Today someone writes into the Philadelphia Inquirer's advice column, "Ask Amy," to ask how to deal with her hostess's tasteless fat-free cooking. Amy says suck it up. We respectfully disagree.
Here's the whole query:
Dear Amy: My husband and I are very friendly with a couple that we enjoy very much. We vacation with them and spend time with them in social gatherings. We love to entertain and are very good cooks. Whenever my friend and her husband come to our home, they always eat everything, and they usually have second helpings. My friend loves to entertain as well and does it well. You always feel very relaxed at their home. Our problem is that she used to cook wonderful meals, but now everything she cooks is fat-free. Her menu is always tasteless. She cooks it all in the morning and reheats it before serving it. She always makes a comment that she cooked too much because there is so much food left over. I would love to tell her it's because no one wants second helpings. My feeling is that most of her guests feel the same way we do. I don't want to hurt her feelings. Do we suck it up for the evening or say something? My husband said that we should just not accept invitations to her home for dinner and just go for parties, and eat before we get there. We were invited for Thanksgiving dinner, and the dinner was awful. Once again, she was overloaded with leftovers. How would you handle this situation? - Friend in Need
Amy says that, in the name of friendship, "Friend" must indeed make the best of the crap food - because "the most important aspect of being a guest is to allow yourself to have a good time, partaking of the fellowship of your friends, even if you don't particularly enjoy the food." Further, "your friend might have health issues necessitating her switch to low-fat cooking, or her tastes and abilities may have changed during the time you've known her."
In my opinion, there are a few details here that must be considered. 1: "friend in need" is something of a boastful jerk with misplaced, petty priorities - and yet, I trust her implicitly. 2: There is nothing worse than being trapped somewhere with horrible food, especially on Thanksgiving. 3: If the bad cook - who has no excuse since she used to be a good one, and how could her "abilities" have changed? - can't eat normal food, she has no business inviting people over and forcing them to conform to her diet. Harsh? Maybe. But if she's going to pull this kind of crap, then her friend can be equally selfish and turn down her invites (since, apparently, going to a restaurant is not an option and their relationship is completely based on foodieism.)
That said: obviously "Amy" is right and if you're a nice person you don't hold tasteless food against your friend and put the most charitable possible spin on her behavior. If you're not actually that nice but know you need to pretend to be, here is what you should have in your purse: beef, turkey or salmon jerky; dried apricots; almonds; if at all possible a Nature Valley fruit bar. (Some advocate a hard-boiled egg but I have had unhappy experiences with broken shells.) If you aren't on the go for a long time, a BabyBel cheese is a good addition, and the ball of wax is handy to have for molding under the table into miniature Easter Island heads. All of these can be downed during a clandestine trip to the powder room. Also: whenever at a deli, grab some of those little salt and pepper packets so as to easily doctor tasteless food on the sly. I know of what I speak: if, like me, you have certain close relatives who have been known to serve one ancient, unrefrigerated, dessicated carrot sticks, week-old supermarket rotisserie chicken with a soupçon of mold on the drumstick, and undefrosted clam chowder, such measures are a necessity.
Ask Amy: When host's food isn't to guests' taste [The Philadelphia Inquirer]