Being Modern: Fussy eaters

Yolanda Zappaterra
Friday 23 September 2011 14:46 BST

Hosting a dinner party used to be fairly straightforward. Your guests either ate meat or they didn't and you planned the menu accordingly (making a mental note not to invite the awkward veggies again). But somewhere in the past couple of decades we seem to have collectively lost our culinary way, and the simple act of feeding friends has become as complex as cracking a cryptic crossword.

Oddly, it seems that our interest in and love of food has risen in direct proportion to our inability to eat it – particularly in the UK, where we have the highest prevalence of food intolerance in Europe. And while no one would want to belittle serious and systemic allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, as anyone who still has the balls to give dinner parties these days knows all too well, mostly the endless emails back and forth are about nothing more than fussy eating.

For despite surveys showing that up to 30 per cent of people claim to have a food allergy, a Food Standards Agency report in 2008 estimated that only about 2 per cent of adults actually do. What the rest of us have are various levels of food intolerance. We choose not to consume bread, pasta, milk, alcohol, sugar or additives. We imagine these choices make us interesting and will provide hours of fascinating conversation.

While we're not for a minute suggesting that we're unsympathetic to such intolerances, let's call a spade a spade. Food allergies are serious and life-threatening. Food intolerances are just that, a symptom of our seeking to avoid anything that vaguely disagrees with us.

So the next time you're invited to a dinner party, do the right thing and say you eat everything. Because it's the polite thing to do, because you'll be giving your host the pleasure of making something delicious rather than the headache of finding gluten-free recipes they've never made before and won't want to make again, and because in a world in which 925 million people are undernourished, you sure as hell shouldn't be worrying about that slightly unpleasant bloated feeling you get after eating a slice of bread.

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