Dear Imprudence: Food Policing, Ordinary Parenting, or Pathology?

Oh, Miss Conduct. How could you?

The Miss Conduct column at the Boston Globe published on 2 May featured the following letter:

I eat a healthy diet and incorporate fruits and vegetables into all meals, especially dinner. I have instilled the same habits in my toddler daughter. We frequently eat dinner at my in-laws’, and no vegetables are served. Would it be rude if I brought my own for me and my daughter to eat? J.C. / Waltham

The response begins:

Yes, it would be rude. Very rude, in fact. Food isn’t just nutritional; it’s social. People with medical or religious dietary restrictions can ask to be accommodated, and vegetarians in carnivore families can bring a side dish (enough to share, of course). If you have bona fide needs, you can make those known and negotiate as appropriate. However, when you are welcomed into other people’s homes to break bread with them, you do not implicitly critique their hospitality and lifestyle by bringing your own preferred foods. The message you would send to your in-laws by bringing along your own vegetables is “My dietary habits are superior to and more enlightened than yours.”

Is it rude or isn’t it? It can, in fact, potentially be rude to bring dinner along to someone else’s house when you are invited to dinner, unless, as Miss Conduct points out, you have dietary restrictions and you make a prior arrangement with the host.

This includes dietary restrictions such as limits on the kinds of food young children can safely eat, however. Young children cannot eat all of the same things that adults can. Bringing food safe for children is not being rude1, this is simply parenting, and making sure that the best interests of the child are looked out for.

It’s also not rude, I would add, if you have young children and you are concerned that the host might not serve food they want to eat2. Which is perhaps the case here; maybe J.C.’s daughter loves veggies, and if that is true, then, yes, it actually would be appropriate to bring along some veggies for her.

Lauredhel also pointed out, when we talked about this letter, that, setting aside concerns about allergies and kid-safe foods, it’s not necessarily rude in all cases to bring food along to dinner at the in-laws. Dinners at the in-laws tend to be more casual, and offering to bring a side dish to such events might be perfectly acceptable. There are also some communities and cultures where guests are expected to bring food and not bringing food would be rude. Of course, writing letters to the paper instead of communicating directly with the in-laws could also be construed as rather rude.

Miss Conduct continues:

The message you would be sending your daughter by bringing along the vegetables is even more disturbing: “Every meal must be perfect. You must always have vegetables. You can’t eat something just because it tastes good or because it’s polite to.” It’s good to teach children healthy eating, but rigid perfectionism will lead to social problems down the line. Is your daughter to be allowed birthday cake? Pizza parties? When she is invited to a friend’s house for dinner, do you plan to call and check on the menu? Part of the whole point of eating a healthy diet is so that we can splurge once in a while, after all.

Reasonably good. Miss Conduct is reinforcing some problematic stuff about ‘healthy’ food, but she’s setting a strong tone when it comes to talking about what is being modeled for the daughter here. It’s worth noting, too, that family pressures can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

But then:

Finally, do a little Web searching on the term “orthorexia.” Some people can get so obsessed with a healthy, “natural” diet that they wind up developing an eating disorder. “Orthorexia” isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but the term, coined by Dr. Steven Bratman, has gained attention and legitimacy over the past decade. I’m not diagnosing you with anything (I’m not a clinical psychologist, and even if I were, I wouldn’t diagnose anyone based on a four-sentence e-mail). But spend a little time thinking about how you would answer two of Bratman’s questions: “Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?” and “Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?”

Wait, what?

I really loathe it when advice columns do this. They just have to throw in a little armchair diagnosis. Robin Abrahams just had to add in a little ‘you know, perhaps you have a mental illness’ at the end, didn’t she?

This letter missed the mark in a lot of ways. Accusing the letterwriter of orthorexia instead of acknowledging the reasons she might have concerns about what’s on the dinner table? So not necessary.

Related reading:

The Fat Nutritionist

  1. After all, I’m never offended when I have friends with young children over for dinner and the mother starts breastfeeding!
  2. However, I would like to note that the good host anticipates the needs of all guests, and when people with young children are invited to dinner, the host should ask the parents if any food options should be provided. Some kids may like coq au vin just fine and be delighted with the menu, while others might prefer the option of some braised plain chicken, for example.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

29 thoughts on “Dear Imprudence: Food Policing, Ordinary Parenting, or Pathology?

