Maybe you’re planning an event for your child’s first birthday. Or you’re putting together a dance for your church. Or there’s a potluck dinner with friends happening. No matter where you’re going, what you’re doing, or who you will be with…if you’re like my family and friends, there will be food.
We joke often at my church that they will know we are Christians by our love; but they will know we are baptists by our potlucks. Food is a central part of so much of our fellowship. Often after a child is born, we are making meal trains. Someone is hurt and the immediate reaction is, “Well can I make you a meal???” I’ve even been known while meal planning to factor in at least once a week we will be having some kind of meal with our church family.
One thing that has become increasingly important and visible to me through all this eating(thanks church family for the pant size growth!) is that there are so many dietary needs out there I never really recognized until the past year. I have to say, after becoming so involved with so many members, it feels a little selfish how unaware I was. Especially as I was a vegetarian for 3ish years…I should know what it’s like to have less options to eat! But as a whole our family struggles with no food allergies, except my intolerance to blue dye, and we eat almost everything. At this point however, in our biweekly group, we encounter a vegetarian, a few gluten free humans, someone who stays away from dairy and a lactose intolerance.
We’ve become pretty sensitive to dietary requirements and I think, quite honestly, it’s something you need to think of as well.
I was going to say a lot about this but I want to share something my friend Naomi wrote for her page. Naomi has a son with a rare disease that makes it impossible for him to eat certain foods-who better to hear this from than a woman living this daily (I’m sharing this with her permission, however the boys name has been changed!)
“John’s allergy cannot be treated with an epi-pen, but that does NOT mean it is not a life-threatening allergy. On the contrary, there is not a medication that can be administered during a reaction. That is why we wait them out at home, constantly monitoring his blood pressure, alertness, and hydration levels.
– I have had well intentioned friends and family shrug off the allergy, insisting he’ll out grow it or that it’s not that big of a deal if he gets ahold of something. To put it rather bluntly, while well intentioned, those people are wrong – and typically speaking out of a selfish desire for things to be easy.
– Food labels are checked religiously. Even if it’s something we’ve had before. Recipes can be changed.
– Anytime John* starts crying for an unexplained reason, I immediately prepare for a reaction. If there is even the remotest concern that he’s been exposed to something, I watch him like a hawk for an extended period of time. Because it takes 2-3 hours for the reaction to even begin.
– Anytime John has a food he has not had before, we have to trial it, giving small amounts building up to a regular serving. His trigger foods cross the ‘normal’ pattern of 2 or more allergies being in the same ‘family’ (ie oats and rice or chicken and turkey). Thankfully, we have not experienced any other trigger foods, but we are keenly aware they could exist.
– We don’t know if he will outgrow this or not. Many – even most – children do. Others do not. When it comes time to trial the trigger foods, you can trust and believe the whole house will be on high alert.
– It is terrifying to know that your child could get ahold of something that could send him into shock and threaten his life. It is heartbreaking to know that your children are going without foods they’d like to have because it just isn’t safe. It is expensive to make everything allergy-safe (for not just John, but Paul’s more typical igE allergy to dairy and gluten). It is exhausting to be on high alert anywhere but at home. It is isolating trying to keep your kid safe. It is sobering to know that while this is challenging, there are other children with this rare disease who are allergic to ALL foods.”
(You can find more writing by Naomi on her blog: Living out 127.)
I want you to take a moment and reread that. This is something families with allergies must go through every day, before attending a meeting or church function. I find people who are so quick to shrug off peanut allergies, not recognizing all the while that their choices could very well be life or death for the people coming. Kaycee, at Kaycee Simpson, brings another good point to light: labeling! “One suggestion I would have is for people to put together a little place card, even if it’s on a 3×5 card with the basic ingredients used in that dish, especially if it has nuts in it.” I am absolutely in love with this idea and intend to begin making it happen for out church dinners.
Beyond what we offer for food, we must be mindful of meals for those who struggle with issues such as diabetes. A friend points out: “My husband is diabetic and so we can’t do any snacks or appetizers. Or for example, we go to a wedding and the cake is served later, after the meal so my husband can’t have any because he already ate and have his medicine…..I guess for us it’s more about timing than anything.”
Wow. I never would have even considered that, despite having family members who do struggle with diabetes. Timing is so important when it comes to meals and fellowship. I woul even add in that when catering to small children as well, it’s important to be mindful of timing. While there’s not a surefire way to remedy this, it is something to take into consideration.
Food is meant to be a social experience, as I said, we use it with fellowship constantly. Emily, at The Joyful Stepmom, adds, “I’m Celiac and must eat gluten free. I understand not providing for every single possibility.. But food is a very social experience. When I sit at a social dinner and just sip my water and pass on the meal, I”m fine. I get it. But I’ve found it’s awkward and upsetting for those around me. Providing for dietary needs doesn’t help just the person, it caters to the overall atmosphere of all guests and the experience in general.”
I love her last line so much. It’s true: I don’t want to sit next to someone who can’t enjoy meals with me. I want to partake in eating for fun, laughing and enjoying our time together. I would feel so uncomfortable if a person sitting next to me couldn’t eat anything from a long table of potluck meals because no one made a meal that was vegetarian or skipped out on cheese. I’ve been that person-and it’s not fun.
Providing food that meet needs at your event isn’t that hard.
As Phylicia from Phylicia Delta points out, it’s not that hard to simply provide some veggie plates to go along with the food. “We eat Paleo, so basically meats and veggies, but it has been super hard (sad even) to attend events that are loaded with carbs, carbs, carbs and not a vegetable in sight! (Baked beans are not a vegetable)”. Ask someone to pick up a veggie or fruit platter instead of making yet another pasta. Chances are people in your group would be happy to help out and someone will be so grateful that you did it.
So I urge you. Before planning your next get together, before just showing up with a pasta salad, take into consideration if there are options for those people who cannot or choose not to eat certain foods. It will be appreciated-and you are creating a space where people feel more welcome and loved.