social food

Note for people on diets

I’ve noticed that often, people who diet assume that everyone else around them either is or should be dieting. This can cause problems when they are responsible for feeding others.

Some examples:

  • If someone is planning a conference and all the food they make available is low-calorie
  • If someone is hosting a speaker from out of town in their home, and they only offer them a very small amount of food, and it’s logistically difficult for the speaker to get other food
  • A babysitter feeds active kids a green salad and nothing else for lunch

So, here are some things to keep in mind:

Other people’s nutritional needs might be different from yours. When you’re feeding someone, it’s important to feed them according to *their* nutritional needs.

This is particularly the case if you are on a low-calorie diet. When you are responsible for feeding others, it’s quite likely that they will need more calories than you do. Especially if they are children. Double especially if they are teenagers. (And this is especially important for teenage girls, since they’re often actively being pressured into diet culture.)

Low calorie food isn’t inherently healthy. It’s healthy in a particular set of circumstances. It’s unhealthy and dangerous in others.

If you’re feeding people, meet their nutritional needs. Don’t feed them according to yours.

Having people over for dinner

aura218:

realsocialskills:

dinosaurusrachelus:

realsocialskills:

One potentially enjoyable form of interaction is to have people over for dinner.

Some ways this can be good:

  • Eating together can make conversation easier
  • Since it creates an activity and a focus
  • But it doesn’t take up all the attention; you can still talk
  • Eating at home can be cheaper than going out
  • It can also be less overloading, since your place is probably less noisy than a restaurant 
  • It can also be more private, because you’re less likely to run into unwelcome people, and because there aren’t as many people around who could overhear

Some things about guests:

  • Invite people who you like
  • Invite people who like each other
  • It’s not very much fun to hang out with a group of folks who dislike one another, even if you like all of them separately
  • Don’t invite too many people. It’s much more fun to have dinner with a group of people that’s a comfortable size for you
  • It’s often considered rude to invite someone but not their partner, with two major exceptions:
  • If you’re hosting a single-gender event and their partner isn’t the relevant gender, or:
  • If you’re hosting an esoteric interest gathering and it’s something only one of them likes. (Eg: If you’re having a party for people who like to talk about spiders, it’s probably ok to not invite a partner who hate spiders)

Some points about food etiquette: 

If you are in your 20s and living in the US, it’s likely that you’re in a culture in which it’s normal for guests to bring some of the food. (This is different from a potluck, which is a communally-hosted kind of meal at which no one person has primary responsibility for making the food. I’m planning to write a different post about that later.)

If you are invited over for a meal:

  • It’s considered polite to offer to bring something
  • The most polite way to ask is to say something along the lines of “What can I bring?” because it suggests that you’re expecting to bring something rather than hoping they’ll tell you not to bring anything
  • If they say not to bring anything, don’t
  • Some people prefer that you don’t, or might have cultural or medical reasons to want control over the food that’s in their space
  • Also, in some cultures it’s considered rude, so if someone doesn’t want you to bring something, it’s important to respect that

If you are doing the inviting:

  • It’s usually considered rude to ask people to bring things if they haven’t explicitly offered to
  • If people offer, it’s ok to assume that they mean it, and to ask them to bring something
  • But be reasonable about it. Don’t ask people to bring something expensive or complicated unless you are planning the meal together and hosting jointly
  • It’s usually considered reasonable to ask someone to bring one of these things: bread, wine, salad, soda/juice, or a dessert

Some specific things about food:

  • You should make/buy a main dish that is filling and has protein of some sort
  • And also probably a side dish or two
  • And drinks of some sort - but it’s ok if it’s mostly water
  • Make sure you have enough plates/cups/knives/forks/spoons/etc for everyone
  • Find out if people you’re inviting are allergic to anything
  • If you are serving meat, find out if there are any vegetarians
  • If some people are vegetarian, it’s nice to make a vegetarian protein in addition to the main meat dish
  • But in any case, at least make sure that some things don’t contain meat (eg: don’t put bacon bits on the salad or use lard to make a pie)

This is a good kind of gathering. Are there other things people should know about how to do it?

dinosaurusrachelus said:

Depending on the type of event and the age of participants, it’s often considered polite to bring a bottle of wine even if the host says you don’t need to bring anything. It’s not a thing you have to do, but if you’re able to afford it and think it would be appreciated by the host and other guests, it’s nice. Providing alcohol for a gathering or dinner can get expensive quickly, so it’s a nice way to take some of that burden off a host without making them ask you to.

