If you can't make all of your dinner guests happy, at least you can have a good laugh about it. 

By Annabelle Gurwitch
Updated November 29, 2017

Sharing a meal used to mean that family squabbling settled down as soon as Grandma’s stickily sweet potatoes were served. Oh, how times have changed! These days, when my relatives, friends, and neighbors gather, the meal does not stop our arguments; it starts them. The people in my life have become harder to satisfy. There’s always one person with a new eating regimen.

Illustration: Variety of milks
Credit: Emily Robertson

The Dieters Du Jour

“I’ve gone pescatarian, and no nightshades, please.” “I’m doing Paleo, so please wrap a turducken in bacon.” “I’ve given up carbs, so please make sure there’s no bread within arm’s reach. Can’t wait to see you.” And those are just my requests!

The Budding Ethicist

While I was shoveling salty dark chocolate into my mouth last New Year’s Eve, a young cousin informed me that cocoa beans are sometimes harvested by child laborers. Yikes. So at my next gathering, I opted for carob bark. Its texture is lint-like. If the dust in the drawer next to the fridge with the random keys, takeout menus, and old party favors has a flavor, it’s carob. At all future parties, I’ll be serving bowls of my salty tears.

The Big-Ticket Wino

The Dairy-Free Crowd

Milk is where the latest line in the sand has been drawn. Requests for a book club I hosted included soy, unsweetened soy, almond, rice, cashew, pistachio, and goat—but only unpasteurized goat. I was so dispirited I labeled one “breast milk.” There were no takers, but no one even blinked an eye!

The Healthier-Than-Thous

Other relatives who hope to reverse the clock have adopted various no-meat diets. I applaud the efforts of these good people, but you know what Tofurky smells like to me? The absence of holiday spirit. It’s likely that one day the clean nonscent of local, cruelty-free, non-GMO sweet potato quinoa salad will signal that the holidays have arrived, but until then, I’ll be burning a brisket-scented candle and spritzing a sweet potato pie air freshener.

The Teenager

At 19, my son is dedicated to seeing that Earth’s resources aren’t wasted so we can build a sustainable future. He also just dyed his hair blue and got a nose ring, so you know he’s serious about social change. He texted me that he objects to my serving meat or fish. He doesn’t eat dairy either, except if it’s a Monday. Or was it Thursday? He also opposes processed foods, except for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And he’s not sure he’s going to celebrate the holidays anyway, because the person he’s dating says they’re a symbol of capitalist consumption. Also, if I could spare $40 so he can buy her rave goggles, that would be awesome.