How do I deal with my in-laws' rejection of my veganism?
May 2, 2016 3:59 PM   Subscribe

I've been vegetarian for 25 years; mostly vegan for 4-5. I don't claim to be vegan but I don't eat or cook meat (I am our family's homemaker). Almost all of my friends/relatives are not vegetarian or vegan. Most are fairly considerate when sharing a meal. Whenever I share a meal with my in-laws however, there is little consideration of my veganism, and most of the food includes meat. How can I deal with the perceived hostility, and how can I get enough to eat?

My sister-in-law (wife's sister) and her husband are big meat-eaters, and whenever there is a joint occasion--usually involving our two families plus my mother-in-law--they take initiative on the food, usually in cahoots with my mother-in-law, and anything prepared is almost never vegan and almost always includes meat, often when it could be excluded.

Most specifically, this weekend, it is my mother-in-law's birthday (and Mother's Day) and for her birthday dinner, they asked if it was OK if they made seafood paella ... that also includes chicken and pork (chorizo). And they ask through my wife, who is vegetarian but much less strict about it than I am ... can we say "No, that's not OK?" Even when it is a special meal that their son and his grandmother share?! (Before I answer, I already feel like a jerk.)

My choices, as usual, seem to be: 1) compromise and eat meat; 2) don't compromise and eat nothing; 3) make an alternative vegan paella to bring and heat up and feel like a jerk. (I think the answer is #3 without the feeling jerky, but advice still would help on the managing part ;)

The issue is further complicated by a strained relationship between me and my mother-in-law, so I have to deal with a lot of shame around my diet, my relationship with her, how it affects her relationship with my kids, how we share family meals ... it's all very stressful for me.

So, (1) what should I do? and (2) do you have a killer recipe for vegan paella? I have a few, but none are really awesome, and if I'm going to bother with paella (and scrape my wallet for saffron), I want it to be better than the meat version.

(I'm looking more for (1) than (2), which is why I picked human relations, but I will take any killer recipes y'all got.)
posted by mrgrimm to Human Relations (76 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can only address question number one. I am not a vegetarian. My sister is. Your in-laws are assholes. If someone treated my sister the way they are treating you I would be saying something to them AND bringing appropriate food. You have nothing to be ashamed of or feel like a jerk about. Bring your own food. I think your wife needs to give them a talking to about being respectful. I hope I'm not coming across to opinionated but your post ticked me off.
posted by cairnoflore at 4:10 PM on May 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

1. For pete's sake, just make a vegan dish that you actually like, not vegan paella. If they are serving something you can't eat, they cannot possibly insist that you make your own variant that you can eat.

2. For routine family holidays, etc, if they want to be the food-givers then I think it's pretty rude of them not to prepare something substantial that you can eat, even if it's just a fancied up side - a great bean dish, a great pasta dish, coconut milk ice cream for dessert, etc.

3. For special occasions, I think they should still make sure there's a tasty side - bread and spreads and a good salad, for instance. In my book, birthday people get to pick the meal based on personal preferences.

4. Has anyone in your family ever talked directly about this to them? Even if they are assholes about it, at least you'll know where you stand.

5. Is the food situation bearing all the weight of the other stuff? Would you feel better about the food if you didn't feel like they were excluding you socially? I mean, for me it's not too hard to bring my own food or accept that I'm going to eat a bit of what others are having even if it's not vegan, but that's because it's not sauced with rejection. What is this strain about? Can you address it in some other way?

6. Me, I would just bring tasty food of my own and either share or not. If people kick, I think I would try to say coolly, "Clara, since I can't eat meat or seafood, I am going to need to bring my own meals".
posted by Frowner at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2016 [35 favorites]

This is really hard. When people invite us to break bread with them, part of that is "and I will feed you as best I can, since I am bothering to invite you over and offer you food." I had a friend who'd I'd known for a decade - who was a chef! at a restaurant that was super accommodating! - who would routinely be like "oh, man, I just dumped soy sauce in that, so sorry!" (F-ing gluten.)

It sounds like this has been going on for awhile, and they're not going to change. All you can do is pack your own food and NOT FEEL GUILTY (seriously, why should you feel guilty that you're feeding yourself at their party?), especially since it's MIL's birthday and meat-y paella is what she wants to eat. Would it be right for them to make something to works for you too? Of course. But if they're not going to, all you can do is bring something along, smile, and say 'no thank you!' to the meaty version if offered (can you heat and plate while everyone else is bustling and minimize the attention to your plate?) In a couple of occasions, hopefully this will be normalized... and then they'll find something else to give you a hard time about. ;)
posted by joycehealy at 4:12 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

they take initiative on the food, usually in cahoots with my mother-in-law, and anything prepared is almost never vegan and almost always includes meat, often when it could be excluded.

Just because they take the initiative on food should not stop you from bringing additional dishes that you can eat. It does not make you a jerk.

It's unfortunate that they won't accommodate you and I think that makes them sucky hosts, but if you've already tried to ask politely and they aren't doing anything about it, then bring your own food. There aren't any other options, because getting louder and demanding that they make vegetarian food would then be crossing the line into sucky guest territory.
posted by Karaage at 4:12 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hi there, Madhur Jaffrey has a killer vege paella in her book World Vegetarian. I can't find it transcribed online in my cursory searching though, but more broadly:

No, you can't force other people to eat what you want. Especially on their birthdays. That's super rude. As someone with a chronic stomach disease that necessitates a restricted diet at times, I always take full responsibility for my special dietary requirements, I do not expect others to cater for them at all. It's my deal, not theirs.

To be honest, I'm kind of impressed they even checked with you about what you would want for her birthday meals. Make your own vegetarian/vegan dish/dishes and bring it. For your birthday you get to have vegan.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 4:14 PM on May 2, 2016 [61 favorites]

No, you aren't a jerk. They're thoughtless. But you may not be able to change your mother-in-law in this regard. As I see it, you have two (real) options:

1) Your wife: "Paella-- of course you should make paella! xxx has a great recipe for vegetarian paella and we will bring some with us as well so everyone can try it!" (This requires you being clear with your wife that this makes you feel both excluded and hungry and you need her to stand up for you. Which she should. Her family. )

2) You take the initiative yourself to call and say: "I want to bring another entree myself which is vegetarian, and I will naturally bring enough for everyone. I'm thinking either xxx or yyy. What do you think goes best?" Unless they are really aggressive jerks, if you do this politely enough then eventually everyone will get the message for future occasions.
posted by frumiousb at 4:16 PM on May 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

Former vegan here. You should bring a vegan dish as your contribution to the family meal and eat that.

It's always nice when people graciously take your dietary restrictions into consideration. But these are your self-imposed choices, not theirs. These people don't seem to be very considerate, but take the high road here. They are not obligated to do make vegan food and getting butthurt over stuff like this is part of what gives vegetarians and vegans a bad name. This is part of the social ramifications of a vegan diet.
posted by gnutron at 4:16 PM on May 2, 2016 [70 favorites]

Long-term: therapy. This is an inappropriate amount of shame for sure, and possibly also a term I'm going to make up called "relationship weight" tied to food.

And what I mean by "relationship weight" is this: Even when it is a special meal that their son and his grandmother share?! It's mother's day and her birthday. The significance here is not on a shared meal, it's her day. It doesn't make you a jerk to be bothered, but you are kind of inventing a thing to be bothered about instead of the actual thing you are bothered about, which is that they don't really care about your dietary restrictions.

They don't really care about your dietary restrictions. That is a fact. You cannot change it. You are also assuming it's a rejection of you personally even though a lot of American-type Westerners simply cannot fathom food without meat, are too closed-culture to consider how rude they're being, and often believe they are justified in thinking that non-meat eaters (in part because this is sometimes a not-our-religion situation too) are just being a pain in the ass. They've never thought beyond that. They eat meat, meat is what you eat, end of thought process. They maybe are assholes, but they are not necessarily being assholes to you specifically on purpose. (Except they asked. That does sort of indicate that a conversation was had that had some awareness of your dietary restrictions. Maybe it was "is he going to to sulk at the table if we do this?" or maybe it was "instead of doing the best thing, which is make a thing everyone can eat, let's put it on him to make this a problem" or maybe it was "this is what I want, I guess let's see if he can be okay with that". You won't know unless you ask.)

