Over the holidays, one often had to deal with lots of family gatherings. And family gatherings means lots and lots of food. My parents are from Hong Kong, so food plays an even bigger part of events. It’s very much part of Chinese culture in general (yet, there’s a lot of “body shaming” if you’re over (or under) a certain size. That, however, is a for a completely different post). While my parents are rather accommodating to what people eat or don’t eat, that isn’t the case with everyone. There are those who believe that one should eat everything, save for things that they are allergic/sensitive too or abstain for religious reasons. I have issues with that. For example, I consider myself a flexitarian – actually, “flexitarian” probably isn’t the right term, since I am not exactly “flexible” with when I eat or don’t eat “land meat” – but I can’t help but feel the eye rolls when some family members and older generation acquaintances hear about it, especially certain family members who don’t quite “get” why I limit meat. I frequently hear “but Chinese food only uses meat to taste. You aren’t eating a lot of it.” It isn’t about the amount. It’s just meat, period that I want to avoid at certain times. The worse is when you ask what something is made out of and their reply is “good stuff.” Umm, what if I don’t eat that “good stuff”? These acquaintances and family members probably just see me as another spoiled Canadian (or, as people say in social media #firstworldissues) who isn’t “respecting” her heritage.
Delicious appetizers often found at events and family gatherings
In a way, I can understand why it’s rude. Chinese culture is pretty food/family-oriented, and one is expected to eat when offered. This isn’t uncommon in a lot of cultures (Jewish, Greek, Italian, etc…) and in all cases, rejection does not normally happen. Even abstaining because of health issues took a long time for many people to “get” – a simple “I’m allergic” wouldn’t do – you had to accompany that with “I can get very sick.” Until the 90s, religion was probably the only way one can get out of not eating something at first try.
Personally, I tend to offer food to guests twice. If they tell me politely that they aren’t interested both times, I will stop offering and set the items on the coffee table. Otherwise, it sounds like pestering and guests probably don’t like that. It’s not my job to change people in my family, but they need to understand that there’s more to avoiding food than religion and health and that not everyone who avoids certain foods do it because they’re picky. Food pushing is annoying.
Image credit: sjharmon/istockphoto