In addition to vegetarians, it might be nice to ask if anyone’s vegan, gluten free or lactose intolerant, since those are fairly common dietary restrictions. Most vegans are used to not having a ton of options and will often gladly eat side dishes or salad in my experience, but it’s polite to ask so you can make minor modifications to dishes. For example, if you were going to make a salad with greens, nuts, feta and dressing, you could put the feta on the side if someone’s vegan so they’re still able to eat the salad.

realsocialskills said:

It can be polite to bring wine, but be careful about that. It can put the host in a bad position if they’ve intentionally decided not to serve alcohol and you show up with an unexpected bottle of wine.

Agreed about other dietary issues. That’s a good thing to do.

I don’t know if this is a thing? But? A friend of mine hosted a potluck, and she brought out each dish *individually.* Like, courses? It was super-awkward, because people brought different amounts of each dish, like an enormous pasta dish and then a small fish dish. And then the dinner dragged on forever, and some dishes weren’t served at the right temperatures. Plus, it made people feel obligated to eat things they didn’t want, just because everyone was passing the plate around and it seemed rude not to take it. 

So, don’t do this. Either make the dinner a buffet (which is the easiest type of party for everyone, imo, both practically and emotionally) or put out all the dishes at once. It doesnt’ matter if all the food doesn’t go together, people can decide how they want to eat, or they can get up for seconds if they don’t want to eat two particular flavors together.

Another thing: especially with a buffet or appetizers, plan for how people eat, including grazers. For example, if you put out shelled nuts or endamame, put out an empty bowl so people can discard the empty shells. If you have a communal pot of coffee, you can cut down on dishes by setting out a few stirring spoons on a saucer and one spoon in the sugar. Most people will have enough sense to spoon sugar with the dry sugar spoon, and stir with the wet stirring spoon, and then leave it on the saucer for the next person. 

When doing a buffet: tell people to arrive about 45 minutes before you set out dinner. Have appetizerrs set out at the arrival time. After everyone except people who are chronically late have arrived, announce that dinner is being put out (you can dispatch helpful people to round up far-flung guests outside, in the tv room, etc). About 45 minutes after dinner has started, start putting away perishables. Ask people if they want seconds, etc. Depending on what dessert is and the time-table for the party, dinner cleanup and dessert can happen anywhere from half an hour to two hours after that. 

If it’s a daytime party, brew coffee after dinner. There’s always people who get tired at parties or didn’t sleep well, or whatevever. Everyone likes coffee at parties.

eggsnemesis:

realsocialskills:

 chavisory answered: If you’re having wine, have some soda or cider too in case there are people who avoid alcohol. Hard cider is also a nice alternative to beer

realsocialskills said:

That’s an important point. If you’re having a gathering that includes alcohol, it’s important to have non-alcoholic drinks too. 

A lot of people avoid alcohol for various reasons, and you don’t always know who they are.

And even people who drink often find it easier to avoid drinking too much if there are non-alcoholics drinks available.

Also, consider who you are inviting when you’re deciding whether to have alcohol. If you’re inviting people who tend to be really obnoxious when they’re drunk, it might be better to stick with soft drinks.

eggsnemesis said:

Also please don’t put the onus of bringing non-alcoholic drinks on the people who don’t drink alcohol. 

A lot of our large family gatherings in the past few years involved the hosts asking my dad (who is a former alcoholic) to bring any pop or juice or him having to bring them with him. 

These family gatherings often involved children and we’d have to drive all the way out there and often come in after most everybody else arrived. Like firstly: wouldn’t it just be better to have juices or whatever from the start? and secondly: I don’t know how my dad felt about it, but it always felt like “well if you’re not gonna drink alcohol you have to figure it out yourself”.

Side note as someone who personally doesn’t drink alcohol: I don’t mind if a host or someone else offers alcohol to me and I can usually politely decline or ask for something else. What bothers me is when they either attempt to change my mind or keep asking (“oh but it’s a really good vintage”, “are you sure you don’t want any?”) or act as if it’s weird and want to know WHY I don’t drink (and that’s almost always a really awkward conversation no matter what answer I give).

So if someone declines alcohol from you, please move on and don’t question too closely.

What could be helpful as a host is to have a range of drinks and offer all of them at once - for example, saying: “Would you like a drink? We have wine, beer, juice, water…?” This means the person doesn’t have to turn down alcohol specifically or be in a position where they have to ask if there’s anything non-alcoholic.

Having people over for dinner

One potentially enjoyable form of interaction is to have people over for dinner.