I think you would actually suffer far less if you just started bringing completely separate meals to these events. Even if they made a huuuuuge deal about it, just smile and say, "It takes the stress off me to just handle it myself."

But also you're suffering because you want them to care and read your mind, and you may be able to resolve this with one polite spineful conversation in which you say "it is hurtful to me that you make no attempt to include me in these meals, is it because you don't care about my feelings or is it some other reason?" But you cannot have that conversation until you are ready to hear the answer even if it is a terrible one. It would still put the question to rest. You should either work up to having it, or work up to letting this go and stop letting it wreck multiple relationships.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:18 PM on May 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

The only way to win the game is not to play: just bring your own stuff, because the fight is so fundamentally not worth it and they will always think you're being rude no matter what (unless you eat the stuff you're completely unwilling to eat, and pretend you like it, and possibly even then they'll still be annoyed about whatever you said before.)

Though I will add that if you make a habit of bringing really delicious stuff that fits your preferences, people will probably start making things you're willing to eat.
posted by SMPA at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

Oh gosh. I hate to say this, but I don't think this is necessarily a "how to handle vegetarianism" issue. I think this may be a "how to handle awful, passive-aggressive asshole in-laws" question. They're behaving incredibly badly towards both you and your wife. It sounds like they're bullying your wife into compromising her ideals to keep the peace. It sounds like they're going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome at family events. I don't know that you're going to be able to come up with a food-based solution to deal with a people-based problem. I think the food-based solution is to bring a vegetarian dish that complements the main dish, and bring enough for everyone rather than just for you. But I don't think that's going to solve the problem, because this might be about your in-laws being shit-heads, not about what's for dinner.

But I could be misreading the situation. Has your wife made it clear that she minds eating meat, even though she's occasionally willing to do it, and that you don't eat any animal products at all?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think that, if it is a celebration for a person, like a birthday, and someone other than you is making the meal, then they get to pick what they want to eat.

If it is a gathering for a holiday, there should be something on the table that you can have, enjoy, and be satiated by made by the host if they are making the whole dinner.

There shouldn't be any guilt about you bringing something tasty for yourself on those occasions where there won't be something provided. I don't know why you aren't already bringing food as most things like this are potluck affairs in my experience. If they are hostile to you plunking down a big bowl of your favorite roasted cauliflower and tahini at this weekend's gathering then, yes, they are turds.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:19 PM on May 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

And they ask through my wife, who is vegetarian but much less strict about it than I am ... can we say "No, that's not OK?"

What happens if your wife says, "I don't eat meat, and Mrgrimm doesn't eat any animal products, so we wouldn't be able to eat that"?

Your post is missing a description of how you've tried to raise the issue in the past, and what their response has been. It's not even obvious that they know you're vegan, except for the fact that you seem upset they're not respecting it. So it's hard for us to make suggestions, since we don't know where you're starting from.

It's normal to feel slighted if they never take you into account, but ... really, what happens if you raise the issue? How have you tried before?

But I do want to say a birthday is a different case. When it's someone's special day, they should get to eat the dish they prefer, especially if it's a dish with sentimental value. If the people organizing the dinner check with you, the polite thing to do would to be honest, but offer a compromise: "Since Mrgrimm doesn't eat animal products, we won't be able to share the paella. But we could bring an additional dish to share with everyone."

That way you get to have something to eat, and as a bonus, you might introduce these die-hard meat-eaters to a vegan recipe that they like! (Don't try to upstage their paella. It's petty, but also unlikely to succeed because even if you think it's better, they'll be used to what they like. Make something else.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:22 PM on May 2, 2016 [24 favorites]

3) make an alternative vegan paella to bring and heat up and feel like a jerk

Why is this jerky? I've been veg for 20 years and have always done this. It's easy and I always have something I like. I don't expect anyone else to feed me when I'm the only vegetarian for miles.

The issue is further complicated by a strained relationship between me and my mother-in-law, so I have to deal with a lot of shame around my diet, my relationship with her, how it affects her relationship with my kids, how we share family meals

Why do you care what your MIL thinks about your diet? And how does this affect MILs relationship with your kids? This is a great learning opportunity for your kids: look at all these people with different tastes and perspectives, we can all get together, bring the stuff we like and share it, we can stick to our value system (by bringing our own food) and still have a great time with all these different people.

whenever there is a joint occasion--usually involving our two families plus my mother-in-law--they take initiative on the food

If you feel that strongly that there should be veg food at a gathering, you can take initiative, can't you? (Although, for the MIL birthday thing, you certainly can't dictate what someone else can make for her on her own birthday.)
posted by Beti at 4:22 PM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

At our family events, everyone usually brings something. My husband is very picky and does not like many traditional holiday foods. So when we get invited, I usually call my aunt right away and volunteer for an item I know he'll eat.
posted by JoannaC at 4:22 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Whether it's your choice or an actual medical need, it is really difficult to get people to care about your "unusual" food requirements. I would either bring my own stuff to eat that didn't require using their kitchen in any way (if i was feeling really pissy about it maybe an entire takeout meal with its own plastic utensils and eat it out of the container) or just eat well beforehand and eat nothing at their home.

I tend to take people's offers at face value and if they said "is it okay if we make this thing you can't eat" my response would be "you can make whatever you want, but i cannot eat that thing you are suggesting" and let them take it from there. You would know better than any of us if their inquiry was legit or not.

But, I mean. It's been years and years. They KNOW you don't eat meat, even if they havent come to terms with the vegan thing yet. Courtesy, hospitality, basic humanity, all the general rules of etiquette, would behoove them to prepare/offer at least ONE THING you could eat, or at the very least invite you to bring something you can eat, but apparently they don't care to do so. At this point I would assume that they absolutely do not care about your needs, will never care about your needs, and you should proceed accordingly with either eating beforehand or bringing your own food to this and all future events they host.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:23 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

It is not entirely inappropriate to make the centerpiece of the meal on someone's combination birthday/mother's day celebration what that person wants, even if it doesn't cater to everyone. It is rude of them not to have an alternate main for you and your wife.

if I'm going to bother with paella (and scrape my wallet for saffron), I want it to be better than the meat version.

I really don't recommend going head to head with them, it makes it seem like a contest, and you probably don't want to be remembered as having ruined MIL's birthday party. You should bring food that's something you can eat. If you want something that would go well with the paella, I'd recommend romesco and something like habichuelas blancas, both of which can be made vegan.

In the longer run, when it's not a big special day, I'd suggest that you and your wife need to just start drawing the line in the sand. They're being inappropriate hosts. If they don't make vegan food, I'd suggest that you and your wife should look at each other awkwardly and gather up your things and leave. Or just plan an afternoon only visit and if they ask you to stay for dinner specify that they've indicated little interest in accommodating your needs so sharing a meal just doesn't work for you.

But I also have no problem walking away from rude relatives.
posted by Candleman at 4:25 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh and really don't waste your time & money making a vegan version of whatever they are eating in an attempt to one up them because none of them will care or even try any when the real thing is right there in front of them. I mean, sure, yes, some omnivores would be interested in trying something new but these don't seem like people who could be bothered.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:27 PM on May 2, 2016 [16 favorites]

Bring your own food and kill them with kindness EVERY TIME. "Oh, we'll go ahead and bring food that we can eat plus some extra to share if anyone wants to try it! We want to make sure you don't have to go to any extra effort! We just love spending time with you and this way you won't have to worry about what we can and can't eat!"

