“I know you can’t have any of this, but that’s ok, because i’s not about the food.” WRONG! Thanksgiving dinner IS about the food! Well, sort of. Don’t light the torches and chase me down just yet. I’m not saying the only important part of Thanksgiving (or any holiday for that matter) is the food. My point is that it is either naive or complete denial to claim that food isn’t an important aspect of these celebrations. For those currently wanting to beat down my door, hear me out.
[Tweet “Is it ok to tell people with #foodallergies that #holidays and #celebrations aren’t about the #food”]
It’s Not About the Food
Do you know who most often gets told, “It’s not about the food”? It is those of us who can’t partake in the food due to allergies or intolerances. Like the lady I spoke with who was hoping her family would change the brand of an ingredient used in a traditional family recipe so she could eat it, too. They refused and acted as though it wasn’t a big deal because ‘it’s not about the food’. Or the families who refuse to make allergy-friendly meals for holidays because it would mean altering or eliminating some of their favorite foods/methods, but still expect other family members to just come and not eat because ‘it’s not about the food’.
Once I was asked to go to dinner with a group but declined since they insisted on going somewhere I couldn’t eat. I was told I could just come to dinner and not eat because ‘it’s not about the food’. Do you notice a pattern here? What typically happens is that someone doesn’t want to change from how they want their food to be, so they tell the person in need that they should just go without because the food isn’t actually that important. If that were the case, though, if it were true that the food itself was unimportant, why would we gather for a meal instead of for board games or movies? Why would someone not readily agree to change plans/dishes/ingredients to meet the needs of others if the food itself is unimportant?
Food Carries Meaning
It’s because it’s not true. The food IS important. It always has been. If you doubt this, tinker with a culture’s signature dish, claim it’s the same, and see how they react! Go to Italy and make some crazy concoction and call it pizza and see what happens. I’m guessing the people there would be ticked, because their national foods are important to them. Go to Alabama and make Italian polenta, but call it grits. I can almost guarantee the reaction won’t be pretty. Why, because food carries meaning.
Food Carries Memories
Think back to your childhood. I bet at least some of your memories are tied to food. Maybe it was that special dish your mom always made when you felt sick, or the amazing mashed potatoes your aunt made every Christmas, or the Christmas Eve feast of 7 fishes your Italian Grandma made every year. One for my kids will be making homemade hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies with my mom on every snow day. These memories are real and powerful. There are emotions tied to them. There is tradition tied to them The food IS important.
This is why I say it IS about the food. The dishes we (and most families) serve at Thanksgiving dinner (and every other holiday) are part of our tradition. They carry the memories of past holiday meals (like the year I was almost in tears because my mashed potatoes turned out like soup), and sometimes loved ones we’ve lost (like my grandma’s noodles and butterscotch pie). They give us something to pass on to future generations that links them to generations past. I get that people may not be able to make every dish accommodate every allergy (though if you would like advice on how to try, leave a comment with what you need), so here is what people can do.
How to Make It About the Food (In a Good Way)
Of course food isn’t the only important aspect of our celebrations, but it is one important factor. There are a few things you can do to make it about the food in a way that will help all of your guests feel safe and like they are welcome.
1) Be Honest
First, stop telling people that the food aspect isn’t important. Especially if it’s in an effort to make it seem like no big deal that they can’t eat anything. If it’s a huge deal to you to keep the food exactly the way it’s always been, tell your guests that. Trust me when I say we would rather hear that hard truth than be fed the lie that the food isn’t an important part of a meal!
2) Try to Be Inclusive
Second, make an effort. This is a chance to serve others and put their needs and wants ahead of your own. In Acts it speaks of the Church coming together daily to ‘break bread’ (Acts 2:46b). One of the first ways God had Peter reach out to the gentiles was through changing his understanding of clean and unclean (acceptable and unacceptable) food (Acts 10). Food was important to their gatherings and community even back then. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know one of your guests is allergic to hazelnuts but can have walnuts, find a safe brand of walnuts and use them in place of hazelnuts in your sweet potato casserole. Make your mashed potatoes with unsweetened almond milk and margarine so your cousin with a dairy allergy can enjoy them.
3) Follow their Lead
Third, work with your guests with food allergies or intolerances. Ask them how you can help them to feel safe and welcome at. Some will feel okay with walking you through the ins and outs of cross-contact, others would rather bring their own food and just don’t want to be given a hard time about it. Go with what makes them comfortable without making them feel bad for it. If you do make an item to accommodate them and they don’t feel comfortable eating it, don’t take it personally or make them feel guilty. It is scary for those of us with food allergies and intolerances to entrust our safety to others. Give them grace and understand that they do appreciate any genuine effort, but they may just not feel safe letting others cook for them.
Thanksgiving Dinner IS About the Food
Can you imagine a Thanksgiving dinner without any dinner? It would be a bit odd, wouldn’t it? That’s because, among other things, Thanksgiving dinner is about the food. The food we gather and celebrate with carries with it memories, emotions, and the history of many generations past. That’s why those of us with food allergies and intolerances can feel so hurt when people tell us to just go without on the holidays because it supposedly ‘isn’t about the food’. We know it’s not true and it can leave us feeling rather left out and forgotten. We can all take a few small steps to make sure that everyone at our Thanksgiving (or Easter, or Hanukkah) table feel like welcomed guests, and part of that is making it about the food for everyone!