Ask Nancy: Guests, Allergies, and Hospitality

In this Ask Nancy segment, Nancy Wilson addresses the question “As our culture becomes more affluent, people have lots of options on what to eat and how to eat. For instance, diets that are vegan, organic, gluten-free, low-carb, raw, weight watchers, and eliminate food “sensitivities” are all common among people I know. What advice would you give to young women who wish to demontstrate hospitality involving food (inviting people over for dinner, bringing a meal to sick people, etc), but are intimidated by the number of diet restrictions and preferences people have? I attend a church where most members shop at Whole Foods and are used to having gourmet meals regularly. For someone who grew up in a lower-middle class home on good, but inexpensive meals involving ground beef and Campbell’s soup cans, cooking for our fellow church members makes me uneasy.

On a related note, at Christmas time, we hosted my husband’s family and I was given a list of 15+ common foods ahead of time that were on the “no-no” list (sugar, flour, eggs, butter, tomatoes, etc) that I could not use in my cooking. Because several of the family members had conflicting food aversions and several of the family members didn’t like recipes that excluded the “no-no” foods, I felt like my Christmas cooking was a no-win burden. How would you graciously handle hosting this crowd?”

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  1. Rachel B says:

    Thank you, Nancy, very helpful!

  2. Mrs. B says:

    Very well done. We have friends that have a broad variety of allergies and they are so wonderful about offering to bring dishes or reviewing the menu to let me know if there is enough various items that can be consumed by different family members. (In fact, I have kept a list of who is allergic to what to help me with planning.) It really doesn’t create any extra work for me, in fact, I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to minister through hospitality, which may not be ready offered because the allergies intimidate some hostesses. I would also miss out on learning to cook such a new array of recipes as well!

  3. Linda says:

    Thanks for addressing this. A few years ago we invited a young couple to dinner; the wife had allergies but her husband (with whom we made the arrangements) didn’t mention it. I was mortified because it turned out that the wife could only eat one thing out of all I had prepared. Since that VERY uncomfortable evening, I always ask when we invite new families over if there are any food sensitivities I should be aware of. Thankfully, on the rare occassions when there have been allergies, the mom has offered to bring food for that child.

  4. Toby says:

    You have some good words here. I do a lot of entertaining and also have a daughter on the autism spectrum for whom we make some food changes so have been on both ends of this.

    One additional point that I wonder about – we have some people within our church who seem to believe it is “wrong” for Christians to eat wide categories of food – non-organic, etc. Is there any way to work around this without totally going along with it? I am saddened because it has made fellowship with their children very difficult – example; things like birthday parties where cake and ice cream are the order of the day but the dad prefers sprouts.

    Any insight there for me?

  5. E. says:

    Nancy, thank you for your gracious advice on this topic. As a person who is both one with a food sensitivity and one who likes to entertain, it was great to hear your perspective.

    I especially appreciated your wisdom regarding worry and fear manifesting itself in adverse physical reactions. Although I have what would be considered a legitimate food sensitivity, fear and worry definitely exacerbate the reaction. It’s funny what harboring such feelings instead of giving them over to God can physically do to one’s body.

    One piece of advice for fellow hostesses: I have personally found that with regard to food allergies, you can almost never go wrong with a roast, baked potatoes, and vegetables.

  6. Daniel Foucachon says:

    Toby, There is a sermon excerpt that addresses some of your questions:

    The whole sermon is excellent, and addresses your question (you can find it linked from the excerpt).

  7. Toby says:

    Thank you, Daniel. I appreciated that and am especially glad to know of the Trinitarian triumph of the S’more. I still wonder about if there is a way I can hostess people who feel God *does* care without going to extremes. We know one family in particular that has made it virtually impossible to fellowship with them if there is ANY food involved. I find that sad.

    Thank you again!

  8. Toby says:

    Me again… back to try to clarify my concern. What I am trying to figure out is related to the idol meat passage. Do I (as a hostess or planner of church events) have a responsibility to not serve things they believe are not good for Christians to eat?

    I greatly appreciate the practical insight these clips are offering.

  9. DHammer says:

    An anecdote from my medical practice in the past month. I met a woman in her late 60’s who told me she has felt sick, all the time, since age 19 – fatigue, myalgia, arthralgia. No diagnosis was ever made. Among other things I checked gluten antibodies that turned out to be sky high. I put her on a gluten-free diet. I did phone follow-up two weeks later and she is already signifcantly improved.

    I too see food fadism all around. It’s not new, at least a century old, but be careful in coming down to strong on labeling any particular person with a psychiatric illness with somatic symptoms that can’t be diagnosed. I used to. Now I’m coming to find out that in many of those cases either I, or the science of medicine were just too dumb to make the proper diagnosis.

  10. DHammer says:

    One more separate comment on gluten-related disease. Gluten exposure may not put someone in the ER, but they may feel significantly ill, not just for the night, but for several weeks. That is why a smart guest needs to be up front with their problem and hospitable hosts and hostesses need to not make light of the situation.

  11. Nicole says:

    Thank you for the advice! It’s wonderful that someone is even addressing these issues. I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to learn to cook new and tasty kinds of foods. Expanding the palate has never tasted so good!

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