Yeah, a better family would include things you could eat anyway, but you don't have that family, you have this one. The only way to win is not to play and to adhere to the line that you're saving them time and trouble! You're doing them a favor!
posted by MsMolly at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

Definitely plan on bringing your own food, and since it's Mother's Day and your mother in law's birthday, offer to bring a vegan cake, which are very often delicious!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:36 PM on May 2, 2016

It seems you've already put your finger on what's happening here, that your MIL is using food as a means of aggression.

So what do you do? In your situation, I would bring something totally different, probably something complimentary to paella (plenty of yummy veg tappas out there. Roasted artichokes? White Bean dip?). That way you have something to eat, aren't letting their aggressive jerk behavior win, but also aren't stooping to their level - it's perfectly appropriate to bring a dish to a party. And don't even mention that it's vegan, just "Hey, this seemed like a great side dish for Paella!"

(And I add, to support you in this: when I cook for my extended family, I accommodate dairy free, gluten free, low carb, cheese free, vegetarian, and an interstitial cystitis diet. Some are choice, some are medically required. Not every dish can be for everyone, obviously, but I put a ton of effort into making sure that everyone has something they can enjoy. Because they're my family and I love them - well, okay, and because I enjoy the challenge ;) . Please don't let your MILs issues get in the way of your health and comfort. You can't change her, but you can bring something to eat!)
posted by AliceBlue at 4:43 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

my wife, who is vegetarian but much less strict about it than I am

Okay one more thing and then I'll quit. Someone upthread mentioned something similar. Do they know you don't eat meat ever? Like have you clearly and directly said, "What dishes will be offered for X dinner? Because I do not eat meat, fish or fowl of any kind ever."

Honestly, it isn't totally clear even from your question "My choices, as usual, seem to be: 1) compromise and eat meat; " Some people call themselves vegetarians but eat fish (WTF?). Some people don't eat red meat. Some think fish stock is okay. There is a lot of misinformation out there about what vegetarian means. And if your wife does eat meat sometimes, maybe they don't realize your actual diet rules.
posted by Beti at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

As a host, I think the requirement is to feed everyone you invite food they can eat. It gets tricky when it's a celebration for a person who is not the restricted eater. Then you have two distinct groups to make happy. Tricky, yes, but expected I think. It couldn't be that difficult to make the paella without meat to a point where a portion for you and your wife is set aside to have some filling veggies added and meat added to the remaining portion for everyone else.

I have had Celiacs, vegetarians, food allergy-afflicted, and plain picky eaters at my table. A gracious host accommodates their guests' restrictions. And a gracious guest makes due when the host falters/fails. Since it sounds like your inlaws choose to fail in their hosting duties, make due and bring a dish to share you will enjoy. This is a fight you aren't going to win unless you count never again acceptiing invitations as winning.
posted by cecic at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, you're reading a lot into this. Yes, they are thoughtless hosts for not accommodating your family's food restrictions.

I know that veganism is pretty proscribed and I'd be intimidated to attempt it. Go ahead, bring some things you enjoy eating and don't feel guilty about it.

Eat some bread and salad if you swing that way. Don't bring 7 items, perhaps a casserole type thing you'd enjoy on it's own.

You're there to enjoy the family. For whatever reasons they're not able to figure out what you're talking about when you talk about being Vegan. I am 100% sure they actually believe that Paella is vegetarian, because, it's not got much Spam in it. If you catch my drift.

Just start bringing your own stuff with you.

If your in-laws give you grief, lean into it, "Yeah, I'm one picky-puss of an eater. How 'bout them dawgs?"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's interesting to see the wildly varied responses. A sensitive subject, for certain.

There's an immense amount of backstory to this/these relationship(s). I felt the question was lengthy enough, as it is, and (again) I am a homemaker with 2 young kids (i.e. not on the computer much...)

There are a lot of follow up questions about the relationship and how much they know about my diet, etc. They do know I don't eat any meat, but I'm not going to get into it too much, mostly because I really like all the responses so far, even if most people think I am being bent out of shape unnecessarily.

Long-term: therapy.

I am in therapy for depression and anxiety (mixed results so far.)

My wife and I started counseling (EFT) too. It's been going very well.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:51 PM on May 2, 2016

And to clear up, I'm not pissed that someone wants to eat meat for their birthday.

I'm a little pissed because they know already know I don't eat meat, and then they ask me (indirectly, though my wife, who's put in an even tougher spot) if it's OK, like they want to get my approval, or make note of my disapproval.

My mother makes meat for our meals all the time. She just tells me "we're having ham" and then mentions side dishes. I know I am condemned to side dishes. I made that bargain 25+ years ago.

I feel insulted because I'm being asked a question I cannot answer honestly. Or it's like I'm being forced (yes, i do realize much of this is my perception and how I manage it - THAT'S WHY I AM ASKING FOR HELP.)

The answer should be "of course it's OK - it's your birthday (or it's her birthday and that's what she wants"). But why even ask me? Maybe it's just aesthetics/etiquette differences. I try to let it go, but in actuality I just repress the anxiety and shame and harbor resentment. So there. (I said I was in therapy.)
posted by mrgrimm at 4:59 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you think they're on purpose trying to get you to eat meat, or are they just not paying attention and cooking like they normally do?

It sure sounds like the best approach for you---especially since you are concerned about eating enough---would be to just volunteer to also bring stuff, like folks upthread said, that you're sure you can eat.

It sort of sounds like, in their own kind of messed up way, that they're trying to respect that you have dietary constraints when they're asking your wife if paella is ok. (I don't know, like maybe in their heads if you're vegan then some main dishes contaminate the air more than others.)
posted by leahwrenn at 5:04 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I always bring food with me. I reject other people's rudeness and I keep my eating habits to myself as they are very personal. Just don't eat the food they give you. It's not anymore rude than not keeping your food preferences in a meaningful regard. If they don't care about your opinions, why should you care about theirs?
posted by lunastellasol at 5:04 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your in-laws are awful, and your instinct that they are forcing you to accept an insulting status quo is on the money. I think the folk suggesting they may have your needs at heart don't see the disrespect vegans and vegetarians receive on the regular. Ugh.

That said, if you ever do want a recipe for a vegan paella so delicious that meat-eaters who taste it all feel saddened and shortchanged by their own paltry seafood and chorizo bowl, this (Ottolenghi's version) is what you're after. It's visually spectacular and very tasty.

You would have to scrape your wallet, but it's my pick for your vengeance paella.
posted by pickingupsticks at 5:07 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm a little pissed because they know already know I don't eat meat, and then they ask me (indirectly, though my wife, who's put in an even tougher spot) if it's OK, like they want to get my approval, or make note of my disapproval.

It sounds to me more like they're warning you "just so you know, the main dish here won't be vegan." Not actually asking you if it's ok and expecting you to say "no, serve quinoa."

And, sure, it's kind of dickish, but... IDK man. If my sister married a vegan, I'd be pretty annoyed if I were expected to totally change my holiday menus for the rest of my life because of it. I'd be more accommodating than it sounds like they are, but it's asking a lot to expect them not to have a meat-based main course at all, which is the vibe I'm getting from this question.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:18 PM on May 2, 2016 [47 favorites]

You know, you can just bring your own food, but a) your wife already says "We are having ham!" And condemns you to side dishes at home b) it is her family, so she should be advocating more for you, which is unlikely to happen given how she treats you at home.

I have special dietary needs. I am totally comfortable bringing my own food and downplaying the matter. But, in this case, I think I would start opting out from these family events, at least some of the time, and let my spouse go visit their blood relatives without me. I don't feel any personal obligation to put up with super crappy behavior from in laws. I didn't marry the entire family. I only married one of them. If the rest of them cannot even treat me in a civil fashion, I start doing other things and giving them less of my time.
posted by Michele in California at 5:23 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have been a vegetarian (with the exception of fish) for... 29 years. I was vegan for a chunk of that. I always consider myself as inconveniencing my meat-eating hosts. Therefore, if they cook something vegetarian, especially something separate for me, I express gratitude and appreciation. If they don't, I gamely eat whatever part of the meal I can and deflect any apologies they might offer.

