How to decline a dinner invitation from bad cooks, but still see them?
June 8, 2014 1:18 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are foodies, her relatives are terrible cooks. How do we decline their dinner invitation while still getting the chance to see them?

I'm traveling for work next week, and my wife is coming along. A relative of hers lives in the town we're going to. We'd like to see them, and they suggested dinner at their house.

But we are foodies, and they are very bad cooks. Specifically, they're pathologically concerned about "health", at the complete expense of all flavor or common sense. Their rigid health food rules are derived from a complex, idiosyncratic view of human nutrition that they've personally developed. While it's okay for them to eat that way, I (and my wife) would rather not be rude dinner guests and not eat very much or any of what they've prepared.

We want to see them, but we don't want to eat at their house. Usually, I would simply invite them out to dinner, but I've been unemployed and cannot afford it.

How do we see them without eating their food?
posted by Netzapper to Human Relations (58 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's kind of hard to answer this question without being super judgey. I mean, all of us have that one relative who prepares weird and/or gross food from time to time. It's a Thing People Deal With. They're opening their home to you. Go, suck it up, and concentrate on them, not the food. One meal you don't care for isn't going to kill you.

Alternatively, you could suggest a non-food activity. Drinks? A trip to the park? But it's hard to say, without knowing what's going on in their town.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:23 PM on June 8, 2014 [89 favorites]

Eat a big lunch, and then you'll be able to honestly say that you're not very hungry.

Alternately, tell 'em you have dinner plans, but that you'd love to join them for drinks afterward or something.

Or, as the first poster says, just eat the dinner. It probably won't be the shittiest shit sandwich you'll ever have to eat.
posted by box at 1:26 PM on June 8, 2014 [17 favorites]

This is probably not the answer you want, but for the sake of one meal, I would suck it up and eat at their house. The only way I wouldn't is if they had unsafe food handling habits but I don't think that's the case here. Doesn't sound like these are people you dine with often anyway, maybe just say you're feeling under the weather, eat some of it and say thank you for the meal.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Take care of health and you'll eat upwards of 25,000 dinners over your lifetime. You may be foodies, but, if these are people you'd like to see, having one of those 25,000 meals be not-so-great isn't that big a deal.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:31 PM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

You seem to be pathologically concerned about "taste" at the complete expense of seeing relatives you probably haven't seen in a while, getting caught up, and enjoying family time.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 1:31 PM on June 8, 2014 [85 favorites]

It's nice that you don't want to be rude, but you really don't have to be. Either don't eat beforehand or suck it up and eat with them. Honestly, not every meal has to be optimized, and it sounds like this would add variety to your diet.

Alternatively, if you are dead set against this time-honored course (ha!), you can (a) make other plans and then tell them you have made other plans, or (b) lie about same.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:33 PM on June 8, 2014

Oh, you're foodies, eh? Well, there are separate rules for those discerning palates such as yourself.

Oh wait! Just kidding. Everyone has to suffer through terrible family cooking. You should see how my grandmother prepares a hot dog - it's disgusting. But she's my grandmother, so I eat a big meal beforehand, drink a lot of water during, and suffer through it. Same goes for my cousin who keeps kosher and is allergic to everything. You're not a special snowflake, "foodie" or not.

Maybe bring a salad, or something else you'd enjoy? I'm assuming that they don't want to go out to eat due to their food/health issues.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:33 PM on June 8, 2014 [65 favorites]

My husband is a chef. He's suffered through more tuna and Campbell soup casserole surprises than I care to recall. And he was glad to do so, because he liked spending time with the people who invited us for dinner more than he cared about what was on his plate.

Eat a big lunch, push the food around, and have a nice time.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:38 PM on June 8, 2014 [27 favorites]

Can you suggest grilling together? You could offer to bring some steaks or other grillables.

If not, say you've been on your own green health kick, and want to bring some vegetables to share. Stop at a local farm stand or green grocer, and bring some nice fresh ingredients for the salad and some local ears of corn if they're available. Make a tomato and bocconcini salad if you can. Add fresh salt and fresh basil and a drizzle of oil and vinegar, and taste some fresh summer produce. Bring some cold beer or a nice bottle of tart rose wine.

