From the conversations I've been having with my friends, I'm getting the impression we are a nation obsessed with food.

We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what we should eat, what we shouldn't have eaten, and what we will eat.

Our social life often seems to revolve around food. Mine sure does.

When Dave and I get together with friends, it's often to go to dinner, or, we combine dinner and dancing. Seldom do we socialize without food.

When I meet girlfriends for a planned get-together, it always includes lunch. There are some friends I seldom see outside of our monthly ladies lunch bunch.

When friends stop by my house, I wouldn't dream of not offering them food. Maybe it's the Italian in me, but I was raised to offer hospitality to friends by serving them food.

My grandmother, who cooked on a coal stove, always kept a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Whether it was family, friends or just my grandfather's business associates, no one came into the house without being offered a bowl of spaghetti.

I continue that tradition of hospitality in my own way, making sure I always have things on hand to serve anyone who pops in for a visit.

"You know, you don't have to feed us every time we come to see you," said one girlfriend when I pulled out turkey wraps to serve for lunch. I told her it's in my genes and it's something I truly enjoy. I always enjoy having small dinner parties at our house.

What I don't enjoy is figuring out a menu of what people can eat or will eat. Is it me, or are people getting pickier when it comes to eating?

Even serving beverages is getting harder. Some people will drink only diet soft drinks. Some want regular soda and won't touch anything with aspartame or a sugar substitute. And at least two of my friends won't drink anything with caffeine.

Some of my friends refuse to drink anything but Coke while at least one friend insists on Pepsi.

I remember when I was first married and people came to visit, my only question to them was: "Do you want soda or coffee to drink?" People never asked what kind of soda. They accepted what you had.

It's so complicated serving drinks now that many people I know ask guests to bring their own drinks. "I'll provide the food. You bring what you want to drink" is starting to be standard in many circles.

Once I get beyond drinks and start planning a menu, there are more individual preferences to take into consideration. Some of my friends are on Weight Watchers. Some are on no carb diets. Some say they can't eat anything spicy. Some say they won't eat anything with garlic. One woman told me not to make anything with onions because "my husband hates onions."

At least one or two can't have anything salted. One friend can't eat pork and others are allegoric to seafood. Another friend gets seriously ill if she eats green pepper.

Try planning a meal while keeping all that in mind.

I don't think it's my imagination that people are getting a lot more vocal about their food preferences. If someone is allergic to certain foods, then yes, they need to say so ahead of time. But saying, "I don't like cheese" to a hostess seems rude.

There was a time when, in the name of social graces and politeness, people would eat what they were served. If they didn't like it, they would take a small portion. But they wouldn't make a big deal out of it.

My friend Jan and I still laugh about how I unknowingly gave her husband stomach problems for more than a year by putting garlic in my spaghetti sauce.

The first time I had Franck and Jan to my house for dinner, I made homemade spaghetti and sauce. Franck complimented me profusely. Thinking he loved my Italian cooking, I made it for him time and again.

It wasn't until we went on vacation together that Jan told me her husband had stomach problems when he ate garlic.

"But I've been giving him garlic for years," I retorted.

"I know. He just didn't want to tell you," she said.

We still laugh about that. But I no longer use garlic when they are coming to dinner.

I think I'm just as particular as the next person when it comes to food. But if I'm eating what someone else cooked, I try to keep my feelings to myself about any dislikes. Sometimes, that pays dividends.

When our friends Martha and Hugh asked Dave and I to dinner, we were looking forward to it because both are gourmet cooks. But when we got there, I was a little disappointed when she said they were making salmon.

I don't really like salmon, or so I thought. I only took a little piece, and boy, was I ever sorry. It was the most delectable meal and ever since then, I can't get enough salmon.

Once, I forgot to ask about allergies when I was having six friends for dinner. I made a meal with shrimp and scallops, only to learn one man was allergic to scallops. It took some frantic shuffling to come up with something he could eat.

But all in all, I love cooking. Yes, people are pickier. But it's still fun to entertain.