Bringing food to the table at a social gathering these days seems to divide diners like Moses parting the red sea with his staff in the well-known bible story. No longer is the host(ess) only concerned with the guests enjoying the meal and having enough alcohol to keep the conversation flowing, now – combined with personal likes, dislikes, moral and religious objectives – guests bring forth anaphylactic food allergy risks, and the dreaded food intolerance list, the measure that divides the nutrition community faster than a passionate discussion regarding conspiracy theories or fake news.
Food was viewed as the glue that brought communities together. The end of harvest season, weddings, baptisms, and even funerals were all significant bread sharing opportunities – major events in every social group’s calendar. These affairs cemented communal relations, gave a platform for information exchange, new encounters, learning experiences, product swapping and so much more. Now it appears as if the bond is rapidly being broken, not due to unhygienic practice or possible harmful pathogenic content, rather due to studies showing that some foods are as bad for us as puffing a cigarette. “Eating egg yolks is as bad as smoking in speeding up coronary heart disease”, states the Daily Mail . “Eating a diet heavy on meat and cheese may be as harmful to you as smoking a cigarette”, reported CBS news . This type of scaremongering can severely impact the enjoyment of communal meals.
Add to that the myriad of health gurus that proclaim to diagnose food intolerances via methods other than the classic skin prick or blood test or indeed the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers that have been prescribed the low FODMAP diet, irrespective of their previous eating habits, and you will inevitably find yourself with a dinner guest that vehemently states the inability to eat an ingredient in your carefully prepared offering due to possible serious, adverse effects.
I am not talking of people who have shellfish, egg, or nut allergies. You know the individuals that can potentially die when exposed to certain food ingredients. Or indeed diagnosed coeliac patients who must avoid gluten at all cost given that it severely affects their health (malnutrition, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anaemia are but a few long-term complications) . We may no longer have to battle a Sabre tooth tiger every time we leave the comforts of our caves, but death from severe food allergies remains real, albeit very rare .
It is interesting to note that guests who have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or even Crohn’s disease are less likely to demand an appropriate meal alternative versus those delicate souls who might experience non life-threatening symptoms of gastro-intestinal discomfort. All because, in this day and age, a little abdominal gas is seen as a sign of severe illness. Having an extended stomach as opposed to washboard abs is vilified in a time where appearance on camera for some or other social media platform is deemed more important than normal biological function. The fact that people place more trust in internet bloggers and alternative health gurus – who hold no formal scientific education or indeed extensive clinical practice – is testament to the current state of affairs. Passing non-offensive gas when relaxed, sporting an athletic body anything north of a size 0, or having natural body odour are deemed measures of unacceptable ill-health demanding colonic irrigation treatment, extreme dieting, and copious amounts of perfume.
As a qualified nutrition practitioner with more than a decade’s worth of clinical experience, I always say to my patients, “when you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, please refrain from making yourself an awkward guest (unless your life does indeed depend on it)”. Eat what you are presented with, enjoy the company, marvel at the fact that none of the clearing up is your responsibility, and regroup tomorrow morning when you are once again in charge of your food intake. Yes, you might experience exacerbation of your digestive symptoms, yet the fact that you had a stress free evening in the company of people that you chose to be with might just result in no adverse effects. IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea are often associated with anxiety, constipation with the lack of plant fibre or water intake, and prolonged bloating with excess food consumption.
How many times have I been in the company of people who opt for the vegetarian meal merely because they dislike the all-inclusive option? How often have I heard the phrase, “I am almost vegan” and yet that very same person will scoff a beef burger and fries, complete with full-fat milkshake, in record time? It seems that it is acceptable behaviour to be a cumbersome house guest, just because.
Food is a part of our everyday life, whether we indulge or refrain from eating. Most people lead frenetic lifestyles punctuated with lack of good sleep, stress, and struggle. You can choose to make meals yet another battleground or take that moment around the table to unshackle yourself from your problems and savour what is presented to fuel and nourish your body, your temple. When you are invited out for dinner, enjoy the time out. If you are concerned about a reaction to some foods, then entertain at home where you are in charge of what is on offer.
Be at peace with what is on your plate and channel your energy into connecting with your fellow human beings.
1. Daily Mail (2012) “Eating egg yolks is as ‘bad as smoking’ in speeding up coronary heart disease”, available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2188265/Eating-egg-yolks-bad-smoking-speeding-coronary-artery-disease.html
2. Castillo, M (2014) “Meat, dairy may be as detrimental to your health as smoking cigarettes, study says”, CBS news, available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meat-dairy-may-be-as-detrimental-to-your-health-as-smoking-cigarettes/
3. NHS (2016) “Coeliac Disease”, available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coeliac-disease/
4. Umasunthar, T., Leonardi-Bee, J., Hodes, M., Turner, P.J., Gore, C., Habibi, P., Warner, J.O. and Boyle, R.J. (2013) “Incidence of fatal food anaphylaxis in people with food allergy: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, Vol. 43, Issue 12, pp. 1333-1341, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4165304/