You're foodies? That means you appreciate good/quirky food, but food is also about sociability, family, and spending time with other folks. You can get through a meal. Don't be those pathological people who have to have amazing food for every meal at all cost.
posted by barnone at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2014

Bring dessert from a local bakery, and have a nice night with your family.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bring along a dessert you know you will enjoy, maybe, f your strained budget can take it.

Otherwise, just go, and concentrate on the company rather than the cooking. One subpar (in your opinion) meal will not hurt either of you in the long run.

What is the alternative, anyway? Not seeing your wife's relatives, people she cares about, because they've been known to skimp on the saffron? Please. You can see how absurd--and rude!--that would be, right?

People are more important than things. Suck it up and go have dinner at their house.
posted by misha at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Interesting as to the number of lectures embedded in these answers, but here are two ideas that may solve your predicament:

-Before you even get there, tell them that you are very excited to introduce them to cuisine Y. Then you get there, offer to cook and show them how to make it so it can be part of the meal and/or just buy something from a local store that you both may enjoy. Be open to the idea that they may not want to eat it either and have it be part of the meal (so you can eat their food along with your food).

-Tell them before you get there - "Apologies, we found out that there is/will be a mandatory work dinner. We would still love to see you - can we meet for (insert activity of choice - dessert after dinner, drinks, games, etc.)
posted by Wolfster at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, your "but we are foodies!" comment makes this sound very snobby rather than a legitimate issue. I am also a food enthusiast, but it doesn't mean I have the right to expect all of my meals to be set to my standards. You say this comment in the same vein as someone who has a food allergy and is concerned about their dietary needs not being embraced. But being a foodie isn't a real dietary need. Someone who has an actual dietary restriction cannot always make compromises on their diet for the sake of family, but you can.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2014 [35 favorites]

"We'd love to come. I'll bring Thai takeaway because I'm on a difficult food regimen at the moment. Anything you don't eat from Thai menus?"
posted by taff at 1:52 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would endure it this time and pre-empt it next time you are in town. Next time you come to town, right off the bat when you contact them say "would you like to meetup and do [insert affordable activity]?"

I do think this is a real issue that some people might not understand. When you eat very rich and flavorful food all the time (particularly at top-rated restaurants) your taste buds become calibrated to high levels of things like salt and fat. And diet food really does taste like cardboard and it's a struggle to eat it. I have this problem since I write about food and I probably eat at fancy restaurants more than people really should. But you can do it this one time and then try harder to avoid in the future.
posted by melissam at 1:59 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I missed the part about you not being able to afford going out. My bad.

I get that you've got different criteria than your relatives when it comes to what makes food delicious. Why not bring coffee and some snack items over and leave after an hour so dinner doesn't even have to be on the table? Cut your visit really short and let them know in advance that dinner won't be possible but that you'd like to treat them to some desserts or something. Then dinner isn't an issue and you're the one bringing the food.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:59 PM on June 8, 2014

On a re-read of your question, is this causing undue anxiety? It really seems ramped up beyond the average "oh I don't love the relative's cooking."

If you're looking for a way out, say you've been cutting out XYZ food for a month to rule out issues, and you'll bring along some side dishes to share. It's a bit of a white lie, but you seem really worked up about this, and if you're worried about how to cope without being rude, fall back on dietary constraints of your own.
posted by barnone at 2:01 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

If time is flexible, go with: "We'd LOVE to get together, but unfortunately, we're not available at dinner time. Does 1pm work for you?"

If it has to be around dinner time, go with: "We have to eat dinner with my company team, but we'd love to stop in after for a drink and chat!"
posted by VioletU at 2:05 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You're not being invited for a luxury meal; you're being invited for a visit, the food is secondary.

I have been a vegetarian all my life and have dined on no end of awful dishes, many of them awful dishes that were specially prepared in my honour. There is no good option beyond effusive thanks (and genuine thanks, because feeding somebody is a kindness) and bringing a generous amount of alcohol and finding a pizza afterwards.

If you are a grown-up with a normal hospitality level it's guaranteed that you have at some point fed somebody a thing that disgusted them, while thinking it was terrific. They probably thanked you for the nice meal. As was appropriate.

I just got in from a weekend's camping with my daughter's Girl Guides unit and I (not normally a camper) kicked a tiny bit beforehand because: no elaborately prepared X on hand should the craving strike! That went away quickly because the simple food I didn't have to make myself was delicious, and now I am sort of annoyed with the fussiness level of some of what I eat; clearly I need to just apply heat to potatoes more. The agony is in the squirming and fussiness, not in the unexciting food.
posted by kmennie at 2:06 PM on June 8, 2014 [31 favorites]

I don't read your question as snobby or unreasonable. But I also think it might be good advice to try to just eat the dinner and enjoy it as much as you can.

