Why do I Feel Guilty About Dietary Restrictions?

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My aunt once described my uncle as such: “He would go to a restaurant and order a steak, and when the waitress brought him a burger, he’d say ‘thank you very much’. Then she’d bring the bill, and it would have a steak on it, and he’d pay and give her a 20% tip.”

I’m not sure if this is a genetic thing, or if it is a thing nurtured in a few members of our family, but erm and I share whatever this trait is, and it kind of sucks.

We’ve always had a horrified fascination with restaurant staff. When they’re friendly, they make us uncomfortable. As soon as they remember our names or orders, we get freaked out and stop visiting the establishment. When they’re rude to us, we tip them anyway, and we shrug it off as “their job sucks, can you blame them?” Then we probably stop visiting the establishment.

Introvertedness? Maybe. Social anxiety? More likely. But also a trait, perhaps the Highly Sensitive trait we both have (and is unusually prevalent in our family types).

So when I see posts like this, it makes me want to crawl into a hole, and also, never visit a restaurant again. Note number 9 on the list:

Accommodating “dietary restrictions”…

Five years ago, hardly anyone knew what “gluten free” or “vegan” meant. Now you have a memorized list of all every flourless, dairy-less, animal product-less menu item the restaurant has, as well as any menu items that could potentially be made flour/dairy/animal product-less, and you hate yourself for it.

For some reason my immediate reaction is to feel horribly guilty – like that feeling I got a few months ago when I ordered “the veggie burger, no cheese, on a gluten free bun, with sweet potato fries.” I wanted to die. It was such an obnoxious order and I was certain that the waitress, even though she didn’t say anything, thought I was the worst.

But hold on just a second. Let me swallow my sensitivity and say the thing I really way to say right now:

Fuck you. Fuck you and your insistence that what I eat is any of your goddamn business. I’m not sorry that me not wanting to spend the evening in the bathroom dry retching from severe stomach pains makes your job slightly harder. If this is going to be an issue, tell me from the start and I’ll just go home and eat food that is actually good.

Whew. There, I said it.

I still feel horrible. Every time I go to the burrito place (we stopped going because the guy knew us but now it’s been long enough that we can re-emerge) and they say “Cheese?” and I say “No thank you!” it makes me feel horrible. One time, the girl put it anyway, and I didn’t say anything. I just made erm eat it (she wasn’t vegan at the time).

I don’t think I should have to say this, but I’m going to anyway: Food intolerances SUCK. When I eat something I shouldn’t have, I get everything from three-day-long nauseating migraines to splitting pain across my ribs, and it is so not worth it. Also – I hate going to restaurants. I go because everyone else in my life likes them and sometimes I don’t want to cook. But I hate it because 1, the options are so limited that I’d enjoy my food more if I made it myself, and 2, I feel like shit asking for substitutions. If I had more money and there were more of them, I’d only go to vegan restaurants just to ease my own mind.

The other thing I want to whine about is the quotations in that post. “Dietary Restrictions”. Look, I don’t actually care if there’s no scientific evidence that gluten intolerance exists. Here are some facts:

  1. Celiac disease does exist, and unless you ask, you don’t know if someone has it. Don’t ask.
  2. People with Chron’s and Colitis have been shown to benefit greatly from a vegan diet. So when someone orders vegan, you don’t know if it’s for animal rights or because they don’t want to bleed from their colon. And they’re probably not going to just tell you.
  3. People suffering from chronic yeast infections shouldn’t eat wheat. Do you really want to know if I’m suffering from a chronic yeast infection?
  4. I study my own migraine triggers, and wheat is one of them. I don’t need your peer reviewed research, I just know what works for my own body.
  5. Many people, myself included, experience severe pain when digesting too much fat. Fat comes primarily from animal products. Soft cheeses and heavy cream are like a knife in my gut after just a few mouthfuls.
  6. Just in general: you never know what is going on with someone’s health, and people are not obligated to disclose what’s happening in their bowels right now.

Having said all of that, there are really 2 problems here: 1, people believing that they have any right to evaluate someone else’s dietary choices, and 2, people using veganism as a punch line. I have to separate those because even if you’re not vegan for health reasons, it’s still not okay to disrespect someone’s dietary choices.

I’m vegetarian. I make vegan choices occasionally. I’d be fully vegan if I wasn’t afraid of inconveniencing everyone in my life, but alas, that’s a mental block I have to get over.

Anyway, this whinefest was a result of my going to Starbucks and ordering an iced coffee with soy, and the barista handed it to me saying “Soy iced coffee, no sweetener, with milk.” I wanted to ask what she meant by “with milk” – did she mean with soy milk instead of sweetener, or did she mean that I was going to vomit later today?

But I was afraid to ask, so now I’m just drinking it.

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7 comments

  1. I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in the USA subsisting on salad and fries, because nowhere the rest of my party of 10 (extended family) went to eat had anything else remotely vegan. And there seemed to be tacit agreement that I should just shut up, make do, and fit in, so as not to inconvenience everyone else. I don’t like restaurants either and so agree that you rarely get something you want or enjoy (notable exceptions, 2 lovely veggie/vegan restaurants in the Lake District). I also shrink from waiters/waitresses. Restaurants are incredibly noisy too, and it’s hard to hold a proper conversation. The whole thing is an ordeal. I understand where you’re coming from. Having food intolerances must make the experience 10 times harder. I feel for you! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, fries and salad, the bread and butter of veganism. Been there, done that. Our family had an annual tradition of going to this beautiful hotel for brunch each December. They don’t label any of the food in the brunch buffet. We had to explain to every member of our family that, considering that the buffet has a flat rate, and the only thing either of us could eat was the dinner rolls, this was a colossal waste of money and we should go somewhere else. They’re still not over it.

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  2. This is why I rarely eat out. 😦 I’m not willing to ask for a million subs and minuses to an existing menu item. I’ve done it a few times but my social anxiety goes through the roof. I try to stick with restaurants that already have vegan options because I hate being the person placing the obnoxious order. But I know I shouldn’t feel that way. It shouldn’t he a big deal to make the food the way I want it. They are being paid after all to take my order and make it right.

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    • Yes – the guilt really isn’t right. I can’t help but feel that I’m causing it myself, but I would also like more support from restaurants. When a place marks menu items as vegan or GF, I instantly become a very happy loyal customer. I just want to know what I’m eating – it shouldn’t be too much to ask!!

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  3. This sounds so frustrating. My boyfriend is about to graduate from culinary school and his instructors take food intolerances, dietary restrictions, allergies, etc. very seriously and they train the students to be compassionate and accommodating. He’s worked in restaurants for over a decade and has a stepmother with celiac so he’s very accommodating and understanding both of the fact that people need to place very specific orders and that sometimes wait staff, cooks, etc. are dicks about it. I’m sorry you have to go through both actual rudeness and also the stuff that goes on in your head about what people are thinking about your orders (I have a panic disorder and am constantly feeling guilty about “inconveniencing” people when I have to stop some sort of fun because I literally can.not.breathe and even though I know I shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed I still do and I still assume that most people think I’m faking it or making it up or something so I can totally relate to your feelings).

    Not sure what the purpose of this comment is except that it’s my hope that other culinary schools are doing as good of a job as my bf’s is in teaching their upcoming chefs that these things are real and not something it’s reasonable to get upset about.

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    • Yeah, there are definitely two components to this – an internal and external. Hopefully as I treat my anxiety I can get out of my own head, and meanwhile the rest of the world can learn to be as compassionate as your boyfriend and his colleagues 🙂 it’s good to know there are people out there looking out for those of us with sensitive stomachs.

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