DEAR MISS MANNERS: My brother’s girlfriend self-diagnoses food allergies and intolerances based on things she reads on the Internet. They change frequently.
When planning a recent cookout, I kept in mind her dislike of ground beef and processed meats by buying chicken in addition to burgers and dogs. The day before the event, she told me that she has a poultry allergy, leaving no option except steak. Buying just one steak for her would be rude, so I ended up defying my budget to buy enough for everybody. When she arrived, she told me that she can’t eat the steak unless it’s organic because she’s afraid of migraines.
Can’t I just tell her ahead of time what I’m planning to serve and let her know that she’s free to bring something if my menu doesn’t suit her? Is there a limit to the trouble that I, as a host, should go through to accommodate my guests’ food preferences?
GENTLE READER: Yes: Your brother’s girlfriend is the limit. Whoops, no, she passed it long ago.
Kindly hosts now inquire in advance if their prospective guests have food problems, as so many people do, and plan around medical, religious and philosophical restrictions. That doesn’t mean catering entirely to any one person, as long as they ensure that everyone can make a safe meal out of what is available and that no one is exposed to anything that might prove lethal.
Hosts are not required to take orders for someone’s fuss du jour. Ordering steak in the first place, and then rejecting it, smacks of seeing how far she can go. Let us hope that this lady does not marry into your family.
Generally, Miss Manners is opposed to allowing guests to bring their own food, although she recognizes that it might be necessary for those who have genuinely severe restrictions. It undercuts your hospitality.
The solution is to take her off your dinner list, with the excuse that her extreme and variable sensitivities make you afraid of inadvertently causing damage. If you must entertain her, you should avoid doing so at mealtimes.