Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Diwali party in Edinburgh, at the home of the parents of my cousin’s partner. I should say first of all that it was a lovely party, and our hosts were very friendly and welcoming. But I would just like to share my experience if I may, amongst people who will understand, of what I went through on the food front.
Obviously, it being a Diwali party, the food was Indian. And vegetarian. Not something I am able on the whole to manage. I should have asked my cousin in advance to explain my “problem” to the hosts so that they wouldn’t be offended. But I didn’t. And I think perhaps because I don’t generally tend to make a fuss or a big deal about my eating, I just get on with it (or not) quietly and unobtrusively, he may not have realised the potential nightmare scenario that this party might represent for me.
First of all, the father handed round a plate of Indian sweets. In my sheltered life, these were entirely novel to me. My instinct is to say no thank you. But I understood the social exchange that was being initated, and that the correct response was to accept with interest. Which I did. And then I was in the situation where I had to eat this totally novel thing (as it seemed to me) without displaying any fear or caution about it, or heaven forbid, distaste, for fear of offending. Luckily, it was actually very nice. But what I find is that my eating issues are not especially based on whether a particular food tastes good to me or not, but more on its novelty. And if I manage to try something, it doesn’t matter whether it’s nice or not, it’s still a novel food, and I can’t just leap into consuming great quantities. For normal people, I think, if you try something and don’t want more, it’s because you don’t like it, you don’t think it’s nice. But that is not how it is for me.
Anyway. Then at a certain point, it was announced that food was ready. It was a buffet, which in some ways is a good thing, because you have some degree of control. Assuming there is something there that you can eat. But where everything on the table is beyond your experience, and where it is vegetarian, this poses a problem for me, and I’d sooner not partake.
However, my hosts had obviously spent a lot of time and effort preparing the feast, and to refuse would have clearly been churlish and rude. It was a dreadful situation for me. On top of this, they were very attentive, as good hosts would be, and my not eating did not go unnoticed, as I’d hoped that it would. I wanted not to offend them. I wanted to accept their generous hospitality. I wanted to be appreciative. But my little-known “condition” prohibited me. It was dreadful. Actually I wanted to cry.
I realised I had two options. I could try to explain myself, but I knew that it might be misinterpreted as an elaborate excuse for rudeness, not to mention, too much of a personal self-disclosure for the context, and possibly attention-seeking. My other option was to attempt to eat something. Which as you all will know is a big risk. Either I might gag – big no-no, especially as it was home-cooked. That would be like saying that the cooking was bad, even though my gag-reflex has nothing to do with food quality. Or, I might end up with a plateful of something I cannot eat. Which would look like I’d tried it and didn’t like it. Also a no-no.
Luckily, my sister who had eaten, offered to get me a plate of things that she knew I’d probably be ok with. What would I have done without her. She came back with some potatoes and rice, and a small round thing sort of like bread or pancake. Anything that’s like potatoes I can eat, and anything that’s like bread. So that was fine. Potatoes nearly blew my head off, though I gather they were “very mild”. I even managed a little rice, though ordinarily that would be a no-go area for me.
So I got by, but not without trauma. As fellow-picky-eaters will know, it’s dreadful that good manners are bound up with eating things.