So, imagine this.
Alice came back from her lunch hour with a couple cookies from a local bakery. She sat at her desk enjoying one so much that she thought to offer some to her coworker pal. The coworker replied to her generous offer, “Oh my gosh no -- I’m off sugar. Did you know that white sugar is like the biggest killer? It’s like a thousand times worse than cigarettes! I’m really trying not to eat it. I haven’t had any for three days and I just feel so much better. More clear headed and a lot less inflammation.” Alice held her half-eaten cookie wondering how she went from gracious friend to attempted murderer in thirty seconds.
If you've ever worked at an office, or attended a baby shower, or a picnic, or any other kind of gathering where there is food, you have experienced, and maybe even perpetrated, food rudeness. Being food rude means you take a perfectly lovely, generous offer of food (or drink) and pretty much barf all over it with your issues.
We can probably blame social media for blurring the lines of etiquette. Don’t think that because you can update your Facebook status with a link to a totally un-fact-checked blog post about 10 reasons why sugar is baked-goods bioterrorism, that the person offering you a cookie will appreciate that information. There really is a time and a place for those things, and it certainly isn't when someone is trying to give you food.
I know this because I took a ride on the self-righteous train myself for awhile. I could barely resist telling people about the evils of aspartame and how it's a terrible neurotoxin, developed by an evil corporation headed up by the Cobra Commander, that causes strokes, migraines, and is probably slowly paralyzing you (happy to discuss this on any Monsanto-conspiracy board another time). I would wager that my conversion rate of Diet Coke drinkers was exactly zero, and the number of eye-rolling friends and family members left in that wake was probably much higher.
Specialized diets and ingredient-phobias are a product of the information age and certainly have helped people with their, um, inflammation and various intolerances, as well as legitimately bringing awareness about deadly food allergies. Unfortunately, it has also created a manners vacuum.
Diet talk is the new “I had the weirdest dream last night” -- very, very few people want to hear about it**. Both discussions are incredibly boring and inconsiderate to the other party, but diet talk is is even worse because you almost always insult the person who has prepared or offered you food. That breaks the golden rule of manners: considering the comfort and sensibilities of others. And I got that from the queen of manners, Mrs. Emily Post herself.
So what is the protocol when you are presented with food that, for whatever reason, you’d rather not eat?
You just say “No, thank you.”
It will be hard to fight the urge to explain yourself or your juice cleanse, but try. Because it is the right thing to do. Because you really shouldn’t turn an act of generosity into a discussion about yourself. Because manners are what you put on when you go out in public.
On the flip side, people who offer food need to meet us halfway by just accepting that a grown person knows what she wants to eat. In general, “no, thank you” needs to be revived as the unspoken social contract it was originally intended to be. It should be understood as “Don’t press this any further or we are opening this whole thing up for insults and embarrassments.”
You can always add your own personal touch, as long as it still focuses on the giver -- remember, try something like, “No thanks, but those look great.” Or do the quick change, “No thanks -- hey, your hair looks great.” If the person presses the issue further, take the cookie and feed it to your pet rat or something.
It isn’t easy to say, “No thank you” without following it with an explanation. We are chicks after all, feelings are our game, and we think the explanation will soften the blow of rejecting the food, but this is rarely the case. It all hits on our need to validate and overexplain. Diet talk is so wrapped up in all kinds of judgey-female issues that it will be quite revolutionary if we all start to handle the internal business of what we ingest, internally.
This is not a complete list, but here are some other rules to consider: Don’t discuss your diet (unless you are in a support group or sponsored by Jenny Craig); don’t comment on what others are eating unless it is a compliment; don’t insult the host by saying how much fresher the tomatoes you got from the farmers market were last week; don’t go to a regular restaurant and rant about the lack of vegan choices; always take food allergies seriously and don’t turn it into a rambling discussion of the psychosomatic causes of IBS.
The Internet will never stop feeding us new information; we will never stop trying the latest diet fad or product, (and personally, I’m very excited that we finally got Chia Pods in the south). We will need to constantly re-evaluate our social graces, because we still have to go out in the world, and people are still going to bring donuts into the break room. We cannot force our beliefs and our self-righteous explanations on others who are, in the end, just trying to connect. Being food-rude interferes with the joy of food. Is that a world we want to live in? No, thank you.
What do you think?
** Pushing the dream discussion analogy a little further, there will probably be a whole new level of analysis of personal neurosis based on diet discussions, but that is my future prediction and I only mention it here so that I will get credit for the prophecy.