On the other hand, pushing around your food and not eating much can come off as rude, unless your hosts just don't notice. Both of you saying you feel under the weather sounds suspicious. And I think depending on how sensitive you are forcing yourself to eat food you specifically find disgusting can make things very uncomfortable. For me, I can just imagine that it would stress me out throughout the dinner (assuming it was bad enough) making it hard to relax, and to focus on the conversation and the special time that others are emphasizing so much. I would be aware of every mouthful's taste and presence in my mouth as I tried to chew and swallow each bite. And then a final sense of relief as I finally judged myself to have eaten enough of the dinner not to be rude. My mom would be the same way. We are not "picky" eaters. But for some people bad food can be really bad. And I guess that's not what you want this get-together to be about?

I would suggest not eating much lunch beforehand since I think bad food really tastes better the more hungry you are, and you want to make this as easy on yourself as possible. Also, bring a nice dessert for a final sense of pleasure to look forward to after the bad meal.

Or, even better, how big is the city you are traveling to? Can you not afford to take them out for even a cheap meal? Like 10 dollars a person?

If it's a decent sized city with a selection of good restaurants I would find a place (maybe through yelp) that is supposed to be cheap, very ,very good, and perhaps unique, or an underrepresented cuisine. Tell your relatives that your friend told you about this place and you really, really want to try it while you're there. It would make it more believable and not to seem like you're just trying to avoid eating their cooking (which would be my concern though I know you said that the price is the thing that's keeping you from doing this). I think this may be quite doable.
posted by Blitz at 2:18 PM on June 8, 2014

Nthing the folks who are saying suck it up, it won't kill you.

Look, you wanna talk about bad cooks? My grandmother was so bad that the industrial-kitchen food in her nursing home was an improvement! I swear, that woman could screw up tossed salad..... If you want 'bad', I'll give you her recipe for onion pie: nobody in the family has had the guts to make it, we all survived it when she cooked so we figure we've done our time. Her stollen recipe is a long-running family joke! But every last one of us, knowing we were facing awful food, still sat there and ate it, because she was our grandmother and that's what you do for those you love.
posted by easily confused at 2:21 PM on June 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

You know, I get this completely. I also get the people saying whaaat?
Some people I love are terrible cooks, and over time, my children refused to go there, unless forced. Which was very sad for me, because I really would have loved for our children to become friends. I must say, I go. I eat ahead and then take a tiny portion of what is offered, which everyone accepts.
Often though, I offer to cook or help with the cooking. I go there an hour or two ahead of the other guests and I bring my own produce. This is very popular. Bad cooks are often reluctant cooks. So they enjoy having help in the kitchen, and we all enjoy the hour(s) spent cooking and having a pre-party drink and a more personal chat. Because of my cooking experience, I can find cheaper produce than they can, so even when we sometimes go Dutch, they are impressed by my sourcing skills. More often, they buy the expensive stuff like meat and wine, and I bring everything else, because friends.
To give a different angle on this: even though I am a poor foody, I have friends who are even poorer foodies, who find my food too bland and boring (I am a Northern European and use garlic and spices sparingly, they are from the South and love a stronger taste). So when we eat together, the roles are reversed: I buy the wine and meat I can afford, and they bring fruit and vegs and spices.
posted by mumimor at 2:22 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's just food. You're just going to shit it out anyway. Is one meal you might not really enjoy worth a potential lifetime of judgment? And I do mean "potential lifetime" - my mother and my aunt and uncle don't really get along, and one reason is that they're also "foodies" / particular about their food around guests, and she never shuts up about it.

That said, this is what sauces are invented for. This might be a suburban thing (home of bland cooking, steamed and boiled and pre-frozen everything, etc.) but a lot of people keep some hot sauce or barbecue sauce or steak sauce or whatever on hand in the cupboard, often for this very reason.
posted by dekathelon at 2:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

When I was briefly considering going to chef's school, I had an interview with the director of the program, who was also an instructor. His first question was "If a friend asked you to have dinner at restaurant they really wanted to go to, but you heard wasn't very good, what would you say to your friend?" The look of approval was clear when I gave the correct answer: you be a friend and go.
posted by alusru at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I know how you feel, perhaps you can say something like, "we'd love to see you. I know you follow a strict vegetarian/vegan/macrobiotic diet, but you know we omnivores, I can't promise we'll love it, but we'll give it a go. We'll bring a starter and dessert. How's seven?"

