I’m at the beach this week with the dozen or so friends I’ve been vacationing with for the last 12 years. We’re a group of food lovers, and over the years we’ve had memorable dishes, from an epic production of fried chicken to peach pie laced with bacon fat. (I believe in the goodness of that pie despite what everyone else says.)
Now, though, with only one member of our group under 40, things have begun to change. Suddenly, food issues of all sorts are putting a damper on our once free-wheeling, fat-laden extravaganzas:
1. Following her husband’s 40th birthday party a few years ago, in which he stored a whole pig carcass on ice in the bathtub for a few days, M.H. has, understandably, returned to her early vegetarianism.
2. Janice and her son, Julian, are gluten-free because her doctor has told her that she has the gene that causes celiac disease and that she needs to avoid wheat. (Her husband occasionally refers to the doctor as “that quack.”) She also avoids dairy.
As an aside, I caught Janice giving cod liver oil to poor Julian yesterday. My attempts to infuse humor into the situation: “I can’t believe you’re giving him cod liver oil!” went unappreciated. “It would be better to help rather than hinder the situation here,” Janice said. I decided it was best to leave Julian to the therapist he’ll be seeing in about 15 years.
Janice brings a lot of her own food.
3. Donna and Mara do not eat seafood.
4. Everyone (except me, it seems) has an idiosyncratic aversion of one sort or another, including raw tomatoes, tapioca pudding, mayonnaise, Brussels sprouts, liver, rutabagas, coffee, coconut, olives and mushrooms.
We had for years managed to work around these dietary predilections with minimal fuss and only the occasional blow-up.
But then Shannon and Carol chimed in.
I was planning dinner for our first night and sent an e-mail to the group asking them to remind me of their dietary restrictions. This was a silly idea in the first place, akin to stubbing my toe on purpose or giving myself a series of paper cuts. So I deserve what came next.
Carol wrote back the next day. In sum, her message said that they didn’t eat grains in any form—rice, wheat, spelt, millet, bulghur, you name it–any kind of bean, or dairy. Apparently, she and Shannon have embarked on the Paleolithic diet, in which they attempt to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors, on the theory that this is what humans originally evolved to eat before agriculture stepped in and ruined everything. (Shannon apparently picked it up when he was training for a bike race.) In essence, this means they eat only meat, vegetables, and fruit.
There’s probably no point in commenting on the wisdom of adopting the diet of a people whose average life span was about 35, or on why meat would not be considered “processed” food. All I can really say is that approaching dinner, I faced the following SAT-like logic problem:
1. M.H. eats seafood, grains, and dairy but not meat.
2. Donna and Mara eat meat, grains, and dairy but not seafood.
3. Janice eats meat and seafood but not wheat or dairy.
4. Carol and Shannon eat meat and seafood but not grains of any kind or dairy.
Our fragile equilibrium had collapsed. Were I to attempt to prepare a meal that took into account everyone’s dietary restrictions, we would be eating only vegetables, fruit, and eggs. And there are only so many omelets you can eat in a week. (Later, I learned that Mara doesn’t eat eggs.)
Poor Shannon and Carol. Over the next several days, e-mails flew back and forth mercilessly, including one in which Rocco declared that he was feeling very out of style as an omnivore and was therefore going to try his hand at dietary restrictions by keeping kosher and requiring us to get separate kitchens for meat and dairy at the beach house.
I wasn’t terribly surprised when Shannon and Carol decided to stay home. They claim it was because they’d just moved and started new jobs and didn’t want to haul two small children on a cross-country odyssey just then, but I know better. They were afraid we’d slip some millet into their vegetables.
On Saturday night, we ate tacos. Everyone was happy.