Also, I'm not clear, but it sounds like you do eat meat sometimes, which is pretty confusing to others?

Your in-laws may have hostility toward you, but I would try to seperate that from the dietary issues.
posted by latkes at 5:25 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, take responsibility for yourself. Pre-game and eat ahead of time and bring other food that you can quickly heat without any drama, like via microwave. My wife and I deal with similar, although less toxic, issues with both of our families, and these strategies seem to work ok, at least for us.
posted by reddot at 5:32 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

But why even ask me?

Just the perspective of someone severely guten intolerant, but my friends ask/tell/warn me that the main meal will be some gluteny thing I can't touch or that may spew its gluteny crumbs all over. I appreciate it, they are giving me a heads up. And if the birthday person wants to go to a bread factory or something, I'll be thankful for the heads up, will decline, and will catch up with them another time. On my birthday, we eat gluten free.

That said, your in laws sound painful and their motivation may be very different from my friends' consideration for me.
posted by kitten magic at 5:41 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think you should concern yourself with this issue AT ALL. If you don't want to eat meat, bring meatless food for yourself. If you want to eat vegan, bring vegan food. If they say anything about it, say it's your dietary choice. They're providing food that you don't want to eat. That's not a dig at you. It's the fact of the situation. It's a lot of work to feed 12 people and clean up afterwards. They want to see you, but they either don't realize you expect this extra effort or they don't have the energy to get it done. Especially if their family is doing all the work for these events, they may see you as the jerk for not contributing or hosting as often. Just bring your own food and don't consider if there are or are not emotional ties to your food choices. Most folks aren't going to judge you for being vegan or bringing vegan food.
posted by Kalmya at 5:43 PM on May 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

Honestly? Vegetarian main dishes are hard to do. With meat, you just take a slab of chicken or steak, add some spices and grill/bake etc. Easy. With vegetarian, Vegan yet, it's quite a chore. So it sounds like in-laws would like to accomodate you but they are preparing their meals at level 3 and yours is level 9.

How about you tell them, I realize that vegan meals are kind of difficult to pull off, so I'd like to bring my own. Bring enough so that others can have a taste if they want.
posted by Coffeetyme at 5:51 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

So, I would suggest a few things here:

1. This is your wife's family, so she should be the advocate for you. One thing could be asking her not to pass along these passive aggressive questions that make you anxious. What happens if she just says "Cool, I know you love paella, we'll bring a couple of sides that we can eat!" and then doesn't tell you about the conversation, and you assume that every time you go you'll plan to bring a couple of vegan dishes (sides or entrees - whatever you want to make).

2. Vegan cooking is legitimately intimidating for people who plan their meals around a meat "main." Sure, it would be lovely if they would learn to cook this way, but I don't think it's the end of the world if they don't completely revamp their holiday meals and recipes for one person. If you want entrees and not being consigned to the "sides"...bring a vegan entree! Maybe even make it a project to steal a little kitchen space and cook with a niece or nephew or sibling-in-law (someone of a younger generation)?

3. Set clear boundaries. It sounds like you and your wife have at times eaten meat around these folks? They may be legitimately confused as to what the heck is going on and how flexible you are. (For example, if sometimes you eat meat at their place, they might legitimately be asking whether you are going to eat the paella -- because you sometimes do!) I don't know your reasons for being vegan. Perhaps they are reasons that can accommodate occasional meat at family celebrations (I know some people for whom this is the case and it's not a big deal for them at all). Perhaps not. But get clear on whether occasional compromise is fine with you -- and then really embrace being fine with it -- or let your inlaws know that you really really really are strict and stick to it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:52 PM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Bring your own food. Don't feel like you have to match the food that's being made. Eat your own food. Get past the notion that compromise here means eating meat, because that just muddies the waters. Compromise is packing your own dinner and accommodating your own dietary choices.
posted by holgate at 6:15 PM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think if you interpret "Is it okay if we're serving steak with chicken sauce and a bacon salad?" as "Please bring your own food", you'll be in a better position.

Is it rude to never serve vegetarian food? Sure, but after 20-odd years of you accepting it, maybe they don't realise you care? Then either they really will serve food you eat (win) or you will at least be able to eat something (win).

Because although IN GENERAL it is rude to have meat-only meals when you invite your vegetarian family, in this one specific case where it is someone's birthday and mother's day and they want a special traditional family meal, it's pretty reasonable.

Make yourself something delicious that turns into leftovers, bring enough for other people. If asked, "I've decided to be more consistent about eating vegan foods than I used to be" and try to relax a little.

And no, you don't need to bring paella, you can bring anything that could conceivably be a good side dish.
posted by jeather at 6:23 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Here's a great cookbook. What a great gift! But, yeah, as a 20+ year former vegetarian, bring your own food. And if you sometimes eat meat (as your wife does), then just fricking eat the meat at these times. There is nothing worse than a vegetarian/vegan who eats meat ... unless they have the opportunity to have someone else jump through their hoops.

Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:24 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fight passive aggression with passive aggression. Bright your own food, not a vegetarian paella, something that would compliment it. Turn up be super duper nice. Do this from now on, refuse to play their game. If anyone asks the response is "WE don't eat meat, but wanted to be here with you so we bought our own and then change the subject." Make sure partner is 100% on board & present a united front.
posted by wwax at 6:31 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a vegetarian not vegan. I'm also a Muslim, so even before I stopped eating meat I had dietary restrictions to deal with. One good thing about growing up with the restriction is that I stopped being apologetic about it early on, it was just "I can't eat this, is there something else for me or should I take care of myself?". This was handy when I did stop eating meat as pretty much 99% of the food served at a Muslim person's house is meat-based. To deal with this I either pre/post-eat or bring enough food for me to eat to pretty much all social occasions. If it turns out there is other stuff I can eat, that's great and I'll treat it as a bonus but I'm not going to count on that (or make myself eat more than a token amount of someone's attempt at vegetarian cooking if it isn't any good). I'm also not going to bring a lot of my own food to share unless its a potluck because I'm not hosting the party, just trying to feed myself with the minimum of fuss.

If you think there may be games being played by your in-laws regarding food, showing them that you don't care about what they cook is one way to get them to stop.

Also your in-laws seem weirdly unaccommodating to me. If they give you a heads-up that they'll be making a meal you can't eat then treat it as an invitation to bring your own food unapologetically. If they don't give a heads-up and are just inviting you over you could ask if there'll be anything for you to eat or if you should bring something. Maybe let them see you do it a couple of times before you say this as it may be more direct then they're used to.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:42 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Well, on the one hand, food is very sensitive and personal. Asking them to make/eat vegan food when you're around is like asking someone who only wears pants to show up somewhere in a dress. It's awkward and wrongish to them.

I used to be on a paleo diet and it was torture to visit home where everything was full of pasta and carbs and dairy. It wasn't an ethical thing for me, obviously, but I had a lot of discomfort and pain from eating too much carbs and sugar and always felt under-proteined and on a cranky blood sugar high or crash. Sometimes being around carb eaters was like eating dinner on an alien planet. But that's just the thing, you need to do what you need to do and have good boundaries, and not be offended that they want bacon in their side dishes, because it's about their love of bacon, not you.

So, that sucks. If I were your partner, I'd say "yes, it's fine if you want to eat seafood paella, but [OP] is going to bring something else to eat since they can't eat the meat." If the family is too irrational to handle that, then that's a separate problem, but you can do your best to be clear that it's no big deal for you guys and you want everyone to feel satisfied and happy.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:44 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

You're not a jerk if you want to bring your own food that you like and can eat. Bringing enough to share if someone else wants some as a side dish etc is even nicer.

