Donal looked around the dinner table and this was all he could see. His wife Susan had excused herself to prepare desserts and almost immediately, the various guests returned to discussing their dietary issues and intolerances. These guests were friends and co-workers of Susan and no excuse Donal put forward could get him out of being there too, however begrudgingly.
Surprisingly, to Donal at least, it was all running smoothly. He initially thought it could only be a disaster given the variety of food issues for which Susan was attempting to cater. In short, there were Stephen and Lydia who avoided gluten, Orla was lactose intolerant, Mark abstained from alcohol due to intolerance and Saoirse was a vegan. Somehow, Susan had managed to negotiate these issues even though it multiplied the stress of hosting. Donal thought it was insensitive of these guests to put that amount of pressure on his wife, yet he made a conscious effort to be civil and hospitable for the evening. It was the least he could do after all that Susan had put into the evening. All was going quite well until Mark turned to Donal asking “So, what food do you have to avoid, Donal?”
Donal simply replied “Oh, nothing particular – just keep it in moderation I suppose,” believing that this was a dignified and respectful response.
“Nothing at all?” Mark prodded further.
“No, not a thing,” answered Donal. “I can just eat, I guess.”
A brief silence followed in which Donal could almost feel the judgement in the room, in his own home, his words under intense scrutiny. This was only broken by Mark saying, rather dismissively, “Ah, it’s well for some…”
The frostiness of the response could have left icicles hanging in the air (which Donal was certain would have surely given one of these guests a cause for complaint). Some? Donal felt there must be some mistake with that word choice. Some? Are people with no special dietary requirement really a minority of the population? Donal felt like a social outcast, like he was being judged for the tolerant nature of his digestive system. For some reason, something he could only imagine to be biological evolution, Donal was able to digest all kinds of food without irregularity. Would these guests prefer if Donal’s digestion was more discerning, rejecting anything but particular foods in the name of sophistication, building walls and resistance to all other food not meeting this standard? And, making it all so much worse, this judgement was taking place in Donal’s own home. Well, Donal was silent for as long as he could stomach, which was a rather long time given that he had no digestive issues whatsoever. But he could not sit idly by any longer. Donal had heard enough.
“What was that, Donal?” Saoirse asked, only half-hearing Donal due to her unrivaled enjoyment of her own voice.
“Food racists,” Donal repeated, this time with greater conviction. The table fell silent. Donal decided to continue anyway.
“You’re all food racists. Honestly, it’s like every man, woman and child walking this earth now has some “special dietary requirements” and I’m sorry – no, no, I’m not sorry – I don’t have any and I don’t get why I have to feel apologetic to those that evolution has passed over.”
Mark interrupted, “Bit of a stretch, Donal, it’s hardly to do with evolution-”
Saoirse joined in. “If anything, vegans-”
“Nobody needs to hear another thing about your Kale fetish, Saoirse,” Donal said, shaking his head and returning his attention to Mark. “If anything, it’s all about evolution, Mark. Eating and survival go hand in hand, so my body has adapted to eat pretty much anything. If society fails, guess who’ll be first to go? Not me – the Vegan Avenger and these other food racists, that’s who.”
Lydia became incensed at this remark. “I have Coeliac disease, Donal. That’s a medical condition.”
Saoirse was equally offended. “You’re willfully overlooking how vegans-”
Donal held up his hands. “I’m sorry Lydia, that was flippant of me. You have a medical condition – so does Orla, with her lactose intolerance. But you have to admit that there’s a lot of bullshit around food intolerance.”
“That’s such a generalisation,” Stephen reacted. “Intolerance to certain foods is a genuine thing. Like, I’ve given up white bread and I’m feeling better than I have in months. How else would you explain that if not by gluten intolerance?” Stephen posed to Donal.
Donal considered this for a moment. “I think, Susan said… Haven’t you taken up long-distance running recently, Stephen?”
“Yeah, but I’m talking about my diet,” Stephen replied with some uncertainty.
“Maybe it’s a combination of diet and exercise now and before you were just eating too much bread…” Donal posited. The assembled guests thought about this for a moment. Saoirse raised her hand, preparing to speak. “I mean, why is it always food intolerance?” Donal inquired, continuing before Saoirse could – once again – make the same point differently. “FOOD INTOLERANCE? The idea aggravates me. Imagine addressing the poor and starving of any country about food intolerance,” Donal suggested, adopting a mocking voice. “Oh, starvation? Yeah… back home, there are certain foods that I can’t even eat. I have so much to choose from but I only get to pick from one section – isn’t life awful?”
The table was silent once again. Donal felt guilty. He didn’t mean to ruin Susan’s dinner party or upset anyone. At the same time, he felt these things needed to be said. In the midst of the awkwardness, Susan emerged from the kitchen with a tray of desserts. She raised an eyebrow at the relatively quiet table before proceeding to hand out dessert bowls. Everyone quietly accepted a bowl and set about eating, except for Saoirse who looked around the table inquisitively.
“Is this ve-”
“IT’S A FUCKING LEMON SORBET, SAOIRSE!” Donal exclaimed, taking his bowl and leaving the table.
Now, you might agree with Donal or you might not. Regardless, there is no defending someone who leaves a dinner table without excusing themselves. How rude!