Now they're on notice that you may not want to eat what they've prepared, but with a good starter and dessert, you won't go away hungry.

You do have to go, and you should break bread with them, because that's the nice thing to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ha, this could be written about some of my family members (though I wouldn't describe myself as a foodie).

Honestly, they have to know they have an unusual and spartan diet - my family members do. When we eat at their house, and we do eat at their house frequently, we BYO certain dishes and spices that we know they don't have or won't use. Just say "We'd love to get together. We're so looking close to catching up! I know you guys are on a pretty strict and limited diet, would it be alright if we brought a few dishes to share as well?"

This means that on the dinner table there are two salad dressings, two kinds of "butter" (or more), etc. We do try to "cook down" to something that approaches my family member's level of sensitivity for salt, fat and spice, but we still cook with spices. So it isn't as WOWZA as our normal home cooking but then we aren't eating boiled skinless chicken breasts bare with green beans steamed within an inch of their life.

No one has hurt feelings. No one is excluded. And everyone eats together.
posted by arnicae at 2:43 PM on June 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I appreciate good cuisine; I might even be a snob about some aspects of food culture.

I've eaten some really, really terrible food for the sake of being polite and taking part in a meal with people I liked. (Not even loved, just liked.) When I say terrible, I mean food that would make some people who aren't used to it gag - not just bland or flavorless. Fried caterpillars, horribly bitter and mucosal sauces, slightly off fish boiled in reused oil, etc... a terrible meal just isn't a big deal unless it actually makes you ill.

Being a "foodie" has nothing to do with it. People who aren't foodies don't like terrible food either; they just have different ideas of what's terrible than you do.

I don't think that the suggestion that you cook for them will work unless you offer to make dishes that follow their rules.

Another option, if you are really set on not eating their food, is to come up with some (incompatible) rules of your own. Brownbag it. The potential to cause offense is there if they find out you're full of it, but I think they're going to catch on that you don't want to eat their food eventually if you always have an excuse. Some of the excuses upthread seem like they'll work a few times, but ... forever?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:43 PM on June 8, 2014

It's not clear from your question whether the food is simply bland, or whether you find it disgusting. If it's the former, and you want to see these people, just suck it up. I like eating well as much as anyone, but I'll gladly eat my friends' less-than-stellar cooking in order to spend time with them. If it's the latter—the food is really disgusting to you—suggest a different time where you could have coffee, a drink, etc.

Could you give an example of the kind of food you're afraid they would serve? That might undercut some of the snark, and if it is really dreadful, it could give us some entertainment.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:45 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the people saying one bad meal won't kill you: Having been in your boat more than I care to admit, I liken it to the idea that if there is no ugliness in the world, we cannot recognize beauty. Without meals that wouldn't be fit to be served in an American elementary school cafeteria, or to caged bunny rabbits, we couldn't recognize the unspeakably sublime feeling of the perfectly flavored and textured dish.
posted by whatzit at 2:49 PM on June 8, 2014

You say you can't afford to take them out. What would you and your wife be doing that evening for dinner if you don't go to their place? Is there any way to apply whatever money would have been budgeted for that meal toward this situation, either by taking them out or buying a side dish to bring, or even to add to your budget for the next night's meal in order to have a much nicer dinner to reward yourselves?

I would not force food on them in anyway by insisting on take-out at their home or cooking a meal for them at their home, mainly because it's rude but also because I would imagine they wouldn't be able to eat it, if that they're that rule-bound about food. They may be inviting you to their house because they really cannot go out, given their restrictions.
posted by jaguar at 3:10 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am an awesome single mother. I am an excellent kayaker. I can surf and skateboard and clean my house in 19 minutes flat and I am cheerful and positive with nutty teenagers.

I am also a terrible cook. I mean, I look at water and it burns. I have absolutely no skill in this area.

My family loves me anyway. They come over for meals. We all know I can't cook and that's okay. They usually eat before they come over for dinner and push my weird quinoa bake around on the plate. I'm just happy to see them.

