Food religions and their disciples are oft a pain but they've stretched many meat-and-three-veg palates, writes Wendyl Nissen.

It's always a bit of a gamble when you have people over who you don't know very well for a meal.

"Is there anything you don't eat?" has become the must-have inclusion on any invitation for fear that we may offend someone by serving them food they don't like.

Ten years ago the thought of this happening would have been laughable.

"Can you believe that in the future people are going to be so well fed that they'll hardly eat a thing," the time travellers probably told each other.


"And while the world starves, they'll sit at a table and refuse to eat perfectly good food," they giggle.

My response to questions about what I eat is always universal. I eat anything. To date there has not been one single food item I have been unable to eat and so I make the perfect guest, in that respect anyway.

My husband, on the other hand, has some issues. But not because he has subscribed to one of the hundreds of new eating regimes which we can now choose from. He just has a very strong sense of what he likes and dislikes.

But in response to the "is there anything you won't eat?" question he rarely says anything. Having been a fussy eater all his life he knows what it's like to be the "special one" at the table.

I get double oysters, mussels, beetroot, asparagus, blue cheese and many other delicacies as he slips them under the table to me ... and when that's not possible he eats the food he detests just to be polite.

But many people today have no problem announcing their choice of food religion: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, meat-free, cruelty-free, processed-free, humour-free.

These are just some of the mantras people live by as food choices become part of what defines us as a person.

Which is fine for those doing the free eating, but perhaps not for those brought up on meat and three veg; a belief system which was set in place centuries ago and still holds good for most people aged 50-plus.


In my early 20s I toyed with not eating meat and told my mother I was meat-free while having lunch.

She pointed out that I was engaged in the process of eating a ham sandwich.

"Well, most of the time," I sniffed.

The story has gone down in family history as the day Wendyl decided to be a vegetarian. Ha ha.

In our family we have two vegetarians, one vegan and one might-as-well-be vegetarian. I know for a fact that all of them have eaten ham sandwiches.

When vegetarianism moved in I tried to support it but we initially struggled to cook dinners for all of them. My husband decided that his answer to vegetarianism was to still cook massive amounts of meat but also add a small plate of crumbed fish for the "special people" at the table.

"I'm not sure vegetarians eat fish," I said.

"Their choice," he said.

For a fussy eater he has a remarkably slim tolerance for food religions.

"Where are their vegetables?" I would ask as he served up.

"There's a salad," he would say pointing to a bowl the size of a pudding plate with a few bits of tired old lettuce in it.

Slowly but surely our children have changed the way we eat and not one of them has ever complained about the fish or lack of salad even if it probably meant they went hungry.

Last week I cooked barley risotto, quinoa salad and a beetroot chocolate cake for a family dinner. My husband cooked roast chicken and potatoes. The two offerings were separated on the table by a huge bowl of steamed broccoli keeping the peace.