the appearance of food to various bodily fluids. One time I cooked a rather disappointing experiment (it was edible, but it wasn’t great), and he didn’t just cause a fuss then, but raised the subject at another mealtime and complained that since he’d thought about the bad meal while eating, I had ended up ruining both meals.

        • UnsuckableButtercup said:

          Oh, how dreadful! I don’t even know you, but I wish I could hug you (Jedi-ish, if wanted, of course) and tell you I’m sorry you were in that situation and glad you are out of it!

        • popesuburban said:

          It is times like this that I lament my lack of a well-trained velociraptor army that could menace the guilty party and then do adorable dino-theater for the wronged party.

      • Cactus said:

        Dealt with this. My boyfriend all through college would only eat at certain places, refuse to try new things, and insult the food I ordered when we went to restaurants. He was averse to certain things, but if there was a restaurant I wanted to try that legitimately served things he liked, but he didn’t want to eat there, he would make up excuses about only liking X if his dad made it, or only as an appetizer, not as a main course. It was purely a way of control.

  12. The share issue makes sense…until you’ve lived with Crohn’s/Celiac other CRAZY SENSITIVE food issue. My husband’s best friend has Crohn’s triggered by celiac. You touch gluten, you cannot touch a bowl of food he can eat. It’s the cross-contamination that kills him (truly, he’s already lost a good portion of bowel). So. We wash everything – apron, dishcloths, tea towels, and clean the kitchen from floor to ceiling – before he comes to dinner. We buy all ingredients new – butter, obviously – and read labels for wheat-derived ingredients. Nothing that does not state that it is certified gluten free can be used. Also, no lactose or garlic as these are also hard for him to digest.

    We understand because we saw him when he was sick and before he got a diagnosis. It’s a point of pride with me that he does not get sick at my house, but you’d be amazed how rare that level of care and attention is among our very established social circle.

    • Gloria said:

      As a possible (not ideal) solution to cross contamination: how about bringing enough safe food with you, that you can take your own portion out first, and then offer the remainder for sharing?

      Personally, I’ve never had to deal with allergies as severe as those described above. As a vegetarian by choice, I’ve never had my personal safety threatened in this way, so feel free to disregard my suggestion if it is not appropriate.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is really good to know, and yeah, if the LW’s partner has this level of issues, then remove any and all obligation to share food at all in any way.

      • aaltair said:

        We live with this level of sensitivity and more. DH doesn’t eat anything made in a kitchen other than our own or his parents’. Our friends accommodate us by not serving foods we can’t even be near, and setting a clean paper towel down for him to put his tupperware on.

        We try to bring a bottle of wine (or something group-acceptable), instead of sharing out the “meal” food that we brought for him to eat. Nobody seems to care, honestly, that he’s eating something different, but we’re good friends now.

        I’m a little less sensitive, so we talk with our friends about how to serve me safely.

    • It’s commendable that you’re happy to do all this for your friend, but I’m really not surprised that nobody else is willing to wash EVERYTHING, re-purchase EVERYTHING, and give the kitchen a full-on Spring Cleaning every time he comes over. There’s just not that many people who are willing to put that much drudgery* into a friendship. Plus, how can you be sure you didn’t mess up? When I hang out with my friends with Celiac, I either show up early enough to help them prepare the food they’ve brought together and planned in their fully gluten-free kitchen (and then help clean up), or ask them to bring their own food. I know it’s probably annoying for them. But if they ever say anything, I’ll tell them that I’m just not comfortable with the prospect of making them sick, and that they’re welcome to whatever food I have, but if they want to avoid getting sick they’re going to have to bring their own food. It’s just too likely that I’ll screw up on some little thing that I didn’t know about because it’s not my disease and nobody knows as much about a disease as the people who have it.

      Seriously, you’re amazing for doing this for him. I’m sure he appreciates it like crazy, and if it’s not too much for you, then great! But holy moly is that a lot of work. He must be a pretty cool dude.

      *I loathe and despise cleaning kitchens like you wouldn’t believe, and would cut corners and then worry about it, and then have to do this thing I hate all over again in order to un-cut the corners, and then worry about it some more for good measure.

      • redgirl said:

        Yeah, as someone who enjoys hosting get-togethers, I’d feel really really uncomfortable with having that level of responsibility for another person’s health. I just can’t guarantee that my kitchen will be that clean. But I would have NO issues with a guest saying, “I have X health issue, and so to be safe I’d like to bring my own food.” Not only would I not be offended, but I’d be relieved. I have no experience in dealing with Crohn’s, celiac, food allergies, etc. and I’d be terrified I wouldn’t do things right.

  13. Not something you can do at restaurants, obviously, but if you start going to potluck events at people’s houses, you can start to normalize labeling food by bringing an index card with all the ingredients for your own dishes. It catches on surprisingly quickly, and can make other people with dietary restrictions feel more comfortable talking about them.

    In many parts of the country, geeky groups especially are becoming more aware of food issues and restrictions. Yours may not be there yet, but you can help it along.

    While, as I’ve mentioned upthread and most people know, it’s not ok to bring your own food to restaurants, it’s totally reasonable to discuss ingredients in detail with your servers, to specify that something is an allergy, and to ask if it’s possible to leave ingredients out of a dish (but understand that it may not be). This may not work for your partner, since it sounds like they’re sensitive enough that even small amounts of crosscontamination may be threatening, but it is ok to ask.

    • Jesse the K said:

      One group I know has taken this a step further: they ask folks to duplicate the recipe for their dish, and stack those up next to it. Lots of people learn neat new foods at potlucks; this makes it easy at the same time it’s listing the ingredients, and including the stealthy ones like worcester sauce and soy sauce (both have wheat).

      • Hey, I like that!

        I mean, many of my recipes go: A bunch of this, and some of that, and a sprinkle of this other thing, til it tastes right. But I’m happy to share those!

        My most-requested recipe is key lime pie, which I can recite off the top of my head, and do so upon request.

        • RoryBorealis said:

          Madgastronomer, did you own The Night Kitchen in Seattle? What a wonderful place that was, and their key lime pie was of the gods. (I’m not local, but I was lucky enough to eat there while visiting Seattle friends.)

          • That’s me! I’m so glad you liked it!

            And I really will share the recipe. It’s so very simple.

            Graham cracker crust:
            1 packet (as in not the box, the plastic packet inside) graham crackers, crushed
            1/2c sugar
            1 stick butter, melted

            Combine crushed crackers and sugar. Pour in melted butter a bit at a time and mix well. You want it to hold its shape if you squeeze a handful in your fist. Like sand for a sandcastle. You may or may not use all the butter, depending on your crackers.

            Press mixture firmly into a 9″ pie plate. Bake 350F for 15 minutes. Take out and cool while you make the filling.

            Filling:

            1/2c key lime juice (NOT Persian (regular) lime juice; I recommend Nellie and Joe’s Key West Lime Juice if you’re not squeezing them fresh, and frankly in Seattle I don’t squeeze them fresh because we get crappy dry ones)
            3 egg yolks
            1 – 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

            Stir together until perfectly smooth. Pour into crust. Bake 350F for 15 minutes. Chill, preferably overnight.

            At the restaurant we used a triple recipe of filling for each crust, so the slices were really deep, and generally meant for sharing. KLP is very tart, very sweet, and very rich, and personally I could never eat a whole slice from the restaurant. At home, I use just one recipe, and then the slices are the right size for me.

          • JenniferP said:

            Tremendous, thank you for sharing.

          • rebekah said:

            hey madgastronomer I’m a foodie who lives on the east side near Seattle. We should meetup sometime for a food outing!

          • UnsuckableButtercup said:

            This is very similar to the recipe I use. It’s QUITE tasty. The secret is to wait until the filling turns green to bake it. Using the fancy-schmancy high-Omega-3 eggs helps, too.

            Also handy to know, if you’re working with Key limes: 1. To obtain maximum juice from citrus, first roll them on the counter (or dorm-room coffee table), putting a significant amount of weight on them with the heel of your hand as you do so, then puncture them and microwave them on “high” for about 5 seconds. 2. I never use my garlic press for garlic, but it makes a dandy Key lime press. I know it sounds goofy, but trust me on this. Sorry for the unsolicited advice, but anything that gets more Key lime pie into the world is given extra leeway in my book.

          • Key lime pie should not be green.

          • RoryBorealis said:

            Thanks, Madgastronomer! Can’t wait to try baking it.

          • UnsuckableButtercup said:

            Er, the green is only comparatively speaking. Or did you not notice a color change, MadGastronomer?

      • Badger Rose said:

        Love this idea. And I’d totally use it to add dishes to my repertoire, too!

    • VA said:

      My coworkers have gotten really good about labeling the ingredients in dishes they bring to the office (people frequently leave a coffee cake or homemade muffins in the communal kitchens, which is lovely). I think the habit started because many of them have elementary-school-age children and are hyper-aware of the pretty serious allergies that are more common among kids (nuts, dairy, etc).

    • When you say “it’s not okay to bring your own food to restaurants”, please bear in mind that this does vary by country, culture and your definition of “restaurant”. Everything you’ve said makes perfect sense for the traditional US restaurant system, but some of the laws and business models are different elsewhere, and both the LW and commenters may come from other backgrounds.

      • DelveBlue said:

        Thank you for this. And depends on the US restaurant. The US is truly a wide and diverse place and something true in one town can be the exact opposite in a town less than 5 miles away. There was a trend for a while to bring your own food to bars in NYC (for example). While it’s not super common, it’s not unheard of for people to bring their own condiments to places.

        While *obviously you should follow the laws of the place you’re in*, a single patron that brings their own food (when the alternative is courting an ER visit) usually isn’t that big a deal. Food service, even health inspectors, are people first. Most people can understand that special circumstances exist for all instances.

        • aaltair said:

          Yeah, actually there’s a beer-garden-y place in Seattle that has takeout menus for all the other Seattle restaurants and you can order whatever you want delivered there.

          I wonder if they allow home food in? Hmm.