  1. Both are painful to read. The letter definitely sounds superior and condescending, but Miss Conduct was just as superior and condescending! I’m as opposed to mandatory healthy eating as any self-loving fatty, but youch, the letter writer might need a little reminder about flexibility, but lectures about hurting her kids and mental illness are way uncalled for.

  2. Can I just put it out there that I hate when people give a cute name to some habit of other people and call it a ‘disorder?’ Orthorexia is a media-made up thing(not in medical texts or the DSM, or planned to be in the next version of the DSM) and diagnosing people (especially when you have never met them!) with it is annoying as hell. Heck, diagnosing people with any disorder when you have never met them is annoying as hell, period.

    And, of course, calling it ‘orthorexia’ places the blame on the individual, instead of on a society where 90% of woman’s magazines have at least two articles on how to eat right and lose weight every month. Maybe the media should look at that, instead of policing a woman’s parenting, manners and relationship with food.

  3. Oh. My. Ceiling. Cat.

    My eyebrows about rolled right off of my head, s.e.! Seriously.



    As a parent, if your child is young enough, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make sure that your kid has plenty of food to enjoy, and if toting along some extra veggies will make a meal enjoyable and make sure that it sends good vibes to a kid about food, then awesome. But OTOH, if it is because the mother is attaching morality to food, then I caution it, because that is a good way to say “this food is good” and “this food is eeeeeviiiiil”. I try to always be neutral about food, if you want it eat it, and if you like, awesome… there is no “good” or “bad” food. Although, as a parent, I also instantly recognize that (especially as a mother, since most of the time the menu planning falls on us) this is a Catch-22. No matter how we teach food, it will be R-O-N-G.

    And while Miss Conduct might have had a point about birthday and pizza parties, she really fell flat with the delivery here. The snide mental health jabs and the cute faux eating disorder shaming…it just feeds what I said above. No matter what kind of eating habits our children develop it will be our fault, and Miss Conduct here is not helping that.

  4. The two questions at the end there? Would have totally applied to me when I started being a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian for moral reasons and I loved meat, so the only reason I stuck to it was that I felt I did the right thing. Those first two years were hard and it takes a lot of time to figure out what vegetarian food tastes good. Not mention that I used to have huge issues with fast food and soft drinks because my mother (a nutrition scientist) told us they were evil.

    “Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?”

    Why yes, it does. Being a vegetarian has a social impact (even though I am allowed to bring my own dish). I don’t get invited to barbeques or dinner unless the host feels up to provide something for me (despite the fact that I would be just as happy to nibble on a slice of bread or eat nothing because those gatherings are primarily about other people and not food for me). I can eat nothing for a whole day because I had to learn it when the only “vegetarian” dish in a canteen turned out to be fish yet again.

    Picking out those two questions as a way to diagnose a disorder is non-sensical because I’ll bet they can apply to a lot of people who for some reason or another don’t eat standard food.

  5. At first, I liked the response somewhat, because it points out that food policing is somewhat rude to do even on in-laws. However, I really loathed the part about orthorexia, and, as I read the other comments, I realized this is indeed a rather superior and equally policing type of response to the letter.

  6. I really don’t see how the letter writer is “food policing” her ILs by wanting to provide vegetables for herself and her child. If the writer wants to eat food she feels is healthy and teach her child to eat fresh foods, I don’t have a problem with that. If they are dining with ILs often, it would be hard to reinforce that it’s okay to have pizza parties sometimes or to drink soda.

    I’m projecting like whoa onto this scenario because I do bring my own food whenever we visit my ILs, or we go to restaurants in a discreet way after eating a very small amount with them.

    I’m pretty pissed that there needs to be a “good enough” reason provided to want to eat or not want to eat certain things. Stuff like THIS is the exact reason that I have such food anxiety. I have texture issues that cause me to involuntary gag at certain smells, textures, and most fatty/cheap meat cuts. (Likely caused by my own parents forcing us to eat whatever they wanted to make, often things that I disliked.) I do whatever I can to avoid going to dinner at someone’s home because I hate forcing down food that makes me sick in order to be polite.

    Mothers are more or less expected to handle all issues regarding their children. Women can’t win; we’re either “food policing” our children by pushing the importance on fruits and vegetables or we’re not doing enough and “allowing” them to become overweight by providing or allowing processed or starchy foods. Ugh.

  7. I take it from the end of Miss Conduct’s reply that following Kosher or Halal guidelines is a sign of a mental disorder.