Your inlaws aren't totally jerks because this is someone's birthday meal and it's fine to have your favorite dishes on your birthday. But if they were nice they would have offered a vegetarian/vegan alternative as part of their menu planning. Personally, whenever I host a cookout, I always buy a small box of vegan veggieburger patties just in case a vegetarian or vegan shows up because that's just being a good host.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:49 PM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

As someone who has in laws who are completely rude assholes with oodles of eating hang ups themselves I totally feel your pain.

Your wife should be managing this relationship since they are her parents.

Some battles are simply not worth it. This is one of those. Just make something delicious, make it look lovely, bring it and be super nice. Let them make all their awful comments, just let it roll like water off a duck's back. Don't make it a big deal and it won't be a big deal. if you ever reach the point where I'm at where all the meat people dive into the veggie dish I brought and leave nothing left for me except meat, then welcome to my current dilemma, which I think is more of a creativity issue. Sigh.
posted by floweredfish at 6:54 PM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm a former vegan and current omnivore, who has been alternately the only vegan in a family of omnivores and now one of a minority of omnivores in a family of vegans, and has various friends/family with all kinds of food allergies.

To me, your inlaws are being extremely rude. On a one-instance basis, not having a vegan option for a single event is somewhat OK or at least something that can be forgiven/overlooked. But an ongoing thing with close family? Thats being deliberately rude, IMO. When you invite family to eat at a holiday or whatever, you should be providing food they can actually eat. If they have medical or ethical or religious restrictions, thats part of the deal. Even my ex-wife's family, who was absolutely horrible in most ways, made sure to try and have a vegan or vegetarian option for me (sometimes they failed because they didn't quite understand the restrictions, but they _tried_).

That said... there's probably not much you can do. Your wife would be the best positioned to talk to them, but I'm guessing she feels its a lost cause or she already would have done so (and presumably knows them even better than you). So in that case, the alternative is to bring your own food and just not comment on it. At least then you get to eat and you don't have to deal with a fight. If this is a few times a year kind of thing, that seems like an acceptable state of affairs.

(If you're doing these kind of meals like every week, thats a much more annoying thing and I'd think the cost/benefit of pushing back on it might be different then)
posted by thefoxgod at 7:45 PM on May 2, 2016

Wow. Lot of great answers from all different sides. Thank you so much.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:09 PM on May 2, 2016

I do want to clarify that I've never told them I was "vegan," though they all know I cook vegan at home--I've had them over for vegan meals. (I know it still never clicks sometimes.)

I've never asked for vegan or told them I am vegan. I think the known position is "I don't eat meat." I've never eaten meat at their houses.

There is nothing worse than a vegetarian/vegan who eats meat ... unless they have the opportunity to have someone else jump through their hoops.

I know something worse. People who refuse to be labeled "vegetarian" or "vegan" even though they are (mostly). I would eat insects. I do eat honey. I dunno.

I know it is confusing. But not that confusing. I tried to make people not jump through hoops for a pretty long while (compromising on certain occasions--weddings, birthdays, etc.). That's one of the reasons I'd be scared to compromise here ... do it once and you become a "vegan who eats meat" i.e. a phony/hypocrite.

Anyway, to make one thing clear: they are definitely aware I don't eat meat. (the setting boundaries suggestion is still good though - be clear and make it known, etc.)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:19 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

People who eat meat of some form at every main meal probably don't even know how to cook a vegetarian, much less vegan, dish, so cut them some slack.
posted by Dragonness at 8:20 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

This seems to be a "your food" vs "their food" problem.

When you go to their house, you eat "their food."

When they go to your house, they eat "your food."

I don't imagine you have ever offered to cook "their food" at your house? Ribs and corn on the cob, steaks and fries, or any other traditional meat meals that they enjoy? You say the family eats a lot of meat, so are you accommodating to them when they come over? There's a good chance they don't care for vegan food, or have dietary needs that require them to consume differently than you.

You might need to take the high road and become more collaborative in menu planning. Invite them over, and serve a traditional meal with meat. You can make as many other dishes as you want, and assign out sides as happens in many families.

Next time at their house, you can be collaborative in menu planning again and make sure there will be items for you, by assigning yourself dishes to bring again.

If you break down the "your food" vs "their food" problem, and actually take initiative and be the first to suggest items, I think you will do better. Perhaps being a gracious host yourself and becoming a collaborator in the family will solve this. You feel powerless because you are always reactive instead of proactive.

But most of all, if you want them to serve "your food" you also need to be willing to serve "their food."
posted by littlewater at 8:31 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't claim to be vegan....

Whenever I share a meal with my in-laws however, there is little consideration of my veganism....

I've never asked for vegan or told them I am vegan. I think the known position is "I don't eat meat."

You know, I've been a vegetarian for a quarter century, and I've read everything you've written in your original post and your several follow-up comments, and I can't even understand what your diet is. So maybe you could work on communicating what you need.

However, your wife should be responsible for handling issues between you and your in-laws. Where is she in all this? It sounds like she isn't speaking up for your interests because she sometimes eats meat. How does that make sense?

Realize that people have all different kinds of understandings of what "vegetarian," "vegan," and "meat" mean. Some people think that seafood isn't "meat," so they'd think of a seafood restaurant as ideal for a "vegetarian." I've struggled to explain what it means that I'm "vegetarian" to someone who insisted this must just mean I avoid red meat. You have to deal with the fact that these kinds of woefully misguided people exist. If your message isn't getting across, try to be clearer.
posted by John Cohen at 8:37 PM on May 2, 2016 [31 favorites]

I'm with pretty much everyone else here.
(a) I don't think your in-laws like you too much, certainly not enough to reconfigure every meal to please you.
(b) Even if they wanted to reconfigure their meals to please you, I'll be fair in saying that's really hard and god knows I couldn't successfully pull off vegan meals without putting something animal-related in that I had no idea had some animal-related thing in it. If I were you I'd be kind of afraid of their trying.
(c) Them asking if you'll eat some nice meaty paella could be code for (a) "We're eating meat no matter what, suck it up," (b) "We're going to pretend we care but we really don't," (c) "I really hope you've gotten over this vegetarian thing already."
(d) Bring your own food no matter what. I don't give a crap if you bring "enough to share" or not, I doubt this crowd wants to.
(e) If they call you "rude" for doing it, then so be it, you're rude. They're not saints on rudeness themselves.
(f) If you can, try to avoid some meals with these people.
(g) Remember: only you can take care of you. You can't trust these people to take care of you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:18 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't like to make people cater to my diet so I always eat first. If they have something I can eat I'll have some of that.
posted by bongo_x at 9:37 PM on May 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

The family side appears to be, sad to to say, "you're just not worth adjusting the menus for." That may be because (per John Cohen's comment) you are not good at making your actual dietary choices explicit, in which case you need to do so, whether it's by telling them or by packing your own meals and eating them either in advance or at their table. It may be because they take offence at your food choices; it may be because they assume they're very flexible; it may be because they don't give a shit.

I've been a vegetarian for 20+ years. I negotiate it by identifying where I have to feed myself, where I can 'eat between' other people's menus, where I can offer to cook and come up with something that will keep the meat-eaters happy -- I've become a fairly decent cook because of it -- and where I can request a minimal-hassle veggie alternative when other people are cooking. I can determine at a thousand paces the situations where my hosts are not going to accommodate me in the slightest -- often they're not even objectionable people! -- and life is too short in those situations to go hungry. This can be tricky in, say, the American South, where food is love, but there's no point in 'sharing a meal' that's a shit experience on all sides.
posted by holgate at 9:52 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I was vegan (I know, I know, I feel like shit for not sticking with it) my friends and family used to give me a hard time about it, but at gatherings they always accommodated me. And if I thought there was a chance that they wouldn't, no big deal: I either took something for myself (not very often), or I didn't go (even less often).