          As much as laws vary, enforcement and the care to enforce them also varies.

  14. Elizabeth said:

    This letter could have been from me. I’m a vegetarian, my husband has severe food allergies, and we both have some trouble socializing anyway. I wish I could invite the letter-writer and significant other over! My husband has a much, much worse time than I do, since his diet is so restricted. He can’t eat at restaurants, and the things he eats are so limited (steamed vegetables, plain rice, no oil or seasonings) that it doesn’t seem worth it to bring a dish to share. All of our friends have been incredibly understanding about it. When we go to a restaurant, my husband eats before we leave, and then when they ask for his order, he says, “I have severe food allergies, so I’m not ordering anything. I’m just here for the company.” (Then he leaves a big tip anyway because he feels bad about taking up the seat.) When we go to a friend’s house, he basically does the same thing: “I have severe food allergies, so I won’t be able to eat anything.” Our close friends expect him to bring his own food. When he tells this to people for the first time, they usually offer to cook something, and he explains that his diet is so restricted and cross-contamination is such a problem that he doesn’t eat anything he hasn’t cooked himself. We had only one friend who kept insisting that she could cook him something, and he just kept saying no until she accepted it. She’s still one of our best friends.

    So in my experience, people are pretty cool about this stuff, and they won’t stop being friends with you or think that you’re entitled if you explain your dietary restrictions to them. Especially if you keep using the phrase “severe food allergies” — that really seems to get it across to everyone.

    • aaltair said:

      Yeah, you, me, LW & our SOs should get together and drink water out of sealed bottles. :)

  15. Nicole said:

    So I’m wondering if the hubby has such severe allergies he cannot be in an enclosed room with the food? And that is why a patio was suggested. There is a big difference between not being able to eat any food at a get-together and being so allergic you cannot touch it/smell it etc.

    I have food allergies and am on a super restricted and diet and rarely have had anyone complain about me bringing my own food (although I bring enough to share) or just not eating if we are at a restaurant. It might feel awkward to you, but to the people around you, they hear “I have food allergies” and forget about it (unless they want to learn more about allergies)

    • misspiggy said:

      Yes, I wondered that. In which case would it be useful for the LW to go alone to a couple of these meetups to establish social connections with people (following the Captain’s advice), and then start to suggest non-food-related spaces that the groups could meet in?

      • JenniferP said:

        Very good point & suggestion.

  16. Tim said:

    I handle a monthly lunch for a church group of 20 and 30-somethings and run into this once in a while. We have a lot of vegetarians/vegans and one person with serious gluten allergies. Fortunately I live in a forward-thinking area, so finding places that support both vegans and carnivores is not a huge problem. However, the person with gluten allergies has had trouble eating with us lately. She has some safe restaurants, and we go to them often, but we can’t do that every time. Also, we had a SNAFU a month ago when we planned to go to a gluten-safe restaurant but the first people who got there found the restaurant packed to the rafters, so they walked down a few doors to another place. The gluten-free person sat down, looked at the menu, said “nope, this place is a deathtrap — bye!” and left. That felt really bad, but she said that she understood and would be back next time we went somewhere she could avoid gluten.

    So I figure that we can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes the carnivores are craving BBQ and the vegans don’t want to order empty buns. Sometimes the vegans have a new place they’re excited about and the carnivores aren’t feeling like eating tempeh and portobellos. I usually throw out three restaurant options to the group, including a gluten-safe place and at least one place with good veggie options, and let the group decide. Is there a better way to handle that? I’d like to go to people’s houses for after-church potluck, which might satisfy everybody, but that means that someone has to host 10-15 people, and the last time I hosted, nobody else brought any actual food, just cookies and drinks. :-)

    I also run into this at work. We’ve got people eating healthy, people who want to splurge on something unhealthy, and people who have specific things that they avoid for cultural or medical reasons (no pork, no beef, no gluten, etc). It is impossible to pick a place that will make everyone happy. So not everyone can come every time. Is there any way to work this out so no one feels overly left out? Some way to spread the “dang, I can’t go there” around evenly?

    • JenniferP said:

      I think you are doing this sensitively and correctly.

    • VA said:

      It sounds like you’re doing all the right things! Even when people don’t have food allergies or restrictions, it can be really hard to find a restaurant that pleases 15 people.

      I don’t know if this is more work for you than just sending out three options for a vote, but is it possible to assign each person in the group a month to choose the restaurant? “January is Sam’s choice, February is Sarah’s choice,” etc? You might still be in charge of making the reservation, sending out the email to the group, etc, but it takes some of the pressure off you to make the “right” decision every month.

      To avoid restaurants entirely without resorting to house parties, what about BYO picnic lunches in a park when the weather is nice? You can be sure that each attendee will bring food they know they can eat, and if it’s “brown bag” style rather than potluck, there’s probably less worry about cross-contamination. (Someone check me on this, I’m not very experienced with truly severe food allergies.)

    • Sebastian said:

      You can make pot-lucks work a bit better by asking people to say in advance whether they’re bringing a main course, a savory side dish, or a sweet dish, and if you don’t have the right balance ask a few people to change. It takes a bit more organisation though.

    • twomoogles said:

      It sounds like you’re handling it really well. One issue I see come up sometimes is, say there is 1 restaurant that is (for example) gluten-safe and has a lot of vegetarian options. But, not everyone really cares for that restaurant. Is it OK to sometimes pick a restaurant that some people *absolutely can’t* eat at? I would say yes, and while usually needs trump wants (‘I can eat at Veggie Gluten-safe place, but I don’t love it, though I’ll go because Friend *can’t at at Meat+Wheat Emporium’) having one person always dictate will, over time, cause resentment and frustrations. I felt this way myself, when we always went to the same place, and there was nothing there I really wanted, and over time stopped going…but I felt I couldn’t say anything as one of the others would always pipe up with ‘But I can’t eat at X Y or Z’ and I felt like I was being special snowflakey by suggesting it.

    • bearcatbanana said:

      “Sometimes the vegans have a new place they’re excited about and the carnivores aren’t feeling like eating tempeh and portobellos.”

      Man, I wish I could get my partner to understand this. We’re both vegan and most of our friends aren’t. He’s super excited because friends of ours opened an exclusively vegan restaurant that’s very successful. He takes all out of town guests there. I can see it on their faces sometimes…the ICK face. And he’s extremely insulted when I tell him that we should go somewhere else. I hate portabellos and tempeh icked me out too until very recently, so I’m right there with the guests on the ICK face (even though the restaurant is really good). He’s so insensitive about it. And the irony is he doesn’t see what he is doing as the exact same thing as the guy who INSISTS on taking us to this great BBQ restaurant that serves nothing we can eat.

  17. A Hedgehog said:

    I don’t know the level of allergen sensitivity here, but: one thing that I’ve done a lot is just asking what the menu is for X food-related event (non-restaurant type), say I have lots of food allergies and want to know if there will be something safe for me to eat.

    The nice thing about this question is that a) it lets them know that someone has food restrictions right off the bat, though not what they are, without assuming everything is automatically unsafe (even though it probably is) and b) responses are a litmus test. If they never write back, I eat before or bring my own food. If they give me a list of dishes that are clearly unsafe for me, ditto…but with more good will because they were at least polite. Et cetera. More details = probably more consciousness about dietary restrictions.

    I would also add that your letter sounds a little like you are trying to manage your partner’s food allergies for him. I live in a liberal bubble, I admit, but vegetarianism generally is accommodated in restaurants where I live while food allergies are much harder to deal with. It’s okay for a place to be safe for you and not safe for him, whether it’s a restaurant or someone’s house. Yes, it’s awkward being the only person with different food, and it’s nice when my girlfriend who has celiac helps out with making sure things are safe for me (I have multiple anaphylactic food allergies), but it’s not a requirement and she definitely doesn’t have to eat the same menu I do–though I won’t kiss her for a while afterward. If your partner has only recently been diagnosed with his allergies, maybe finding a local chapter of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network could help him get more community around it and learn how other people with allergies navigate society. (If he’s had them all his life, he might be more used to figuring this stuff out than you think.)

    • Elsajeni said:

      I think this is a great suggestion. And if you’re feeling especially concerned that you might come off as pressuring them to change the planned menu — this would be a problem for me, a socially anxious person, so I figure it might be for others as well — you might add an “… or if I should eat beforehand” (or “bring something for myself”) to the end there.

  18. Stephanie2 said:

    You’re friends with Samantha Irby? That’s the Blog Dream Team right there!

    • JenniferP said:

      It started with mutual blog crushing and then led to BBQ.

  19. Nothing really to add on the food front. But goddamn, Samantha Irby is an amazing story teller! Thank you for linking to her blogge!

  20. I knew someone who had problems being in a room with bananas. So yeah, proximity food-contaminants can be a problem; he could get sick if a restaurant served bananas foster the day before, or if he walked down the grocery store aisle where they had fresh bananas.

    Me, I developed an allergy to strawberries. Now I seem to have reactions to things that may or may not be cross-contaminated — like cherry smoothies from fast food restaurants. I react as much to the cherry smoothie as I’d expect to react to the strawberry smoothie! It’s so annoying! I want to eat blueberry pomegranate smoothies but apparently now if it is red and says berry I have to watch it being made, or I’ve grown other (artificial?) berry related allergies. SO FRUSTRATING. Some fruit juice without strawberry is yummy, some fruit juice without strawberry is poison.

    For a while I was sure I was lactose intolerant although it turns out it’s a grass allergy and actually the garlic is more of a problem, and garlic plus dairy is delicious, delicious doom.

    I am the kind of blunt-speaking person who casually calls it poison. Oh, I can’t eat that, it’s poison. People who live a more normative lifestyle tend to be shocked and need clarification, but I calls it as I sees it, and I sees it as poison, for me. Yummy food for you. This bread is wonderful for me, and absolutely toxic for my celiac friend. I poisoned him once and felt *terrible* about it, but not as terrible as he felt for three days because guilty feelings are not like your ass trying to eat your life while your gluten-powered jerkbrain stomps all over you.

