(July 6, 2004) 

I must confess I wasn’t thrilled when my 17-year-old daughter recently announced she was going vegan—that is, eat only plant-based foods. This is a child who decided in kindergarten that she wouldn’t eat meat, but she’s never especially cared for vegetables. For years it seemed she lived on cheddar cheese, sourdough bread, applesauce and plain chow mein. I asked her how she planned to get protein. “Nuts, tofu and soy milk,” she said. She promised to take her vitamins. Then she cheerfully went off to the grocery store, and I decided our family of five is themost difficult to feed. 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Because I had known young women with eating disorders who had grown up with mothers obsessed with food and body weight, I had decided that food wouldn’t be an issue in our house. That worked, until my youngest was diagnosed 12 years ago at age 20 months with a gluten intolerance. Food suddenly became a huge deal, as wheat, barley and rye (mostly wheat) had given her a severe case of malnutrition.

I learned to cook gluten-free. And vegetarian, as one by one my three daughters gave up meat. I stopped eating it too. But when my husband was recovering from a bleeding ulcer, he had to load up on beef. So he started making most of his own meals. Then his doctor wanted him to go light on the carbs. And now our oldest has gone gluten-free, even though her symptoms aren’t as nasty as her sister’s.

We don’t get invited out anymore.

Our refrigerator doesn’t have room for seven different kinds of milk.

And yet . . . bumping into each other in the kitchen as we prepare three, or perhaps four or five dinner entrees has its advantages over the old query, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” I’m glad my kids know how to feed themselves. And while we’re clearly pretty far out there on the fussy-eater spectrum, I bet it’s unusual, especially in this season of Atkins and South Beach diets, for a family of five not to have any dietary restrictions. Those who do are welcome at our dinner table any time.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.