    Also, the daughter might be a toddler, but I think she may well be picking up that her dad’s family does not just eat veggie-free as a “splurge”, but as a daily thing. I’m concerned about this splurge thing. A splurge means indulging in a luxury. Decadent gourmet desserts are a luxury. Eating junk food and cheap starches is not a luxury. Fresh vegetables are, for many people, a luxury. Deliberately eating “not healthy” as a luxury, a vacation from all those dreary healthy foods does not sit well with me. Setting up “reward foods” versus “endured” foods is really problematic for all kinds of documented reasons (I’ll spare ye the multi-study synopsis from the ex-psych-student).

    And I feel that mom’s pain. Knowing that a good diet has a substantial vegetation component, and eating at least somewhere along those lines, makes it quite painful to be somewhere, be hungry, and be handed a big mound of simple starch and/or meat and be expected to fill up on it, especially at dinner time with the expectation that there will be no more food until morning. It makes for unpleasant bathroom visitation, among other woes.

    Myself, I’d sweetly offer to bring a vegetable dish as an aid to the meal.

  8. This shouldn’t have to be an issue at all, and the response to the letter shocks me at its smug audacity. Not everyone wants to eat the same things, or can eat the same things. It’s not offensive to make sure one’s needs are met.

    As someone with a severe food allergy and some other related intolerances, combined with the desire to eat healthier than many do, I resent the response Miss Demeanor gave and I am strongly considering giving her a piece of my mind.

    Pathological parenting, indeed. WTF.

  9. The letter-writer could volunteer to bring dishes periodically, and include fruits and vegetables in some of those. She mentioned fruits along with vegetables in her letter, and I think that most fruit salads would be welcome. If she’s willing to go to the trouble of bringing food for her and her daughter, maybe she could manage to bring a couple of extra servings to offer the others? (She could phrase her offer in a way that makes it seem like she just wants to pitch in and contribute to the meal, since her in-laws have been such generous hosts.)

    She and her daughter could eat at home, and then join the in-laws for a movie or a board game or some non-meal activity. Go out for dessert together?

    It was completely unnecessary for Miss Conduct to throw in a diagnosis at the end, even if it’s framed as if that’s not what she’s doing. She could’ve suggested that the letter writer consider her motives without acting as if a psychological disorder is necessarily involved. I wish that were removed from the reply entirely.

  10. I kind of disagree with a lot of these comments. The letter writer wasn’t talking about a food allergy or a sensitivity or an ethical, belief-driven system of eating or she would have said so (or so Miss Conduct has to assume to do her job, I think). She was talking about not wanting her child not to eat “healthy” for one meal her or there, which is a different situation. I think it makes sense to point out that it can be symptomatic of a larger problem to find yourself unable to vary from your “healthy eating” routine for one meal here or there because, frankly, given the deification of healthy eating in our culture, that’s not a message the letter writer will necessarily have internalized. She didn’t give her a diagnosis; she gave her something to think about it, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with that. The letter writer did write to an advice columnist after all – it wasn’t as if she was going up to somebody on the street to tell her she looked thin, have you heard about orthorexia?

    Offering to bring potluck dishes to dinner is not necessarily rude per se, but I somehow suspect that if the letter writer had that kind of relationship with her in-laws, she’d already be doing that. Since she’s not, it’d probably come off like a power play (which, in fact, it would probable be).

  11. @Katie The letterwriter never said she was “unable” to deviate from this eating style. If she feels strongly enough about her and her child eating a more balanced diet on a consistent basis, it’s no one’s right to judge that. I think it would be a more socially acceptable option to bring enough to share with everyone, but if that isn’t an option or if no one else will eat it there is no reason she and her child should not bring their own. It may not be important to others, *but it is important to her*, and that, to me, is what really matters here.

  12. But she was also looking for advice on whether or not it’s rude to just bring her own food. And the fact is that, yes, when you’re offered someone’s hospitality it is rude to implicitly say it’s not good enough for reasons related to your own non-medical (and since eating a “balanced diet” is not a meal-by-meal thing as a general rule, I don’t think it reasonably counts in this category unless there’s something she didn’t include in the letter), non-ethical, non-religious, etc. She doesn’t have to accept her in-law’s hospitality, and she has every right to eat whatever she wants, but if she is going to accept it, it’s rude to do so while implicitly passing judgment on their offering. On the facts given in this letter, which is all I can go by, it sounds like the meat eaters I’ve heard who get upset that they can’t bring a chicken sandwich over to dinner at the house of their vegetarian friend. Not okay.

  13. The omnivore/vegetarian example doesn’t ring true to me, to be honest. I highly doubt the in-laws are morally opposed to eating vegetables.