    So I say, hold your boundaries matter-of-factly, use whatever of the techniques above work best for you, and know you are so not alone. Some people will get it. Some people will know that some things that resemble food are actually poison.

    • The strawberry thing might be because the smoothies are all mixed in the same mixers. And I tell ya, I’ve seen my co-workers clean those things, and none of them do a good job. I don’t even do a good job. I try, but I just don’t know enough about allergen cross-contamination to do it right. Are allergens broken down by cleaning solution? I do not know, but it’s not my body, so I never remember to google it when I go home.

      In fact, if anyone wants to tell me how to clean shake mixers well enough, I’d be super grateful.

      • Carbonatedwit said:

        I honestly thing a good rinse is all I need. I haven’t figured out the parameters of my allergy and it is confusing and frustrating.

      • Maybe try ‘blending’ the cleaning solution for a bit? There are probably little bitty places where allergens can hang out and that aren’t easily reached when you’re washing the mixer.

        • I’ll try that. It’s probably way easier than wiping every crevice of the thing anyway. :P So cleaning solution does take care of allergens? Even when there’s allergens in the cleaning solution? It’s theoretically possible, but I just don’t know.

          • I should qualify that I don’t know whether or not that would do it. But it would certainly be more effective than wiping, I would imagine

          • aaltair said:

            The best solution for cleaning for allergies is to clean with household cleaner and water and elbow grease. There’s a study on this somewhere.
            It doesn’t clear up everything — some people are just TOO sensitive — but it does clean fairly well. Don’t forget the elbow grease (scrubbing).

            “Bleach” and “detergent” don’t denature proteins, just as the soap doesn’t. What you’re doing is removing as many of the particles/molecules as you can. You can’t remove them all. You just can’t. But you can remove enough for most situations, unless the person tells you “I’m too sensitive, the cross-contamination will make me sick.”

            Article on cleaning: http://www.foodallergy.org/tools-and-resources/resources-for/child-care-facilities/cleaning-methods? This mentions they didn’t detect the airborne allergen–there’s a couple studies like that, but those of us who react to the airborne allergen can tell you for sure that it is there.

            Also, here’s an article about kissing with food allergies: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16950293 Another fun and exciting social bridge to cross.

  21. Burnt Umber Ella said:

    As someone who is allergic to Brazil nuts and incredibly severely allergic to cats, I have a thing that I do that sometimes works: I tell them what allergies do. When I’m going to a friend’s house and want to know if they have a cat, I ask, “Hey, do ya’ll have cats? I just ask so I don’t sneeze and swell up while I’m there.” Or, “Does this have Brazil nuts in it? I’d prefer not to stab myself in the leg or die gasping on the floor.”

    It’s always in a funny, somewhat sarcastic/self-deprecating way, but I find that a lot of people equate “allergies” with either “waiflike wallflower who wheezes and whines about everything” or “someone from a Benedryl commercial.” And since everyone has varying levels of allergies (my lower lip swells up when I eat Brazel nuts, but my brother only breaks out in hives) and different symptoms (I sneeze and get swollen, streaming eyes when exposed to cats; my brother has an asthma attack), it helps so people know why having allergies is bad. It gives them a certain perspective that just “I have food allergies/food intolerances” doesn’t. It only works on certain people, certainly, but it’s an option.

    • That’s a good strategy if you’re introverted enough and your friends can see the funny side. I like it!

    • TO_Ont said:

      I like this because there’s such a huge range of severities and symptoms in allergies and food sensitivities. A lot of people may have encountered much milder problems before and assume that’s what you mean (or the reverse, and get needlessly frightened that they’re going to kill you with cross-contamination).

      I was thinking of this when gluten was first mentioned – mild gluten sensitivities seem to be pretty common and I know more than one person who’s seen some real health improvements from reducing or removing gluten – but it’s not going to cause a health crisis if they eat some soy sauce with wheat in it, and cross-contamination isn’t really on the radar.

      You may encounter ten or more people like this before you meet the one with severe Crohn’s or celiac. (And there’s a range in between) So it’s easy after a while to forget that some food sensitivities can be so serious or life threatening. I wouldn’t assume that someone understands what you mean when you say you can’t eat something.

      • The biggest thing he deals with is the dismissive “Oh, I only add Vital Wheat Gluten* to X food, you’ll be fine with everything.” Or “It’s an Italian Restaurant, not a Gluten* Restaurant, you’ll be fine.” Which usually leads to a quick demonstration that pretty much every packaged food has it, because it’s a coloring agent too! And even if they don’t, everything has natural flavors, which means “Anything the FDA says probably won’t poison you, including beavers and bugs.” and could likely contain it.

        So it feels like trying to argue that yes, you’re allergic to cats. What? NO, a Persian is a cat too. Yes, so’s a Siamese. Look, here, google it, Siamese CAT. And so are Scottish Folds. Yes, your Cornish Rex IS tiny and doesn’t look much like other cats, it’s still a cat!”

        *not gluten, but one of those pesky in-everything type foods.

        • It’s an Italian Restaurant, not a Gluten* Restaurant,

          Until I saw your note that you were using gluten as a stand-in for another ubiquitious ingredient, I almost bruised my jaw dropping it against the floor, because I’d say that an Italian restaurant basically is a gluten restaurant.

        • aaltair said:

          I hate the “in everything” allergens. :( Soy-soy-soy-soy-soy-soy-soy. And now every food in a package is OFF your “ok” list. Thanks, world, thanks.
          And the labelling laws that protect secret ingredients. Hello natural and artificial flavorings and colorings and spices. Nice, thanks.

  22. Nothing to add, except:
    I DID NOT KNOW THEY DID BREAD AND SALT IN SPACE.
    This pleases me greatly.

  23. LW, I’m currently traveling the US with my multiple-food-issues boyfriend and my own growing list of food issues. He’s gluten free and most plants are trying to kill him, I’m egg-avoidant and am having a hard time with animal products lately. Our solution is to warn early and often, make a lot of our own food, and be firm about good restaurant options, because for us, luckily there are a couple.

    One thing I’ve been joking about for years that I seriously want to do is print up trading cards with our faces on one side and a list of approved and non-approved foods on the other. Then we could hand them out at gatherings and show them to hosts we descend upon!

    • Commander Banana said:

      Actually, that’s not a bad idea – I have a friend with a laundry list of food issues, and they sent me a PDF with everything they couldn’t eat and how to avoid cross contamination on it, which was really useful, and I didn’t have to keep nagging them about what they could or couldn’t have.

      • Beth said:

        I used to know a family who kept a list of the food likes, dislikes and allergies of every family member and close friend. It was super awesome. That way, at big get togethers they could make sure everyone had something they could eat.

        • Vicki said:

          That is impressive, and it might be worth my while doing something similar, so long as I can remember that the list, like my memory, may be incomplete or out of date: people may start or stop eating red meat or keeping kosher, or develop or stop having other constraints.

          Working from memory, I track a few people’s needs/restrictions, and for anyone else I check in if we’re arranging something: either “I’m thinking of making X, does that work for you?” or “do you have any dietary restrictions?”

    • aaltair said:

      I actually do this. I got free business cards printed by VistaPrint (so generic design, I just filled in the “address” fields with foods). I got magnets made for close friends, and I keep a stack in my wallet.

      Here’s a resource for how to make your own: http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=141

      It probably doesn’t have room for your laundry list though Sarah Circus, because it sounds long. That’s why I didn’t use this template. Useful though. It’s made to hand to chefs.

      When you’re travelling internationally you can get them made up in different languages: https://www.allergytranslation.com/Home/home.php

  24. Jolie said:

    Hermit, the Captain gave a lot of excellent advice for boundary-setting and social guidelines, but she didn’t address another issue that jumped out at me in your letter: your use of the dreaded We.

    I understand and admire that you and your partner are in this together, supporting each other, etc., but I think it would be helpful for both of you to examine some areas where you might be taking on too much as a unit instead of as individuals. It sounds as if you are trying to fix everything for him and be his social secretary, which in my experience comes back to bite you in terms of a relationship’s health. You say at home you can “work around our issues.” That stopped me in my tracks. YOU have YOUR food issues, your partner has HIS food issues, and they are not the same. They may overlap and interact, and because you live together you have to tackle all of them simultaneously on a daily basis, but out in the world it is more possible (and advisable) to separate them. You don’t always have to shoulder responsibility for his dietary needs. It’s okay to ask him to deal with them on his own sometimes, and as an earlier commenter pointed out, he is probably quite capable.

    As a vegetarian, I imagine you have more options for eating/being around food outside the home than your partner does. And it is okay to work that advantage. You can go out to gatherings and parties without your partner and make friends on your own. You can bring some worthwhile, lovely people into your life and, by extension, into your partner’s orbit; you could invite them into your home where your partner can safely socialize with them (and with *their* friends and significant others, because that’s how a social network grows) over a delicious and safe meal. And you are allowed to have some friends who are just *your* friends, either because they don’t click with your partner or because you want friendships that are separate from him – which is a perfectly normal desire. It’s not mean to let him fend for himself once in awhile and just take care of you. You get to have a Team Hermit and your partner can have a Team Partner, and their Venn diagram doesn’t have to be a single circle.

    • With the We, part of the social anxiety is I am comfortable meeting new people if I have someone very close to me like a friend or family member there. But going out on my own to meet people leads to really bad anxiety. I do go out to eat with family, but that’s not the same as trying to join a group of people I’ve never really spoken to before.

      There’s also still figuring out cross contamination risks from me. Say it’s a peanut allergy, I’m fine with eating ‘may contain traces of nuts’ but there have been times I went out and ate a peanutbutter and jelly, came home, kissed him, and he had to take meds when there was enough peanut lingering on my lips and mouth to start him into a reaction. Sometimes it’s just not worth the worry that I’m going to touch him and hurt him, and figuring out how diligent I have to be to remove allergens. I may not be allergic to peanuts myself, but I still have to weight if I want to go to Five Guys and end up in a peanut shell fight with a group.

