Survival Guide for Holiday Hospitality

Regular readers will recognize this post from last year around this time. I’m bringing it back for new readers…and for those who wish they had bookmarked it last year!

First, a quick primer…

There are so many people with dietary restrictions these days, it can be mind-boggling to figure out who eats what.

  • Vegans eat plants only. Nothing produced by animals (cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, honey) and of course no meat, fish, or poultry.
  • Vegetarians eat plants plus food produced by animals (dairy products and eggs). No meat or poultry. Some eat fish, though most don’t.
  • Gluten-free means eliminating wheat, rye, barley, and oats (unless the oats it is labeled gluten-free). This also translates into beverages made from these grains—think  beer and rye whisky, for example. Someone who is celiac has a severe gut reaction to gluten and can be in agony from eating even a very small amount. Some people experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, though this diagnosis is not yet accepted by mainstream doctors. People affected by gluten eat non-gluten grains—e.g. rice and quinoa.
  • Grain-free means no grain of any kind—wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, quinoa and corn being the main examples. The issue isn’t gluten, it’s carbohydrates and their effect on blood sugar. This is sometimes referred to as a low-carb diet. In practical terms, it means avoiding corn chips, crackers and breads, along with sweets, juices, and most alcoholic beverages (alcohol acts like sugar in the body).
  • Paleo is a broad category describing what is sometimes called ancestral eating. The idea is to mimic the dietary proportions and unprocessed nature of food that was eaten by our long-ago ancestors. There is considerable variation, but these are a few of the common practices: No grains or refined sugar. Moderate amounts of animal protein. Plenty of healthy fats. Emphasis on real food rather than processed. Lots of vegetables.
  • Allergies and sensitivities mean the person’s body over-reacts when a particular food or food category is eaten. Common allergies are dairy, nuts, peanuts, wheat  and shellfish. Mild allergic reactions are uncomfortable to varying degrees. But allergies can be life-threatening if a person goes into anaphylactic shock. A lot of children have this sort of reaction to peanuts these days, which is why peanut products are not allowed in schools any more.

Coping when you’re the host…

Think: Does this need to be a sit-down meal?  It’s much easier to accommodate variations if you have an open house with a buffet of snacky foods and beverages. Some suggestions and good recipes follow. But buffets don’t always work and you might find yourself organizing a sit-down dinner despite the complications.

Guests have a responsibility to give the host a heads-up. “Thanks so much; I’d love to be there. A lot has changed since we last saw each other and it’ll be good to catch up. I’ve become a vegan recently so I only eat plants. I’m perfectly happy eating just the veggies, so don’t feel you need to make anything special for me.” The guest can have a protein shake at home before leaving, and all dietary bases will be covered. Another option is to ask, “Can I contribute my favourite casserole or salad to the menu?”

The host can ask. Sometimes guests don’t mention their food preferences because they mistakenly think they’ll sound rude. As the host, ask directly when issuing the invitation. “Anyone have allergies or preferences I should know about?” This opens the door for the guest to say something, and avoids any awkward surprises at the event.

The Host’s Survival Guide…

The rest of this post is a guide to drama-free ways to accommodate health-conscious guests. Some key principles:

  1. Serve good food that you can present to anyone without explanation or apology. Gone are the 1960s when the granola crowd served some concoctions that were just plain weird. I admit to making some of them myself! But today there’s an abundance of very good recipes for real food, and I’ve included links to several of my favourites.
  2. Put out foods in their whole form as much as possible. This makes it easy for people with sensitivities to choose what works for them without having to find you and ask what’s in everything. In this spirit, you might decide to put cheese on a board rather than incorporating it into several dishes.
  3. Alert guests to ingredients they might not expect to find.  For example, almond flour is not a usual ingredient in crackers. So someone with a nut allergy could inadvertently eat them and have a reaction. From another perspective, a wheat-sensitive person might pass by the Rosemary Crackers (below) without realizing they are grain-free and perfectly suitable. A simple strategy is to make small tent cards. Those in the photos were easily made by folding business cards in half.

