The twelfth installment of our breakfast advice column
Are you in a breakfast conundrum? Do you have deep-seated, unresolved feelings for brunch? Are you at a loss in front of the smorgasbord of life? Because so often breakfast is about feelings, and relationships teeter on the edge of the morning meal table, Extra Crispy editors Kat Kinsman (Bis-kat) and Margaret Eby (Bisc-gret) are here with the twelfth installment of Emergency Biscuits, our breakfast advice column, to dole out hopefully not half-baked counsel and recipes for life. Got a question for the Biscuits? Email email@example.com.
Dietary restrictions can seem complicated and arbitrary to people who don't have them—myself included—but the truth is that there are all kinds of reasons that a person might be avoiding soy or gluten or dairy, some related to health, others to finickiness, and arguing with someone about what they want to put into their own body or not will only lead to tears. In my experience, however, someone with ever-shifting dietary requirements, or even steadfast restrictions, usually are very aware of the conundrums of group eating situations. They, in fact, are probably used to not being accommodated, and having to find workarounds on the menu or at a party—eating before the cocktail gathering because every appetizer is likely to be gluten contaminated, or bringing their own dish to a dinner party that they absolutely know they can eat, and sharing it with the group.
The introduction of someone who is an ostensible outsider to a tight-knit group is full of social hurdles. Your skepticism of your brother's girlfriend is understandable—romantic partners have the potential to hurt people we love, and that's no fun at all. But think about it from her perspective. She's heading into a family that has a long-standing tradition, one that she's not naturally a part of. She's working on taking care of herself through her diet, even if her reasons aren't an explicit disease. She's probably self-conscious as it is. In situations like this, as irritating as it might be for you to make sure that a dish is absolutely dairy-free when you love cheese like nothing else, it's never a bad idea to err on the side of kindness.
What I would do is talk to your brother, or his girlfriend if you're on close enough terms to feel comfortable, and ask for a clear layout of her dietary restrictions. And then if it's something that's not too difficult to incorporate into the breakfast at large, do that. If it's something that's pretty difficult, or includes restrictions that would make other members of the family less inclined to enjoy their meal—say, she's on Whole30 but your family loves sweet pastries—then have a version of the main dish you're making that's just for her. If she's ill-mannered and humorless about everything in the kitchen not adhering to her own diet, that's on her. What's on you is to treat this person like you would yourself want to be treated in a similar situation. Vent as much as you want to a friend or a significant other, but when it comes to the main event, hold the side-eye.
There’s an old saw that starts off saying that you can’t pick your family. The blood relatives—sure. For better or for worse, there’s not a whole lot you can do about them, but I do believe you get to pick the rest of who counts as family to you. And your brother picked a picky one. OK, despite your suspicions, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt—not picky, but not the easiest feed, either. But he’s picked her, and you’re gonna have to deal with it because you: 1. Love him (I assume). 2. Are not the sort of host who would make anyone feel less than welcome in your home (I hope).
While we’re in a quotey place, let’s look to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit for a sec. “Hell is other people,” he writes, and he’s right—but I’m not talking about your food-averse guest. Maybe for a moment try to see the situation from her vantage point. You may regard your breakfast-loving bunch as a source of love, in-jokes, and fun, but she might be feeling outnumbered and on the outskirts (for goodness’ sake, you mentioned starving her in the corner—do you not think she senses that?). For her, there is indeed no exit, and so long as she is buckled into her seat on your family’s party train, she doesn’t get a chance to decide where to go or what to put in her mouth. Making these requests might be the only small measure of control this woman thinks she has in the midst of the overwhelm.
Toss her a bone—not literally—and ask her if there’s a breakfast dish from her family’s breakfast traditions that maybe she’d like to reach all of you to make. This is how family happens, not just from the absorption of individuals into the existing mass, but from new people being made to feel as they’re seen and valued—not just a blood member’s plus-one or worse, an inconvenience. Your brother’s beloved still may choose to sit and skulk with the bowl of lightly-misted dust that she requested, but at least she’ll know that there’s a place at the table and on the menu for her if she wants one.