      We do have some separate friends, and we’re both very supportive of the other having friends, but right now they’re all at least semi-long distance and it’s tough when someone has to drive three or four hours to hang out in person rather than online or on the phone.

      • aaltair said:

        LW, I know what you mean.

  25. My partner and I host a lot of small gatherings and bbqs, we have space, we don’t like crowds, and he’s a trained chef, so it’s generally a good time. We try to accommodate our friend’s dietary restrictions as much as we can. I always have diet soda for our friend who is diabetic, and we don’t usually cook beef when our non beef eating friend comes over. I do this because they told me about this stuff, and I like them, so I like to make them feel at home when they come hang out. When we’ve had vegan friends over we’ve tried to have some vegan options and I will encourage them to bring things so they have real things to eat because I don’t know what vegans eat.

    Food allergies are another deal. Ultimately, I’m not going to be mad at you if you need to make special considerations. I just need you to tell me, I wont be mad.

    I think the captain’s advice about groups is great. I only vaguely participate in a local board gaming group, and I would never try to get them to move their meetups for me. But if I got super into it and was going more often I might try to start a new one or makes suggestions.

    What I do know from organizers is that these are people who have lives and careers and families but who are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are not going to be perfect, and they would also like it if you did not give them additional work to do. If you give them less work to do, they will be excited about it. But beware, you may become one of them.

    (I will admit that my “totally willing to do what I can within reason” attitude does not always apply to people who are dieting. When your voluntarily restricted diet is so annoying that I don’t even know what I can feed you, I’m not going to try to feed you. And that’s fine, we can just play board games and drink. I’m looking at you paleo friends. Also please stop telling me about your diet.)

    • JenniferP said:

      This comment makes me think about a discussion of the Friend Zone a while back, where you and I were both like “Oh, it is so horrible in our Friend Zone! We cook you things and are nice to you. Noooooooooooo! Anything but that!”

      • It’s true, it is a most horrible place full of D&D and BBQ. We will even accommodate your special dietary needs within reason. THE HORROR.

    • Badger Rose said:

      I resemble this remark! When people tell me in advance that they have a particular requirement, I accommodate it if I possibly can, and tell them if I can’t. And usually I can, unless it’s something like “…and you must have not used flour in your kitchen in the past two weeks,” in which case, I just tell them, “I’m sorry, that’s not possible.”

      But if I’m organizing a huge group of people, at some point, if I have to juggle “Sally doesn’t eat pasta, but Marcy only eats pasta with tomato sauce and fried rice and steak, and we can’t do steak because of the vegetarians, and Joe needs low-acid so ix-nay on the tomatoes, and Jane hates salad, but Tom is doing paleo so we can’t do rice, and…” I’ll just give up, because as you say, I am a person with a life and a career and a family, and there just isn’t enough time. (Especially if they all feel the need to explain to me, at length, why they are paleo/do or don’t eat pasta/can’t have acid/etc. Not that everyone does. But some do.) I have actually resigned from organizing meetups because I couldn’t deal with the logic puzzle of ‘the one place that all these people can eat’ and I also couldn’t deal with the drama of ‘you must not like me very much if you picked the place with all the pasta/rice/tomatoes/whatever.’

      I think that the best answer for the person with the restriction is to express your needs plainly, but also accept that they may not be meet-able, and offer to take care of yourself as necessary. Most people can accommodate “I’m vegetarian” or “I can’t have broccoli.” If it’s more like, “I can’t have any salt at all” or “here are the thirty-seven things I can’t eat,” it’s probably prudent to follow up with “…but I can bring my own food/eat beforehand if necessary.” And the best answer for the person trying to accommodate the restriction is to listen carefully, and then either say, “Sure, I can make that work” or “No, I’m sorry, I can’t accommodate that, but you’re welcome if you bring your own food/eat beforehand.”

      • clodia said:

        I feel like there’s a certain amount of the geek social fallacy at work with picking restaurants/foodstuffs sometimes, specifically #1 and #5. Because if you are organizing, then you must pick a place that everyone who might want to attend will be okay going to (#5) or you’re deliberately leaving someone out (#1).

        I’ve definitely worked myself into a frenzy trying to please everyone before. I am trying to make more of an effort, when I plan things, to remember that this is not the only shindig I will ever host, and that if I can’t please Suzy, who is lactose-intolerant, and Fred, who doesn’t go to that side of town, then next time maybe I can do drinks on the west side rather than ice cream on the east side. But that this time, it’s okay to want to do ice cream, at my favorite shop, and to invite whatever friends are willing to come.

        It’s also going back to the weighing every interaction as a measure of friendship. If I want ice cream, but Suzy is lactose-intolerant, does that mean I hate her and no longer wish to be friends? No, it just means I want an outing with ice cream more than I want an outing with Suzy today. Doesn’t mean Suzy isn’t awesome, just that ice cream is delicious.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes yes yes yes yes. You want ice cream, and you are planning stuff, so you are allowed to plan a thing where you want ice cream.

        • So long as you’re not arranging every gathering in an ice cream parlor where your consumption of ice cream is closely monitored by people who will taze you if you don’t eat it, it’s probably good.

        • Emmers said:

          Oh hells yes, Geek Social Fallacy. When my wheat-allergic friend (not actually celiac!) comes over, I buy GF (it’s a subset relationship, so all GF is safe for her) snacks, and I warn her that the jam in the fridge probably has breadcrumbs from the spoon in it, but if she wants to have some jam on her food we can open up a new jar of jam if necessary. And when all of us eat out together, sometimes we *can* all eat together and sometimes we just can’t — and that’s okay. (Sometimes we even – gasp – eat at DIFFERENT RESTAURANTS before all going to see a movie together! The horror! :-D )

      • TO_Ont said:

        That’s one of the reasons I like potlucks. You get a variety of food and everyone has at least one dish that’s OK for them since they picked it themselves.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Yes, exactly this. Friends generally try to accommodate each other, within the bounds of practicality of course.

      One of my good friends cannot eat cow-milk cheese. If we are hosting a food related thing we always try to substitute for goat or sheep cheese if possible, and if not possible we make sure to restrict the cheese to as few dishes as possible. We’re still working on getting her to accept this accommodated graciously, but that’s about her and her anxiety. :)

    • mintylime said:

      This is about where I’m at with things myself. I keep a list of “cannot/willnot eat” on the fridge for each of the two people in my life that I am likely to cook for (one being Mr. mintylime, and that list I’ve fairly well internalized). I’m generally happy to try to make something for people with dietary restrictions.

      (Not so happy when it’s “make a meal, easily transportable by vehicle somewhere else, to feed 1 gluten-free, 1 vegan, 1 anti-vegetables, 1 diabetic, 1 no-weird-foods, and me, to be eaten around a gaming table, so no soups or messy food”. After my best shot at that, we all agreed that everyone eats dinner before coming, even if most of them thought it wasn’t terrible.)

      My kitchen, however, is pretty much hopelessly contaminated with gluten (it’s an older house, the kitchen desperately needs remodelling, and me and Mr. mintylime are both carbivores and bake). I can manage something which doesn’t have wheat (or, say, pork for jews, etc.) in the ingredients list, but … I simply cannot guarantee that anything coming out of my kitchen is 100% gluten-free.

      Threads like this make me feel like I’m some kind of horrible not-taking-care-of-my-friends person for not miraculously sanitizing my kitchen enough to avoid cross-contamination, but … at least I’m honest enough to be upfront that I can’t do it, and that might be worth something. Maybe?

      • You are not a horrible person for not sanitizing your kitchen for someone’s food restrictions! You never are!

        What makes a person horrible is not “failure to feed” but “poisoning”. So you would be horrible if you said “well, okay, I can make it without pouring flour in, but I forgot to glance at the spice mix to see if it uses hydrolized vegetable protein and also I made pie crust that day and love to do the clapping-hands-with-flour thing! yay!” And then presented it as gluten-free. That would make you a horrible person, and some people do that, out of ignorance, laziness, or “your allergen isn’t real” malice.

        But you don’t do that! You don’t make questionably glutinous food and call it GF! You say “No Can Do.” Presumably you also apologize and make alternative arrangements. That’s totally okay! I promise you, nobody but you is holding you up to the “MUST FEED ALL MY FRIENDS” standard that you might have in your head.

        You can only do what’s reasonable, realistic, and within your means to satisfy the needs of your friends.

        Although now I’m thinking about getting your kitchen blessed by all the various religions that do kitchen blessings, and switching over to veganism so that no souls have cried, and then you’d have to have all the different exorcisms for the ghosts of bacon past… I hear sage is good for that kind of thing, and you know sage is lovely in a kitchen.

      • TO_Ont said:

        You sound totally reasonable. I don’t think it would be realistic or fair for someone with food allergies to *expect* a friend to decontaminate their kitchen to make them special food! Particularly with the added responsibility of ‘and by the way if you make a mistake you might seriously hurt or kill someone.’

        When food problems are so severe I think the reasonable things to expect are honesty and empathy. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, explain what you know about the ingredients and what you don’t, and never give someone a hard time for refusing your food or bringing their own.

  26. Badger Rose said:

    I think, in a lot of ways, it depends how you handle it. I have a couple examples.

    Incident One: I cooked dinner for a group of gamers who got together every other week for an RPG. (I should note up front that I did the cooking willingly and enthusiastically–nobody was making me do it. I like cooking and I like feeding people, so it worked great, mostly.) At first we had three people, one of whom was vegetarian. No problem; I cooked vegetarian. Then we added a few more people, one of whom was super picky and ate about five total things. One of those things was spaghetti with marinara, so I started to make two dishes: one for the eat-everything people and one that was spaghetti marinara. The spaghetti marinara served both to satisfy the super picky eater and, on weeks when the other dish had meat (which wasn’t always), the vegetarian.

    Then someone joined the group who had a lot of foods he couldn’t eat (I don’t remember if it was allgergies/intolerances or just not liking it–and it frankly doesn’t matter), and one of them was spaghetti marinara.