Some ways this can be good:

  • Eating together can make conversation easier
  • Since it creates an activity and a focus
  • But it doesn’t take up all the attention; you can still talk
  • Eating at home can be cheaper than going out
  • It can also be less overloading, since your place is probably less noisy than a restaurant 
  • It can also be more private, because you’re less likely to run into unwelcome people, and because there aren’t as many people around who could overhear

Some things about guests:

  • Invite people who you like
  • Invite people who like each other
  • It’s not very much fun to hang out with a group of folks who dislike one another, even if you like all of them separately
  • Don’t invite too many people. It’s much more fun to have dinner with a group of people that’s a comfortable size for you
  • It’s often considered rude to invite someone but not their partner, with two major exceptions:
  • If you’re hosting a single-gender event and their partner isn’t the relevant gender, or:
  • If you’re hosting an esoteric interest gathering and it’s something only one of them likes. (Eg: If you’re having a party for people who like to talk about spiders, it’s probably ok to not invite a partner who hate spiders)

Some points about food etiquette: 

If you are in your 20s and living in the US, it’s likely that you’re in a culture in which it’s normal for guests to bring some of the food. (This is different from a potluck, which is a communally-hosted kind of meal at which no one person has primary responsibility for making the food. I’m planning to write a different post about that later.)

If you are invited over for a meal:

  • It’s considered polite to offer to bring something
  • The most polite way to ask is to say something along the lines of “What can I bring?” because it suggests that you’re expecting to bring something rather than hoping they’ll tell you not to bring anything
  • If they say not to bring anything, don’t
  • Some people prefer that you don’t, or might have cultural or medical reasons to want control over the food that’s in their space
  • Also, in some cultures it’s considered rude, so if someone doesn’t want you to bring something, it’s important to respect that

If you are doing the inviting:

  • It’s usually considered rude to ask people to bring things if they haven’t explicitly offered to
  • If people offer, it’s ok to assume that they mean it, and to ask them to bring something
  • But be reasonable about it. Don’t ask people to bring something expensive or complicated unless you are planning the meal together and hosting jointly
  • It’s usually considered reasonable to ask someone to bring one of these things: bread, wine, salad, soda/juice, or a dessert

Some specific things about food:

  • You should make/buy a main dish that is filling and has protein of some sort
  • And also probably a side dish or two
  • And drinks of some sort - but it’s ok if it’s mostly water
  • Make sure you have enough plates/cups/knives/forks/spoons/etc for everyone
  • Find out if people you’re inviting are allergic to anything
  • If you are serving meat, find out if there are any vegetarians
  • If some people are vegetarian, it’s nice to make a vegetarian protein in addition to the main meat dish
  • But in any case, at least make sure that some things don’t contain meat (eg: don’t put bacon bits on the salad or use lard to make a pie)

This is a good kind of gathering. Are there other things people should know about how to do it?

When food preferences complicate social food

attenua asked realsocialskills:

…How do you deal with stating inconsistent preferences? I do not like some foods (e.g. cheeseburgers and pizza) because their high grease/fat content makes me feel bad after eating them. I frequently have to explain that a restaurant that has those foods or other high grease/fat alternatives will not serve me anything I will eat. This can look like I am criticizing other people’s eating of those foods, which is not helped by sometimes eating those foods anyway.

I think the most helpful thing is usually to suggest something specific that would mean everyone could get to eat something that they want.

For instance, if everyone wants to go to McDonalds, and you don’t feel up to eating greasy food that day, it could work to say “How about we go to Whole Foods instead?”

Or, “How about you grab a pizza, and I’ll grab something from the supermarket and we’ll meet up in the park?”

You don’t necessarily need to say why you don’t want to eat that kind of food. It’s hard to go into detail about that without sounding judgmental, and it’s also no one’s business, and not super-relevant to the practical problem at hand.

One thing you could say if you want to give a reason is something along the lines of: “I’m kind of not feeling up to eating greasy food today. How about we go to Place That Has Greasy And Non-Greasy Food?” That wouldn’t sound like a categorical statement that you will never eat greasy food ever, and it might not sound like an objection to others wanting to do so either.

(Saying explicitly that you’re not judging anyone would probably make matters worse. “I’m not judging anyone but…” is usually the kind of thing people say to get away with saying judgmental things, similarly to “no offense but…”)

Generally speaking, people are a lot more willing to do something that will solve a problem if they don’t have to come up with the actual solution themselves.

submergedandpressurized:

bessibels:

Social skills for autonomous people: Attending potlucks without cooking

realsocialskills:

If you want to go to a potluck dinner, but don’t want to or can’t cook anything, ice cream can be a good thing to bring.

There are other things people who don’t want to or can’t cook sometimes bring, and they’re not rude exactly, but people who bring those things are often perceived as lazy or…

I often bring fruit! People seem to like that. Unless they’re just being polite. But it too has the virtue of being unexpected, and it’s a nice addition to a dessert.

