Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Don’t want to eat shark fin soup?

DEAR NATALIE: I recently attended a friend’s house for dinner. Now, I am an adventurous foodie, but what she served really turned my stomach. Shark fin soup (which is illegal, by the way!) and goat brains. She kept pushing the food on me and I was politely declining it. It was a large party and I was not the only person who found those foods offensive. But, she asked why I didn’t want any and I didn’t know what to say. I eat meat. I eat exotic foods on occasion. But shark’s fin is wrong to eat and nothing about goat brains seemed appetizing. I ended up (I think) upsetting her when she told me I could take some home and freeze it and I still declined. What should I have said or should say the next time I am in this kind of a situation? Food is so personal, people take it so seriously and I don’t want to offend, but I was being offended, too. --NO SHARK FOR ME

DEAR NO SHARK FOR ME: Isn’t it funny how the person who ends up offending us is the one we are worried about offending? What is that about? I don’t know if it was possible not to upset her, but as someone who has been a practicing vegan for almost nine years, I can tell you people get really uncomfortable when you decline meat. Because food is so emotional for people, because we connect it to life events and memories, it can be upsetting when you dismiss it. Understanding that perspective, you are still well within your right to eat or not eat what you choose, and it was pretty bold of her to serve an illegal food to a large, mixed crowd anyway. But how do you decline it without sounding self-righteous? She has the right to eat goat brains if she wants, after all. In those instances, I would try to say something like, “I really appreciate your hospitality but this just isn’t something I eat. Thank you, though.” If she asks why, just say it isn’t part of your lifestyle. Usually at that point, people let it go. But if she pushes, gently push back and remind her, “Well, shark fins aren’t for everyone, except the sharks!”

DEAR NATALIE:  My husband and I recently got married (we are both 24) and we had discussed having children when we were engaged, but we never really talked about it intensely. Now that we are married, it seems as though that it is ALL he wants to talk about. I really love children and love the idea of having a family, but I have always struggled with my body image and I am afraid to have kids because of what it will do to me. I can’t imagine not having a nice body. What should I do? I feel so vain acting like this but it seriously occupies my mind. -SCARED OF GETTING FAT

  DEAR SCARED OF GETTING FAT: If you are worried about your body changing, I would suggest holding off. You are young and you might as well enjoy yourself in this body for as long as you feel comfortable. You may change your mind down the road, but motherhood is literally the ultimate sacrifice. You sacrifice your body for nine months, then you utilize it to feed your child after you deliver your child from your body. That’s a lot to process and if you aren’t ready to handle that kind of life change, then just enjoy your 20s. Your husband needs to understand that it is easy for him to say that he wants kids, his body and life really won’t change in that time. Yours will and will never be quite the same, so be mentally and emotionally prepared for that. In any case, taking care of your health, both physical and emotional, will make those transitions easier when you choose to have a child, and will make getting back into your jeans less terrifying.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Make a goal to meet one new contact a week. Whether it be out in the community, at an event, through work or just at line in the grocery store, practice striking up conversation and getting out of your comfort zone. Not everyone you encounter will be your new best friend, but expanding your social circle can lead to new adventures, both personally and professionally.

(Have a question for Natalie? Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email,; or through postal mail to 358 North Shore Drive Pittsburgh, PA 15212.)

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)