October 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts October 1998 Current Issue
October 1998
Short Cuts:

Joel Bauer

You've planned a mouth-watering menu: oysters on the half shell, caesar salad, swordfish steaks and other sure-to-please selections. So why are so many dishes returning to the kitchen untouched?

These days food isn't just a matter of taste. Politics, health and religion are also key considerations. While what to eat is still a very individual issue, the following items should be on a planner's list of foods to think twice about.

Rare meat is out, thanks to scares of mad cow disease and the e-coli bacteria. Sushi is still trendy, but raw fish dishes of any sort can be dangerous. That goes for raw shellfish, too. This past May the Food and Drug Administration announced a national recall on all oysters harvested from Galveston Bay in Texas when hundreds of people from Texas to as far afield as Florida fell ill after consuming the seasonal delicacies.

Cooked fish isn't fail-safe, either. In March 1997 the National Marine Fisheries Service, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., released a national research report that showed the North Atlantic swordfish population was severely over-exploited and could face extinction if overfishing continues. Several restaurants, fearing customer reprisals, immediately yanked the tasty steak fish from menus, replacing it with substitutes such as mahimahi.

Some avoid serving fish for other reasons. "The smell of it can overpower the whole room," says Shandra Mahtani, director of catering at the La Jolla Marriott in La Jolla, Calif. "If you've got a two-hour program and you're in an enclosed room, the smell just stays."

Even grapes are controversial. Ann Arbor, Mich., caterer Katherine Hilboldt Farrel, owner of Katherine's Catering & Special Events, recalls a banquet for 3,000: "Five minutes before the guests were to walk through the door, the planner runs in and says, ÔI'm sorry, we can't have any grapes out at all.' We had to run around like crazy and pull them from everywhere, even the table decorations," says Farrel. The reason: The client was very concerned with the issue of American exploitation of Mexican farm laborers.

Veal and pork have regularly been short-listed as foods to avoid - one for cruelty to animals (calves are routinely force-fed in boxed-in conditions), the other for religious and ethnic reasons. Still, they continue to make an appearance - unwelcome to many - at events. "I once made stuffed veal shoulder for a group and got a letter from someone who was very offended," says Farrel.

Beloved caesar salad, deemed the country's salad of choice by the National Restaurant Association in its 1997 Menu Analysis report, also comes up against serious opposition. "You really have to find out from your caterer how they're making the dressing," cautions Farrel. "Never use raw eggs [due to the salmonella risk]; always make sure they are coddled."




"I'd take two: one on training and development, just to supplement the logistical side of what I do. And I'd love to take piano lessons. Lately I've been bemoaning the fact that I never took lessons as a child."
Shelley E. Griffin, CMP
Conference Manager
Archaeological Institute of America
Boston, Mass.

"Art history. Probably something on impressionism. I've always been interested in art history, but I've never had the opportunity to pursue it."
Tony Lorenz, CMP
ProActive Inc.
Chicago, Ill.

"Probably a business writing class. It would help me to communicate better with hotels and my facilitators and support staff."
Kathy A. Merritt, CMP
Meeting Planner
Hewitt Associates LLC
Lincolnshire, Ill.

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