Dear LetterBalm: I’m a fussy eater. Some foods upset my stomach, some make me ill or cause me to break out in a rash. I’m out on my own and have no trouble going out to eat with friends and colleagues. I know what to order and what to avoid and nobody thinks anything of it. Same thing when I cook for others. The trouble is my family. They pester me unmercifully (“Well, what CAN you eat?” “Why can’t you eat this?”) and draw attention to my problem at the table. Holidays are a horror for me. I always bring something I can eat for the whole table and make it an attractive dish. I don’t expect special treatment – I’m perfectly content taking small portions or loading up on bread or lettuce salad. But my family insists on pointing it out. They should know better because I’ve been this way most of my life, and I’ve had a lot of tests for allergies and other food-related conditions. What can I say to end this embarrassing situation?
–Not a Foodie
You sound like you’re doing everything right about your food circumstance. You’re not making a big deal out of it, you’re contributing a dish that you and everyone will enjoy and you’re opting to eat simply if you’re presented with offending foods. Your family can be given a (small) benefit of the doubt: Food, especially during holidays, assumes social importance and bonding. Loved ones gather around the dining table, the grill, the restaurant table as much for love and laughter as for eating. But your family is way out of line to single you out and browbeat you. Ms. L.B. suggests you walk out if things get too heavy and go to a friend-in-reserve who’ll welcome you with no judgment. In the meantime, calmly read your family the riot act (not at the table), but after so many years, it’s unlikely it will work:
Family, I need to talk with you once and for all about my food allergies and problems. You’ve known about them all my life, and you persist in harassing me at the table. This is hurtful and rude, especially as I can’t control it and I’m trying to cope and not draw attention to it. Please understand once and for all, I’m not criticizing or insulting your cooking. I just can’t eat a lot of foods because they make me sick. Doctors have told me, and you know it. If you don’t stop badgering me, you’ll force me to leave the table and go to a friend’s house, every time. Worst-case scenario? I’ll stop coming to family dinners altogether. Now, what’s it going to be?