It's a conundrum that's faced hosts since the dawn of the dinner party: You want to have a group over, but someone can't eat dairy. Or meat. Or maybe it's gluten, Actually, they're doing the Paleo thing now.
Then the holidays come along and turn an already difficult dance into a minefield. Meals get more elaborate, as well as more dependent on tradition. While your family might be perfectly happy to eat veggie chili on a normal day, if a Tofurkey suddenly replaced grandma's recipe a full-on uprising might occur. So when it comes to any dinner party, be it on Thanksgiving day or just any given Thursday, who is responsible for making sure all dietary restrictions are accommodated? We went to etiquette expert and co-host of the podcast Awesome Etiquette, Lizzie Post, for the final ruling.
The Verdict Is
Ideally, says Post, the host, not the guest, should be the one responsible for making sure the meal accommodates dietary restrictions. As a host, your primary goal should be making sure all your guests are comfortable and happy. That said, Post acknowledges that it can be especially contentious when it comes to allergies or food that needs to be prepared a certain way for religious reasons, and a host shouldn't be afraid to reach out for guidance. Nor does every single dish need to serve every dietary restriction or preference.
"If you can look at it like an opportunity to give your friend a night off, it's such a better attitude to approach it with as opposed to 'Oh this is going to be extra work to have that person here,'" Post says. The biggest fear of many with dietary restrictions is that you're thinking of them as a burden. Finding a few dishes that work for varying needs, like a main that is both vegan and gluten-free, could be one way to cover as many people as possible.
Post also says there shouldn't be levels of importance between different dietary restrictions. Whether your cousin avoids dairy because of lactose intolerance, because she says milk makes her feel bad, or she avoids it for ethical reasons, shouldn't matter to you as the host. That can range from not liking the side effects of a food to extreme aversions to the taste, like many people have with cilantro.)
But Wait, There's More
Part of good etiquette is not demanding things of other people, so if your host isn't willing to make enough food to adhere to your specific dietary restrictions, you can't force them to. "Ultimately I think you are always responsible for yourself," Post says. Good etiquette is about you, the individual, not about rules you get to force on others. And since good etiquette dictates never demanding something, either as the host or guest, you can't berate your host for failing to provide the right kinds of food.
Comments From The Crowd
That said, it's also completely valid to feel frustrated as someone who always has to speak up and explain why they do or don't eat certain foods. No matter who winds up bringing the nightshade-free salad or vegan turkey to Thanksgiving, you may still have to deal with comments from the host or other guests about food choices. Post, who gave up most meat in her 30s, recalls getting comments like, "Now what are you eating these days?"
"It's almost like someone else is trying to incite drama," Post says about those pointed remarks. But the good news is you don't have to engage. Instead, she suggests saying something like, "It doesn't matter to me that we're eating different food, what I care about is being here and spending quality time with family." You don't have to explain your choices, and if someone keeps bringing it up, Post says you can follow up with something like, "You know I'm not too concerned about the choice that I made, but I'm curious why this is really something you you focus on so much."
Whether you're a host or a guest this Thanksgiving, remembering that, "you're the boss of you," is the first step towards reaching a truce in the ongoing battle. It's an elementary school lesson that holds true even when you're old enough to enjoy wine at the adult table.