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Along with a post in October about one day without a food safety question, I wish there would be a day without a question about how to cook without the listed items in my title and more.

While I understand there are some people who have special needs, to me it also makes this place less appealing when searching for answers to typical everyday cooking situations that 99% of us run into.

I don't know what should or can be done about it but I'm voicing my concern.

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    I'm sure it's not your intention, but this comes across as not particularly inclusive. Plenty of people have dietary restrictions, and it's perfectly reasonable to have questions involving them. And them asking their questions doesn't stop you from asking yours, or searching past questions for what you need. – Cascabel Feb 24 at 8:15
  • @Cascabel When it seems that more than half the questions only concern themselves with that, then it's an issue which distracts from the overall purpose of this exchange. Those with special issues deserve their own forum but it is crowding out all the rest here, in my opinion. As I said, it's similar to the issue of food safety brought up in another thread here. It has nothing to do with inclusion or exclusivity but being on topic. – Rob Feb 24 at 12:50
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    But those questions are on topic, and they're just as much the purpose of this site as the things you personally want to ask/read about. When you suggest otherwise, you're suggesting that they be less included. – Cascabel Feb 25 at 6:39
  • @Cascabel Again you miss my point. If every question on this site was about cooking without butter, fat, sugar, flour, etc., how would you feel? Would you feel this isn't for me? I cook in a standard way using all those things? When half the questions are only about that and food safety, as mentioned in the previous thread I talked about, this space becomes unattractive to the majority. – Rob Feb 25 at 12:28
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    I really don't think I'm missing your point. Sure, you'd like more questions of a certain variety, and that's totally valid. We could always use more questions. But trying to fix it by reducing dietary restrictions questions (or pushing them elsewhere) doesn't seem constructive to me. Also: there's no way those questions are half of the site's traffic. I skimmed the most recent 50 to confirm that, didn't keep an exact count, but it really doesn't look like this is anywhere near the scale you're suggesting. – Cascabel Feb 25 at 18:01
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In summary: the question appears to exaggerate the frequency of such questions, these questions are on topic and valuable to quite a lot of people, and the only action worth taking is building on the questions you do like by asking, upvoting, and answering.

Frequency

These questions do not seem to be outnumbering (or "crowding out") others.

I skimmed through the most recent 50 questions and saw several food safety questions, and only one about a dietary restriction. (Note that the "no butter" sous vide is not about dietary restrictions, but just about whether to include the butter in the sous vide bag.)

I suspect this may be a bit lower than average, but still, only about 1.5% of questions on the site say "vegetarian" or "vegan". I'm sure that when we include all the various dietary restrictions, the overall numbers climb a good bit, and that there are occasional days when we get more than average and the front page shows it, but overall, it seems like a large exaggeration to say that these questions are crowding anything out.

I can find no evidence that such questions have ever been on the scale of half of questions, and there appear to have been many days with no questions in that category.

Site scope

These questions are just as on topic as anything else. There's not much to say about this.

Inclusivity

The question and comments here seem to suggest that these questions are less desirable, and that most people don't want them. I'm sure this is not the intent, but I think this framing is unhelpful, bordering on unwelcoming.

That "99%" is a pretty enormous exaggeration. From quick searches: close to 10% of the US is diabetic, up to 10% is lactose intolerant, over 3% is vegetarian, and there are various food allergies in the 0.1-1% ballpark. It's more difficult to find data on diets, but low-carb diets are fairly common as well.

So, these questions are directly relevant for a substantial number of people, and when we include all the family and friends who cook for those people, the numbers are far larger. On top of that, there's all the times we end up missing an ingredient - it's not just about dietary restrictions!

On a personal note, I have no dietary restrictions myself, but have cooked for people with a huge variety of restrictions, and I've always appreciated the information I've been able to find online. I'm glad that this site is a place for them.

Finally, I'd like to address the underlying idea here, that something might be less desirable because only a minority needs it. This is where things border on unwelcoming. Being in a minority, whether a food allergy or anything else, generally means it's more difficult to find information and support. If anything, this means it's more valuable to handle these topics. And in general, StackExchange is meant to be a place where everyone can participate fully, not just those in some particular majority or intersection of majorities. Let's not go down the path of suggesting that there's a "better" way to cook or eat. That's needlessly exclusionary and divisive.

Next steps

I certainly agree that questions that aren't about dietary restrictions are interesting, and it's always great to have more of them. It simply shouldn't be at the expense of something else. We gain on general questions by improving in that area, not by maligning or targeting other areas.

Of course, this is basically the same task as site growth in general, and there are no easy answers. The most direct things any given person can do are to ask more questions themselves, to upvote others' questions, and to strive to answer them well. As always, this is something I very much encourage, but of course, no one person (not even moderators) has the power to change it single-handedly.

  • Please note that I said nothing about dietary restrictions or vegan at all. It's an issue enough that it bothered someone else to post about food safety and enough for me that I do not come here looking for cooking help very often. – Rob Feb 26 at 12:19
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    @Rob People ask about the things you dislike because of dietary restrictions (as well as simply being out of an ingredient). And you did say "special needs" in your question. Your feelings are your feelings, of course, and if you don't feel this is the place for you that's that. But I should hope that a type of (completely on-topic, useful) question that's by all indications at most on the scale of 5-10% of questions is not enough to drive people away in general. – Cascabel Feb 26 at 17:05
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I think that Cascabel has written an excellent post so I'm not going to cover the same things that she did. I do want to touch a tiny bit on what you've said about the volume of these questions and how it is a problem.