But yeah: these people are assholes and if I were you I simply wouldn't deal with them at all, for any reason or on any level. Will your wife leave you if you refuse to interact with them? It seems doubtful. So they can go and fuck themselves.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:52 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been vegetarian for about eighteen years. I'm with John Cohen on this. I think you and your wife really need to be clear about your hard limitations vs. compromises you'll make on your diets and how those impact accurate descriptions of your diets so as to be clearer with outside parties as to what you'll eat, ever.

I would not describe your wife's diet as vegetarian, and I think it's hurting your own needs to do so because when she eats meat which she apparently does with some regularity, it removes the meaning from that dietary label. In her family's minds, you guys are training them to understand that vegetarian = eats some meat = mrgrimm is just weirdly stubborn and antisocial when not partaking.

Your wife is an omnivore who limits her meat consumption - a social omnivore, it sounds like (which is a label that doesn't even need to be put out there because it's not restrictive to others). You are a vegetarian who limits their animal product intake (not a vegan). I cannot tell from what you've written, but perhaps you are a vegetarian who also never consumes dairy. Use the actual terms of your diet to describe it. Using a stricter definition than what applies to you is not only confusing to others, but also something that undermines your own purposes because when people see you breaking their understood rules of what you labeled your own diet to be, they can't psychically divine which rules you're willing to break versus which are ironclad so they default to assuming you're flexible on all of them/hypocritical.

As to the rest of your question, in my experience it's fairly rare that people will make either an entirely vegetarian meal or a separate vegetarian entree for me at a gathering like this (as opposed to a me-focused event like my own birthday); when they do, it's often a frozen veggie burger (and that's appreciated!). Typically I make do with sides or eat before/after. Unless someone's being a dick and putting hamburger into the mashed potatoes so you can't eat anything, I think that what you're dealing with is pretty status quo and while it'd be nice if your family went above and beyond for your diet, they're not being actively rude. You can occasionally slip into conversation the personal veggie lasagna your friend Sam made you the other night, though, and how thoughtful it was, which might trigger a competitive hostessing streak in your family.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:04 PM on May 2, 2016 [16 favorites]

I've never told them I was "vegan," though they all know I cook vegan at home--I've had them over for vegan meals.

You can't assume that this follows. They probably have no idea what vegan means.

I was pescatarian for about 5 years and during that time I definitely encountered many people who had a variety of understandings about the meaning of vegetarian, vegan, or 'pescatarian'. Just remember that even if you got them to grasp that you also don't want eggs or dairy and then to actually try to make things that you could eat, you probably would often find that they would screw it up.

A friend of mine recently was telling me about being angry that her friend would not eat the dinner she [the host] had prepared because she [the dinner guest] was vegetarian and the meal had no meat in it, just chicken broth! (I refrained from comment). Basically this is a completely foreign concept to them so they're definitely not going to remember that so many foods are made with animal based flavorings like meat broths or bouillon, lard, or gelatin (or yeast? I presume you eat yeast if you eat insects). And you'd feel even worse turning them down if they made you a 'special meal' and you still couldn't eat it, i.e. "it's beans and rice! What do you mean, it's not vegan?!"

My husband was vegetarian for years before I was and his parents and grandparents were so put out by it that they would purposefully try to sneak meat into dishes that appeared to be vegetarian and he would have to inspect and be wary of everything they served him. Also, every time it came up, like "again, dad, I'm vegetarian so I won't be eating that" the response would be sputtering and "why do you insist on eating something different than everyone else? What's wrong with meat anyway? We brought you up on meat and you used to like it! .... etc etc etc" Hence, passive aggressive questions about whether it's "OK to serve paella" are small potatoes, so to speak...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:58 PM on May 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hey, raising a third generation vegetarian here, never eaten meat/poultry/seafood in my life, and I was all ready to come and tell you to bring a side, or eat before and after the visit, or, if they are rude (or, sometimes, straight-out casual) enough, have a pizza delivered -- but I read the rest of the Q and gotta admit I'm with 2soxy4mypuppet, John Cohen, vegartanpla, etc.

If you eat meat "sometimes," I would not be surprised if this is not part of why people are pissy about making a special dish for you. What does that mean? You eat very little meat, okay -- but you're not veg*ns, that's not how it works. Those aren't what the words mean. You don't get to define them. I have never believed in any gods but I can certainly find tenets of certain religions appealing things to follow -- that doesn't mean I can go and call myself [name of religion]; that would be strange, and disrespectful to people who actually are members of that faith group.

If I -- strict about vegetarianism, but not a vegan -- had somebody round for dinner who called himself vegan, and I went out of my way to use oil instead of butter and otherwise change up details of my cooking and to provide satisfying vegan dishes, and then later caught the guy eating ice cream because Tofutti doesn't cut it for him, there would be butter in the damn food next time he came over, with advance warning that he was welcome to bring a vegan dish if he felt my food wasn't good enough for him.

"My choices, as usual, seem to be: 1) compromise and eat meat" makes this a really weird question. You're not a veg*n; you're just fussy. The way this is presented is very odd. Virtually every adult veg*n has figured out how to navigate these things -- my eight-year-old child is quite capable of saying "I don't eat meat, but I would love it if I could have a bun with tomatoes and cheese and lettuce, please!" at a BBQ instead of complaining that the meal is meat-oriented. We usually bring a veg side to BBQs; we do not try to make veggie burgers "better than their burgers," but something that will complement the meal -- often skewered marinated veg with blocks of halloumi, on a disposable foil tray so we don't have to fuss about it being 2mm away from the meat on the grill. This is great! Often the hardcore meat-and-potato sorts are dubious; often these same people text the next day to say "What was that cheese called and where can I buy it?" And they leave the ham out of the macaroni salad or something, and through this we all have a pleasant meal even though I'm not eating the featured dish...

...which would be a ridiculous thing to be put out by, because the majority of the world eats meat. This is not other peoples' problem to deal with. I made sure my daughter understood from an early age that she could say what she liked about meat at home but there would be trouble if I caught her saying unkind things about eating meat when we are out for meals. The lone coeliac is not entitled to complain that the birthday cake is not a flourless one. Communal meals are not places to complain about the food on offer.

> I know something worse. People who refuse to be labeled "vegetarian" or "vegan" even though they are (mostly).

Total rubbish. Thanks to people like you, I've had to spend forty years asking "could you ask if there is meat in the broth?" and other nit-picky stuff because of faux veg*ns who think they are veg*ns even though, dammit, they really miss KFC and will scarf down a bucket here and there, or they eat fish, or they still eat mum's meat loaf, or whatever. It gives others the impression that it my diet is entirely optional, and that I am simply being fussy/picky/above eating what's being served when I am invited to people's homes, generously offered their food, and do not eat it.

Your manners on this are really wacky and I can't help but wonder if that is why these people have an odd attitude towards your family. Why would you want to ape their dish instead of bringing something everybody could enjoy -- the omnivores are going to load up on the meat paella; they're unlikely to be interested in a vegan version -- and why must it be "better" than the meat version? You are trying to show up your hosts. You are not genuinely interested in breaking bread with these people, or you would be asking "What vegan dishes compliment paella and are likely to be enjoyed by most people?"