Just push the damn food around on the plate; take a few bites, and don't be a big foodie snob.

It's not your last meal.
posted by kinetic at 3:18 PM on June 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Think of this as a symposium on their odd eating habits. Engage with the meal. Ask a million questions. "What is this? Maca powder? Where does it come from? What is it good for? How much do I need to eat to get a healthful effect? How did you discover it?", etc.

Weird people sharing their weirdnesses are one of the joys of life.
posted by apparently at 3:51 PM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Why are there ZERO non-food-oriented ideas?

Here are some:

- Invite them for board games (at your hotel, their place, whatever);

- Invite them to visit something like our local lemur/wildlife sanctuary/interesting walking place with you - I'm thinking of Durham's "Museum of Life and Science" which has a nice outdoor multi-acre site with a walking path that goes by lemurs, black bears, wolves, in big outdoor fenced areas - fun to walk. There's a butterfly house there, too.

- Go to a sports event; concert; film (mainstream cinema, art house, museum film series); museum exhibit; botanical gardens;

- Do an outdoor activity like a hike or canoeing;

- Go on a sailboat;

- Go mushroom hunting (with a guide - check park events listings) or fishing;

- Go on a picnic to a lovely spot, but everybody brings their own picnic;

- Take a walking tour of an interesting neighborhood;

- Visit an arts festival or gallery walk;

- etc.
posted by amtho at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sometimes you do just have to cheerfully eat terrible food for the sake of being friends. If the problem really is just blandness, adding table salt (and pepper when it makes sense) really does help a lot. Over the years, my mother's cooking has gotten more and more bland. She won't use onions or garlic, and tends to cut the salt down to almost nothing (and sometimes leaves it out entirely). At holidays, my siblings and I just quietly adjust the salt levels up to where the food tastes good, and it's fine.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:54 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You do what everyone else does when faced with an awkward family situation, you lie.

You say, Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I just found out that we have to go to a work dinner, can we come over for a quick visit after dinner?

If the only time you can possibly visit is during dinner time, I would just eat beforehand and take very small portions.
posted by crankylex at 3:58 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a really lovely gesture that they want to cook a meal for you. I've eaten a lot of meals that, objectively, were kind of crappy. But when you're hungry and someone who loves you gives you food, there's something sweet about that. For me it overcomes a lot of snobbery and I'll eat things in that setting that I wouldn't eat otherwise.

As long as you are able to eat the food, go and do it. Pretend this is a rare opportunity to dine with the aborigines of Ohio and that your challenge is to eat their minced grasshopper burgers with apparent delight and appreciation. If you can't say something nice about the food, say "It's so nice of you to make dinner for us!" That said ... if you really can't keep from gagging when you eat their food, then consider other options.

Look for an outdoor concert and ask them to join you for a picnic (and bring your own food). Or find a free event that doesn't involve food at all.

If you have time and enjoy communal cooking, find a recipe that meets both their dietary requirements and yours, and tell them excitedly that you would love to come over and make this new recipe for healthy-but-tasteful-thing-you-just-found. Bring over ingredients and a bottle of wine. (This might be something you can only get by with if you are pretty close to them).
posted by bunderful at 4:03 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing the folks who advise to just suck it up. Perhaps you could bring a favorite seasoned salt (ahem... as a "gift") or something to make it go down easier. However, I also agree with those who think the concept itself is a tad snooty.

To put it context?

We are designers, and really don't want have to sit on their ugly couch.

We are gearheads, and don't want to have to ride in their crappy old Ford.

We are environmentalists and don't want to have to eat something that was brought home in a plastic bag.

We are dog people and they have cats.

Family is family, and it seems a small thing to deal with for a night. Might be the sort of thing you regret not doing when they are gone.
posted by timsteil at 4:06 PM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm actually going to disagree with most people here. I don't think anyone should ever have to eat food they don't like. What people haven't thought about is that not everyone can cope with eating food they don't like. I know I couldn't when I was younger, and it's not just because choice or snobbiness. Some people are super tasters and can't stand the taste of sprouts etc. Others find certain textures un-bearable.

For instance as a child I could only cope with very limited foods. If I tried to eat something that I didn't like it would make me gag. My Father and my schools dinner ladies tried to force me to eat food I didn't like, resulting in me almost throwing up and becoming even worse. I learnt to say when I didn't like something and to be assertive about it.

