Dear Captain Awkward,
All my adult life, I’ve been an adventurous eater. My partner and I love to cook and try new dishes. We invite people over for dinner parties a lot, and our friends and family love to reciprocate. We also really enjoy trying new restaurants with them.
Unfortunately, I recently underwent allergy testing to find the source of a mysterious rash, and it turns out that I have a delayed-action sensitivity to some of my favorite foods and some common food preservatives. This is probably the cause of the rash. My doctors told me to eliminate these foods and preservatives from my diet. (This gets even more complicated because they told me I can slowly, eventually start to re-introduce them one at a time to see if some of them cause worse problems than others, or if they are OK in small quantities but not large ones.)
I hope this wouldn’t be true of the folks who love me, but I know some people are really, really weird about strong food preferences and allergies. They often take it personally when someone can’t eat food they have prepared. I have even heard of situations where a host secretly feeds a person whatever they have claimed to be allergic to, so that they can feel superior if that person does not have a bad reaction. Of course I won’t have a bad reaction right away — I’ll just get a horrible rash the next morning! On top of this, eating food prepared outside of my own kitchen will now require me to ask really specific questions of the person who prepared it (did you prepare this with bleached or unbleached flour? did you use a mix?) that I am worried will come off as judgmental. Plus, what will people think when I’ve made a big deal to them about not being able to eat a certain food, and two months later they see me happily chowing down on it for lunch the break room, as I re-introduce it to my diet? (This is especially concerning in cases where the person is a casual acquaintance or co-worker — good friends will get updates about all this stuff from me as it happens.)
What should I do? Send out a mass email? Inform people on a case-by-case basis? And how do I make myself feel better about suddenly having to be so careful about my diet?
(P.S. “She/her” pronouns are fine.)
Dear Reluctantly Picky:
I hope you and your doctor get to the bottom of things quickly!
In your shoes, I think I would:
a) Start bringing my own food to eating-type events as a matter of routine so there is always something I can safely eat. If that thing can be shared, so much the better.
b) Tell hosts of eating-type-events what’s going on on a case-by-case basis. Opt out of some eating-type events in favor of non-eating events, like, “Don’t count on me for dinner, but I will totally meet you for the play.”
c) Focus on the short-term and not worry about the re-introduction phase right now.
d) Be honest feelings, i.e., “This sucks but it’s what I need to do right now.”
e) Be extremely sparing about the details. Make them boring. If you don’t tell people what you’re eliminating, you can avoid some of the “But I thought…” in the re-introduction phase.
f) Remember that anyone who is pushy and weird about this is breaking the social contract, not you.
How this works in script form:
Host: “Hi, we’re having a party on Friday, can you come?”
You: “That sounds great. Just so you know, my doctor has me on a very strict diet right now as we get to the bottom of some issues. I don’t want it to be weird when I bring my own food.”
Host: “OMG, if you want to tell me what you can eat, I can make sure to have that on hand!”
You: “I appreciate that! That list is very long and very boring and I’d just prefer to bring my own food to be on the safe side. See you Friday!”
Host: “Are you SURE you can’t tell me/that you must bring your own food/that we can’t accommodate you?”
You: “Very sure, thanks! Looking forward to seeing you, though.”
That should get you through the next few months, at least? Readers, what say you?
Moderator Note: Health/diet/medical recommendations in the comments to this post are not being evaluated for soundness – I literally can’t keep up. Use caution before following a rec for any medical treatment or diet you read here.