    At that point I gave up. I started telling everyone the day before what I would be cooking and to let me know if they wanted it, but if they wanted to bring their own food, that was fine too. And they did, and it was all good. Hooray! End result: everyone wins.

    Incident Two: New friend, invited to a dinner party, who had a serious allergy (that I found out about when I RSVPed). It wasn’t a peanut allergy, but to use peanuts as an analogy, it was a situation similar to “if you’ve fried something in peanut oil in this pan in the last three months, it might hurt me badly.” I would’ve had to buy entirely new ingredients for practically everything and autoclave my pans to make her something. Which I wasn’t willing to do.

    So I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t realistically work around that in my kitchen, but you’re more than welcome to bring your own food, or if you tell me what and where to order from I can order you something.”

    She was very angry that I didn’t care enough to accommodate her, and told me so in no uncertain terms. And that was the end of the friendship. End result: nobody wins.

    • Badger Rose said:

      When she RSVPed, not when I RSVPed. Duh.

    • JenniferP said:

      It was not going to work out with you and that friend in the long term, I think.

      Also, I am sorry your posts are going to spam! I don’t know what is up, am cleaning them out as fast as I can!

      • Badger Rose said:

        No worries! I do not take such vagaries of the Internet personally. :D

        • You should make the Captain autoclave her spam filter for you.

          • Badger Rose said:

            This made me laugh out loud–thank you for that.

    • Epiphyta said:

      I think you were not the rude one, there, in the second case.

      Year before last, the Brom and I threw our annual party: in the past, we’ve handled vegetarians/vegans, people with Crohn’s, and citrus allergies, and this time the challenge was an Orthodox Jewish guy who’d never been to our house before. There was a bit of “Uhhm”ing before I remembered that the only kosher place in the state is two blocks away, so the Brom pointed him at the website a couple of days beforehand and said “If you’d rather eat before you come, we’ll understand, but if there’s something here that’s appealing, we’d be happy to pay for it and I’ll drive you over to get it.”

      It wasn’t cheap, but once a year we can handle the expense, and it made me happy to be able to feed everyone in my house.

    • I bought a new frying pan because I could not be certain our everyday one was gluten free, but this is for someone who is special to us, who we cook for regularly and who NEVER ASKED for such an accommodation.

      • Badger Rose said:

        That makes perfect sense to me. I bought a separate cast iron pan because my vegetarian BFF was squicked by the idea of eating asparagus out of a pan that had cooked meat and not been thoroughly scrubbed after (and you aren’t supposed to thoroughly scrub a seasoned cast iron pan, as it will remove the seasoning, so that wasn’t really an option). She is my BFF and is over for dinner like once a week, so getting a Veggies Only Cast Iron Pan for her was a reasonable decision.

        But had she been Casual Friend I Had Just Met, that would not have been a purchase I would have made. (I mean, she would have been welcome to not eat the asparagus, and could have had the completely innocuous garlic spinach instead. But I wouldn’t have bought a new pan to ensure that she could have asparagus.)

        • bearcatbanana said:

          My BFF stayed over at my vegan house and cooked bacon she brought with her in my vegan cast iron frying pan. I tried not to be too ICKed and I didn’t get mad at her but, Awkward Army, my house smelled like bacon for 4 days and I gave her the pan even though I loved it. I bought a new one, asked her not to do that again and called it a day. General good rule: Don’t fry meat in a vegan’s house. I felt sick for days.

          • Oh that was NOT ON. It takes time to make a cast iron pan good and bacon is the most aromatic meatly meat ever.

            Oy. I hope your new pan is epicly seasoned with vegan awesomeness now.

          • bearcatbanana said:

            Awww, thanks so much. The old one was actually an gift from my grandmother (who’s passed) and I was so sad to lose it. But BFF was really sorry and has gotten so much better about respecting my house rules. She even attempted to bake me a vegan birthday cake (but didn’t know most sugar isn’t vegan or even vegetarian). I give her points for trying and I love her anyway.

    • “She was very angry that I didn’t care enough to accommodate her, and told me so in no uncertain terms.”

      I’m thinking she must spend most of her waking hours very angry, if that’s the standard she holds all of her friends to.

    • Emmers said:

      Jesus, you offered to BUY HER FOOD FROM A RESTAURANT [of her choosing, so one would think she'd pick one that could accommodate her specific food issues] and she still got angry? No great loss there.

      • A Hedgehog said:

        …except that if the level of sensitivity is “the allergen can’t have been in the pan in the last three months”? Basically no restaurant is going to be able to make that person food, unless it’s a specifically entirely peanut-free (or whatever) restaurant, and I don’t think I’ve ever run across one of those. If you’re lucky they have a special menu somewhere. Maybe. (Also, if their restrictions are anything like mine, getting safe food at all requires about fifteen minutes of delicate negotiations.) So while it’s generous, it’s not actually that great of an offer, and shows the offer-er’s lack of understanding of the particular difficulty that food restrictions like that pose.

        Not that I am defending the getting angry, because it’s totally anyone’s right to say “No, my kitchen can’t handle that level of sensitivity, I don’t want to risk your health”–I would much rather hear that, and bring my own food, than have someone just assume their stuff was fine (they were pretty sure they hadn’t cooked peanuts in that pan for a while, anyway) and then end up in the hospital. But.

        • Badger Rose said:

          Well, I did also offer that she could bring her own food.

          It may be “not that great of an offer,” but I am kind of at a loss for what else to suggest. I cannot cook with those restraints–“bring something yourself” and “tell me what to order” are all I’ve got. If it’s more accommodating to not offer something for them, I can do that; I just didn’t want to require they do extra work when I was willing to do the ordering and pay.

          I just can’t go back in time and de-peanut my kitchen for one social occasion.

        • Emmers said:

          That’s why I said “of her choosing” (because she could pick a restaurant that *is* good about cross-contam) but yeah, it’s good you pointed out that just any old restaurant (e.g. selected by the commenter) isn’t *necessarily* going to work.

    • alk said:

      Ugh, I have been there for that second story. GF and I used to host a winter party around the holiday season for her birthday and a summer party at the end of June for mine. We cooked everything ourselves (she loves to cook and I love to bake) and always asked on the invite that people with food considerations let us know.

      We had one relatively new member of our social circle RSVP that she was vegetarian and lactose intolerant. We offered to make her several meat-free and dairy/lactose free dishes, but she said she didn’t like any of them. We told her she was welcome to bring her own dish and she literally responded to the email with, “Sigh….it’s fine. I just won’t eat.” We warned her that the parties tend to last late into the night, but she insisted she’d be “fine.” Then she had the audacity to complain about how hungry she was all night!

      Needless to say, she was not invited to the summary party.

  27. Tired Caregiver said:

    Oh boy, do I know all about wonky stomachs and the trials they cause. I have severe IBS…in high school and college I spent most of my classes standing because my stomach hurt so bad I couldn’t sit down. Eventually I figured out a diet that reduced my symptoms by almost 90%, but it means there are many ordinary foods I just can’t eat.

    I use two different tactics. With people I don’t know well or won’t see again, I just say I’m on a strict diet for medical reasons, then immediately change the subject.

    With people I know well or see often, I will explain slightly more. Usually something like ‘I have a medical condition that means I have to be careful what I eat. The great thing is that as long as I’m careful, I feel just fine! So I might eat before attending events or I might need to bring own food. Please don’t worry about what I can or can’t eat…I’m really good at figuring this out by now. But hey, I do know an awesome diner that serves great x if you ever want to try it!’

    And then comes the subject change so we don’t get stuck discussing my issues for an hour.

    If someone does insist on questioning me, I say something like “Like I said, I’ve got it under control and I know what my body does and doesn’t like. So there’s really nothing left to talk about. Let’s talk about x instead.”

    • Devin said:

      Very happy to see your comment. I was just diagnosed with IBS recently, and I am struggling with how to explain it to friends/relatives/others. Fortunately, my symptoms are not as bad as yours, but it is bad enough that I’ve had to rule out several types of cuisine/restaurants. So I’ve ended up in awkward situations where I’ve said something like, “I’m sorry to be picky but there is nothing at that Chinese restaurant that won’t make me painfully ill.”

      I really appreciate your advice about saying it’s a diet for medical reasons. It seems like that will work well because it’s not saying it’s an allergy (which is a lie) or a sensitivity (which people may be more likely to question). I find trying to explain IBS to people to be a challenge just because if you say the acronym, most people don’t know what is, but it makes me feel super icky to see the word “bowel” in polite company. Thanks for sharing!

      • aaltair said:

        I always wonder how to get out of the “tell me more! explain your condition in detail!” conversation, because I’m bored of it. This is an idea I should try, but I’m a teacher at heart so I like to help people learn about new things.

        • Badger Rose said:

          I’ve had some luck with saying, with a smile, “Oh, my health problems are really boring.” (This is if I say, “I can’t X for health reasons” and someone says “Oh, what’s the issue?”, for instance.)

          Most people, people with a semblance of politeness, will drop it at that point. The occasional rude and/or dense and/or misguidedly over-sympathetic person who says, “No, I’m really interested!” I reply with, “No, I mean, they’re boring for me,” and then I change the subject.

  28. Vegan Gal said:

    The Captain and commenters have great suggestions, and I don’t have too much to add. However, as a 2nd generation vegan I definitely understand what it’s like to feel left out of social situations when it comes to food. I’m going to second the Captain’s opinion that while you’re still getting to know people, it’s better to eat beforehand and work on getting to know the people you’re hanging out with. Just don’t worry about the food! As a child, I was always sad that my fellow children would eat cake at birthday parties (this is still an issue as an adult) and I couldn’t eat the cake. But you know what? I had fun anyway. If it’s a fun party and you like the people, the cake shouldn’t matter much. Sometimes you go out to eat and your friends/family mean well and they totally thought that restaurant had options for you and it doesn’t. That’s just the way it is sometimes. Especially in large groups, it’s hard to be accommodating to everyone all the time. I’m sure it’s hard for you and your boyfriend to be accommodating to each other sometimes! It’s sure that way with me and my boyfriend, but we manage. Now imagine 20 people all with their own dietary restrictions, food biases, income levels and preferences! It can be almost impossible, and you have to give people a little leeway.

