Invidious Comparison Eating (ICE) Is One Of The Rudest Dining Habits, And You Might Be Doing It

Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.

The scene: It’s an hour into a dinner party you’re hosting for “friends.” (Note the quotes.) Most of your guests are on their second (or third) round of adult beverages and are tucking into the main course — sumptuous grilled shrimp paired with grits, the latter of which you made yourself according to an old family recipe. Shouts of approval echo from around the table, but then you hear a very audible murmur: “These grits are good. However, you know, when I make them I use real cream, not milk.”

Yikes. Was that a compliment or an insult? Or both — a complisult?

If this situation sounds familiar, you’re one of millions of estimated Americans who has borne witness to what could be called “invidious comparison eating,” or ICE.

Potentially the most passive-aggressive bad-dining habit, ICE is when a person indirectly asserts a dish they’re consuming is lesser by listing the “superior” merits of another version (usually their own). ICE can play out in any sort of group meal setting (e.g., restaurants or coffee shops), but it’s particularly offensive when it transpires in a domestic space, right in front of the home cook.

Lest you assume ICE is some newfangled fad, let it be known that this nasty behavior has been going on — and more importantly, recorded — for hundreds of years.

In his landmark 1899 study of wealth and consumerism, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” Thorstein Veblen argued that invidious comparison is a key way in which members of the wealthy and/or moneyed class actively set out to distinguish themselves from those of lower socioeconomic status. He specifically posited invidious comparison as “a process of valuation of persons in respect of worth,” which plays out often by accumulating and (here’s the important part) displaying or publicizing superior assets.

In other words, it’s not enough that your dinner party “friend” can afford to purchase and deploy real cream when they make grits; this fact must also be broadcast to the masses to establish their superiority.

Like many formative traumas, my first experience with ICE occurred in the middle school cafeteria as I was enjoying a midday repast with my then ride-or-dies, including one gal named — I shit you not — Karen. My friends and I had a practice of swapping all or parts of our lunches with each other, and that particular day I bartered one half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for one of Karen’s Swiss cake rolls (highly verboten in my household). Feeling very satisfied and more than a little smug thinking I had definitely gotten the better end of the bargain, I asked Karen how she liked the sandwich. She paused midbite and without missing a beat replied: “It’s OK, Jo-Jo. But my mom makes PB&Js with chunky peanut butter.”

I was enraged. Not because Karen had called me Jo-Jo (my tween self actually chose that nickname) nor because she had insulted my mother’s culinary skills (Mom’s strength was constructing legal arguments, not sandwiches, and she was OK with that) but because Karen delivered this inconvenient truth in such a sneaky, slippery fashion. And though this anecdote should end with me flouncing out of the lunchroom and never again speaking to Karen, she was my Little Debbie fixer and I didn’t want to mess with that hookup.

As an adult, I have seen the ICE man (and woman) cometh to many gatherings, and I am not alone. Upon reaching out to family, friends and even strangers on the internet, I received anecdotes ranging from the humorous to the downright painful.

She's about to tell you how she makes her own (better) version.

bymuratdeniz via Getty Images

She’s about to tell you how she makes her own (better) version.

Kerry Crisley, a novelist and communications professional, found herself on the receiving end of ICE behavior while having family dinner with an in-law. “I served shepherd’s pie and she asked me for the recipe. It was flattering and made me feel like a good host,” she said.

But then things took a confusing and rather insulting turn. “The next time I see her, however, she tells me, ‘I made your recipe for dinner,’ and then proceeds to tell me she switched everything around. I top my shepherd’s pie with cheddar mashed potatoes. She used just a little shaved Parmesan. Instead of mashed potatoes, she used scalloped potatoes. Instead of beef, she used ground turkey. And she used half the amount of Worcestershire sauce. But yet (and this is the kicker) it was ‘my recipe.’ I went from feeling like a good host to a lousy cook,” Crisley said.

And because one bad turn so often deserves another, ICE can also be a double whammy when it comes in the form of cultural appropriation, whereby the eater proffers their own version of a dish from a culture (not their own) that deploys (usually very) nonstandard ingredients. Food blogger Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest was derided by members of the online culinary community when she posted a recipe for “Weeknight ginger pho ga (Vietnamese chicken soup),” which, among many substitutions, swapped out the traditional beef for caramelized chicken. Gerard has since renamed the recipe and apologized (sort of) for her glaring gustatory gaffe.

