A Mini Rant on Catered Events

On Wednesday night, I performed at an awards ceremony for a great social service organization. The event organizers were generous enough to invite us to the pre-ceremony reception, and encouraged us to eat, drink, and be merry. Yes, please! Yet, when I started traversing the reception floor–nearly knocking 12 things over, mind you–I was baffled and disappointed to find that absolutely none of the food had any labels. Now, this might be fine and dandy for most people in the room. They don’t need to know every ingredient in a dish, and are perfectly safe filling their plate. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.

In such circumstances, I usually can find some safe dishes, but always bypass the dessert table. Yet, at this event, the dishes were so obviously complex that even taking a piece of chicken seemed risky. At every turn, I worried that something had a peanut glaze, the fried foods were fried in peanut oil, that nuts could be lurking in the salad. And you know what, I was right to be worried. A friend (without allergies) starting eating some fancy cole-slaw dish (served in martini glass, mind you), and immediately said “Oh yah – there are totally nuts in this!”

Now, I know that I can’t expect a full list of ingredients written on a card next to the food, nor can I expect that the servers will be able to accurately tell me if a dish has a certain allergen (they really don’t have the time or knowledge base to do that). However, it would be easy enough to identify dishes that do have common allergens, and simply put up a little placard next to the dish that says, “contains nuts” or “has dairy ingredients.”  I know I’ll never be able to feel completely comfortable at catered events like these (unless I’m the one that’s planning the menu and ordering the food, which I do quite frequently), but really, catering companies should really jump on this dietary-restrictions-are-a-big-deal bandwagon. A little more thought and planning might lead to safer and more enjoyable experiences for guests with dietary restrictions. As it was, I filled up on pineapple chunks, grapes and some crackers. Sigh.