A friend is going on a weekend women’s retreat with a group she’s known for a long time. Two attendees are assigned responsibility for each meal: they have to shop, bring ingredients, prep, and serve. She and her counterpart have a lunch, and are planning egg salad with lettuce on whole wheat bread and a small side salad. Nowadays, it’s necessary to send out a description of what you’re serving and the ingredients so people can say back what they won’t eat. Some don’t eat bread, so suitable lettuce leaves have to be provided for egg salad in lettuce wrap. Some don’t eat mayo, so they need plain hard boiled egg. There are all kinds of stipulations re salad dressing — what it can and can’t contain. I suppose when they get there someone will balk at the egg entirely and be out of luck.
I know there are people with legit food allergies, and of course someone serving a meal would want to know about those. One time Jerry and I took friends to Mamasan’s VietNamese restaurant in Rochester, where almost everything has fish sauce in it. One of our guests, looking at the menu, announced that he was violently allergic to fish sauce and had in fact forgotten his EpiPen. I asked the owner, Be, to come over to our table. I pointed to the friend and said, “If he eats fish sauce he will stop breathing and die.” Be’s English was more functional than fluent, but she got the point and announced that she would personally go into the kitchen to fix him something. I thanked her and said to our friend with a smile that had steel underneath that whatever happened to come out of the kitchen, he would, I was sure, be glad to eat.
But I can’t imagine Jerry and I having friends over for dinner and feeling that I had to send the menu out ahead of time. I think we have a lot of self-diagnosed people who refuse gluten and heaven knows what else, claiming adverse health effects. In short, we’ve become picky eaters. I’ve been with friends in restaurants who quiz the server extensively on what is in a dish they’d like to order, demand it with various modifications, then when the dish comes claim that one or another ingredient was left in and send the dish back to be prepared again. Honestly, it must drive restauranteurs crazy.
I’m fortunate not to have food allergies, and my stomach tolerates most things. If I’m served something that looks unappealing I take a small taste and leave the rest — without making a big deal. I had friends over for lunch recently, and never thought about sending out what I was going to serve. If, in the moment, my lunch had been refused the alternative would been peanut butter and jelly that I keep on hand for the grandkids. Fortunately, it never came to that.