If I was cooking a meal for someone and found out they'd been forcing it down to be polite I'd be very un-happy. One because that person felt they couldn't be honest with me. Secondly because I'd want my guests to enjoy my food and would be more than willing to make adjustments to the food to make it palatable to them. If you can't be honest and open with family about what you like and don't then I think something is wrong there. As I've never had anyone be offended, upset or annoyed when I said I didn't like something. THankfully I'm better now and am becoming something of a foodie myself. Yet there is still food I don't like and will politely request not to have it.

If I found myself in that situation then I'd suggest I bring my own food to heat up there. Or I'd ask if they minded me bringing in a sauce I'd made to put on it. But then I'm lucky as I'm unlikely to find myself in that situation as I've always been around people who ask their guests if they'd like something before cooking it.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why are there ZERO non-food-oriented ideas?

Yeah I was wondering that too. Then again I imagine they suggested dinner because that is the time married working couples have for socializing during the week.

A little white lie is not going to hurt anyone in this situation. If you're traveling for work, you are presumably busy until dinnertime every day. Your wife could also have made plans to see friends in the opposite part of the city, or she could be planning to go to a museum or some other event. Whatever, you come up with an excuse that makes dinner plans impossible. But keep it simple so you don't get tangled in a web of lies.

If they are the type who'd say that they would do a late dinner for you, your story needs an eating component-- your videoconference is catered, your wife is meeting friends for happy hour, etc.

Then tell them you'd like to come by after dinner for dessert or coffee or organic bug juice.

Just make up a reason why you're not free until after dinnertime. You're traveling for business. It's not that hard.

And I'm not going to judge. If you don't want to eat their gross food, don't.
posted by CtrlAltD at 4:34 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm traveling for work next week, and my wife is coming along.

If you weren't going to their house, would you and your wife go out to dinner? Just go before or after you get to their house.

But the thing about gross food -- I really only care about that stuff when I can't stand the people I am with. If I like them, but hate their food, I eat a bunch of bread, shove food around or hide it under a lettuce leaf, and fill up on Cheez Its while drinking whatever alcohol they've provided and enjoying their company.

There's gross food everywhere, it's there in a hundred business lunches, family obligations, social obligations etc etc -- if you want to be with the people you can't decline the invitation. You have to figure out a way around it. Mr. Llama is an extremely picky eater and carries around granola bars that he can scurry off and furtively eat. People have food allergies, religious restrictions, dietary preferences, moral preferences about food--but the social part is so important people work really hard to figure a way around it.

The eating is of secondary importance.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:35 PM on June 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Plead a prior engagement and ask if you can drop by after dinner with a bottle of wine. Or, substitute a non-food-based event elsewhere, if you have the time.

I know how you feel and I'm not judging you. If you care *a lot* about food, and the food they make is truly awful, you trying to eat it (or eat around it) could destroy the pleasure of the evening for everyone, including them. Why do that?

FWIW I think it would be extremely rude to try to backseat drive by bringing your own food, whether it's takeout, "sides," special ingredients or whatever. If you bring and mostly eat your own stuff, that is not going to go unnoticed and it will be insulting -- particularly because they do care about food. It might be okay to go and eat and make fun of the food if you were all very very close, but this is not your parents or grandparents, so that avenue is out.

Find a way to spend time with them, but without eating dinner at their house.
posted by Susan PG at 4:37 PM on June 8, 2014

If you bring and mostly eat your own stuff, that is not going to go unnoticed and it will be insulting -- particularly because they do care about food.

If they have a weird diet they know they have a weird diet. And I think if you approach it with empathy and friendliness you'll be absolutely fine. I already gave the "my weird family members" example so here's a "my weird partner" example. Mr. Arnicae looooooove red meat. And most of my family eats meat-based protein maybe 2-3 days a week. Mr. Arnicae would like to have it daily. So, when we visit family members, he offers to cook and brings home lovely cuts of red meat which he prepares in delectable ways.

Everyone wins! Mr. Arnicae gets to eat red meat, my family gets to eat delectable food.

Just talk to them. And bringing food to share is not rude - that is called potluck. Alternately, thank them for hosting and since you are acknowledged foodies in the family offer to cook for them?
posted by arnicae at 5:14 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you like anything they make? Your best hope is to ask them to make something they've made previously because you love it so much and really, really want them to make their special dish again.

