Manners & Misdemeanors
How the Truly Rich Lady Deals with Vegans, Vegetarians, and Other Dieters
Don’t try to convert people.
IMAGE COLLAGE BY SANDY ARANAS
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Consider this: At a private dinner party I attended recently, Thin-Faced Guest announced, “I don’t eat anything that once had legs!” Truly Rich Homemaker had just asked the candid guest if she would prefer the fennel-crusted pork chop or the oxtail stew. Seeing as it was, uhm, an affair where we were to consume food, I thought her question was perfectly appropriate and not a trigger to declare war against an entire food group. Poor Truly Rich Homemaker. The rhythm of her party was momentarily ruined. Good thing Funny Rich Lady (ahem, me) was there to defuse the awkward moment. “I’ll have whatever she’s not having,” I said with a toothy smile. And that’s how I ended up with double servings of chops and stew.

Food—we used to eat everything with joy. Now, with the rise of trendy diets and the pressure to look small-faced and thin-waisted, we hardly eat anything at all. Which just messes up all the dining rules we have mastered since we were Truly Rich Girls. How do you explain that, as per Elizabeth Taylor's diet, you can only eat French bread filled with peanut butter and bacon for brunch? What do you say when you cannot accept a snack of almonds unless the nuts have been, as per Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet, soaked in water? And what do you do when the only kind of pancake you can tolerate today is, as per Pippa Middleton’s diet, an oat-bran galette?

 

How to Refuse Food with Grace

I am making the sign of the cross as I write this down because, as per my abuela, food is a blessing from God and so you have to eat everything on your plate, young girl, because there are starving children in Africa! But maybe you are at dinner party and the hostess approaches with a tray of the most menacing thing known to womankind in her hands, smoked trout pate on a toasted baguette, otherwise known as carbs. You cannot have them because, as per your trainer, you are anti-carb.

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  1. The most graceful course of action is to not refuse the food. Please take into consideration that your hostess (and her team of cooks) must have slaved away for hours in the kitchen, so accept one serving of bread as a sign of your affirmation for all her work. After that, you can skip it.

  2. If you’re adamant about not eating the sticky, moist tres leches cake, you can avoid the dish by saying, “I’ll be skipping dessert tonight, but I’d love to have one of those organic bananas over there!” Turning down one thing in favor of another is a diplomatic solution akin to giving up the apartment on Cruzada Street in order to keep all the important art in a separation. Everyone is mostly happy. 
  1. You can also deploy a very honest message: “No, thank you.” But say this with respect and not like Always Angry Advocate, who with a sneer, raised eyebrows, and a push of the plate, made clear his disgust to all food not organic. That’s just rude. He has never been seen again at any of the polite tables of Manila. 
  2. A more thoughtful approach would be to call your host ahead of the party to inform her of your dietary restrictions. Because you are friends, she will likely accommodate your request as much as she can. An even better solution would be to offer to bring your own dish, say, your (actually Gwyneth’s) vegan sesame pancakes. Your host will likely be happy not to have to cook something extra just for you.

How to Avoid Unpleasant Food Conversations

Inevitably, people will ask you about your choice. With their lips glistening with sugar syrup or breaths stinking with the musk of chewed up meat, they will inquire about your food restriction. Why are you not having the meatballs, Si-si? Are they not good enough for you? Well? 

  1. The best way to deal with unwanted attention is to answer briefly and then pivot into another conversation. Nosy Guest: “So why can’t you have the meatballs, Si-si?” Me: “I’m fasting. Look, a bug!” Okay, that was clunky but you get the point. Politician Friend tells me that a successful pivot requires leading the person into a seemingly adjacent topic. I also find that inquiring about the other party does the trick. Nosy Guest: “What do you have against meatballs, Si-si?” Me: “I’m fasting. How fast are your kids?”

  2. When deflection does not work, it is advisable to take a more direct approach. Say matter-of-factly that you are not comfortable talking about your diet. You do not have give a reason if you don’t want to. Well-mannered guests would get the hint and not press the matter further.

  3. Whatever you do, don’t get worked up. Don’t get on a soapbox. Don’t school them on your enlightened eating plan. Don’t try to convert people. Imagine the horror of listening to Young Vegetarian Guest sharing the gory details of how the gorgeous piece of meat on my plate died. It was totally inappropriate (because we should let the dead rest in peace). At first, I did not want to touch my steak, but hunger got the best of me and so I killed it again. Just as you want people to respect your maybe weird dietary beliefs so should you respect their barbaric pleasures. 

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C.C. Coo
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