Why Label the Table?

If you hate wasting food and want to make attendees happy, it's a no-brainer.

fresh authentic cuisine on a buffetFor me — someone who follows a gluten-free diet for medical reasons — one of the most heartening results of our recent survey was that 77 percent of respondents have begun labeling buffet food items.

I know that’s not as easy as it sounds, either for catering staffs or meeting organizers. It adds another layer of work, and leaves open the possibility for mistakes. But I can think of no other tweak a planner could make — beyond being willing to make accommodations for special dietary requests — that has the potential to relieve more stress, or inspire more gratitude, among those of us who can’t eat certain foods without getting sick. 

Here are three things that labels do for me:

Labels allow me to be confident about what I am eating. It can be a minefield out there. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways for those of us who have avoided gluten for years to get tripped up: Tortilla chips are often gluten-free, but some brands are dusted with wheat flour. More brands of yogurt are gluten-free now than in the past, but there are exceptions. Grilled meat and poultry are sometimes marinated in gluten-laced soy sauce, and cold cuts and sausages may contain gluten by way of additives. You can’t tell just by looking at a food whether it is gluten-free — unless, of course, that item is labeled.

Labels help me be present. Sharing a meal is about more than just consuming calories to keep our bodies going — meals are a social event. I don’t want to spend that time worrying about my own boring food issues, or bottlenecking the buffet line by quizzing busy servers about ingredients. I want to give my full attention to those I’m dining with. 

Labels help me not waste food. I hate missing out on all the yummy-looking foods that contain gluten. But missing out on yummy-looking food that is gluten-free because I didn’t know it was safe to eat? That breaks my heart. By taking away the uncertainty, I’m able to eat with confidence. And did I mention gratitude?

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.