At this time of year you also may be able to try to convince them to have a BBQ where you could bring meat or whatever as your contribution and steer the menu that way.
posted by whoaali at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2014

Be nice and eat their food, for goodness sake. I have family and friends who cook rich, heavy meals at gatherings and I'm kind of a health nut and ideally would like lighter, preferably vegan food. I just eat what they cook and take more of the dishes I like (vegetables) and less of the stuffing with bacon sausage whatever in it and say thank you.

I feel like self-identifying as a "foodie" is on par with self-identifying as a hipster.. a little much.. but anyway, when I started reading the question I first thought, these must be relatives who can't really cook and only eat tv dinners and rice-a-roni and whatnot.. but no! These folks have a whole crazy idiosyncratic nutrition theory thing going on! How could you, a foodie, not want to go eat their food? If it doesn't taste the best how could it not at least be interesting? Don't you go to hip restaurants and order weird things that sometimes turn out to not taste that good (I do) in the name of being an adventurous diner? Think of it as an adventure.
posted by citron at 6:13 PM on June 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

And bringing food to share is not rude - that is called potluck

It's not rude in the context of a pot luck, but it is* if you haven't been invited to a pot luck. The traditional etiquette advice for Guest arrives at planned meal with dish/unexpected wine in hand, what to do? is to thank them effusively and tuck it away in the as there's no obligation to serve it.

According to this there is a regional/modern variation on that, though. Emily Post: And don't bring food for the meal unless you've been asked to. Otherwise you risk putting your host on the spot and upsetting the menu. Peggy Post: If you're accepting a dinner invitation, there should be no strings attached — so don't stipulate dietary preferences.

* to me. Googling shows a bit of variation in cultural/class/generational expectations here.
posted by kmennie at 6:42 PM on June 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

It's one meal that isn't to your liking. Your health or safety is not threatened by eating it. Just eat it, enjoy being with your family, and eat something good for dinner the next night. Plus, consider that by feeding you based on their idiosyncratic notions of healthful eating, your relatives are really doing their best to do something nice and considerate for you.

Seriously, there are LOTS of people in the US who would be happy to eat a home-cooked meal, even if it wasn't super tasty.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:04 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man, you really did yourself a disservice by identifying as a foodie.

If I put myself in your shoes and I was facing the prospect of a meal that I knew was going to be revolting to me (kidney and turnip pie with a side of okra!), I would be really, really anxious about it. I'd spend the whole week beforehand imagining what was going to happen when I gagged trying to get that turnip down. How embarrassed would I be? How insulted would great aunt Ida be? Just how much of the meal would I have to choke down to be polite? etc. So, if it's that level of discomfort, I would suggest a different activity to them. Make an excuse about dinner and visit for coffee/tea/llama's tears and dessert (your homemade speciality?) after 8.

On the other hand, if it was just a case of having to eat a bowl of bland lentils and kale, my taste buds would be sad, but I'd just suck it up.
posted by looli at 7:45 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since they've got some strict rules that they eat by, it's going to be a little complicated to suggest (or bring along) a food you know they'll like, even if it's just dessert or snacks. Consider giving them a softened version of the truth and a suggestion of other plans?

Dear Cousin, Thanks so much for you invitation, we'd love to see you. I know you've been eating macrobiotic vegan rawfood these days, and that's not entirely compatible with my high-protein diet or wife's soy allergy [okay, yeah, maybe you're kind of making something up to be as incompatible as possible, but remember, whatever you say, you have to eat!]. If you're really excited about dinner, I'm sure we can find some common ground, but I was thinking (maybe we could meet up at 7:30 for ice cream and board games. Would it be easier if we came to your place, or would you like to come downtown to the fancy hotel my conference is at?) or (that I'd love to visit $localmuseum and it might be fun to see that with you).
posted by aimedwander at 8:24 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The reason why it's rude to bring food you haven't been asked to bring is because it risks implying that your hosts' food wouldn't be good enough for you.

So anyone suggesting that you bring food as a way to avoid saying directly that their food isn't good enough... Is just giving you an indirect way of saying the same thing.

