Perhaps it was not a good idea to make feasting the touchstone of cultural identity and respect.
If you are one of us (the test goes), you naturally relish our food. And if you are not one of us, you had better make it clear to us that eating what we offer is the treat of your lifetime. If not, we will be dangerously insulted. Finish up and beg for more, or we'll know you don't love us.
Miss Manners was not consulted when that standard was instituted. It happened somewhere around the dawn of civilization, before she had her coffee.
No doubt it sounded like fun -- the ancient combination of offering hospitality to strangers while sizing them up as candidates to become allies or enemies. Interviews over lunch, as it were. And, incidentally, a great excuse for overdoing it yourself.
Also, it stood to reason: Anyone who doesn't like our cuisine must be nuts. If you find our treats distasteful, or are squeamish about what we consider edible, or show only tepid enthusiasm by limiting your intake -- well, we know what the symbolic meaning of that is.
And so, for thousands of years now, enthusiastic gobbling has been the sign of approval and acceptance. Hosts and parents take pride in offering more than is necessary to merely sate hunger, and consider it their obligation to urge others to keep going after they declare they have reached their limits. At weddings, wakes and holidays, serious eating is expected. Diplomats and politicians understand that it is no small part of their jobs to shovel in the food and shovel out the admiration.
Miss Manners would have no objection if there were not so many who have difficulty participating. Among those whose goodwill is larger than their capacity are now too many people who want to lose weight, or who have medical, religious or philosophical restrictions on what they eat, or who can't help being squeamish about certain things, or who are just plain not that hungry.
Etiquette did institute rules to protect them. It is rude to notice what a guest leaves untouched or unfinished, and while it is hospitable to offer food, it is rude to insist.
But these rules are directed at the providers, and they become too much aglow with their own magnanimity to pay any attention. "Oh, come on," they keep repeating to rising gorges.
The etiquette burden then passes to these reluctant beneficiaries. Their part is to keep repeating "No, thank you" until the bullying stops, but they don't seem to have the staying power. When they know they will be unable to make a meal from what will be provided and still want to attend for social reasons, they should deal with their hunger both before and after the event.
Unfortunately, many have turned to reciprocal rudeness. They call their hosts in advance to order the food they want, they bring their own food, they lecture others on why the food provided is morally or medically bad.
Thus, instead of a legitimate minority deflecting rudeness, they help create the same etiquette-free standoff that exists between nonsmokers and smokers. And Miss Manners cannot stomach another helping of that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When did it become against the "law" to wear pearls in the daytime? Is it OK to wear pearls to a big fancy luncheon?
GENTLE READER: Wearing pearls day or night was illegal under periodic sumptuary laws in Venice and Florence between the 16th and 18th centuries, but Miss Manners understands that they have since been repealed. Pearls are now properly worn at any hour. Just don't let her catch you running around decked in diamonds before dusk.