Why I’ll Eat Anything You Serve Me

Years ago, I was with a group of friends, talking about healthy eating, when one woman, Sarah, boasted that she’d been able to go a whole evening without touching her mother-in-law’s chocolate cake. She was proud of her strength and resolution.

Interestingly, a few days later, I was with that woman’s sister-in-law. She, too, recounted a few details of that night.

“Yeah . . . mom made this delicious cake for us, and Sarah and her husband both refused to eat it. You could tell it was very hurtful to mom, who’d gone out of her way to make her favourite.”

It was interesting to hear the same story from different perspectives: from the one, the refusal to eat the cake was an act of fortitude against temptation. From the other, it was rude and selfish. Sarah wasn’t willing to sacrifice her weight-loss goals to show appreciation for her mother-in-law’s generosity.

Now, I have pretty strong dietary convictions myself. I try to eat only whole foods, and cook almost exclusively with organic, local or fair-trade ingredients. I strictly limit my sugar intake, restricting myself to honey, maple syrup, and fruit as much as possible (with an occasional indulgence in organic evaporated cane sugar). I don’t let anything with artificial food colouring or high-fructose corn syrup enter my house. I won’t buy corn, canola, or vegetable oil. I restrict my meat consumption to two or three servings a week, and generally avoid any meat except that which my parents have raised themselves and I’ve had a hand in butchering.

Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry — you don’t have to remember any of it.

I’ll eat just about anything you serve me.

After that conversation with my friend, I decided that none of my personal dietary restrictions were more important than my relationships. I decided that basically all my rules were null and void when in someone else’s home.

(I’ll make an exception if the food being served is obscenely unhealthy and also store-bought, especially if the event in question is a casual gathering. I don’t think most people will feel too broken up if I don’t take a doughnut from the box they picked up from the Tim Horton’s drive-thru for an impromptu get-together. That’s different from rejecting the chocolate cake you specially baked from scratch for me. Or even made from a box. I’m not that snooty.)

Sharing food is a powerful human experience. Humans have always, across cultures, used feasts to celebrate important events. Eating together binds us together like few other social practices. That’s why Scripture often describes heaven as a feast, and why Jesus commands us to remember him by sharing bread and wine. Eating together connects us. It reminds us of what we share in common. It equalizes us, and reminds us that we are bound to each other and to the earth. In eating together, we let our guard down and make ourselves vulnerable.

Moreover, to reject a person’s offering of food is (in most cases) to reject them and their generosity. I know how hurt I feel when I bring food to a potluck and much of it is left over. I even feel kind of injured when Ben gently informs me I don’t need to repeat a certain menu. I don’t know why it’s such a sensitive issue.

Conversely, it warms my heart when my dessert is the first one to go at a gathering. I am filled with joy when my friends enthusiastically devour what I’ve set on the table and ask for the recipe. It is an act of kindness to accept my food.

The Dying Practice of Hospitality and the Individualized Diet

I passionately believe our culture needs to resurrect the lost art of hospitality. I won’t get into it here (although this article might be a good place to start, if you’re interested in the subject), but I believe we live in a culture that breeds inhospitality on many levels.

There are many factors involved in our culture of inhospitality. But one major impediment to a renewal of hospitality in our society is the exploding multiplicity of individualized diets. We’ve got low-fat, low-calorie, low-carb, nut-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, and traditional-foods diets, just to name a few.

(I won’t even get into general pickiness and food snobbery — that is, guests declining food just because they don’t like one of the ingredients or it’s too low-class for them. I have no patience or sympathy for this. Sorry.)

For the most part, individuals themselves aren’t to blame. Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise in North America, meaning that millions of people can’t eat major staples like wheat or nuts or dairy. I personally can’t consume corn without getting a stomach ache. And some people feel strong convictions against eating animals and animal byproducts.

I’m definitely not trying to minimize the seriousness of such dietary restrictions. I certainly don’t expect someone who will suffer severely from eating certain foods, or someone who must compromise their deeply-held religious, moral, or ethical convictions, to wave these aside for the sake of hospitality.

But I’m not one of these people. I can eat just about anything without serious, immediate repercussions. (Except for corn, like I mentioned. I can have a teeny bit, though). And though I try to limit my meat intake for moral reasons, I don’t feel compelled to reject it if someone else offers it to me in their home (even if it was factory-farmed. The animal’s already dead, I figure).

So while others must turn down delicious offerings due to food sensitivities, religious obligations, or other reasons, I’ve made a personal commitment to gratefully accept anything you offer me. If you’re generous enough to have me in your home, I’d like to honour that by enjoying it fully. I don’t want you to have to worry about whether it’s healthy or organic enough for me. It’s my small way of trying to help bring back the dying art of hospitality.