I actually think fruit is a brilliant idea. After eating a bunch of (often heavy, filling) dishes at a potluck, fruit is really refreshing. Almost like a palate cleanser.

Social skills for autonomous people: bessibels: Social skills for autonomous people: Attending potlucks...

telephonoscope:

telephonoscope:

bessibels:

Social skills for autonomous people: Attending potlucks without cooking

realsocialskills:

If you want to go to a potluck dinner, but don’t want to or can’t cook anything, ice cream can be a good thing to bring.

There are other things people who don’t want to or can’t…

Do all of the above!

Ice cream punch
1 gallon rainbow Sherbert or vanilla ice cream
Several liters of sprite
Pieces of strawberry/pineapple
Mix in a large punch bowl at the party
It gets creamy and frothy and delicious

There are other recipes online that involve fancier ingredients too.

Just thought of another idea. Fancier items would be received well. Instead of chips and dip you could get a tub of hummus and huge bag of pita chips from Costco. Same idea as the chips and dip, but it has a novelty factor. Costco also has bulk veggie spring rolls that can be microwaved or baked, pre-cooked falafel, dolmas, etc.

Attending potlucks without cooking

aura218:

realsocialskills:

If you want to go to a potluck dinner, but don’t want to or can’t cook anything, ice cream can be a good thing to bring.

There are other things people who don’t want to or can’t cook sometimes bring, and they’re not rude exactly, but people who bring those things are often perceived as lazy or miserly. Some examples:

  • sodas
  • wine
  • chips
  • a box of store-bought cookies

Ice cream is not any more difficult or expensive than these things, but it’s perceived differently. Since ice cream is not an expected default potluck food, if you bring it, you get to be the guy who brought unexpected ice cream. Almost any crowd will contain a good percentage of people who are *very* pleased by unexpected ice cream.

If it is a vegan potluck, there are some pretty good non-dairy ice creams now. (So Delicious coconut milk ice cream is nice; so is Tofutti.) Sorbet is also a decent non-dairy option, although it isn’t quite as viscerally welcome as ice cream.

(I’ve also seen people bring pizzas with similar results, although I have not tried that myself).

This is a really good idea. Everyone loves ice cream and you can get it on the way there.

A salad is good, too, or a vegetable platter w/ dip (store-bought dip is fine). Mixing, not cooking. (Chopping, tho, unless you buy pre-chopped, which is more spensive.) You have to bring the dressings, so bring a variety of ~4 very different types, and don’t expect to get them back. You  can bring the stuff in ziplock bags in assemble at the party.

Social skills for autonomous people: Attending potlucks without cooking

magicalmantislanoha:

realsocialskills:

If you want to go to a potluck dinner, but don’t want to or can’t cook anything, ice cream can be a good thing to bring.

There are other things people who don’t want to or can’t cook sometimes bring, and they’re not rude exactly, but people who bring those things are often perceived as lazy or…

I have also seen good results from those huge veggie trays with dip. While people bring them a lot nowadays, in my circles at least they are incredibly popular. Probably because ice cream melts between the car and the office here.
Also, if you bring one of the easy ones, and say you didn’t have time to cook or you were out of an ingredient and these looked good.
The issue with store-bought cookies and cake/cupcakes is they don’t taste very good in comparison. This can be mitigated on the cookie front by not bringing in typical chocolate chip cookies - actually but them in the cookie aisle not the bakery and put them on a tray yourself. And avoid oatmeal raisin - even people who like raisins hate stealth raisins when they expect chocolate chips.
If all else fails, offer to bring plates, cups, napkins and cutlery. These things are often forgotten and being that person makes you a hero to those who have had to eat off paper towels in the past.

Attending potlucks without cooking

Attending potlucks without cooking

If you want to go to a potluck dinner, but don’t want to or can’t cook anything, ice cream can be a good thing to bring.

There are other things people who don’t want to or can’t cook sometimes bring, and they’re not rude exactly, but people who bring those things are often perceived as lazy or miserly. Some examples:

  • sodas
  • wine
  • chips
  • a box of store-bought cookies

Ice cream is not any more difficult or expensive than these things, but it’s perceived differently. Since ice cream is not an expected default potluck food, if you bring it, you get to be the guy who brought unexpected ice cream. Almost any crowd will contain a good percentage of people who are *very* pleased by unexpected ice cream.

If it is a vegan potluck, there are some pretty good non-dairy ice creams now. (So Delicious coconut milk ice cream is nice; so is Tofutti.) Sorbet is also a decent non-dairy option, although it isn’t quite as viscerally welcome as ice cream.