Nick Leighton — a journalist, etiquette expert and host of the podcast “Were You Raised by Wolves?” — is adamant that ICE is clearly bad behavior. “In general, etiquette is all about being mindful of other people’s feelings. And when thinking about the definition of ‘invidious,’ Merriam-Webster uses words and phrases like ‘unpleasant,’ ‘objectionable nature’ and ‘to cause animosity.’ These are not concepts that are very compatible with being polite, so certainly etiquette would frown upon any behavior described as ‘invidious,’” he said.

He offered this advice for dealing with ICE: “As a host who has prepared a meal or as a fellow diner being subject to this behavior, there are many etiquette paths one can take. From addressing it politely yet directly to ignoring it completely, it all depends on one’s mood, tolerance and how deep the relationship is with this person. For today, I’d probably lean toward offering a weak smile and then a quick change of subject. And then, for the future, I’d think twice about my guest list.”

So, while keeping your friends close and your enemies closer certainly has utility in some contexts, maybe when it comes to enjoying a meal, that Karen in your life doesn’t deserve a seat at the table.


Trader Joe’s Budget Meal Plan For Two People For $75

As anyone who has been to the supermarket lately can confirm, the price of groceries continues to soar.

Whether you grocery shop for just yourself, you and your partner, or for an entire family, it can challenging to do so while on a budget.

Luckily, 24-year-old Jenn Lueke is helping people learn how to shop, prepare, and cook budget-conscious, veggie-packed meals that won’t break the bank over on her TikTok page, @jenneatsgoood.

The Massachusetts resident — who often posts easy recipe ideas on her TikTok and Instagram pages — recently posted a TikTok series called “Budget Groceries Series.”

In the six-part series, Jenn shows how to make five balanced meals for two people — which comes to 10 meals in total. In each video, she posts the recipe and shows how to make everything from ginger, sweet potato, and kale chicken soup to curry chicken meatballs — using $75 worth of groceries from Trader Joe’s.

Jenn lives in Boston — a city that is now considered the second most expensive US city to rent in — so she has to be strategic in how she approaches her grocery runs from a budget standpoint.

In her first video in the series, Jenn shared exactly which groceries she bought and how much of each. Then each day after, she cooked a different recipe — with the details posted in the captions — using the original groceries she bought.

Jenn drew inspiration for the series based on her own food shopping and cooking experience. “I always sit down and plan four to five meals I’m going to make for the week, and write up a list of everything I need. My goal is to use up everything I buy so there is no food waste and so I save money,” Jenn told BuzzFeed.

“This way, I can have meals on a budget without getting bored. It just takes a little bit of planning! I love that I can help people by giving them the list and showing them how to utilize their ingredients,” Jenn told BuzzFeed.”

In the comments of some of her videos in the series, people are sharing how helpful Jenn’s budget meal planning ideas have been for them.

If you’re someone who is intrigued by the idea of meal planning but isn’t sure where to start — or even a little intimated by it — Jenn shared a few helpful tips with BuzzFeed.

“As soon as you get home from the store, prep everything — chop your veggies and fruits and store them properly, portion out your proteins or freeze some of them, store your herbs correctly, and organize your fridge so you see everything. It’s worth your time and will prevent food waste, save you money, and leave you with options when you get busy during the week,” Jenn said.

Jenn also advises to not overcomplicate meal planning.

What are some of your money-saving grocery tips? Share them with me in the comments below!


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Emani Corcran: Being Vegan Doesn’t Change Your Experience Of Blackness

Emani Corcran is the creator behind BLK+Vegan on Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube and the author of the upcoming cookbook, “BLK + Vegan.” In this edition of Voices In Food, she shares how the way she eats now is still deeply connected to her African American roots, even though she grew up eating meat. She sets the record straight, busting myths about veganism that exist both within the Black community and outside it.

I grew up eating meat three times a day. You might think I’m joking when I say that, but I’m really not. I grew up with my aunt and a typical day of eating for us was grits and bacon or sausage and a biscuit for breakfast, a deli sandwich and chips for lunch and maybe a pot roast or rib tips for dinner. I actually remember this one dish my aunt used to make a lot, which was meatloaf wrapped in bacon. So yes, you could say that my childhood was very meat-centric.

