Dear Miss Manners,
Recently you did dieters a great disservice, in my humble and inexpert opinion. Because, while I am not an expert in anything relating to manners (and can commonly be found with my elbows resting on the table), I do unfortunately have a significant amount of experience with dieting and food issues, much as I wish my areas of expertise were reversed:(
You published a letter from a reader who wondered if it was rude for a hostess to not partake of dessert after serving it to guests. She shared that she has experienced this twice recently and that “both women are thin and have no dietary issues.”
Your response to her query was to wonder why the hostess would feed that dessert to her guests if she doesn’t care for it herself. You concluded that you would be “nervous about digging into a dish that is not touched by [the] hostess.”
Well, I have a bone to pick with you. (Bad food pun intended.)
My rebuttal has three key
The appetizer: How does anyone, you and your reader included, know that another person does or doesn’t have any “dietary issues.” I’m outwardly very “normal” looking but if you read my blog it will become clear that inside I most assuredly am not. But I don’t share my issues with people in my real life and certainly don’t make them the subject of dinner conversation. Also, many people who have food allergies or sensitivities that they similarly don’t publicize. And I even have a relative who suffered from a strange case of poisoning that meant she had to carefully avoid ingesting certain often-used food ingredients. “Dietary issues” of all kinds are extremely common and often kept private. And what business is it of ours, anyways?
The entrée: As to your wondering why the hostess may have intentionally chosen to serve a dessert that she herself didn’t care for… Imagine for just a moment that she does have dietary issues. Imagine that her issue is that she is sensitive to sugar in all forms. Or, that she is actually a food addict who has learned to control her eating by abstaining from sweets. She might have very consciously chosen to serve a dessert that she doesn’t find personally appealing so that she isn’t tempted to partake. Rather than attempt to doctor a recipe to fit her own specific needs, she might instead be choosing to put the taste buds of her guests first, going with a tried and true tasty treat. Imagine that!
The hotly disputed dessert: Why is it even an issue what she ate? Or didn’t eat? Just because I don’t want dessert, should I make my dinner companions also refrain from a sweet ending to their meal? Must I only serve things in my home that I myself plan to ingest? If so, I’d never again graciously offer up a drink of soda or wine or even coffee, for example.
If I serve you a beverage in my home and don’t partake, would it raise eyebrows or make you wonder if I’d added some spit or arsenic? Me thinks not.
There are many reasons why someone might choose not to eat a dessert she is serving. Or any other food/beverage on her menu. For example, maybe she is one who actually only eats when she is hungry and stops when she is full. While I appreciate that a hostess should aspire to make her guests comfortable, must she make herself physically uncomfortable to avoid what might or might not be going on in their heads? Maybe she has eating issues that are not obvious to others. Should she forego her own healthy habits or needs to do something she doesn’t want to do all in the name of gracious hosting?
Where do we draw the line? Do I offer nothing that I do not intend to partake of myself? I don’t eat bread with my meals. Should I never serve bread again? I don’t put ketchup on my hot dogs. Should my guests be limited to spicy brown mustard?
And, as a hostess, shouldn’t I have the right to say “no” as much as my guests do? With no reason given? And no judgement? And no commentary?
I think you not only missed the
gravy boat on this one, Miss Manners, but set back dieters a pound or two or three. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has never personally struggled with weight or food issues, who has no food allergies or sensitivities, and who actually likes the taste of every food ever offered. I’m envious. And I’m not inviting you to dinner any time soon.
Readers – I’d love to know what YOU think! If you’d like to read the column in its entirely, you can do so here.
Photo credit [Ann Douglas]