(I’ve also seen people bring pizzas with similar results, although I have not tried that myself).

More on restricted diets

joobaloob:

realsocialskills:

Do not take food issues personally.

If someone can’t eat something, it’s not personal:

  • It isn’t a rejection of your hospitality
  • It isn’t an insult to your cooking skills
  • It isn’t a comment on your health, your lifestyle, or your diet

It’s also not any of your business:

  • Don’t expect an intimate conversation about the reasons behind the food restriction
  • Don’t make a big deal about it
  • Do not comment about weight loss
  • Do not offer unsolicited medical advice
  • Do not offer unsolicited health advice
  • Or unsolicited religious commentary
  • Or your views on vegetarianism
And especially, don’t do dangerous things:
  • Don’t try to trick people into eating things
  • Even if you think their food issue is a ridiculous phobia and that tricking them would cure it
  • Seriously, seriously, don’t do that
  • It won’t help, and this kind of thing can and does kill people
  • And, in any case, irrational people also have the right to say no

You do not need to agree that the person is correct about what to eat in order to interact with them respectfully. You just have to arrange for it to be possible for them to be in spaces you’re in, and for it to be predictable whether there will be anything for them to eat there.

Whenever I tell someone I can’t eat something (usually pizza) because it has gluten in it, I tend to get one of three responses:

  1. “What’s gluten? What’s Celiac?” Etc.
  2. “Oh yeah! I chose to go gluten-free because of (bullshit they heard on TV or read on the internet)!  Why did you choose to do it?”
  3. “Yeah, I’ve got a sibling/friend/spouse/child who can’t eat gluten.” OR
    “I’ve got it too! Celiac high-five!”

 If it’s Answer 1, I just explain what Celiac is.  If they ask what happens when I eat gluten, I usually make some joke about the obscene amount of shit that explodes out of my ass when I eat it.

The people that use Answer 3 are extra cool and we usually commiserate about dietary restrictions and discuss what kind of shitty gluten-free bread is the best.

It’s the fuckers that use Answer 2 who annoy me.  I have the hardest time explaining to them that, no, I didn’t choose to go gluten-free, why the hell would I?  They usually say it’s meant to help them lose weight (Incidentally, I’ve never met anyone who used this excuse who actually looked like they needed to lose weight) and that they read gluten is unhealthy for you anyways.
It’s not. Humans have been eating gluten for millennia and it didn’t do anything to them. In fact, after being on a gluten-free diet for a while (6 months, I believe), you lose the ability to digest gluten.  Meaning, once you switch back to a normal diet, you gain the symptoms of someone with Celiac who ate gluten; it’s terrible for  your intestines.  This is according to what Dr. Guandalini, one of the leading Celiac experts in the world told me.  A gluten-free diet is low-carb, since it means no bread, but that’s no reason to go gluten-free when you don’t have to.  

Every day, I wish I wasn’t gluten-free.

Every day, I hope for a cure during my lifetime, just so I can eat whatever I want again. Yet, I know there won’t be.  I will never be able to eat a doughnut again without feeling as if someone stabbed me in the gut for a week.  I can’t even lick a fucking envelope closed.  

I’m also at a far higher risk of developing diabetes because of my Celiac, meaning I must watch my weight very closely.  Thank god my metabolism’s still fast enough that I can eat greasy Mexican food without worrying too much.

So, yeah, I’ll tell anyone who asks about Celiac, and I joke about it all the time, so most of those restrictions don’t apply to me, save for one: “Don’t offer unsolicited health advice” because, so help me God, I will not tolerate it from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Food as small talk

teacakemix:

Time, Wasted: some things I think I know about small talk

realsocialskills:

Regarding professions and names:

  • If you are in a college or university setting, asking someone what their major is is considered an acceptable small talk question, and it can lead to actual conversation.
  • Asking someone what they do (for work) is socially acceptable in…

I’ve found food/cooking to be almost ALWAYS safe as small talk.  Unless you’re talking about butchering/hunting in front of a vegan, I suppose. 

Also in college I used to offer candy to break the ice.  If I bought a bar of dark chocolate and offered to share with classmates, they either wanted to talk about how much they love dark chocolate, or how much they hated it.  But either way you got a conversation.  And they always ended up being better conversations than the other favorite… ‘whining about the class/teacher/assignment’ which I think just sets you a bad precedent for small talk.  I still know people who are constantly complaining…not because they’re actually upset, but that’s how they’ve learned to start conversations.

Wow, that’s a really good idea.

What words did you use to offer the candy? Like “hey, I have chocolate, do you want some?” Or something else?