All of that changed literally overnight in 2019 when I watched a documentary called “What The Health” with my boyfriend. For the record, I did not want to watch this documentary. “I want to live in ignorance!” I told my boyfriend when he was trying to get me to watch it. Why was he trying to ruin bacon for me? Ultimately, he won out and I agreed to watch it. That very night I gave the meat I had in the freezer to my roommates and swore off animal products for good.

The change really was overnight and I think the reason why it was so easy for me to make the switch went deeper than what I saw in the documentary. My mom died of cancer when I was 10 years old and in part of the movie, experts talk about the connection between a diet high in meat and cancer. That really stayed with me. I always thought that what happened to my mom was destined to happen to me too because we shared the same genes. But when I learned just how impactful food and lifestyle are to health, it made me feel empowered. I’m not saying that veganism is a sure way to protect yourself from cancer or other illnesses. Sometimes you can drink all the green juice in the world and still get cancer. But the connection between food and health is undeniable.

“There is a stereotype that vegans are primarily white, wealthy and female. … But the reality is, 8% of African Americans identify as vegan while only 3% of the general population does.”

– Emani Corcran

Unfortunately for my family, I had decided to become vegan right before the holidays. Normally, I am the one to make the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas ham and now I was telling them that I wasn’t going to do it. And oh, by the way, I’d be making the mac and cheese with almond milk and dairy-free cheese.

Shortly after becoming vegan, I started blogging. I called my site BLK and Vegan because that’s just who I am. I am Black and I am vegan. There is a stereotype that vegans are primarily white, wealthy and female, and when I started blogging, I did notice that most of the other vegan bloggers who had the biggest followings fit this mold. But the reality is, 8% of African Americans identify as vegan while only 3% of the general population does. I think the reason there’s this disconnect is because Black vegans’ voices aren’t being heard as loudly. I hope — and believe — this is starting to change. I launched my blog in 2019 and we all know the racial reckoning 2020 brought. During this time, many white creators amplified my voice on their platforms, telling their followers about me.

It’s important for people to see others who share their culture included in the vegan space. Otherwise, they may think it’s not for them and be reluctant to try it. Some people within the Black community may think veganism is at odds with our culture, but it’s not. Even though I eat differently now, I still make my grandmother’s greens. I even make many of the foods I grew up eating — I just put my own spin on the ingredients list.

I want people to know that changing the way you eat will not change your experience of Blackness or the connection to culture and food. Those connections will always be there. Cooking (and eating) comes from the heart. Baked into my recipes are my grandmother’s experiences growing up in the South, my own experience growing up in California and my experiences now as I continue to interact with the world in new ways. One day, my kids (when I have them) will grow up making the dishes I made and then they’ll put their own ideas into them based on their lived experiences.

There’s another misconception I’ve faced within the Black community about veganism: that vegan food just doesn’t taste as good. The first time I made vegan cookies for my aunt, she refused to try them. It wasn’t like I was asking her to try Buffalo wings made with cauliflower or some concoction with tofu — they were cookies! But over time, my family has come around. They like my cooking now, even if it is vegan.

Something else many people believe about veganism is that vegan food is automatically healthy. There was a time when I was pretty much living off of vegan cookies and cinnamon rolls and I can tell you that it definitely wasn’t healthy. If you want to eat healthy, you have to be mindful of your nutrient intake — and that goes for whatever type of diet you follow. One easy way to make sure the vegan lifestyle you’re living is a healthy one is to eat more brown foods. Dietitians often tell people to eat the rainbow, but so many nutrient-rich foods are brown. Beans, chickpeas, brown rice, nuts, mushrooms… Can we get some justice for brown foods, please?

I ended 2022 the way I usually end the year: with my family. I spent Thanksgiving with my dad, sister and grandfather. I didn’t make turkey, but I did cook. I made meatballs with Beyond Meat and mushroom gravy. I made vegan macaroni and cheese. I made yams. I made cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s greens. For Christmas, I made Italian food, including a vegan lasagna with tofu, plant-based ricotta and roasted eggplant. We feasted and we celebrated. And you know what? No one missed the meat.


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