  14. The fact remains, though, that if you’re bringing along your own food out of preference, rather than dietary necessity*, then that implies that you think what the host is providing isn’t ‘good enough’. Given how obsessed our culture is with healthy eating and/or weight management through one’s diet, a lot of people have attached moral values to the food they eat. It would be like visiting a Hindu friend and insisting on putting crosses on their walls to make yourself feel more comfortable while you’re there. The space is theirs, not yours.

    Whether the in-laws are morally opposed to eating vegetables or not, bringing along her own food to maintain a ‘healthy diet’ basically says ‘My diet is better than yours’, and may well be seen as a show of moral superiority.

    *and by necessity I’ll throw in when the host is providing food that you absolutely can’t stand to eat, which as noted above can be an issue for parents of young children.

  15. The Hindu/Christianity example really doesn’t fly for me, either. This is, to me, one of those situations where it’s not *about* the in-laws. Taking offense to someone providing for herself and her child what she won’t be able to get where she’s going seems like a waste of energy to me. Trying to keep consistent rules for her very young child is not a bad idea. I suppose the social niceties do not outweigh the practicalities in this situation, in my view.

  16. Actually, the best thing for her to do if she hasn’t already is talk to her inlaws and explain the situation to see if perhaps they might serve vegetables on nights they have their daughter-in-law and granddaughter over for supper.

  17. Yes, having a polite conversation would be one way to handle it, if she has that kind of relationship with them (my guess is that if she had to write an advice columnist, she doesn’t). Other options include feeding the kids more veggies for lunch, having a big bowl of spinach before they go over there, having a big bowl of spinach after they come back, the aforementioned “bring a dish to share” or some nice veggies from the garden/farmer’s market option (if she can be subtle about it instead of critical in the presentation of the gift), or even packing some carrot sticks along to eat in the car or as a snack for the kids while they’re playing before dinner. I think all of those could read very, very differently than accepting a dinner invitation and then bringing your own food because what your hosts are providing doesn’t meet your quality standards for one frigging evening.

    However, I still think Miss Conduct is 100% right in that if you are so worried about not consuming vegetables at meal time that you feel the need to write a letter about it to someone, you perhaps should do a little soul searching and consider any number of options including that you might be letting your desire to eat “perfectly” negatively impact your social relationships in an unhealthy or otherwise unacceptable way. Or perhaps that your loathing of your in-laws is causing you to play obnoxious, passive aggressive games aimed at insulting them. You might conclude that you’re 100% right anyway, but the self-inquiry seems warranted to me.

  18. What I’m not getting here, and if someone can explain it to me in a way that makes sense I’ll let it go, is why in the WORLD the possibility that bringing along some food that you and your kids want to eat being slightly offensive to the host is prioritized over someone being allowed to make their own choices for themselves and their children about what to put into their own bodies.

    Yes, my friends bring their own food over to my house all the time because they specifically want something they know I won’t have.

    Yes, I bring my own food over to friends and family’s homes all the time for some of the “valid” reasons given above (I’m a vegetarian and don’t wish to force my hosts to go out of their way to make special dishes for me) and some considered not valid – I eat a certain way due to health issues not out of medical necessity but because I know I function better with, for example, fruits and vegetables at every meal. Yes, I feel better physically if I have fruits and veggies in my diet. Yes, I bring fresh fruit with me to other people’s homes in case they don’t have any so that I can get my needs met without making them feel guilty or feel forced to run out and specifically buy me some.

    I just … I don’t get how this is rude.

    What I think IS rude is telling someone that they can’t choose to eat the way they want to just because they are a guest in someone else’s home. THAT to me reads as food policing. This original letter writer is not saying “how can I get my in-laws to start eating like me”. She’s asking if it’s okay for HER to eat the way SHE wants to. How is that wrong?

    I would never be offended by someone bringing their own food to my house. Not everyone has to like everything I have to offer, and not everyone has to be satisfied with everything I have to offer even if they like some of it. I think it’s rude to expect people to act as if they do!

  19. I’m certainly not saying you should eat something you don’t want to out of politeness. What I object to is the implied criticism to someone else’s hospitality that comes with bringing something specifically for you and your child to eat when you’ve been invited over for a meal. Because when you accept someone’s invitation to a meal in many cultures you are accepting someone’s invitation to care and provide you in that particular situation which is a very intimate and socially bonding thing, and to imply that they can’t is then a slap in the face and a rejection of the hospitality that they’ve offered. Now, it sounds like your social circle doesn’t have that particular set of conventions, which is great. But I don’t think the letter writer’s is the same or she would already be accustomed to bringing dishes and vice versa.

