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Communal dining of some form is a custom amongst virtually every human society. Whether inviting friends around for a meal or going on a date together social eating is a common way of tying communities together.

This extends to international diplomacy, where formal banquets and informal lunches all provide ways for people to meet and communicate and network.

In a future society though with multiple alien races mingling at all levels of society how would different dining requirements be accommodated, especially when some might seem disgusting or revolting to one species or another.

For example if a society has;

  • Humans
  • A species that eats live maggots
  • A species that eats dung
  • A species that vomits on its food and then slurps it up (like a fly).

Would those species just never dine together, or would customs develop that allow them to co-exist? Even if the actual eating is done separately could people cope with seeing a buffet laid out for all those species on one table? Or would dining be completely segregated?

A child's birthday party might have members of every species invited, especially if people were actively trying to integrate the various cultures. Equally the ambassadors reception would have guests from each species and maybe more. How would these situations be handled?

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    $\begingroup$ "Communal dining of some form is a custom amongst virtually every human society." However, you're assuming that other species would share some form of this custom. If they are social creatures, as the mingling and diplomacy would suggest, they would probably have some sort of customs regarding eating. However, if those customs are different enough (maybe eating together is a very intimate event, for example) that a diplomatic banquet is unknown to them, that solves your problem. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Dec 8 '14 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ For added fun, add a race which strangles live animal and eats one side while other side still twitches. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 8 '14 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ I vaguely remember a scifi story with an alien race which considered mating in public completely normal but eating in public an act of obscenity. Bonding through eating together is likely mostly a human culture thing. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Dec 8 '14 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ You might be interested in learning about gagh. $\endgroup$ – cimmanon Dec 8 '14 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue humans, alone, have an extremely wide range of dietary customs that would seem alien to other humans. I'd play off that. $\endgroup$ – DA. Dec 8 '14 at 19:03
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Homework for you: Throw a dinner party where you have to invite at least one of:

For every minute they can sit around one table, eat together and have at least "neutral" conversation (that's why we invented small talk about the weather), you get a point. If you gain 30 points and more, then you win a prize.

In other words:

No, no, no and again... NO

  • We Humans eat together because we are "social animals" where "eating together" could be understood as biological need to be in pack (I am no biologist, so do not beat me here please)
  • The aliens could have it differently
  • Everyone in the group understands (or at diplomatic level should understand) that eating habits of one group can seem weird to another group.

So, in nutshell. Diplomatic level

  • Human diplomats would be trained to see other races to vomit or to eat maggots
  • I believe it is safe to assume that diplomats from different races would have the same training
  • Eating together would be practiced as least as possible

Personal level

Eating live maggots for "normal human" is at the same level of "being gross" as of eating meat of any kind to vegan activist. So, if I am friend of family which eats maggots, and I am invited to birthday party of their kids, there is several ways to tackle that:

  • I am simply not attending, because the last thing I want to see is someone eating maggots
  • I will appear, but only for gift giving (or any activity which does not relate with food)
  • I will appear for the whole thing and silently cry about what is happening. Will stress out to parents that rejecting a juicy moving maggot from their two year old kid (or at level of Human two year toddler) is not rude towards the kid
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    $\begingroup$ To follow up on the "Diplomatic level" concept, I would expect diplomats to develop alternative rituals for eating which are designed to show how much they care for the other race by obscuring the more distasteful parts. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 8 '14 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ For added fun, invite people with various food allergies and intolerances as well. Offering meat or cheese to the vegan may be rude, but even having bread around that guy with celiac disease could kill him. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Dec 8 '14 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding eating live maggots, there is actually a cheese, casu marzu, which some folks claim to be quite a delicacy, despite the live larvae that can actually leap out of the cheese as you're eating it. $\endgroup$ – Dan Bryant Dec 8 '14 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ My grandfather would eat Gorganzola cheese which, back in the 1920s and 30s, was made by letting maggots run through the cheese to introduce the necessary fungal growths. If a maggot crawled out of his cheese he would dab it up with a piece of bread and eat it. "All they've ever eaten's cheese, so they are cheese" was his reasoning. $\endgroup$ – holdenweb Dec 8 '14 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ Some people think it's friendly when a dog licks your face; some who did notngrow up with dogs finds it off-putting or worse if the had had previously been seen licking its but. The same dog owners are put off when a parrot is being friendly and accepting you as a flockmate, by sharing his food. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 7 '15 at 10:25
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Well, there would be a lot to take into account. Some species might find eating communally outside of immediate family to be a terrible breach of social graces or even eating in the company of anyone. Some foods might be deadly poisons to different species making for an added layer of care that must be taken. Not to mention that the atmosphere needed for respiration could be significantly different enough to make conversation hard, much less eating together.