As far as I can tell from here, everybody is behaving rather strangely. Eat heartily beforehand and enjoy the sides, or eat the meat, or bring a side dish that is compatible with, not competing with, the main -- any of these things are fine -- just stop beanplating it.

treehorn+bunny's terrifying story about the chicken broth and subsequent upset is exactly why veg*ns do not like misuse of the term...
posted by kmennie at 11:12 PM on May 2, 2016 [41 favorites]

I think you've got enough advice about how to deal with the in-laws so here's a fantastic recipe for a vegan paella.
posted by girlgenius at 3:46 AM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Perhaps in addition to taking a veg main/side dish you should take a vegan dessert to show them how kickass & tasty it can be! Raw chocolate mousse (made from avocados & cacao) with fresh berries is one such hit amongst our carnivorous-extended family! Good luck!
posted by Under the Sea at 4:22 AM on May 3, 2016

I don't expect other people to accommodate my dietary restrictions, including being vegetarian. I actually find it embarrassing when others have to take me into account and go to extra trouble and eat something they might not want because of me. I don't really see anything passive aggressive about what your in-laws are doing. They're taking charge of the meal and letting you know what they plan to make. Asking if the paella was okay to make was not them actually asking your wife's permission to make it; it was a polite way to let her know that they are making a seafood paella, and if you or your wife would like something different, you need to plan accordingly. The correct response to "is it okay if we make seafood paella?" is something like "Yes of course, we'll bring [insert whatever vegan dish you guys want to bring] for us vegetarians." That's it. Really simple, no problems, no jerks.
posted by Polychrome at 4:33 AM on May 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

I would eat before I go to the event, snack on what you want, and then not talk about the food but direct conversation about the awesomeness of mothers, particularly the ones with you. And no, you're not a jerk.
posted by waving at 5:51 AM on May 3, 2016

I agree with JohnCohen too. Food is tradition and how some people show their love, and that's why it's a repeated issue for them. I know it doesn't feel like it, but they may actually be trying to accommodate you. Paella would be a highly ambitious dish for my meat-loving family to prepare and it struck me that maybe they think it's actually a great choice for you? In my family (when I was vegetarian), I could see them saying, "you can eat the rice! And maybe the seafood, because sometimes you eat that!" And they just expect me to eat around the meat. I remember being served lasagna and picking the noodles & ricotta off the meat sauce. I really wonder if paella was a (misguided) attempt to offer a dish for everyone - and then they tried to clarify by asking your wife in advance. I still think you should bring your own side dish and eat that though. Maybe say one more clarification of, "thanks it looks great, but I'm really sticking to no-meat or seafood diet!" Keep it light and hopefully they will too. Good luck!
posted by areaperson at 6:13 AM on May 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

For the question of how not to feel like a jerk for heating up your own food, I'd just make it a known and regular thing that you and your wife are responsible for "the sides", and then just bring enough for everyone so it's not just "your " food. You can even call them up beforehand and ask what the main dish(es) are, so that you can make sides that complement them. And if your sides happen to qualify as main dishes, I personally think that's fine too (but in that case definitely try to make them harmonious with the other dishes, so it doesn't feel like there are two completely separate meal tracks going on). I'd also not take it personally if they make some sides of their own (better to have too much food than not enough).
For this occasion, if you're able, it would also probably go over very nicely if you brought some vegan dessert (and if not, at least you get dessert...)
posted by trig at 7:21 AM on May 3, 2016

Maybe we just do things differently, but for a family dinner, every household is bringing food to the meal. We split it so someone brings a couple of sides or appetizers or desserts, but its never an issue of the host makes everything. Maybe offer up something you'd enjoy eating next time the family plans a dinner? If there's at least one thing on the table you can eat, I bet these events would feel a lot less stressful for you. Maybe to get things rolling, host a potluck for the in-laws?

My vegan/vegetarian family never hesitate to bring food to events. I try to make things to accommodate them too, but we're not not serving ribs because my vegan cousin is coming over. We warn him ahead of time what's being served so he can know if he needs to bring something and I just make a grain or bean salad too instead of a garden salad so there's something more filling on the side.

And I do think you're reading too much into the food comments. I get that the relationship with your mother-in-law is strained, but maybe that's factoring into how you're perceiving these particular comments from her. She knows you don't eat meat, but maybe she doesn't really understand it. The way you highlight the seafood paella with chicken and pork makes me think that they assume you eat seafood and would hold off on the chicken and pork part if that was a huge dealbreaker. Plus, you seem bothered that these conversations are happening through your spouse, but it makes sense to me that mother and daughter would be the ones talking on the phone. That's not a passive-aggressive attack on you, necessarily but just a mom wanting to chat with her daughter. I believe you when you say there is tension there, but I do think it might make things easier on you if you assign more charitable motives to her actions and comments for a little while.
posted by GilvearSt at 7:39 AM on May 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

they asked if it was OK if they made seafood paella...

The proper response is, "You remember mrgrimm is vegan, right?"
posted by aimedwander at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2016

I want to add that like GlivearSt said, there are different customs in families regarding bring food over to others people's houses. I have a friend who has conflict with her in-laws because they always bring food - a lot of it! It makes her feel like they don't trust her to make a meal and host them. However, they come from a culture where it would be rude NOT to bring a substantial amount of food when visiting, it is just what is done.

I agree with others that it isn't jerky to bring your own food. Even if they were the nicest people in the world, they may just be struggling to meet your requirements and your helping out could be very helpful to them. When you are uncertain of intentions, it's sometimes best to just pretend that everyone has the best intentions!
posted by Gor-ella at 8:48 AM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with kmennie. You're not a vegan. Your wife isn't a vegetarian. Your use of these labels when they simply are inaccurate would confuse even the most well-meaning in-laws. Like you, I am a "sort of" vegan (and in my case, an aspiring vegan). I stick with vegan food in my own home, mostly do so in restaurants, and eat what is served when I'm at other people's houses. Since I'm not really a vegan, asking for special food is asking people to support a preference, not a hard and fast rule. And that would be rude, so I don't do it. If you don't want to eat meat at your in-laws' house, bring something you want to eat. Recognize that for many people, cooking vegan food seems daunting, if not impossible. Also, I recommend the book "Living Among Meat Eaters."
posted by FencingGal at 9:02 AM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another vote for your dietary preferences being very confusing even to the vegetarian/vegan literate*. You probably confuse the hell out of them, send them mixed messages (compromising by eating meat?), and then act put out/irritated/hurt when they can't divine exactly what is going on. No wonder your relationship is fraught.

On the bright side, this is EASY to fix. You totally have the power to completely shift this dynamic!
  • Be consistent to whatever label you choose. Vegetarian and vegan are not nebulous concepts, they have meaning. Follow the commonly understood meaning. If you're going to cheat, the last place you should do it is around your in laws, it's just going to confuse them.
  • Tell them, in clear unambiguous language. Don't expect them to guess based on hints, sighs or your personal, in home cooking choices. Seriously, this behavior seems way more passive aggressive then anything you describe them doing.
  • Take responsibility for your own food. This is your choice of how to eat. Take responsibility for your choice.
  • Stop assuming the worst. You seem determined to view their actions in the worst possible light, and honestly there's nothing in your description that doesn't potentially have an unmalicious explanation. Don't create, or add to, the drama.
  • Stop taking their dietary choices personally. I don't know what their cultural background is, but in the south at least there are so many dishes which don't have to have meat, but that's the way they are cooked. Also, a frequent misunderstanding is that unfamiliar folks wouldn't consider something meat unless you can sink your teeth in and rip out a piece. The fatback in the green beans? That's not meat, that's seasoning. I could totally see in the case of the paella some people genuinely thinking that the small pieces of chorizo and the chicken stock aren't meat because they are just for flavoring, and the seafood isn't meat because, well it's seafood.
If they are basically well intentioned and all of this is a misunderstanding, then the air will start clearing. If they are jerks who are trying to use food as a weapon, then you have disarmed them in a way that leaves you in the position of being the "better man", modeling for your kids how to treat others kindly, how to take responsibility for your self and your choices, and keeping yourself happily fed.

*This thread makes me feel like I have to prove my veg bona fides for my opinion to count, which annoys the heck out of me but I'll do it anyway: currently an omnivore, grew up with 80% of my immediate family being actual no meat ever ever ever vegetarians, 5 years as such myself. Various more extended friends and families vegan.
posted by pennypiper at 9:24 AM on May 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

Yeah, you need to communicate better. And the first thing you need to do is have some discussion(s) with the spouse about A) your dietary needs/expectations, both at home and away and B) that she needs to handle these food negotiations with her relatives. She cannot do B until she is clearer about A.

