Food for ThoughtOct/Nov 2014 Issue

Here Comes the Bride: Inside an
Allergy-Friendly, Gluten-Free
Wedding Reception

Here's the story of a wedding celebration made to order—gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free.

[Updated June 2, 2015]

There comes a time in every couple’s life when you ask that important question: “Chocolate Mocha or Red Velvet?”

Mulling what to serve 130 guests at my wedding, I’d picked up cupcakes from the local vegan bakery. Although egg- and dairy-free batter was a given at Sticky Fingers Bakery, their sugar artist was still working on a recipe for soy-free frosting that wouldn’t upset my stomach. I beheaded another cupcake before taking a bite from the bottom.

Wedding guides claim that designing your meal is the “fun part.” But anyone with dietary restrictions understands the anxiety attached. I don’t like buffets. I avoid tasting menus. I merely wanted to make it through my wedding without a reaction. One buttery kiss from a guest would be enough to leave a hive on my cheek.

Maybe it was foolish to try for a traditional dinner. I felt lucky to have found my groom—a man who didn’t mind banishing milk, eggs, beef, shrimp, cashews, pistachios, cucumbers and all my other allergens from our apartment. Should we just go down to city hall and get sushi later? “Whatever you want,” he said.

But I wanted food to be part of our celebration, because food is part of our relationship: so many late-night stir-fry inventions, so many dinner parties filled with laughter.

Bride & Groom

Photo by Erin Scott Photography

Is designing the meal for a wedding reception "the fun part"? It takes a spirit of cooperation from your spouse-to-be, especially if there are food allergies involved.

Our officiant mentioned a food ritual that could be incorporated into our ceremony. The couple samples sour lemon juice and bitter vinegar, symbolizing life’s setbacks. They ignite their tongues with a lick of cayenne pepper, representing the conflicts and passions of every marriage. They finish with the sweet honey of commitment. Yoruba tradition calls this “Tasting the Four Elements.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said after she described it. And Sandra-friendly, I thought, with a flare of hope. Did I dare design an entirely Sandra-friendly wedding menu?

Turned out that the chef at the Arts Club of Washington didn’t care that he couldn’t pass meatball hors d’oeurves or use cantaloupe in his fruit display. What he did care about was the leg-of-lamb carving station (“I’ve always wanted to do that!” he said) with chutney (“Apricot instead of mango? No problem”).

We agreed to grilled vegetables, avoiding eggplant for the sake of my dad.

No red onions, for the sake of my sister.

A chili dip for chicken skewers rather than peanut sauce, for the sake of a friend.

I wanted to accommodate everyone that I could.


The wedding flew by. Seated for the first of many toasts, I gazed with gratitude as the maître d’hôtel delivered my plate. I looked for the foil-wrapped pat of butter that has haunted many meals past. Nope. The Club’s staff was not going to let us down. The lamb was moist, the salad crisp under its garlic-apple cider vinaigrette. A cake waited in the foyer with its white frosting of coconut-milk ganache, topped by two fondant hedgehogs decked out in veil and top hat. The hedgehogs’ spikes were milk-free chocolate chips.

Photo by Petar Miloševic (Wikipedia Commons)

One of our guests was someone I’ve known since we rode the same bus home from school. He remembers birthday parties and homecoming dinners when everyone split nachos or pizza or pasta, while I sipped on soda.

“I’ve always felt sorry for everything you missed out on,” he said. “But after tonight—getting to eat the way that you eat—I don’t feel bad for you anymore.”

Hosting a wedding with food allergies is no different from any other part of living with food allergies. Surround yourself with people you trust. Don’t be afraid to say what you want. And wear comfortable shoes, because there’s dancing to come.

Sandra Beasley is the author of two collections of poetry and Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life (Crown). She lives in Washington, DC.

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