Then we come to the actual process of eating.

What if a species is more like a snake and swallow their meal whole and eat once a month? Cutting up our food and masticating it could be nauseating. And have to eat three times a day? Seems to be a lot of trouble.

How would you like a cow like animal that 'chews it's cud'. Burps up what it ate earlier and chews it again?

No unless we come across a species that has similar eating habits to ours, it is unlikely we'd have much mixed eating. It could also be dangerous to go around sampling the h'orderves, even if something looked appetizing.

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NO - there is no reason to keep such rituals. Also, most likely they would require different atmospheres, so will have to be wearing a protective suit in a hostile atmosphere - so any eating would be done inside the suit anyway.

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If they are really alien then dining habits might not be the only difference but physical differences as well.

An alien race might find it strange that we use different orifices for eating, smelling, hearing and waste disposal. While they can do all those functions with one orifice.

or

Another alien race might find it strange that we use one orifice for eating, talking, whistling, singing, blowing bubbles. While they have different orifices for those.

Dining together might not be a good idea. Definitely separate rooms for dining.

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This question makes me think of the old TV show, "Alien Nation".

The Tenctonese (also called Newcomers) are a social race like humans, and eat together in family groups like humans. Their ship crashed on earth, and without going into to much detail of the series, the survivors were a slave caste and don't have the knowledge to create a new ship, so they had to assimilate into human society.

However, Tenctonese A>eat raw meat (cooked meat makes them sick), B>quickly developed a taste for animals that humans (or at least mainstream USA society) don't consider food sources (Mmm, Ground Weasel meat), and C> Most importantly, become inebriated on spoiled milk, not alcohol.

So, the main characters of the series are a newcomer who joined the police force and made detective, and his human partner.

Numerous episodes involve either in part or in full them eating together, both the human having to control his gag reflex watching the Alien eat raw meat and drink curdled milk, and the alien both cringing at some things the human eats, and having to remind him that certain things would kill him if he ate them.

In particular, when the Tenctonese family had a "BBQ" for their friends, like 90% newcomer and a few humans, and the humans show up, the Tenc father had cooked them hamburgers, something to the effect of "I made you hamburgers, I've had them on the grill for about 6 hours, but I'm not sure how to tell if they're done yet."

So, to give a more definitive answer, I'd say that assuming that eating together is ALSO a social ritual of the alien races, we would simply have to go through a period of acclimation (just try not to look to close at what they're eating), and keep food selections separate, I.E. we've got 4 races with differing food needs that are unappealing or even toxic to each of the others, we then have four separate buffet lines located at some distance from each other to avoid cross contamination, and grossing out the guests while they get their own food.

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Being omnivores humans might have a diplomatic advantage, a lot of species will eat either vegetation or meat exclusively and we could eat with them without much trouble, we can even eat raw meat or raw fish underwater.

On the other hand seeing a human hacking into a juicy steak might be distressing for a herbivorous species so we may have to be content with protein bars and other highly processed food while in their presence. Likewise a race of giant spiders might be considerate towards us by drinking premade smoothies rather than sucking the juices out of a still living creature wrapped in their silk.

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