Go here for specifics—scroll down the page for more ideas and recipes.

Preparing for the 2018 Holidays

None of us wants to feel like this woman, but many would admit that we do, at least to some degree. That’s what makes an effective parody—we recognize elements of truth in an exaggerated scenario.

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ended up in a situation thinking:  Right. Now I remember why I decided never to do this again!  Of course, by then I’m in the midst of it… and the cycle perpetuates.

The holidays intensify things that aren’t working in our lives, and it’s distressing at the time. But it also provides teachable moments if we are paying attention.

Breaking the cycle…

It’s so easy to be propelled along by expectations and circumstances—especially at holiday time. By now, one week into December, the momentum has likely reached a point where things will play out as usual. Enjoy every moment of this month, if you can. If not… Continue reading

Why I don’t care about the interest rate on my credit card.

For me, credit card interest rate is a non-issue. I use my card as a convenience and for the cash-back feature. I never use it as a means of living on borrowed money.

The paradox of credit cards…

Credit Card Paradox

Why you can’t win when you pay interest on a credit card…

As long as there’s a balance on your credit card, you are in debt. The lender requires you to pay interest for the use of that money. Credit card companies are happiest when you pay the bare minimum, because that extends the time you are making payments. The longer the time you are paying, the more interest they get from you. The table below illustrates the effect of time using two different credit card balances. In each case, we see that the higher the monthly payment, the shorter the time to repay the loan. Continue reading

The Big Reveal – Credit Card Interest

The consumer culture has become a complicated and complex place to live. Dealing with money is no longer simple and straightforward, and it’s easy to make financial mistakes that haunt us for years. Despite the focus on finances during Financial Literacy Month in Canada, insights to help us navigate through the system are fragmented and inconsistent.

Credit Card

For many years I taught a college course in consumer issues and economics. Early on, I discovered that most students thought if they made the minimum monthly payment on their credit card, they weren’t in debt. They used their credit cards freely and paid the required minimum each month. They thought they were doing the smart and adult thing. Sadly, they weren’t. Continue reading

Are we financially literate?

November. Financial literacy month in Canada. The time when we are officially reminded of information and strategies we can use to improve our financial health.

Financial literacy refers to the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources. It’s a term that was introduced fairly recently, when governments began to focus on the need for consumer education in this area.

A recent newsletter from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada reports that Canada is near the top of the charts for financial literacy in a global survey published in spring 2017 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Canada tied for second worldwide…in the financial literacy component of the Programme for International Student Assessment, a global survey of 15-year-olds.

This report was followed by… [one] on adult financial literacy… [in which] Canadian adults…tied for second with Norway.

As a Canadian, I was feeling proud… and perhaps even a bit smug. Then I remembered a Statistics Canada report, also from last spring, telling us that the debt-to-income ratio of Canadians was at an all-time high of 167%. This means we owed $1.67 for every $1 of disposable income. The fact that Canadians have a lot more debt than income seems at odds with the assertion that we have high levels of financial literacy. How can this be? Continue reading

It’s Financial Literacy Month

This week I’m sending out an extra post in case you aren’t on social media and haven’t seen this. I’d love to have you participate in my 1-question survey.

Credit Card

 

November is financial literacy month in Canada. I just read something that got my attention. Now I’m curious—and am doing a one-question survey. I’d love to know what you think. Go to bit.ly/2zu7pyR to record your answer.

Here’s the scenario: Chris has returned from a fabulous 27th birthday vacation. The entire trip was paid for with a credit card intended for that purpose only. The vacation cost $4268 and the card will never be used to buy anything else. Chris has vowed to make the minimum payment each month, without fail. The first payment is $43 and the annual interest rate is 20%. How old do you think Chris will be when the last payment is made? 35, 40 or 49 years old?

You’ll be entered in a draw for an autographed copy of my book Conscious Spending, Conscious Life. And if you’d like to share this blog-post with people you know, that would be awesome!