    Now that said, you’re trying to make friends right? Good friends should ALWAYS try to be accommodating to your dietary needs (ALL of mine are). Try is the key word. Sometimes they will fail. Be polite, “Thank you so much for being accommodating, but this food has x I can’t eat.” They will feel guilty and apologize, and now they know that you can’t eat x and won’t try and make you eat it anymore. Always thank them for trying. Take into account that it takes time to make good friends. With acquaintances & large groups, expect no more than for them to not harass you for not eating anything, or at least only harass you because they want to help you find food you want. If anyone ever makes fun of you or bullies you for eating a certain way, THEY’RE NOT WORTH GETTING TO KNOW. Down the road when you know someone better and are trying to make plans with them individually, a good friend will try to find restaurants or cook food that you can eat. When I started hanging out with some members of my current friends group, they would spend hours searching for restaurants I could eat at. I would get mad and feel anxiety because I didn’t want to cause them too much trouble, but they explained they were having fun searching for food I would enjoy. These people were good friends, and still are. They may even have fun learning about good food they never thought they would enjoy!

    So go be a good friend, make good friends, be polite and be accommodating. Be what you expect other people to be. You’re not being an Entitled Jerk by making your food needs clear. Also when someone lectures you about how there’s no way x food could have x allergen, they are being an Entitled Jerk! You know your boundaries better than anyone else.

    Here is some Entitled Jerk behavior:
    • “You are eating meat, therefore you are a murderer” (picking on other people about their food choices)
    • “You didn’t accommodate my food needs this one time when I didn’t make myself very clear. Therefore I will never hang out with you again”
    • Making a fun event all about how your food needs weren’t met and me me me me
    • Never helping with the planning, and then expecting the planning to always meet your needs

    If you have a house where you can host, feel free to host a group at your house and make it a potluck. Then you know everyone has something they can eat (including yourself) and you are being extra friendly by going through the trouble of hosting. This will make you friends fast.

    • Badger Rose said:

      This strikes me as both smart and kind.

      I especially like your point that sometimes people try and still fail. I have for sure done the thing where I went, “We’re having salmon but I know you don’t eat fish so I made extra cheese kugel for you to have as a main dish!” and the other person went “That’s really nice of you but, um, I also don’t eat cheese.”

      Which is awkward, and there’s really no way for it to not be awkward. But it is what I categorize as “good awkward,” the awkward that comes about when people are trying really hard to be good to one another but are running into invisible walls. (As opposed to “bad awkward,” which is making someone feel bad without reason and on purpose.)

      It’s kind of inevitable to run into good-awkward in these situations, but as long as everyone involved is trying, it’s survivable. (In the above example, we stood there fidgeting for a moment, then I laughed, he laughed, we ordered him some Thai.)

      • Leela said:

        *I especially like your point that sometimes people try and still fail. I have for sure done the thing where I went, “We’re having salmon but I know you don’t eat fish so I made extra cheese kugel for you to have as a main dish!” and the other person went “That’s really nice of you but, um, I also don’t eat cheese.”*

        Ouch. Been there. Made a gluten free vegetarian meal- it was perfect! Then the day of I found out that one of the invitees didn’t eat dairy. The meal was full of dairy. I felt full of fail.

    • Louise said:

      This is wonderful advice. I’m also vegan, my partner is also allergic to life itself, and I just have one thing to add: bring an emergency snack.

      I’ve also found that bringing a batch of vegan cupcakes is a wonderful way to dispel the notion that vegans are no fun and only eat cardboard :)

  29. I have a horrendous set of food allergies. I hate restaurants, because they can be very dismissive of some of them, and I have lost count of the number of times when I had a side dish and a dessert as everyone else ate ALL THE THINGS in front of me, and I watched with ‘starving kitty’ eyes. :/

    Dinner parties can be a nightmare, I had one memorable occasion where I was fed a delicious dessert which resulted in me being given emetics in an A & E. I tend to react very badly when people say ‘dinner party’ and going to some people’s house for dinner, even at Christmas, can be a fraught affair.

    If I am going over to a friend’s house, I bake something I think will be delicious and which I can eat, and I share it out. My friends bear the major ones in mind and try to accommodate them. As people get more used to you coming round, they will make more accommodation for you. It took me a few tries to get things right for my friend who is a vegan – but I like to stretch my cookery skill and making a vegan dish that appeals to meat-eating friends is great fun :D

    There is a lot of very good advice in this thread, and I would also add – some of the groups, instead of approaching the group, you could contact the restaurant and ask if they have any plans to add vegetarian options. You would be surprised at what can be produced ‘off menu’, especially if you are not dealing with a chain restaurant. It’s more tricky with allergies, especially very severe ones – even I get shocked at what has almonds in these days!

  30. MamaCheshire said:

    I occasionally make large quantities of food for fairly large social gatherings. (SCA feasts and dayboards, impromptu “soup kitchens” for disaster worksites, that kind of thing.)

    My personal rules for this are as follows:

    – For every five dishes served, at least one must be completely vegan, one must be vegetarian (but can include eggs or dairy), and one must be dairy-and-egg-free (but can include meat). One of these three dishes also needs to be low-carb.
    – No more than three of the five dishes may repeat ANY ingredient.
    – No more than two of the five dishes may contain the same Big Deal Allergen (the list of Big Deal Allergens varies from group to group – most recently it was dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish/shellfish, citrus fruits, berries, and alcohol).
    – Ingredient lists are ALWAYS available without any questions asked.

    I cannot 100% guarantee there won’t be cross-contamination, but for the level of sensitivity most of the people I am feeding deal with, this has sufficed. And in the course of this menu-designing, I learned to make a vegan split-pea soup that is often complimented by omnivores, too. (Just not by the person with the onion allergy. But I made sure there were *different* things she could eat.)

    • Badger Rose said:

      I love love love those rules, and I’m going to adopt them for large-group-gatherings in the future. They’d be useful even just if you have someone who doesn’t have any allergies/intolerances but hates tomatoes or whatever.

    • Those are really useful guidelines for catering for larger groups, thank you!

    • Those are some pretty awesome rules, thanks for sharing them! My partner is usually in charge of his engineering department’s annual barbeque and we fret together over how to make sure to accommodate as many people as possible. This list will help us out a lot!

  31. Badger Rose said:

    Also, I wanted to say that I think that this thing that the Captain says is super important:

    The groups meet at those places because those places have been good about accommodating large geeky groups in the past…

    Speaking as someone who used to organize geeky meetups, it’s hard to overstate how important “the place seems to not hate having a huge bunch of geeks there” is. I have hosted events at places that were happy to accommodate a big, possibly-boisterous group, complete with split checks and staggered ordering times and so on… and places that were not. Some of my favorite dinner spots in Seattle–places that are lovely for me alone, or me and my partner, or us and another couple–are kinda not really set up to deal with a dozen noisy people who don’t necessarily arrive or leave as a group and who want the check split. And as an organizer, I quickly learned to recognize the fixed smile and deer-in-the-headlight eyes of someone thinking Holy crap, there’s a dozen of them, this is a small restaurant, I’m the only person doing all the waitressing and running all the checks for everyone tonight, and there’s one cook in the back who’s going to make all their food. And they’re going to want their food to come out at about the same time because duh, and there are a dozen of them, and they probably want the check split. We are all screwed.

    So one thing that can be super super useful is to find places that can clearly accommodate groups, that can also meet your dietary requirements, and suggest those. As a former organizer-of-things, I would have been over the moon if someone had said, “X has food I can eat, and they also have vegetarian options for Suzy and Joe and a gluten-free omelette for Bob, and they can handle groups, I checked.” Since the organizers are doing this for free/for the love of the hobby too, it doesn’t hurt to make things a bit easier for them.

  32. aaltair said:

    I make it a policy to never read comments on food-allergy articles, because I always end up feeling like the world is out to get me: either trying to make me sick, not caring if I get sick, or not caring if I end up in a situation that might kill me. This is the nature of internet comments, not so much the nature of people I have met in person.

    I read some comments here, and they’re mostly okay. So I don’t feel super-bad, but there were some unfair bits in some of the comments, so I don’t feel great.

    I want to mention three things that Jennifer P missed:

    1) When you can’t be AROUND certain foods, not just not eat them. She addresses this partly in the section about how to ask groups to move venues. Pretty good suggestions there. As soon as you know people, it is easier to ask for researched accomodations. I also recommend asking for what you NEED not what you want. Do you NEED to be not at a Thai restaurant so you’re not breathing peanut fumes all night? By all means, that’s a good request to put together in the ways she suggested. Do you NEED to be not at a pizza place because you can’t eat pizza but you can be there while others eat it? Eat first, order a drink, and tip the server well.
    When I go to a conference I write the foods that make it really hard for me to be in the room with (nuts, peanuts) as a request on their list… asking that they not serve those foods in the few ways that mean I actually have to leave the room (peanut butter, peanut sauce, and trail mix… I just have to walk away, and not shake hands with anyone for the next two hours). In this way I’m not saying “no nuts ever” because nuts are a healthy food for many people. I also understand they might not be able to honor this request, at which point I walk away and come back after the snack break.

    2) Severe (not minor) food allergy is a protected ADA disability because it limits the life functions of eating and breathing. This does not mean your host needs to accomodate your needs, but it does mean restaurants cannot ask you to leave for not ordering food due to a severe food allergy.

    3) The conversation will inevitably turn to your dietary restrictions. As much as Jennifer P touts not needing to discuss the excrutiating details of your diet, if you’re eating different food or not eating you will INEVITABLY be asked about it, and it will become a conversation topic for … in my experience… a minimum of 20 minutes (if you’re not talking about it, someone else will share their cousin’s boyfriend’s dog’s story). Sorry. :( Try hard to turn the conversation to something more interesting once those 20 minutes are up.