My dietary restrictions are complicated, obscure and defy a simple label. I would never expect hosts to be able to figure out on their own how to accommodate it. If you want to attend these events, you either bring your own food or you communicate clearly that "This short list of specific items is on the Safe list." That way, they do not need to understand your diet to be good hosts. They don't need to know why THIS brand and variety of chips (or whatever) is fine, but some other brand of what sounds to them like the exact same thing is your kryptonite. They just need to remember the brand and have it on hand, and then you need to be appreciative and gracious.

Try to let the past go and give this new approach at least a year before you draw conclusions about whether or not you think they are just assholes. People cannot possibly do right by you if they have no idea what you want from them.
posted by Michele in California at 10:35 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

After reading all of your updates, I'm sorry but I still don't 100% grasp what your diet is! So I can understand how your inlaws are confused given that you've never even TOLD THEM that you're vegan! Most people would not make the leap from "when I went over to mrgrimm's house the past three times, they served vegan meals, therefore they must be vegan and want me to prepare vegan meals for them." You need to actually communicate here. And if your stance is "I do eat meat sometimes" -- then please make life easier for everyone involved and eat meat on the occasions you are eating at your inlaws house. This is a silly hill to die on if you are not even that strict anyway.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:55 AM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with John Cohen and kmennie but I also want to tug at another thread that I think Polychrome has hit on here: I don't really see anything passive aggressive about what your in-laws are doing. They're taking charge of the meal and letting you know what they plan to make. Asking if the paella was okay to make was not them actually asking your wife's permission to make it; it was a polite way to let her know that they are making a seafood paella, and if you or your wife would like something different, you need to plan accordingly. The correct response to "is it okay if we make seafood paella?" is something like "Yes of course, we'll bring [insert whatever vegan dish you guys want to bring] for us vegetarians." That's it. Really simple, no problems, no jerks.

This is how I initially interpreted your inlaw's "query" too and I think maybe you're dealing with an Ask v. Guess culture conflict here! If so, your inlaws are Guessers and are proffering this "question" because it's the politest way they know of telling you the menu. You're interpreting it from an Ask perspective--as in, they actually want to know whether or not it's okay for them to cook paella. They're not asking that. They also haven't asked you what they can make or what your specific dietary restrictions are because they're Guessing at it. (And given how confusing we all find your descriptions of your dietary restrictions, no wonder they're getting it wrong.)

Regardless of whatever communication you decide to proffer, I think you should bring your own complementary side dishes in the future and just always do that. They'll get used to it and it will ease tensions and satisfy your appetite.
posted by purple_bird at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

[A number of comments deleted. mrgrimm, I'm now not sure what your goal is here, but cheeky responses are a total nonstarter in this context.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2016

Hello, comrade! I too am a long-term vegan who has stress around eating with in-laws, although the specifics are different.

I'm pleasantly shocked by all of the people in this thread saying of course they accommodate vegan guests, because only a small minority of people in my life can be trusted to make food for me. The others aren't bad people, but they forget about common ingredients (like, cakes contain eggs), or they eat a bland meat-centric diet and "veganize" it by just subtracting the non-vegan ingredients (mmm, plain pasta), or they're actually hostile (time to change the subject!). Or they're accommodating 90% of the time, and then I let my guard down and visit without bringing food, and surprise, "We're having hot dogs, there's nothing else in the house, you're not too hungry are you?" (I'm full from lunch, thanks!) I don't think of them as inconsiderate, they just live in a culture where most people eat meat/dairy/eggs without a second thought. That culture does stress me out, but looking at it as a larger problem reduces the strain on my individual relationships.

As far as this specific occasion, I'll echo a lot of the advice above. Don't compromise and eat meat unless you're prepared to do so for the rest of your relationship. Bring food. Don't bring a vegan version of what they're having, unless you want to risk spending the occasion with people labelling yours the "fake" paella, or trying it and declaring it's inferior to their version, or putting signs by the dishes to differentiate which is which and continually reminding you which is yours and/or steering other people away from yours. Bring enough food to share, because that's less awkward than eating your own special lunchbox-style meal, plus you're making them a tasty vegan dish, which is good for their overall impression of both you and your diet. Coincidentally, vegan paella is one of my go-to dishes for sharing, because it's an entree that is also as a fine side dish, easy for others to try. I've also done paella prep at home and then done the actual cooking at the event. It's a little bit of a pain (bringing a bunch of tupperwares of chopped veg), but if people will be hanging out in the kitchen, this can be a good way to be involved (and makes for tastier food, rather than cooking at home and reheating).

As far as your in-laws in general, you know them and I don't, but it isn't obvious from what you're written that they're being hostile. They might be clueless. There might have been miscommunication about what exactly you and your wife eat. But you know, it doesn't really matter. I'll second Living Among Meat Eaters, because it takes a kind, sane approach to, well, dealing with meat eaters: take care of yourself.

Sometimes people ask me what the hardest part of being vegan is. I think they expect me to name a food. (Probably cheese, based on the number of people who, upon learning that I'm vegan, cry out, "I could never give up cheese!" IDGAF.) They're startled when I say, "Dealing with people who are rude." Most people aren't rude, but many are clueless, and yes, some are flat-out aggressive. Which is to say, I believe that you aren't overreacting, because eating is a big emotional deal with lots of cultural and family implications, and feeling excluded or attacked is totally understandable - even on the off chance that your in-laws aren't deliberately excluding or attacking you. Take care of yourself.
posted by orangejenny at 5:53 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

How long are you planning to stay with your wife? Is it longer than the rest of her parents' lives? Are you hoping to be with her long after they are dead and buried?

If so, find your sense of perspective. This is not a big deal. That doesn't mean you don't get to gripe about it to your friends and your therapist. But don't let it be a problem in your marriage. Eat before, bring food, make an excuse and skip when you can, whatever. You got to choose your wife, you don't get to choose her parents.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:23 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is to bring a substantial side as a way of being "polite" under the idea that you're "contributing" to the meal. Definitely don't bring a paella if that's not what you want. Mrs. cnc and I learned how to make risotto last year, and though we make it with regular butter, I'd think you could substitute that without too much trouble, and it would definitely make a nice vegan meal if it's all you had. Also, make sure you get your portion first, so people don't eat it all and leave you with nothing.
posted by cnc at 9:44 PM on May 3, 2016

I think your other issues with your in-laws are coloring your reactions to this situation. I don't see their question about the Paella as horrible given that (a) it is a way to let you know what they are planning to serve and (b) even after a couple updates people here on Metafilter are genuinely confused about what you do and do not eat and they might be as well.

You described your wife's sister and your mother-in-law as being in "cahoots" as if they are engaged in a sinister conspiracy when what's really happening is that they are the women in the family who cook most of the food for big family occasions. That's a pretty traditional pattern and while it is troubling from a gender equity perspective (do the men and boys in the family, including you, take any steps to plan for and prepare family occasions?) your choice of words suggests you view these people with a great deal of suspicion that makes even relatively neutral exchanges seem sinister.

I also get a sense that you feel that you are entitled to have them (and also your own mom) make separate vegetarian or vegan dishes for you. You have been "condemned" to side dishes. Things the in-laws prepare are "almost never vegan" (an odd complaint given that you've never told them you are vegan and don't appear to be a particularly strict vegan). It seems like a lot of the vegetarians and vegans who posted above and have less fraught relationships with friends and relatives have mostly given up on expecting much accommodation. I don't what's right or wrong, and I can see both the values of accommodating guests and the idea that guests shouldn't be able to push their dietary preferences onto others, but I will say that the vegans and vegetarians who've eaten at our house always act surprised when we make and clearly label entirely separate sets of dishes for them. It can be a lot of work, particularly now that we also need to provide GF dishes for some, and I don't whether we'd do it if we didn't love to cook.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 8:51 AM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

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