    If I invite someone who has food allergies or is a vegetarian or who has religious restrictions over for dinner, or even someone who has strong preferences, of course I will do anything I can to make sure they are well fed. I wouldn’t invite them otherwise. (I recognize it might not be possible in some circumstances, such as if they keep kosher, and that changes things entirely.) But the other part of that is, there’s a reciprocal part of the social bargain which is to accept that hospitality that I’m offering and if they’re not willing to do that, the entire interaction breaks down into something very unpleasant. It’s a rejection of the time and effort I put into providing a nice meal for my guests. And yeah, there are circumstances, I’m sure, where people invite others over without putting time and effort into it and don’t really care. And it’s good to recognize those situations. But it’s also important to know when it’s likely to be a slap in the face to the person who was trying to do something fundamentally bonding with you and I think if you have to ask, it’s probably likely to be a slap in the face. Otherwise the invitation itself will contain the information you need to know someone’s not going to be offended at you bringing your own meal because their own offering isn’t good enough.

  20. Oh, and on the question of forcing people to eat what they don’t want – I don’t think that at all. I think there are a couple of solutions, the most broad of which is simply to turn down the invitation. In this particular case, I mentioned several things that seem like a possible solution to this person’s problem above that seem less a violation of the social mores involved than simply bringing something for your own consumption which you have no intention of sharing. I don’t think it’s an all or nothing situation.

  21. @Rosemary You have said very eloquently what I was trying to say. I don’t get why it’s rude either. I don’t want my guests to go hungry, and if the best way for that to happen (for whatever reason!) is for them to bring a particular item with them, that’s just fine with me. I’m also open to making meals as accommodating as possible when I can! To me, caring for my guests includes figuring these things out; allowing them to care for themselves is just as important as allowing me to care for them.

  22. Sweet merciful…what am I saying? No one should have to ask permission to care for themselves, and I have a really hard time with Person A getting offended because Person B’s idea of taking care of their own needs doesn’t match Person A’s ideas about Person B’s needs.

  23. But the other thing to remember is that we’re not dealing with a socially neutral thing. We’re dealing with a really frigging loaded thing, which is the idea of “healthy eating” and the privileging of vegetables over other foods which, while it may have some nutritional basis some of the time, is also something that’s used to bash people over the head on a really consistent basis, particularly fat people and poor people (at least in the United States, where vegetables are much more expensive on a per calorie basis than a lot of other foods). Bringing vegetables in particular for you and your child to eat sends a very particular statement that bringing, say, peanut butter (imaging “we try and include peanut butter in every meal”) does not, and that’s where the rejection and judgment adds an extra layer. In a society where we didn’t have these extreme hang-ups about “good” foods and “bad” foods the picture might look different. But we don’t live in that society, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to try and divorce that societal context and say “they’re just taking care of our needs.”

    I admit, it’s possible that this is a mere preference issue, totally free of any larger social baggage, judgment, or show of privileged superiority on the part of the letter writer. I don’t believe it is, for all the reasons discussed above (soooooo many other ways of handling the situation if that is the case). But even if it is, she still needs to understand why other people won’t necessarily read it that way and the manner in which it interacts which the hospitality she is being offered and refusing.

  24. It doesn’t sound like the letter-writer and her daughter are going hungry here. They’re visiting family who’re offering food, presumably when they get there they’re getting food they’re willing and able to eat, just with a different food group ratio than the mother prefers. Otherwise, I doubt they’d still be going over there. They can make up the extra veggies elsewhere in their day.

  25. Miss Conduct really misstepped on this one, and can’t back out of it. She claims she’s “not diagnosing” yet offers a clinical diagnosis? From reading her column irregularly I think she’s got some weird bias against what she perceives as “food snobs”. Maybe it’s a Boston thing. Funny how according to her it’s OK for people to be kosher/vegetarian/vegan/buddhist or simply not like eating a particular food, but you’re a rude jerk if you don’t drink pepsi and eat doritos for dinner regularly because it’s unhealthy. I don’t get her bias here. Yes, it’s perfectly OK and not at all rude if you have dinner with your inlaws regularly to bring something that you like to eat and find healthy.

