I just spent several days with my grandchildren of varying ages.
Blueberry pancakes anyone?
"No blueberries in mine."
"I only want real maple syrup."
"Is this real butter?"
Now, add those comments to those from the vegan/vegetarian parents. I feel overwhelmed.
I try: Steak one night for my grandson, asparagus for my granddaughter, veggie burgers for mom, burgers for the teens, brussels sprouts for my stepdaughter, homemade muffins for snacks and oatmeal cookies with raisins for the man. Oh the kids don't want the cookies? They don't like raisins? Oh busboy.
I grew up thinking it was always rude to refuse food that was offered. I grew up thinking I would be punished if I refused to eat anything unless I had a medical reason with a note signed by a doctor, maybe two doctors - well, maybe three. I grew up wondering how I could mail the food I didn't like to the, quoting my mom, "starving Armenians." I grew up thinking if I didn't eat what my mom had prepared I would be replaced by a newly adopted little girl with curly blond hair and an angelic smile. I also knew money was tight and there wasn't a replacement ham sandwich in the cupboard.
When at someone's home, I don't know how to refuse anything that anyone has made for me. If they took the thought and time to make it, then I darn well am going to like it. I don't want anyone's hard work to be unappreciated.
Oh Anita, you are coming on a bit strong! Me coming on too strong? "Surely," you ask, "you don't think its OK to refuse any food at all?" No, it's OK to say "No, thank you" when coffee is offered and not yet made. It's OK to say, "No, thank you" when food is offered, such as when someone asks "Do you want a sandwich?" when there is no sandwich in sight. It is not OK to say "no" when the hostess is pulling hot zucchini muffins out of the oven that she made just for your visit.
But what if you do have special needs? What if you really are a bona fide vegetarian?
One way to avoid having to refuse what is served is to speak with the host/hostess ahead of time. Communicate and offer to bring a special, say, "gluten-free" dish. It's nice to bring something everyone can enjoy. Be sure to bring the food already prepared. Never, never plan to use any part of the hostesses' kitchen space. The key is to keep it low key. Everyone doesn't want to spend the evening being made aware of your "specialness."
Oh busboy, according to Debrett's Indispensible Guide to Modern Etiquette, it is basically still rude to refuse any food offered.
However, Debrett's position is less strong today: "We live in an age of fashionable food intolerance, bizarre diets and generally rather depressing guilt about nourishment." Thus, hosts have learned to be cheerful about guest's requirements and try to be accommodating. Most hostesses today might keep notes of people's food idiosyncrasies, but many of them admit to excising guests who are too much trouble. I remember going to a small dinner party given by a woman who always serves really delicious food. One guest arrived with her own entire alternative dinner ranging from her carrot juice newly imported from Eastern Europe to seeds normally reserved for parrots. The guest in question spent so much time in the kitchen organizing her food, there was no point in her attending the party at all.
"So Anita," you ask, "what if I find myself in a position where I am offered a tidbit and I just can't take it?"
Well, I would just eat it but if you must you can just say "No, thank you." If I worked all day guessing and preparing what I think you will like, then please, please don't groan and say, "I hate that, I can't eat it." It is not acceptable to say, "Ugh, broccoli!" or please don't, in the middle of the meal, say "Do you know how many hormones are in that?" If you don't tell your issues ahead of time, then I say live with what is offered. It is offered out of effort and kindness.
And if the host/hostess makes something special to accommodate you, thank the heck out of him/her. It's enough to make a meal for others but to accommodate special needs is always a bother. Be specific. "I really like the fat-free chocolate delight. It tasted so rich." Be grateful. "I can't believe you went to all this trouble, to make a special dish just for me."
But always remember when the Buddha gave his first sermon; he began the "Turning of the Dharma Wheel .... They do not beg for food, but accept whatever is offered..."
So , in most cases it is good manners to, as Buddha did, accept what is offered.