Unprocessed.

Last week I introduced Michael Pollan’s concept of establishing personal policies about what we eat. Today I want to explore the idea of a personal policy that eliminates processed foods.

Why pick on processed foods?

As one nutritionist aptly put it, start with the “big rocks.” Removing them first leads to visible progress in short order. Processed food, junk food, and fast food are big rocks. It has become clear that the Standard American Diet (SAD) creates poor health in people eating it. If you have any doubt, remember Morgan Spurlock’s experiment in his documentary Super Size Me.

Big and small rocks

Removing processed food cannot help but make a difference. Without doubt, you will be eating better if you eliminate packaged and processed items from your food choices. And there are many other benefits to you and your community when you choose fresh, real food instead.

But really, is it possible?

Continue reading

Conscious Consumption in Everyday Life

As I pointed out last week, the consumer culture is structured to propel us to buy, buy, and buy even more, without thinking. From the consumer side of the equation, it’s so easy to react mindlessly to the demands of the culture and then find ourselves dealing with the consequences of excess.

Why does overconsumption matter? Because there’s too much collateral damage when purchase decisions are dictated by businesses that have a vested interest in getting us to buy more than we ever thought we needed.

Collateral damage from the profit-at-all-cost paradigm

  • Over-indebtedness, which leaves us with no capacity to cope with emergencies such as interest rate increases and job losses. In March 2017, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s average household debt-to-income ratio hit a record high of 167%. This means that Canadians owed $1.67 for each $1 they generated in disposable income, In everyday terms, this suggests that many Canadians are living beyond their means or, at best, are just making ends meet.
  • Environmental impacts, in more ways than most of us can imagine. Air pollution, climate change, and overpopulation are familiar issues, but a list of 25 on Conserve Energy Future reminds us about others such as light and noise pollution, urban sprawl, and medical waste.
  • Chronic health issuescaused by stress on many levels. Overconsumption leads to the emotional stress of over-indebtedness, the physical stress of eating food contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals, and the mental stress of trying to sort through overwhelming amounts of information in an attempt to figure out what to do to remain financially and physically healthy.

What can we do?

We can start by taking responsibility for our part in this dysfunctional system. As long as we continue purchasing what corporations sell, we are reinforcing their bad behaviour and they will continue doing what they’re doing.

We get the products we deserve. Continue reading

Simplify and Civilize Your Food Shopping

Last week I wrote about dealing with too much information when researching health issues online. Unfortunately, for those of us living in a consumer-oriented culture, the Internet is not the only place where we have to deal with too much to choose from. Think supermarkets. Finding good food and not being distracted by everything else is challenging.

Overconsumption is not an accident… 

Overconsumption is built into the consumer culture, where the story is based on beliefs that “big is better” and “more is best.” Many people buy into that viewpoint with no discernment as to whether it’s in alignment with their values.

Overconsumption, literally, is a major concern with regard to our eating habits. Eating too much and eating the wrong things can cause chronic complex conditions that are debilitating for the person and a major cost to the health care system.

Being aware of our tendencies and habits is useful in helping us manage ourselves, our spending, and our appetite. Self-awareness is a huge asset, and one worth cultivating. to counterbalance  the mindless consumption encouraged by the consumer culture and most  players in it. Continue reading

Cutting Through TMI

For a long time, consumer educators believed that people make the best choices when they have plenty of information. Consumer education programs taught us how to locate information so we had enough to make good decisions.

That was before the Internet.

These days, the challenge is not in finding information. It’s in learning how to manage an over-abundance of it. There are two issues here:

  1. Discerning what has integrity in a medium without gatekeepers, one in which anyone can say and publish whatever they want to.
  2. Coping with the volume so that we don’t shut down from information overload.

A previous post featured Dr. Barry Schwartz speaking about the paradox of choice. His research discovered that people actually make worse decisions when overloaded with information and choices. Continue reading