Table Manners

by Marnie Macauley February 26, 2018


Potluck Buffet Table with several salad and meat dishes.

Shalom, San Diegans: Are your full? Between Pesach and Purim, I alone could put on 30 pounds of love handles. We Jews have an intimate connection to food (especially chicken). More than stuffing ourselves silly, food eaten together is a loving ritual, a social occasion and a time for intimacies, such as picking at each other’s plates. Of course, as civilized bipeds, we do have the matter of manners. So today, I’m tackling that prickly topic. Essen with joy!


I recently received an invitation, and Marnie dear, we wanted your opinion. The invitation was to a “gala” party some acquaintances were giving in honor of an old friend of theirs who has become a minor celebrity. He’s visiting this couple in California, and they have invited practically everyone they know so their guest can “hold court.” That would be fine, except, on the invitation, she noted  “a favorite dish” would be appreciated.  I’d feel awkward showing up empty-handed.  Finally, if I do bring something, and it’s not used, should I bring it home?  What would you do? — Bothered and Bewildered.

MARNIE SAYS: Ah, ye olde potluck ploy. I’ve been known to request my dinner guests bring wine — and a dining room table. Onto your query. According to my calculations, if each invitee brought a brisket, your host could open a small Costco, which is astonishing even by my “feed-me” standards.

Getting It: Nah!

You needn’t get all-or-nothing Xtreme, mamala.

Option 1: Your favorite dish is nuts.  Okay, dried fruit. Bring some – a small tin or straw basket.

Option 2 (Messier Message): Bring something you need to cook, puree or fricassee. Hand the ingredients to your host, request a cast iron frying pan, a Dutch oven, two spatulas and a melon baller.  (Who am I, Martha Stewartwitz)?  Stick whatever it is on the stove and tell the host to “watch it, then turn — in 30 minutes.”

Do you doggie bag it? You bet. Yes, I know my most scrupulous colleagues would tell you “un-gifting” is gauche.   But this was not a gift. This was minor extortion. A fact that should be obvious when enough food arrives to feed Tel Aviv. She didn’t need your contribution? You do.

Have we eradicated any silly feelings of awkwardness? Good. For the record,  “potlucking” is perfectly fine among good pals, at a last minute fete, when in a financial pinch or for the sheer fun of it. Expecting the neighborhood to supply the wind beneath her kosher buffalo wings makes her a sow.


MARNIE:  I am a 28-year-old woman who’s decided to become a vegetarian (and stop eating those that were once living breathing critters).  I’ve wanted to do this for quite some time now, for spiritual and health reasons. My problem? Explaining this to my parents.  They’re meat eaters and very set in their beliefs of what’s “normal.”  My dad’s concern will be health. If I turn down dessert his response is, “what are you? Afraid of gaining an ounce?” (I’m 5’4” 125 lbs.) As for mom, she’s overweight and is an amazing cook who loves preparing Shabbos, which of course means a massive hunk of at least two animals. I’m afraid she’ll feel I’m cutting off her way of showing me she cares by not eating what she cooks. Asking her to cook vegetarian is not viable as: A) I would never expect her to accommodate my dietary choices, B) my folks see meat as the normal and right way to eat.  I realize I need to make my own life choices but dealing with them is still going to be a HUGE issue. Any idea? – Daughter Wants to Keep Peace

MARNIE SAYS: I’m so glad you wrote to me who considers a “normal” lunch a moose carcass (kosher) on a poppy seed roll. Now that I’ve made you ill, congrats on your new decision. I adore a commitment to any worthy pursuit that moves you forward and challenges the metaphoric “meatloaf” life.   Now for mama and papa.

Getting It!  Your Personal Strategy:

Prepare! You’re obviously a woman of superior insight who, fueled by mortal dread, has meticulously rehearsed your folks’ objections in your head. Write them. Decide you’ll prepare to deal with their a) health concerns; b) she’s-an-alien-concerns; c) if-she-loved-us-she’d-rejoin-our- home-planet concerns.

Call them. Tell them you have an announcement and need their support. Don’t be scary – nothing dreadful – but it’s important. Invite them to lunch.  At your place. (You’ll only talk in person).

They arrive. They’re curious and maybe a little concerned.  Have a kosher veg-feast prepared. (Think chickpea and couscous combo, kasha varnishkes with onion and schmalz, spinach and potato pie. Yes I know mom could use an all-broccoli buffet, but first things first).

Before they notice you’re meatless, here’s the dialogue.

“Mom, Dad, you mean the world to me, (they’re on pins here) and that’s why your understanding means the world to me. (They’re bursting with pride…and quaking).  I’ll explain all the details, answer all your questions to assure you it’s safe. (“What…! A sex change?”) Mom, Dad, I’m becoming –  a vegetarian.”  Boom!  They’ll be so relieved, they’ll give up triple decker pastrami – with sides.

Point out the buffet they’ve been gobbling is pure veggie.  Surprise! Surprise!

Don’t preach but have the factoids ready re: protein, nutrients.

The clincher: their feelings. Can you and Mom cook up a foodie bonding experience? You’d love to see how a pro can challenge a hunk of tofu (so would I) and learn from her and share ideas, recipes and most important – moments.  More moments together, an hour earlier, before Shabbos dinner, to create a joint veggie masterpiece!

And just maybe the “teacher” will learn a little from her favorite student – and eat a little smarter. All this because you’ve reassured, and shown mom (and dad), you can adore them – and still be you.Α


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