A weekly series in which our expert in all things everything solves life’s conundrums, big and small.  Got a problem that could use a no-nonsense perspective?  Tell it to the Co-It-All at voice@intheco.com 

Dear Co-it-All,

I am having a dinner party next week—myself and my boyfriend plus three other couples. I got a fondue pot for Christmas and have been looking forward to preparing a chalet-chic Swiss feast. Then today I get an email from a friend letting me know that she is doing a post holiday cleanse, excluding wheat, sugar and dairy. It’s not clear to me whether she is simply alerting me that she probably won’t be eating whatever I prepare or if she is suggesting that I prepare a meal to meet her requirements, which would seem a bit much, don’t you think? What’s my next move here? Please say it still involves heaps of melted cheese. 

Dinner parties—remember the days when you could just toss a Stroganoff into the slow cooker and forget it? Okay, so maybe I’m dating myself a bit, but it does seem like we are living in an era where diet restrictions are the air we breathe. Or rather—they’re the food we don’t eat, and the list of what we don’t eat is growing.

I have friends whose food exclusions include meat, wheat, gluten, dairy, beef, pork, sodium, carbs, and of course the “white devil” known as refined sugar. There are those who will only eat organic, those who stick to nosh grown within a certain mile radius and those who want to know the conditions under which their rib-eye was raised. Note: I’m not making fun here. I admire people who put their politics where their tummy is…to a point.

My point is that if all of these dietarily disparate friends were to gather around my table at once, we’d be dinning on veggies…no dip. (And even then, there’d be the same poor individual who can’t process raw produce thanks to IBS.) So what is a dinner party host to do?

First things first: Is your cleansing dinner guest Gisele Bundchen?

The supermodel and her quarterback hubby Tom Brady made headlines last week after their personal chef revealed a list of foods they don’t eat. Click here to see the full list, but suffice it to say that in the Bundchen-Brady household, tomatoes and mushrooms are considered junk food. Anyway, if these are the guests you’re referring to, the answer is shut up and do whatever you must to accommodate their wishes. Then let me know where and when I should be there…

If, on the other hand, your guests are mere mortals, the rules are different, and the deciding factor is whether or not the restrictions in question are self-imposed. (Note: I get that you could argue that vegetarianism and religious food restrictions are technically self-imposed, but for our purposes, they belong in the non-elective category). This can be a tricky call to make in an era where “gluten intolerance” is paraded around like a statement handbag.

Still, for the many (many, many) bogus claims of food sensitivity, there is someone who actually suffers (and I do mean suffers). That person feels stressed before every meal and may even avoids going out in public for fear that their body will betray them at an inopportune moment. (Not that there is ever really an opportune moment for one’s body to betray them, but if it’s going to happen, proximity to home toilet is a serious plus).

In these cases where the person isn’t choosing to disrupt your menu (and even when you’re not sure), it’s probably a good idea to err on the side of don’t be an a-hole. I say this a lot, because it’s a pretty trusty and widely applicable life philosophy.

Lucky for you, though, it’s not one you have to worry about, since the decision to be on new year’s cleanse (read: a Gwyneth-Paltrow-endorsed crash diet) falls squarely into the “my choice, my problem,” category. I’ll spare you the thousand word rant on the utter absurdity of cleanse culture, and simply say that there is absolutely no reason to roll back the plans for Fondue Fest 2016.

As to whether your friend is, as you say, “simply alerting [you] that she probably won’t be eating whatever [you] prepare, or if she is suggesting that [you] prepare a meal to meet her requirements,” that’s a tough call to make without knowing the individual. Since she didn’t mention bringing her own food, I kind of doubt she plans to. Perhaps she is alerting you in the hopes that you will at least consider her cleanse while working out the menu.

And you can!

While I’m a bit of a fondue pureist (just bread-and-cheese, please), the meal can be served with broccoli, mushrooms, small potatoes and meats like ham or chorizo. I would write your friend back, tell her you’re looking forward to seeing her and then let her know that she can to nosh on the aforementioned fondue fixings, or feel free bring something else.

Problem solved…at least until she starts talking about her cleanse to anyone who will listen. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Like your kid’s sleeping habits and the crazy dream you had last night, discussions of diet do not a fun dinner party make.

 

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