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Changing the Herd Mentality When it Comes to Gluten

Food is something that brings us together, during the holidays or for a birthday celebration, regardless of the occasion we eat in groups. As a person with several dietary restrictions dining in a group other than with my own family in my home becomes challenging. Although I appreciate that family and friends go out of their way to cater to my needs so that I feel included at the table, I often feel isolated in these situations.

In my home we simply eat food, we don't call it "gluten free," "egg free," or "lactose free," we call it food. At Thanksgiving we eat turkey, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing and pie. We all sit down at one table and eat together sharing one meal.

When we eat with our friends or family in a restaurant, it is easy because we each order our menu favorites and typically everybody gets something different. When we eat with family or friends in their homes they often prepare two meals, one for me and one for the rest of the group. I can't emphasize how much I appreciate the efforts of everybody to accommodate me but there is something that feels unnatural about eating a separate meal while the majority of the group enjoys something else.

Understanding the Herd Mentality

We all want to feel as if we are part of the group and even if what the group is doing is wrong we are likely to follow and participate. There have been many studies of this behavior but the man that coined the term "herd mentality" was Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The term comes from the word “herd,” meaning group of animals, and “mentality,” implying a certain frame of mind. Neitzsche studied this phenomenon of human behaviour and distinguished two groups within the herd, those that let their religious beliefs dictate their actions and those that were influenced by media and what others perceived as "right." Both forms of subservience he saw as weak whereas the "Superman" is the one that overcomes the values of the herd.

Although it may seem trivial to apply this philosophy to a dinner party, for anybody with dietary restrictions or allergies they will know that this is an issue that comes up at each holiday meal.

The "Superman"

It is easy to understand why Nietzsche saw strength in the one who dares to step outside of the boundaries of the norm of the group because the reality is that most people are not the "Superman." When looking at the dynamics of the family meal where two meals are presented it would take a "Superman" to speak up and educate the group that the gracious gesture of accommodating one member of the group is unnecessary if instead the group were to eat what was suitable for all of its members.

Ironically it is the herd mentality that leaves the one member of the group feeling left out and it is that same mentality that prevents that person from speaking up. Simply, the person who is being catered to wishes to be a part of the group but does not want to draw more attention to him or herself causing further isolation or going against social graces.

Changing this Frame of Mind

Without causing disruption within the group one way to be the "Superman" is to lead by example and hope that the others will follow. If cooking one meal that all members of the group can enjoy becomes the norm the others are unlikely to try to change it.

If you are invited to our home for supper regardless of allergy or intolerance you will be fed food, the same delicious food that all members of the herd are enjoying at the same time.