If food is what you value most, do this; if the relationship is what you value most, smile, nod along and hide stuff under a lettuce leaf.
posted by tel3path at 11:47 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've got gluten free, paleo and vegan and various levels of anaphylactic friends and they always bring something they know they can eat and share. It means the pressure is off me, I do my best to cater to their needs, but if I screw up and use soy/oyster/peanut sauce they still have something to eat. It's not that they're saying my food is shite, which it probably is, but that they have special medical dietary needs. If it was just because they hated my food, I'd be sad. But if the "excuse" you make is health related, I doubt anyone would be cross with you for bringing something to share.
posted by taff at 12:39 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Really, just tell them you've got work related dinner plans. Ask them if they're free after dinner and bring wine. Or ask them to show you their town by night?
posted by Omnomnom at 5:40 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh. I mean, yes, the polite and decent thing to do is to eat the food IF you're there for dinner. But why not tell them that you had an obligation to have dinner elsewhere and you were hoping you could come by for dessert or a cup of tea afterwards?

You could alternatively let them know that you've had some tummy issues that make you only able to eat bread, and that they shouldn't feel bad, it's just at thing you're dealing with these days.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:06 AM on June 9, 2014

It sounds like the food is bland/not to your liking, rather than likely to make you ill, correct? If so, count me as another for trying your best to enjoy the company and not focus on the food. However, if you afraid it will make you ill, inform your hosts of any particular trouble spots beforehand when at all possible and politely make an excuse for anything unexpected.
posted by wiskunde at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

A relative of hers lives in the town we're going to. We'd like to see them, and they suggested dinner at their house...

...Usually, I would simply invite them out to dinner, but I've been unemployed and cannot afford it.

I could easily be imagining this, but I think I see a connection. They know that all of you would normally go out to eat, but they know you're unemployed. Given that you're traveling, they may be guessing that with your unemployment the travel budget is pretty tight. So they want to do you a kindness and feed you on their own dime.

Personally, if I had relatives and/or friends willing to help me out like that, I would go to that dinner with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, and I would eat whatever they served so long as it wasn't braised arsenic served in a belladonna cream sauce alongside a hemlock salad, followed by cyanide ice cream for dessert.

If you simply can't bring yourself to eat their meal, I agree with those who suggested a post-dinner non-food get-together: an evening of card games, or a local free/cheap event, or some such.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:57 AM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Although I agree with most people who are basically saying "suck it up", how about a BBQ and you can bring your own fixing's to share.
posted by like_neon at 10:34 AM on June 9, 2014

A lot of the answers here probably mean well, but are suggestive of a messed up relationship to eating. I completely disagree with the kind of advice that is basically saying: "OP, just completely ignore and override what your senses and instincts in your own body have already told you about this food, and force yourself to eat obviously unappetizing slop you have already tried and you know you absolutely don't want to eat because OMG you might hurt your wife's relatives' feelings!"

No. No. No. You're not some asshole for being mindful and selective about what foods you choose to put into your body, OP.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying as a "foodie" who likes well-seasoned, beautifully-prepared foods, just as there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a vegan, or being gluten free, or eating clean, or what have you. And nobody gets to have the moral high ground over you for having some medically-diagnosed reason or some religious reason for not eating something. (THIS is precisely why folks may feel social pressure to lie about food allergies instead of saying they don't like something.) Just because someone else's grandmother made them eat shit and pretend to like it once upon a time, does not mean you have to eat shit now, too. Being allowed to choose your own foods most of the time is one of the best things about being a grown-ass adult.

Not wanting to eat something is reason enough.

Of course, context matters. My answer might have been different if what you'd described were a truly special occasion that could meaningfully impact your life, like the one and only time you'd been invited to Shabbat Dinner at your boss' house, or if you were representing your country as a visiting dignitary abroad over a meal in, say, Japan, where you would be expected to clean your plate as a sign of respect. In those rare, limited circumstances, sure, my answer would be to take one for the proverbial team if you possibly could. But in your case, where this dinner is completely optional anyway and there are valid work excuses you could make, plus loads of other ways to get together with these relatives-in-law? In this case, Hell To The No, don't eat dinner at their house. Let your special snowflake foodie flag fly!
posted by hush at 11:34 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's the sort of food that would be tolerable if only it had salt, you could always bring your own.
posted by yohko at 3:48 PM on June 9, 2014

Are you close to this relative? Do you like them? Life takes unexpected turns. Eat the disgusting jello mold bland food while you can.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:17 PM on June 9, 2014

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