P.S. I also love pretty much ALL FOOD. In case you’re thinking about having me over. I will love anything you make me. Vegetables, meats, dairy, grains, seafood, sweets, savoury dishes, exotic or Old-World . . . I’ll relish it. Trust me. And I’m particularly fond of cream cheese. Just sayin’.

Image courtesy of Dennis Wong.
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  1. I love people that will come over and just do “When in Rome” and eat. I can’t do it myself – I use my kids and say, sure you can have 1 piece so it doesn’t look as bad that I’m skipping out but my stomach still gets all in knots when they eat something they shouldn’t. I skip mainly for health reasons and also because I generally want to pig out at night after they’ve gone to bed – it’s somehow turned into this relaxing sort of reward – which in effect is no reward as eating late doesn’t help my figure or sleep. But sometimes if I do eat something at someone’s place I remember this quote from Erin Brockovich and it makes me just chill and not worry so much about it lol: http://www.anyclip.com/movies/erin-brockovich/l7tM2unu4hbb7u/ (it’s at about 12 seconds in to 40 seconds)

  2. Funny, I just refused freezies on behalf of my children at gram and gramps the other night because of food dyes. I also refuse hot dogs. Is that so bad? Great article, really got my mind going. I see myself rethinking some of my food refusing habits:)

    • Yeah, I agree — there are some things I will just not accept even with feelings like certain dyes, aspartame, sucralose, msg, etc etc. I mean, even some of my relatives who don’t think these things are unhealthy will refuse some of them just because they are “lucky” enough to have direct health problems associated with them. Too bad if you won’t directly die or have a reaction that refusing food is sort of frowned upon. It was always awesome when my kids were allergic to eggs for awhile, it limited so much that we didn’t want them to eat anyway! I wish I could say, “sorry we can’t drink fluoride water we’re allergic. It will lower our IQ and reasoning capabilities.” Somehow culture doesn’t like us being proactive on health… It’s more acceptable to be reactive. But anyway, somehow we try to balance it :P

    • V: No, I don’t think it’s so bad! :) Since Lydia’s only been eating solids for about 6 months, I haven’t had that much experience with people offering her foods I don’t approve of. We’ll see how I deal with it in the future. I’ll probably be stricter about what she consumes than myself. She’s got a brain to grow, after all! So far, there have usually been other foods to choose from so I can avoid horrible things like hot dogs and freezies.

      I guess I should have clarified that if there are multiple options at someone’s house, I’ll just take one of the better ones and leave the bad ones. So in that way, I don’t eat EVERYTHING that is offered to me. :)

  3. Love it! Just love it. I always put relationship before food, with the kids. Like, when grandparents give them treats and stuff. And then make them drink lots of water, to at least help flush it out. Or I pray that Jesus will replace the nitrates for nutrients. (I’m not joking, I really have prayed that, figuring that if He can change water into wine, He can make that hotdog not hurt my children!) Love this post.

  4. I agree, barring any problematic food allergies or other very specific reasons, I think it’s hospitable to at least eat a little bit of a meal that someone has used their food budget and time to prepare for you. There are always polite ways to limit or avoid certain things – “Just give me a small piece”, telling children they’re only allowed x-amount of problematic foods or just take a few bites and excusing yourself “Oh this is delicious, but excuse me if I don’t finish it all. I haven’t had dairy/oils/hot dog, .etc. in a while and it can mess with my stomach if I eat too much in one sitting.” and be gracious in every other way. I think there are also polite ways around food issues – “My kid has this really bad food allergy and might not be able to eat the cake you’re serving at Timmy’s party. Can I bring xxxx to share with everyone so Bobby won’t feel left out, it’s what we make for him for his Birthday.” or “Hey do mind if I bring tofu burgers or kosher hot dogs to the barbeque.”

    It’s also mirrored in the way I’ve come to accept what H. eats at his grandparents or the gifts they give him – we have certain rules and standards (for lack of a better word) about those things at home, but I shouldn’t try to control the way they show him love. I do try to make suggestions about toys and food that I really support, but that they end of the day I just let it go.
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  5. > I decided that none of my personal dietary restrictions were more important than my relationships.

    That sounds noble and worthy. However, I can’t help asking a question. Does this principle also extend to barefooting? If some of your relatives and friends has a problem with your barefooting, are you prepared to comply and don footwear for the sake of the relationship?
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  6. You spoke my mind. ^_^

    Though as you point out, there’s a big difference between big gatherings and a meal in someone’s house. I have no problem skipping things at church potluck or a big party because of bad ingredients or even just because I don’t like them very much. But I’m not going to refuse a meal someone made for me (even if their version of “homemade” means from a can or box) unless there is a real health reason I can’t have it (grapefruit gives me migraines, for example).