    Last, geeklings, I’ll leave you all with Wil Wheaton’s advice: don’t be a dick. If you have dietary restrictions, don’t be a dick about them. Be nice, make requests, explain what you want to explain, be friendly. If you do not have dietary restrictions but are asked to accomodate them, don’t be a dick about it: see what you can do to make someone else’s life just that tiniest bit easier.

    Reasonable human beings are nice to each other and have empathy for each others’ trials.

    • Sarah N. said:

      While don’t be a dick is generally a good rule, I would add the caveat that if other people are being dicks about your food allergies, you can be a dick back. It is okay. Making requests and being polite is the place to start, but if people are violating your food boundaries, you can give them ultimatums. You can tell them to fuck off and sashay away into the sunset. It’s fine if you don’t have the time to tip your server who ignored all of the food allergies you told them about because you’re busy stabbing yourself with your Epi. All of those allergy-ignoring people will be okay and you will be better nine hundred miles away from them.

      • Guava said:

        Totally! I have a deadly food allergy – as well as colitis. I was out at dinner for a good friend’s birthday several months ago, and one of her other guests would not lay off attempting to guilt trip me all night long because my friend had chosen to have her dinner at a “safe” restaurant for me. You see, this other guest had recently started a vegan diet, told no one about it beforehand, and didn’t want to give up eating nuts at one dinner. There were loads of other vegan options on the menu, but she “didn’t like beans.”

        Needless to say, after the third loud sigh and passive-aggressive comment about “high maintenance allergy people” while slapping the menu around, I was kind of a dick right back to her.

        • JenniferP said:

          You had plenty of reason & justification to be a jerk back. Why are people so rude & controlling about this stuff?

          • aaltair said:

            I don’t know why people feel the need to be rude about other people’s allergies & dietary issues. It’s weird. I don’t know how we got to this place.

            If someone has a problem or a difficult situation, isn’t it (shouldn’t it be?) the human condition to feel sympathy or empathy for them and want to HELP? :(

  33. TR said:

    As a super picky person, I can just add – attitude is everything! Own your dietary restrictions – that is, be cheerful and matter-of-fact about them. They’re not a big deal in context of the group (obv. it’s a big deal that people respect them and that no one’s endangered, but it’s not a huge thing that needs to be discussed.)

    I’ve found a cheerful “It’s no big deal; I’m ridiculously picky but I can fend for myself” works wonders in making it not a subject of conversation when I refuse food or go somewhere and find there’s nothing I like. (You could substitute “have a really complicated diet”, “have a super large number of restrictions.”)

    In larger social groups, just treat it like a part of your life you’re completely okay with and act like everyone you talk to accepts it the same way. That usually goes a long way towards making people feel like this is just something that is, rather than something they need to worry lots about and discuss extensively right then.

    • Melissa said:

      Wow! Thank you for this:
      ‘“It’s no big deal; I’m ridiculously picky but I can fend for myself” ‘

      This will be so helpful for me in group food situations! My friends are generally kind and accommodating, but there are times when I’d rather have a short line to use instead of having to explain the ridiculously long list of things I either don’t like to eat, do not eat due to GI issues, or cannot eat due to inconvenient but not life-threatening allergies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to give the big list to folks who really want it, but that is the perfect line to use when the list would be overwhelming or inappropriate.

      Does anyone else have oral allergy syndrome? (it’s a pollen allergy that causes food allergy issues). My immune system is like a hyperactive toddler who has been mainlining sugar, and it can’t tell the difference between the proteins in stuff I am actually allergic to (ie, cottonwood pollen) and the proteins in structurally similar stuff, thus resulting in a bizarre cross-reaction to foods I am not actually allergic to. I’ve tried explaining this one, but most people have never heard of it, and I’ve even had people accuse me of making it up. This particular issue can also vary in severity depending on where I’m at with my allergies and what kinds of pollens I’ve been around lately, so sometimes I might be able to eat raw melon, and other times I can’t, and oh by the way, I can eat it if it’s been cooked or exposed to acid, and I can see how that would seem odd to folks who don’t understand oral allergy syndrome. I have one friend who recently admitted that she thought allergies weren’t real until she saw my lips swell up from touching jicama.

      Anyway, because this is a tough one for people to understand, I am thrilled to have found a new way to deflect talking about it.

      • lexifirefly said:

        I recently went into anaphylactic shock and have no idea what it was to! I have a few allergies I know about but it’s normally just hives. The allergist I went to suggested oral allergy syndrome, unfortunately due to the tests I did it will take 9 months to figure out what my dignoses are. I’m really glad to hear from someone that actually has this! It makes this voyage a little less scary. Thank you!

      • aaltair said:

        I know about oral allergy. I don’t have it, but I know people who do, and I can probably 20% diagnose it if someone tells me what they’ve been reacting to! (I’m not a doctor though so I can’t REALLY diagnose anything).

    • Manatee said:

      Just wanted to say thanks so much for this comment. I’m struggling with an eating disorder and can’t currently deal with eating in front of anyone else and so was coming back to this thread to see if I could find scripts that I could adapt to explain that I don’t want to eat at a gathering without actually going into detail or making the event all about me and my issues. I’m going to try to work something out based on this attitude, so thanks.

  34. Amanda said:

    I’m currently in a poly group, dating a girl, M, who is married to a guy, J, who himself has a girlfriend, T. M doesn’t do well with processed sugars, J is deathly allergic to melon, T can’t have beef or pork, and I’m lactose intolerant. The cool thing is that everyone accommodates the others’ issues without any conflict. J, when he cooks creamy dishes , specifically siphons off a portion for me before adding the dairy. Lasagnas are cooked in two batches, one with beef and one with chicken. Pineapple and yogurt are served on the side of fruit salads, as pineapple has too much sugar for M and J is allergic, and I can only take so much dairy. It’s … one of the more salient and vivid signs of the conscientiousness and thoughtfulness in our web of relationships,and it makes me feel loved.

  35. Sunshine said:

    I’m a vegan and whenever possible I ask ahead of time where we will be eating and try to look up menus or yelp reviews to figure out what I could eat. Most of the time, it works out well and I can honestly decide if I want to join. But it does not work with my family. I have had it happen to me where they have lied to me about the location so that I would come along. I shouldn’t have to say this but: THIS IS NOT OKAY TO DO. I ended up refraining from eating so I wouldn’t ruin my appetite when we went out, and then being unable to eat once we arrived. That day they brought me to a chicken wings place, and the next day I was brought to a seafood place.

    That was 2 years ago, but my family still prioritizes their diet over mine when we meet up–2 weeks ago we had a similar problem on a vacation where I barely ate due to their insistence to eat at non-veg friendly diners and restaurants. I’m reconsidering whether I should eat out with them anymore.

    Also, I want to say to the LW specifically: please don’t feel like you’re being an entitled jerk because you want to be able to eat out with friends while having a dietary restriction. You are working within your limits, there’s nothing entitled about that. People who have no restrictions have the liberty of being choosy and you two do not. Being able to eat outside the house is a small luxury most of us want from time to time, even those of us with food limits.

    • Yeah, wow, that was a dick move from your family. It’s not like you’re springing it on them all of the sudden. It’s one thing when you can’t go to SOME things and there are some meals where you have to sip your water slowly and pretend to be having a good time, it’s another thing entirely when they NEVER accommodate you.

  36. UnsuckableButtercup said:

    I haven’t read through the comments yet, and apologize if I’m doubling up, but I just had to gloat: the tavern I work at part-time just added a vegetarian option for game day dinners. They’re catered, so it wasn’t like it was a huge accommodation, but you would not BELIEVE the great word-of-mouth advertising we are getting as a result of this.

    I’m so glad someone wrote to our owner, and that the owner was responsive to her customer. It sort of sounds like LW was working with a national chain, where it’s harder to get changes made, but it can’t hurt to give the restaurant the opportunity to broaden their money-making opportunities by saying, “We’re probably not the only people sipping iced tea at gatherings, wishing we could throw more money at you without becoming violently ill. How about a pineapple kebab? How about a Boca burger, nuked, since you have to keep the microwave free of grease anyhow? The markup would be unbelievable.”

  37. Thank you for all the really great replies. Part of the social anxiety comes into play from the last time we tried to eat at a new place, a deli type restaurant.
    We walked up to the counter
    Him – “Hi, do you have an ingredient list for your foods? We have food allergies.” Yes, I know, tiny white lie, but easier than going into the list of what’s allergies and what I can’t eat.
    Worker – “… a…. WHAT?” Cue staring.
    Him – “A list of ingredients?”
    Worker – “I think I need to get the manager.” They run off, someone else comes.
    Manager – “You need to see what?”
    Me – “An ingredient list.”
    Manager – “Oh. Um. I don’t think we have one of those. Let me check the computers.”
    Meanwhile, a line is forming behind us.
    Manager – “We have a gluten free list, is that good enough?”
    Him – “No, not really.”
    Manager – “Let me print that out for you anyway.”
    Waiting, a line behind us, as the gluten free menu slowly prints.
    Manager – “Here you go!”
    Him – “Uh, thank you, but we’re not going to risk it, Sorry.” And having to turn and walk out past all the people behind us. It’s embarrassing and he doesn’t want to do it again, and I don’t want to do it again.

    We ended up driving to a grocery store, buying food there, and having a car picnic like we usually do. Thankfully family is cool with the car picnic idea. My father’s diabetic and loves being able to make deli meat and cheese roll ups.

    There’s also the double whammy that it’s an adult onset to something he never had problems with before, and it’s a rarer one that doesn’t appear on the common Allergy Guides. We’ve learned to loathe the phrase ‘natural flavors.’ He ranks restaurants by “Sounds safe enough to try if I’m careful.” “I can go inside, but only get a drink.” And “If I go inside, I’ll get sick.” The cosplay meetup is sadly at the third option, but I inquired about patio seating and the organizer said the group always splits between the inside and the patio and there will be plenty of people outside and away from the food.”

