It wasn’t long ago that imperfect fruits and vegetables were not welcome on a dinner plate, let alone a grocery cart. Singled out for being twisted, blemished, mutated, bumpy, scuffed, or too small. They did not live up to strict beauty standards. Nowadays, these ugly vegetables are being rescued and used in menus of all kinds.
The same could be said of attendees and employees with dietary needs. They are often thought of as being askew, strange, different, or deviant. They can’t eat from the standard banquet menu, so they are deemed “special” and are tossed aside for being “restricted.”
We’ll gladly create a donut wall with all kinds of wonky flavors and foods on them (oh that one has bacon on it!), salads served in ice cream cones (gasp!), or gazpacho served on fresh-cut rose buds floating in a pool.
Yet, when someone shares they have dietary needs, we expect them to look, but not taste. We don't allow them to participate in the food experience because they do not fit what we're offering.
Rejecting their needs can be costly: for employers looking to create diverse and equitable cultures, for associations whose members don’t feel appreciated, for planners seeing food and budget going to waste, and for caterers whose revenue could flourish. It all adds up.
Food and beverage are huge components of our lives. What and how we eat may vary based on where we’re from, what we believe in, and what our bodies tell us. Dietary needs aren't flaws, unsavory, or disgusting. They are necessary, deserve respect, and promise opportunity.
Don’t get frustrated by having to serve "special" meals. Use the wonky, strange, and different to design menus that embrace the needs and become even more unique and delicious than anticipated. If a chef incorporates them into the overall menu, most would never know the difference.
In the end, we all must eat. And, we would like to eat together.
Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, CFPM, is founder of thrive! meetings & events and an expert on food and beverage inclusion for meetings and conventions. For more, Stuckrath will be hosting a webinar December 15 looking at how food & beverage intersects with diversity, equity & inclusion issues for events.