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Help! My Dinner Guests Have All Sorts of Dietary Restrictions

Dear Bintel Brief:

Shabbos dinner has long been my favorite Jewish custom. What could be more Jewish than gathering with friends and family around a table for a good meal? However, the issues of Jewish ethics and the politics of food have invaded my table — turning my celebration into a battle.

Few of my friends are omnivores. Each seems to have his or her own dietary restrictions and, of course, preferences. One friend doesn’t eat meat; another is allergic to wheat gluten, and many others keep strictly kosher (while I do not).

I am constantly torn between cooking or buying food for one person and cooking for the whole table. Is it better to provide a small amount for the person with restrictions or to bend over backwards to make something everyone can eat?

Who takes the cake: the individual or the table?


Joan Nathan responds:

Dear Perplexed Hostess,

I empathize with you! In my family there are vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and those who don’t eat gluten. At my table, I always make sure that there is at least one dish to suit each person’s needs, but I create the rest of the menu to serve the majority, which is usually made up of less picky eaters.

Sometimes I also encourage those with dietary restrictions to bring a dish of their liking to share. Sometimes it’s just a matter of readjusting your perception of a main dish. At Thanksgiving, for example, I almost plotzed when my daughter announced that she was a vegetarian. However, I realized that a great vegetarian meal can consist of several different side dishes, and having more vegetables on the table is always a good thing.

Joan Nathan is the author of numerous cookbooks, including “Jewish Cooking in America” (Knopf, 1994), “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Schocken, 2004) and “The New American Cooking” (Knopf, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, send an email to [email protected]. Questions selected for publication are printed anonymously. New installments of the column are published on Mondays.

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