You said in your question:

I wish there would be a day without a question about how to cook without the listed items in my title and more.

While one question was asked a few hours ago, the last time I see one asked was on February 20th, which is six days ago, so congrats, you've had five days without one of these questions. Problem solved!

Levity aside, I'd like to talk about how this sort of concern - oversampling of specific types of questions - usually gets addressed on any site here. It's a problem on various sites from "homework" questions on Mathematics to "identification" questions on several sites including Movies & TV, Anime, and Science Fiction and Fantasy.

There's often some struggle between the people who like and dislike specific question types. Some want to keep them because they're on topic regardless of their quality or frequency and others want to ban them because they're seen as a haven of low-quality content that drives users away from a site.

If these questions were showing up multiple times, daily, and they were showing lack of research or other effort or if they seemed to be designed to direct a certain food worldview... then I'd be concerned.

This was why identification questions are banned on Movies & TV but welcome on Science Fiction & Fantasy. On the former site, they made up 50%+ of their daily content and most of the questions were getting closed for lacking sufficient detail. On SFF, they don't have that problem. They're a slightly higher-volume site than M&TV and the addition of books to movie and TV topics tends to lead to better-written questions.

They're a problem on one site but not on another, so they're banned on one site but not the other.

I don't see a problem with these questions here. They're quite infrequent and they seem to be well-written in more cases than not.

Also, we sort of empower you to choose what you see and do not see. Most of these questions will be tagged with the tag and those that are not, the tag can be added in. You can go to the tag page and "ignore" that tag and the questions will be greyed out so that you can more easily avoid them.

The ignore tag, circled in red, on the Substitutions tag page

If you see new questions that don't have that tag and it seems to apply, edit the question to add it! If there are other tags you don't want to see, ignore them, too. In fact, you don't have to go to the tag page to do this, you can do it right from the question list by hovering over a tag:

The ignore tag, circled in red, on the questions page in a hover popover

I can understand disliking certain types of questions on a site... I have my own categories that I'm not comfortable with ... we give the users broad power to decide what's on topic and what's a problem and I don't see a problem here and these questions are absolutely on topic. If you disagree, that's your choice - that's why we give you the ability to hide tags you aren't interested in.

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Consider it from a different perspective:

  • Do vegetarians feel unwelcome when questions are asked about the perfect steak?
  • Do Jewish users feel uncomfortable when questions are asked about perfect bacon?
  • Do chefs who can't eat gluten decide not to participate because many users are interested in breadmaking?

I've answered questions related to foods that I can no longer eat, because my previous experience with bacon (e.g.) means that I have knowledge to share. I may not personally follow that dietary regimen at this time, but we're all still fundamentally interested in cooking. That's why we signed up. Personally, I find substitution questions to be an interesting challenge (_how would I eliminate [food item] in that dish?_) and an opportunity for learning.

There's always Area 51 if you think a separate site would be a good solution. Good luck with your proposal.

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About "without X" questions

I would say that actually, this type of question is quite good.

  • It is about helping somebody achieve their cooking goals
  • It is usually well defined - typically, with these questions, we know what the person wants to achieve, and what the constraints are
  • they tend to be well answerable

The only way in which I see they can inconvenience somebody ("less appealing when searching for answers") is in somebody having more search results to look through than what is relevant to him/her. This, however, is a general problem of information retrieval, and solving it by banning the "undesired" questions is wrong - simply because one person's undesired questions are another person's most burning questions, and we want to serve both kinds of person.

The argument you are making seems to be that the concern behind the question ("I don't want to eat butter) is somehow wrong or inconsequential, so we should not give it any space on our site. We have never decided our scope by judging whose concerns are right or wrong, and if we did, I don't see how we could implement it in practice - the decisions would be either pretty arbitrary, or a dictatorship of the majority.

About food safety questions

You are right that the site regulars dislike seeing food safety questions. The reasons for this are very different from your argument - our system just breaks down when trying to answer these questions.

The problem behind it is that, for the typical food safety question, we cannot provide the information the askers want. We instead provide the information we can, and a frustrating misunderstanding ensues. This is mostly due to the fact that our site is specialized in providing dry information which can be objectively up- and downvoted, while most askers come wanting not information, but reassurance, and help in managing their emotions. Even those who want information usually come equipped with a totally wrong mental model. So getting the information through to them is tedious, long, has to be repeated for each new person, and usually doesn't arrive after all - they fit the new answer to their understanding of the world, instead of changing that understanding. At the end, we have spent lots of effort, arguing the same thing for the umpteenth time, without much success in getting the information across, which frustrates us. And the asker is also frustrated, "I asked you a simple question to tell me whether I will get sick, and instead you closed it as a duplicate of an unrelated question about some stupid danger zone". So, communication breaks down, and everyone is unhappy.

None of this means that the concern behind the food safety question is somehow judged "bad" by us. Wanting to know how to protect oneself from foodborne illness is as legitimate as wanting to know how to cook without butter, or how to create the best crust on a pork roast. The reason we don't like the food safety questions appearing is not in the problem the OP is having, but in the fact that the process of helping OP solve that problem fails so frequently. Those are questions which just don't work well on the site, so the best we can do is to close them as a duplicate of a canonical question, hope the OP will read that and understand why, and move on.

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