Last year was my first gluten-free holiday season. I fretted and spent days planning and re-planning our Thanksgiving menu, the biggest food holiday for us. My husband and I share a vegan Thanksgiving feast each year, which has been challenge enough for two egg and butter-loving vegetarians. Remove the gluten, too, and well, I just wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge.
With the support of my husband, who made an amazing tofu turkey from scratch, we pulled together a menu that rivaled that of our food-savvy friends who invited us to their home for dinner. We arrived at their house with our “turkey,” potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green been casserole, Brussels sprouts, cornbread stuffing, rolls and a pumpkin cheesecake. Our friends were gracious in sharing a meal with us and so accepting of us bringing our own food. We are thankful for them and their appreciation of our eating choices. We had an enjoyable time and were excited to see our meat and gluten-eating friends sampling our food and declaring it tasty. Like there was any doubt…
I share this because of something I struggle with. A family member once joked that my Indian name must be “Girl Who Travels With Salad” because I always bring something with me to eat at holiday meals and family gatherings, since I cannot count on anyone preparing food that I can safely consume. No, I cannot make a meal from the crudites. No, I can’t pull the strips of bacon off of the beans, nor can I pull the croutons out of the salad. One of two things happens to many of us with dietary limitations, whether they be self-imposed or medically necessitated: we don’t get invited or we go hungry if we do score an invitation. I always hope for the latter, as I’d rather eat the protein bar that has been in my glove box for months than to miss spending time with friends and family.
I went to hear Ina Garten speak recently. My hand sprang up every time the opportunity to ask a question occurred. There were so many people with questions and I didn’t get to ask mine. I would have asked how she handles having dinner guests with dietary limitations. Just when I had given up hope that I wouldn’t hear her answer, another lady in the audience asked a question that got the answer I was after. Her question was, “How do you deal with picky eaters as dinner guests?”
While I don’t consider myself a picky eater (I eat anything that isn’t animal flesh or contains gluten, which leaves lots of foods to choose from), the answer to her question definitely applied. Ina said she calls her dinner guests prior to planning the menu, finds out if they have any limitations and then plans the menu to include everyone. When having a vegetarian guest, she may make meat that compliments a dish for the carnivorous guests, but does not create a “special” dish for the vegetarian. She said she wants everyone to enjoy the same food, it creates a better familial experience. Isn’t that really what sharing a meal is? Sharing an experience with the people who matter to us?
Tonight I was talking about this topic with my friend Mary while at the gym. We talk a lot about food at the gym. Mary has always been an amazing hostess and I’ve eaten with her family several times. Never has a “special” dish been prepared just for me or for my vegetarian husband. Instead, she prepares a full meal that everyone gathered around the table can enjoy. When I shared with her that this rarely happens, she responded by saying she thought it was just “common decency” to prepare food her guests can enjoy. What a simple concept, yet so often overlooked. Mary and Ina Garten get it. I want others to get it, too!
Am I asking you to pass up the Thanksgiving turkey because a vegetarian is joining you for dinner? Or to skip the pumpkin pie because someone must eat gluten-free? No. I’m simply saying it would be nice if options that included everyone at the table were offered. Make a gluten-free stuffing, try a sugar free pumpkin pie, use Earth Balance and non-dairy milk in your mashed potatoes. Just a few simple modifications can be made to make everyone feel welcome without sacrificing flavor.
I know this may not be realistic for those of us dining somewhere other than at Ina Garten’s house during the holidays, but it certainly is worth consideration. I also know I am preaching to the choir, as most of my blog readers are gluten-free, but I hope at least one person will read this and consider including their friends and family with dietary restrictions in their holiday festivities. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and cook or bake just one thing they can also enjoy. It would mean a lot to them (and to me)!
And, as promised, a recipe. This is a modification of the raw vegan cheesecake I posted earlier this year. The recipe below is not raw however it is dairy-free and easily made vegan. Enjoy!
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