The world of dining and drinking is an obstacle course wrapped in a labyrinth wrapped in a logic puzzle — it's full of pitfalls, gray areas, and bewildering questions that really shouldn't even be questions (How do I find the bathroom?) and yet, somehow, are. Fortunately, your friends at Eater are here to help: Life Coach is a series of simple guides to the arcane rituals of modern dining. Have a question or a quandary you'd like us to tackle? Drop Life Coach a line.
The list of "forbidden" foods for pregnant women is long and complex. It includes cold cuts, cured meats, soft cheeses, undercooked meat of any kind, unpasteurized anything, sprouts, alcohol, coffee, raw fish, unwashed produce, fish high in mercury, and whatever foodstuff caused the latest listeria outbreak (Ice cream! Feta! Cantaloupes!). The risks associated with consuming each item vary wildly, thus the decisions every pregnant woman makes about how she interprets those risks and what she puts in her body are highly personal and, frankly, none of anyone’s business. Not even her doctor’s. Not even her partner’s.
As many women between the ages of 24 and 40 know, abstaining from drinking socially can automatically trigger questions.
While pregnant, I did try to steer clear of anything with a higher than normal likelihood of giving me listeria, toxoplasmosis, or mercury poisoning, but I ignored most recommended restrictions on my diet after reading a book that jived with my worldview. I ate raw fish and oysters and fancy-ass soft cheese and drank both coffee and a non-negligible amount of wine.
For a good portion of my pregnancy, I tried to keep it — and the changes to my diet — a secret. I waited until I was about 10 weeks pregnant to tell my family, 13 weeks to tell my boss, 16 weeks to tell my friends and co-workers, and 38 weeks to share on social media. The chance of miscarriage reduces every day of a pregnancy, going from 10 percent at six weeks (when many women find out they're pregnant) to three percent at 12 weeks (when many women feel comfortable sharing their news). There's nothing quite like having to tell a casual work acquaintance who you see once a year that your pregnancy didn't work out. Hence, the secrecy.
But as many women between the ages of 24 and 40 know, abstaining from drinking socially can automatically trigger the Are you pregnant? question from both men and women, and if you actually are pregnant, you might not want to lie. For omnivores like me, many dinner outings can be surprisingly complicated experiences, and it can be frustrating to have to explain why you're suddenly a picky eater without actually giving away the real reason. So here are some tips I picked up on how to avoid questions completely in some key eating and drinking scenarios.
Events and Parties
Cocktail parties, house parties, and other stand-and-mill-about events are the least stressful form of social drinking/eating activity, because people rarely pay attention to what anyone else is consuming. Anyone without a drink in her hand could always be on her way to get a drink from the bar or off to another event entirely. If you want to blend in, pick up whatever they're passing around on trays or grab a glass of sparkling wine from the bar and carry it around with you. No one will notice if you never sip it.
Order beers in a can and some club soda or water on the side. No one can see how much you're drinking through the opaque container of a beer can, and no one really keeps tabs on how many you've had. And if you are drinking during your pregnancy, a low ABV (alcohol by volume) canned beer (like a light lager or a session ale) isn't a bad route to go.
The usual go-tos of pretending you have a cold, claiming you're cutting down on your drinking, or saying you're on antibiotics hardly ever work. Instead, be a little crafty: Go to the bar alone (showing up early can be helpful here) and tell the bartender to make you something nonalcoholic that looks like a cocktail, like a club soda with lime. Make sure you request that it come in a small glass, so it looks like a gin and tonic — otherwise the bartender might use a pint glass, which is a dead giveaway.
Fancy Cocktail Bars
In general, I advise avoiding fancy cocktail bars. Subterfuge is strangely more awkward in a fancy cocktail bar setting, and whatever mocktail you end up with will probably be both disappointing and overpriced. If you are drinking moderately, this is your chance to have a nice glass of champagne and hope your companions don't notice you nurse just one drink over an hour and a half. Or choose a fancy cocktail bar that's in on the session/low abv cocktail trend.
If you aren't eating undercooked meat but feel out of character ordering a fish or chicken, go big on the sides and wedge salads, and split a large-format steak, eating just the ends that are the most cooked while mostly consuming the sides. And try to dine in big groups: With big parties, people rarely pay attention to how much everyone else is eating.
This can get tricky. I was permissive in what I ate, and still ran into trouble with tasting menus because I wasn't eating undercooked meat or high-mercury fish. Ordering a vegetarian version of the tasting menu will eliminate many issues, or you can call ahead and tell the staff about your dietary restrictions — but be sure to mention that you need to keep it under wraps. Not drinking during tasting menus can become conspicuous, and there's not a lot you can do there. I liked to nurse a half glass of a very nice wine.
For The Rest of Us
If you've read through this whole guide and aren't currently pregnant, take away this piece of advice: The next time someone skips booze or sushi when you're out to dinner, don't say a thing.