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Here's How To Accommodate Dietary Restrictions On Thanksgiving: Don't

Hosting Thanksgiving is not the same thing as running a restaurant, writes Rich Barlow. (Element5 Digital/Unsplash)MoreCloseclosemore
Hosting Thanksgiving is not the same thing as running a restaurant, writes Rich Barlow. (Element5 Digital/Unsplash)

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Thanksgiving 2018 may be marked by American dietary demands that are expanding faster than our holiday-fed waistlines.

Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, restricted by religion, or just picky: Some or all can quintuple the fabled stress factor for a host who must cook for a big enough and diverse enough crowd of eaters.

I laughed at a recent columnist’s take on how to accommodate all these tastes. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sympathize with some of the real-life cooks whose travails the writer solicited. On the contrary. One “described a dinner in which one person had celiac disease, another was allergic to garlic, a third was pescatarian, and a fourth couldn’t eat anything spicy.”

“I hadn't done that much research since getting my masters,” the cook lamented. Another had to accommodate a daughter who “eats no meat whatsoever. My son-in-law likes turkey and ham, but eats no vegetables. My granddaughter doesn’t like turkey, but will eat ham. My husband won’t eat sweet potatoes.”

Her solution: “We’re having pizza.”

Only developed world residents who were overindulged as toddlers and under-instructed on good manners would make such demands on a harried host.

What made me chuckle was the array of suggestions this food columnist offered. To my mind, only one made good sense: Potluck.

I say this as my family’s lone vegetarian, the Turkey Day oddball who — my instinctive traditionalist bent notwithstanding — passes on the traditional Thanksgiving bird that my wife or mother-in-law goes to such trouble preparing. For years, I’d get by feasting on the side dishes, and that’s always a delectable alternative.

Recently, though, I’ve taken to ordering a vegetarian holiday meal to heat up on the big day, essentially bringing a potluck dinner even when the big meal is in my own home. The advantages are obvious.

First, to your host. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s just simple thoughtfulness not to burden him/her with observing complicated restrictions around your meal, especially if there are numerous guests, and especially if several of said guests have gustatory guardrails of their own.

I’m sympathetic to ethical concerns (like my own) about food and to medically necessary diets; celiac and Crohn’s disease, to name two ailments that columnist cited, can induce painful, health-threatening reactions in people who eat gluten, dairy, fat or sugars.

But don’t like sweet potatoes? Turkey but no ham, while Aunt Edna will only do the reverse? Meat only — no vegetables? Only developed world residents who were overindulged as toddlers and under-instructed on good manners would make such demands on a harried host.

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving, let them fend for themselves. Provide the turkey (or ham, if you’re hosting and hate turkey — chef’s prerogative) and a reasonable array of sides. Let vegans/vegetarians, those with medical issues, and the finicky bring what they need or want, alerting their cook in advance that he/she can relax with a glass of merlot rather than obsess over every square inch of the dinner table.

Potlucks also benefit the guest, erasing any anxiety from wondering whether you’ll be able to enjoy the meal. I have a friend whose annual Thanksgiving potluck has become a cherished tradition.

Let vegans/vegetarians, those with medical issues, and the finicky bring what they need or want...

If you’re adventurous, you can find premade holiday fare to bring that few if any hosts would offer. I’ve no idea what Romanesco Cauliflower Roast with Miso Bagna Cauda or Roasted Acorn Squash with Maple and Hazelnut Dukkah taste like. I’m going to find out Thursday. Who knows — I may swear off such dishes forevermore. But a giddy curiosity has kept me going all November.

“Hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t mean I’m running a restaurant,” one potluck-Thanksgiving host said in endorsing that approach. Hear, hear. In the rough and tumble nastiness that too often adorns Trump’s America, I’d point to just one other tip the columnist offered, a corollary to the potluck approach: Be nice to those whose dietary restrictions are the result of health needs rather than rigid likes and dislikes.

It’s not their fault. And Thanksgiving is the time for all of us to be grateful for blessings. If nothing else, you can be thankful that the price of a holiday meal is down this year.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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