    In /The Screwtape Letters,/ C.S. Lewis talks about “just” gluttony–that being particular to the point of inconveniencing others and hurting your relationships with them (overindulging your food preferences) is just as much a sin as gorging yourself (overindulging in food quantity). The character’s mother was like this, she always wanted “just” a cup of tea, not too hot, cream and two sugars, when everyone else was having coffee, or “just” one egg, soft-boiled, with a little salt, when everyone else was having scrambled eggs and ham. Because what she wanted was always a small quantity–less, in some way, than what was being served to everyone else–she could tell herself she wasn’t putting anyone else out. But in reality it was a major strain on relationships and people hated having her over for tea.

    It’s perfectly fine to control what you buy and make yourself, to enjoy certain foods prepared a certain way, to have likes and dislikes and even good reasons for why you eat what you eat. But there comes a point when your attitude and actions harm others or harm your relationship with them, which harms your witness and thus is a sin. But that point can come in different places for different people–maybe your mom totally understands and doesn’t really care if you skip her cake and help yourself to an apple instead, but your grandma would be really hurt and offended.

  7. We need a good famine to come along and I’m pretty sure everyone’s “food allergies” would miraculously disappear. This is definitely a first world issue. Hungry people will eat anything.

    • I’m not sure it would be quite that simple, but I agree that it’s a first-world problem. I’ve heard it theorized that many of our food allergies are the result of the absence of parasites, and our lack of exposure to other microbes, here in the developed world.

  8. I love this. I admit that for several years, when I was vegan and then vegetarian, I was one of those difficult people (I eat most anything now). However, most of our friends and acquaintances know that I am pretty hippy with our diet so I still frequently have people basically turn down their own food for me, despite the fact that I have no intention of doing so. I hear a lot of “oh you won’t like this, it contains xyz” when I have said nothing beyond perhaps that it looks delicious. I do choose to limit how much I eat of some things, but I try to avoid outright refusing anything unless I know it is going to make me sick (there are some foods that trigger migraines for me). The idea of giving and graciously receiving hospitality has really struck at me to be less of a pain in the rear when it comes to food prepared by others.

    All that being said, I really love being able to love on our friends who do have dietary restrictions, for whatever reason, by making foods they can eat.
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  9. I found you via your comment on Magpie Girls’ blog so I’m a little late to comment but I wanted to say I love everything about this post. I hadn’t ever thought it out like this but yes, despite having strong opinions on what I eat, love and gracious acceptance of hospitality must trump (most) of those opinions. Glad I found you :)
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  10. I sympathize with Sara. Sometimes you are having trouble staying on a diet, and it seems your whole family starts to conspire against you by offering you tons of junk. Sara was obviously feeling very tempted or she wouldn’t have been so proud of resisting. Failing that test might have destroyed her motivation to stay on the diet. How many times have my during attempts ended in “oh what’s the use!” Did her mother in law know she was on a diet? If so, why did she make a decadent cake that would totally screw it up. You could say sabotaging someone’s diet is kind of rude too.

  11. This is sort of related, but my husband and I love to cook and we have friends that we invited over many times for meals. I sort of got the impression after a while that they were afraid to reciprocate, because they did not make the same quality of food at their house. I was sad to think of this, because they are lovely people, and we would have enjoyed their company more than anything, regardless of the food being served.

  12. Thanks for mentioning the food allergies! At first when I saw the title and started reading I was thinking what about food allergies? Then as I read on I seen you talked about food allergies! Yeah!!! I have quite a few food allergies, some that are life threatening. A lot of people that I know don’t understand what it’s like to have to ask what is in everything for the sake of your life! I was someone’s house and they asked me to try a particular dish. So I asked if it had any of my food allergens in it? The answer was no. But upon my further request I read the label of the ingredients and sure enough it was there both in a disguised name and in the regular name for it. If I had not asked to see the package I would have been quite ill for about a week or so from this particular allergen. A lot of people just don’t understand allergies. If it’s not something like that then I agree go ahead and eat what is put in front of you.


  1. […] “Why I’ll Eat Anything You Serve Me” — This post on “Becoming Peculiar” follows up nicely with my series on food. Kathleen explains why, despite her own strict dietary restrictions at home (for various reasons), she puts community and fellowship first and eats anything served to her when she eats away from her own kitchen. This is beautiful. […]

  2. […] “Why I’ll Eat Anything You Serve Me” — This post on “Becoming Peculiar” follows up nicely with my series on food. Kathleen explains why, despite her own strict dietary restrictions at home (for various reasons), she puts community and fellowship first and eats anything served to her when she eats away from her own kitchen. This is beautiful. […]

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