4 October 2021
Dear Aunt Sevvy:
Now that we expect the intensity of the pandemic to decline, I’m looking forward to again inviting people over on Sabbath after church to continue our fellowship over food. But it seems that what you eat and don’t eat nowadays is more important than fellowship. Who wants to fix a dish or meal and have guests express negativity regarding it? I am aware of these types of comments happening in home and potluck situations.
Signed, Hopeful Host
Aunty celebrates your desire to be hospitable! Not everyone may feel ready quite yet for close dining, but Aunty is glad you’re thinking ahead.
While it is frustrating to see someone refuse the food you’ve prepared, let’s be cautious about rushing to the “take it or leave it” philosophy. Because food is such a fundamental need, many have strong convictions about what they’ll eat.
Some have psychological problems related to food (such as anorexia), or food anxieties related to weight, or legitimate dietary restrictions such as foods that they don’t digest well.
And then there are those with serious allergies: Aunty knows at least one person with such severe nut allergies that even a trace will send her to the hospital. This is not something to be cavalier about!
And lest we forget, Adventists are the original picky eaters. Many don’t eat meat. Those who do usually follow clean and unclean meat laws. Some Adventists are vegan, and some only eat raw foods. You yourself may have found yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse well-meant food because it doesn’t fit with your chosen diet.
Here’s one way to address this when the time comes: explain to the person or family that you want to share a meal with them, and ask about food choices in advance. If your invitation is spontaneous, as many Sabbath invitations are, you can share your planned menu, allowing the picky eaters to refuse politely before they arrive at the dinner table.
Another way to do this, if you’re making the invitation ahead of time, is to ask the picky eaters to bring something they know they can eat and possibly share with everyone. Don’t be offended should someone bring their own snacks to eat, while still warmly joining everyone at the table for fellowship.
Another strategy has been used by vegetarians for a long time: choose from among the dishes those that fit within your restrictions. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “Does this have nuts in it?”
If you are one of the picky eaters who’s been invited, it’s incumbent upon you to explain courteously that there are reasons why you have to eat only certain things.
But—please hear this—Aunty begs you, diners, please please please don’t spend a lot of time talking about your own food choices! Nothing is more excruciating than talking about what you eat and don’t eat while people are eating! Avoid health lectures. And never offer too much information! Aunty once heard a dinner guest go into great detail at the table about why he couldn’t partake of one of the dishes because it caused him diarrhea, and went on about it in some detail, including toilet times. It did not add to the charm of the dining experience.
As a picky eater guest, it is also important that you show genuine appreciation for the efforts put in by your host, and to complement the beauty of the food, the good intentions and hard work that went into it, even if you can’t eat it.
And—let’s just be honest—there may be some whom you just can’t please, so it’s best to fellowship with them while drinking glasses of plain water while sitting in a deck chair.
The best thing, though, is for both sides, hosts and guests, to give one another the benefit of the doubt. Sabbath dinners today have the same purpose as those dinners that Mary and Martha and Lazarus shared with Jesus, or Paul and the early believers had together after church: it’s about fellowship and conversation and relationships, not about the menu.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.