Coworker 1: “So, my dinner party has turned into a birthday party for my friend’s son…who apparently is allergic to gluten, dairy and chicken.”
Coworker 2: “What?! Who is allergic to chicken? Like, what food groups does that even leave?”
Coworker 1: “Right? I have no idea.”
Coworker 2: “What kind of world do we live in, that people get to make demands about major food groups? If you’re not going to die, just eat it.”
Coworker 1: [laughs] “Seriously.”
This is a true rendition of a conversation overheard in my company’s open-concept office, and the resulting fear that I make people in my own life feel the same way brought up a lot emotions. Hurt because I can’t help it. Embarrassment because I feel guilty every time someone goes out of their way or I have to voice an inconvenient need. Frustration because of the lack of compassion or – in actuality – knowledge about how people can truly suffer from food issues and how to help them.
To avoid all these feelings, I used to take on 100% of the responsibility for said food issues, not expecting or even attempting to communicate anything. Reading Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine changed my perspective a little though:
The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment. Part of that, then, is honoring the way God made our bodies, and feeding them in the ways they need to be fed. So this is the dance, it seems to me: to be the kind of host who honors the needs of the people who gather around his or her table, and to be the kind of guest who comes to the table to learn, not to demand.”
I love this because it helped me see the beauty in shared food experiences and realize that a lot of people truly want to care for others this way. And while I think it’s very important not to demand that, I now see the value in at least being honest and communicative with people in advance.
So in the interest of providing some of that knowledge and bringing people together, I’ve compiled a few tips that I promise are easy to incorporate in most recipes. This is perfect if you’re one of those lucky omnivores at a loss for how to feed your friend or family member, as well as if you’re one of us unlucky allergy-prone people at a loss for how to feed yourself.
- Butter – Olive oil is a wonderful and healthy alternative. I hear coconut oil is as well, but I’ve never tried it. For baking, you can also do an equal parts replacement with vegan butter (I prefer this Earth Balance red box that is soy free, too).
- Milk – Coconut milk has the most neutral taste, in my opinion. You can replace equal parts in recipes, and you can simply squeeze in some lemon juice to create buttermilk. I prefer canned coconut milk (Native Forest, Whole Foods, or Thai Coconut) to the boxed versions.
–>Easy, dairy-free whipped cream: Stick a can of regular or full-fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight. The next day, keeping the can the same side up and not shaking it, take off the lid. Scoop out the thickened white portion from the top (leave the clear bottom portion for some other use or toss it), and whip it with vanilla and sugar to taste. Viola, delicious whipped cream. Tip: Best made when you actually want to use it, as it will harden in the fridge after a few hours.
- Flour – The lovely folks at Bob’s Red Mill have this down to a science. Literally. Simply buy a bag of gluten free all purpose flour (the red bag – great for breads, fried chicken coatings, pies, etc) or gluten free baking flour (the light blue bag – great for cakes, muffins, donuts, whatever baked good your heart desires) and use as you normally would for flour. Many gluten free recipes also say to add xanthum gum, but I never have, and everything still turns out just as I intended. The only thing I can’t figure out is cookies because they usually turn out best with Almond Flour (which is expensive), so I usually just don’t.
- Just ask! I don’t mind making something myself, offering tips for easy substitutions, or even just saying “yes, I can eat it” or “no, I’ll just avoid it.” I also get that sometimes it’s just not possible to make every dish allergy-free. And that’s ok, because you gave me a heads up, so I know you care and are looking out for me. I imagine and hope your other friends or family with food issues would feel similarly.