    Katie, the “no bad foods” line is an apologist crock of crap I’ve started to see lately, generally made by a group of people trying to work their way out of eating disorders. It’s great to use that as a lesson for a while to help yourself get to a good place about making food choices, but it falls down flat when you look into food systems and the relationships between people, land, and food production. Yes, “healthy eating” is used to bash people, and it’s now being used by Miss Conduct to bash people who do, in fact, try to eat healthy food.

  26. Katie, I think we have to agree to disagree. I don’t understand why maintaining a code of ethics that says one can’t bring their own food into someone’s home is important. I get that historically it has been seen as impolite to do. I just don’t understand why we have to support this view as correct today. To me, people being free to make their own choices about what they put into their own bodies is more important than an outdated sense of manners that says it’s offensive to a host to admit that not everyone can/will meet everyone else’s needs at all times.

    You say: “If I invite someone who has food allergies or is a vegetarian or who has religious restrictions over for dinner, or even someone who has strong preferences, of course I will do anything I can to make sure they are well fed.”

    Okay, that’s great. 1. Not everyone is like you. 2. What this says to me is that if someone comes to your home and you know that they and their child have a strong preference for having veggies and fruits at every meal, you’d find a way to accommodate them. In the instance described above, that isn’t happening. It could be for any number of reasons, none of which being the host’s fault. But need it be problematic for this mom and her kid to bring their own fruits and veggies along in that case? If, for example, you couldn’t afford fresh veggies for a guest coming to stay with you, would you really see it as an insult for them to bring their own? Or would it just be nice to know that they felt free to get their own needs met. To me, personally, a good host recognizes that people can, will, and do meet some of their own needs even as I am trying to meet as many of them as I can.

    “But the other part of that is, there’s a reciprocal part of the social bargain which is to accept that hospitality that I’m offering and if they’re not willing to do that, the entire interaction breaks down into something very unpleasant.”

    I mean really? If my step-dad keeps making the same couscous salad that I don’t particularly like and I eventually stop taking the one small sampling to be polite because by now he should realize I just don’t like the stuff, I am breaking down a social bargain into something very unpleasant?! For cereal!?

    “Oh, and on the question of forcing people to eat what they don’t want – I don’t think that at all. I think there are a couple of solutions, the most broad of which is simply to turn down the invitation.”

    So, when my family invites me over for dinner and I know I won’t like the main course, instead of bringing along some snacks to satisfy my appetite, I should decline the invitation altogether, refusing to spend a fun evening with my family?! I just … I mean … can you .. I don’t understand.

  27. Katie, I think we have to agree to disagree. I don’t understand why maintaining a code of ethics that says one can’t bring their own food into someone’s home is important. I get that historically it has been seen as impolite to do. I just don’t understand why we have to support this view as correct today.

    Well, you don’t. Do whatever you want. But this woman asked if it was rude in the society she actually lives in and since she lives in one that’s historically influenced, the answer is yes. If she actually had a good relationship with her in-laws (one that didn’t necessitate writing to an advice columnist about her issues with them), probably she and them could work out something that would suit all their needs and it would be fine, which is probably what you do with your close friends and family. Since they’re apparently not that close, she’s going to have to default to the more formal social relations which would indeed find bringing a dish just for her rude. In fact, I think your post hints at the solution – develop a good relationship with her in-laws so she can form new norms with them for their relationship. If this is impossible for whatever reason, rushing through the visits in such a way that it’s easy to eat her veggies before she comes seems like it should be easy and pleasant for her.

    I mean really? If my step-dad keeps making the same couscous salad that I don’t particularly like and I eventually stop taking the one small sampling to be polite because by now he should realize I just don’t like the stuff, I am breaking down a social bargain into something very unpleasant?! For cereal!?

    Huh? I don’t remember every saying this. I’m talking about making it incredibly obvious you don’t think their food is healthy enough, a particularly loaded topic in our culture, not a personal preference for one particular dish.

    And if you want an example of how this topic is particularly loaded, you need only read immokalee’s comment above yours, which compares not bringing your own vegetable dish just for you and your child to judging someone for not eating doritos and soda for every meal. Thanks for making my point so nicely, immokalee! Very considerate.

  28. “Would it be rude if I brought my own for me and my daughter to eat?”

    Well, yes. If you are bringing food, you should bring enough for everyone to share, if they wish to. Is bringing enough for everyone to share rude, no I don’t think so. Definitely need to get some dialogue going with the inlaws, since they seem to be there for dinner often (from the letter).

    The armchair diagnosis is disturbing. The woman just wants to each some vegetables. It’s obviously not a problem since they still eat at the inlaws regularly.

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