Choosing your dinner guests wisely…

In this day and age we, as people who like to entertain and serve good food to our friends, may feel that it is a daunting task to cater to all of the varying dietary requirements and preferences of our dinner guests. It can be difficult to ensure that everyone is satisfied by the end of the meal, but also that you do not feel stifled as the cook. I don’t entertain nearly as much as I would like to, but this is a conundrum that I know plagues a lot of families and dinner parties (particularly when there’s a mix of vegetarians and omnivores). Vegetarianism is certainly a lifestyle that we think of as relatively modern, but you might be surprised to learn that it has been around for a very long time indeed, that even Benjamin Franklin himself took a stab at going meat free for several years of his life. So you can see that these sorts of personal preferences likely have always played an important role at the dining table, whether it boils down to meat or no meat or other issues like a preference for the taste of garlic or not.

To illustrate this, I wanted to share a passage from a book I’m reading published in 1867 by Thomas De Voe, a butcher by trade in New York City, called The Market Assistant. He clearly shows that these considerations have been frustrating hosts and guests alike for years!

“An amusing article on diet, written above one hundred years ago, is found in a London paper called St. James’ Chronicle, dated November 6, 1762, and thus reads: – ‘There is no affectation more ridiculous than the antipathies which many whimsical people entertain with respect to diet. One will swoon at a Breast of Veal; another can’t bear the sight of a Suckling-pig; and another owes as great a grudge to a Shoulder of Mutton as Petruchio, in the farce. How often does it happen in company that we are debarred of a necessary ingredient in a salad because somebody, forsooth, cannot touch oil! And what a rout is made, whisking away the cheese off the table, without our being suffered to have a morsel of this grand digester, if any one should happen to declare his dislike of it! There are others of an equally fantastic disposition, who, as we may say, choose to quarrel with their bread and butter. These are eternally suspicious that their food is not sweet. They bring their plates up to their noses, or their noses down to their plates, at every thing that is put upon them. Their stomachs are so delicately nice that they descry a fault in all they eat. The fish is stale, the mutton is rank, or the suet in the pudding is musty.’”

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