    I know I do ‘manage’ his allergies a little. A big part of this is he has an atypical symptom cluster, and one of the ‘medium’ symptoms of exposure is short term memory loss. He literally can’t remember if he’s talked to someone, or what he’s eaten, or if he’s taken any of his allergy meds, or even if he remembered to turn the stove off. I have to be alert and ready to detect this. It’s not managing his life, he’s an adult, but the same way if I notice my father acting unusual I’ll ask him to check his blood sugar, I’ll double check that my guy has set his phone with med reminders after an exposure.

    It’s sad and hilarious at the same time. One time he ordered pho from a place, made sure and reminded everyone that he Could Not Have *blank* in it, which is not a typical pho ingredient (I like to use peanuts as an example) He eats all the noodles, at the bottom of the bowl is a handful of peanuts. “Oh, those are just for garnish!” Cue mouthful of Benadryl and hoping for the best. We were out so I could shop for craft supplies, decided to go on to the store anyway. Afterwards he apologized that I had to miss shopping because of his allergies, and I had to go get the bag to show him that no, I hadn’t!

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      Oh, great GoogliMoogli, “natural flavors” (and colors)! Given that these potentially involve cochineal and castoreum, I don’t know why ANYONE would trust this on an ingredient list, let alone someone with physical sensitivities. Your “peanuts in the pho” anecdote made my jaw drop. How can anyone not be paying attention that hard?

      • One of my allergies is tomatoes. You would not believe the number of times I have specially ordered a dish, for it to arrive without tomatoes, but with a salad garnish which contains slices or wedges of tomato…

  38. PeterG said:

    Beware of one spoon kitchens. My grandmother, my mother and I (when I was just starting out) cooked everything for the meal with one wooden spoon. So every dish had some of every other dish in it. This isn’t as common as it used to be but it happens.

    Beware unbelievers. My friends in college refused to believe that their friend Doug had a mushroom allergy. So if they were cooking with mushrooms they would chop them extra fine and not tell him. The unbelieving is really popular for some reason right now.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      The unbelievers PISS ME RIGHT OFF. Because, not only could that kill someone, but it shouldn’t also be at “OMG THIS COULD KILL ME” level before someone gives a shit.

      I have had, for the last 10 years, a minor but extremely unpleasant sensitivity to two particular ingredients. Yes, I CAN tell if you’ve used them, and yes, I WILL get cranky and upset about it because I don’t get migraine-like headaches unless I have somehow ingested one of these two particular things. And yes, it probably is a little bit psychosomatic, but if I can smell the MSG (one of the two things I am sensitive to) from the parking lot, I will not be eating in that restaurant. NEXT. Also, since my experience of gestational diabetes while pregnant with SecondKid, I have found that certain common things make my blood sugar spike like it’s trying to hit a volleyball. I *can* eat those things but only in small quantities, and that seems to confuse people all the more. (No, really, I can’t make a lunch of pizza, pretzels and soda. I will get ILL and possibly pass out. Yes, even though I am not technically diabetic at this time. I do a lot of “no thanks, already ate!” for that sort of situation.)

      I’m also married to someone who has PTSD triggers that involve certain foods he was force-fed (yes, really, complete with nose held shut so he’d *have* to swallow) during childhood, or anything that resembles them too much in appearance/texture. Other people eating them is not a problem, but he physically cannot force himself to swallow the foods in question, and a panic attack usually ensues. (I’ve been there on a few occasions when he’s tried.) This has been mocked as immature whining about not liking vegetables by a few people that…we aren’t exactly friends with anymore.

      Why are people mean about food? :(

    • Jenna said:

      Yikes. Yes. I don’t cook with wooden spoons at all anymore. I’m thankful that my own gluten intolerance takes actual ingredients and not just flour in the air, fumes, or contact to set it off.

      The unbelievers wouldn’t be my friends very long. My reaction to gluten may not be immediate, but, it’s dramatic enough and uncomfortable, and I can trace back to an approximate time of exposure. Talk about deal breakers! “I didn’t believe you when you said you couldn’t eat this thing, so I poisoned you! On purpose!” does not a friend make. Wow.

    • That In A Hat said:

      Few things disgust me as much as stories about people trying to trick their friends into eating something they’re allergic to. It’s just…wrong.

    • aaltair said:

      Tricking people into eating foods they’re allergic to is ASSAULT. Physical assault. You are causing bodily harm.

      • aaltair said:

        Not that you were involved in doing that PeterG. Just had to get that out there in case unbelievers are reading.

  39. That In A Hat said:

    Just another voice saying that in general nerds and geeks want to know more nerds and geeks, and that Cap’s scripts sound pretty good.

    Me, I’ll eat anything, but my best friend is allergic to, like, half the planet, and over the years we’ve accumulated even more folks in our group, some of whom are very specific about what they can and can’t eat. We joke with her (I remember the story of her getting a random call that simply said “CURSE YOU AND YOU ORGANS!” because another friend was trying to plan a meal and every dish he came up with had something she was allergic to), but mostly, it’s something we’re all glad to know, because it makes things easier.

    Look at it this way–in any large group of nerds, the worst, most time-consuming thing is Trying To Decide What To Eat. ANYTHING that helps narrow the infinite list of options is usually a good thing.

    Best of luck.

  40. AnOrganiser said:

    Hi, LW. So I run a nerdy meet-up group that was figured would be niche, but ended up unexpectedly HUGE very rapidly. I do this for fun on top of working a pretty demanding job and am in a headspace right now where I have, like, no patience at all for entitled demanding people. So while what I mostly have to say is “Everything the Captain said. Seriously.” I thought it might also be a useful to hear the perspective of someone on the constant other side of dealing with social outings with people’s various needs?

    Let me start by saying that absolutely nothing you have said indicates that you would be an irritating needy group member to me. You seem like a perfectly kind, considerate person trying to join a thing that’s tricky for you because Issues. Here are some specific examples of ways people in a similar situation to you handled their problems that were totally 100% okay or ways that made me pissy and irritated.

    Good: A new member emails me saying, “I have X food issue; does the venue for board games accommodate that?
    Irritating: A new member posts to the public board a message whining they would really like to come but then heard we would be drinking during dinner and “simply couldn’t abide alcohol and thus would be unable to attend.”

    Good: A new member mentions during her first meet-up that she called the restaurant first to see if they use peanut oil and was happy to learn that they didn’t.
    Irritating: A new member posts to a public board something like, “I know you said it was vegetarian-friendly, but do you know if the restaurant uses fish oil? Then it wouldn’t really be vegetarian-friendly so I need to know.” (Pretty sure I deleted the public message and emailed them the restaurant’s phone number.)

    Good: A member comes every week and says, “Oh, I ate already, no thanks.” but drops a small tip in the jar (we’re in a non-tipping culture). I have no idea if this person has food issues, money issues, or just doesn’t like the cuisine, but they don’t make a deal out of it so I don’t.
    Irritating: A new member posts to the public board that they’re disappointed to see it held at a place that doesn’t accommodate their need but they will try to come anyway because they really want to go even though the place is terrible for not meeting their need.

    Good: During a meet-up at a monthly venue, a new member says to me, “I actually can’t eat much here because (cross-contamination of allergen). There’s a great restaurant about 15 minutes from here that I love. Would anyone be interested in going some time? I’m awkward about organising/hosting, but I’ll call and see if they take groups if you’ll manage the event.”
    Irritating: A new member posts to the public board stating they will attend but definitely not eat because they are not a vegetarian.
    (This one confused the hell out of me. It was a “normal” restaurant with plenty of meat options that I mentioned was very vegetarian friendly… but apparently that means non-veggies can’t eat there? But the tone and manner of delivery would have been weird even if it was a legit issue.)

    Good: A returning member publicly asks, “Hey, are there vegan options there?”
    Good: A returning member states publicly, “Hey, I’ll be bringing a main for me (I’m a vegan). Should I bring enough of it to share or just bring some snacks?
    Good: A member publicly posts after the event that a restaurant’s vegan options weren’t great, but that he had a lot of fun anyway and just needs to remember to eat beforehand so she can order more drinks next time without getting sleepy.
    Irritating: A member publicly complains after the event that the venue didn’t have vegan options and that it would have been nice to if I had told them about this fact before the event because they had planned on eating there and were very disappointed that I had (unknowingly) picked a restaurant without vegan options when so many people were vegan these days.

    You’re probably seeing a theme. I try to be accommodating (to a point), to offer a variety of venues across a variety of needs, and to accommodate or clearly communicate ways I can’t accommodate when asked. I try to do this for new members as well, but strongly, strongly prefer you contact me privately rather than post publicly. (This could be because the public posts are always whiny and entitled-sounding. I’m yet to get a non-demanding, polite public accommodation request from a new member–probably because the people who write polite accommodation requests in general have the wherewithal to do it privately. But a nice request publicly probably wouldn’t bother me.)

    But I snarkily shut down public demands that I accommodate issues of people who I have never met and complaints that I didn’t accommodate a need that nobody even told me about before the event. But polite requests (not demands) before an event, proactive self-management of their own issues, or polite requests afterward for a more accommodating venue when a problem is discovered? Totally welcomed!

    • JenniferP said:

      This is so complete and awesome. Yes.

  41. Karak said:

    I, too know food pain–lactose intolerant and allergies and tummy issues. It feels so controlling to demand they cater to you but so humiliating to explain that if you eat this you’ll shit blood.

    Just, sympathy.

  42. Helen said:

    Wow, I’m clearly a much better host than I thought I was!

    I used to host anime nights and LAN parties, most ust because I had the most floor space, and I’d make sure there was food for vegetarians, and I’d do my best to be considerate of allergies and so on (I had one acquaintance in particular who was very allergic to nuts, and some other stuff too I think).

    I thought everyone did that, since it’s crappy to be at a party and not be able to eat anything. I’m sure I’m an awful host in other ways, but at least I’m doing that right ^_^ Remembering the looks of relief in the faces of vegetarians and people with allergies though, maybe it isn’t that common after all.

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