Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I have always lived on the East coast, I’m a fresh food freak, a lover of all things handmade and homemade, a green juice drinker, only eat meat if its local kinda gal and I’m about to spend a week in NE Minneapolis with my Mountain Dew-addicted, overweight, and cranky in-laws. I’m not going to gift all of them a collection of Michael Pollan’s books, lord knows I’ve thought about it though.
How do I keep cool, and talk about my job and interests (market manager, food stamp matching dollars fundraiser, femivore) without sounding snobby and condescending? The impact and importance of fresh and local foods goes so far beyond my job, it’s a part of my everyday life. Do I forgo my daily morning lemon water routine when I’m out there? I don’t want to look like a freak for bringing my own bag of organic lemons around with me but I want to keep my digestive fire going for all the cookies, deep fried cheese curds and pierogies that are sure to be eaten when I’m out there. So here is my question for you, how does a locavore keep the peace with in-laws who aren’t on board with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle this holiday season?
GMO-Free in DC
Dear GMO-Free in DC,
Since the Sensible Midwesterner abhors geographic stereotypes, it bears pointing out that there is plenty of very fine food in Minneapolis and many Mountain Dew addicts on the East Coast. That is not, however, your issue.
Your issue is as old as time: For the love of all that is holy, how on earth do I get along with my in-laws?
The answer is simple: With some difficulty and a certain subjugation of self.
It is clear that you set yourself above your in-laws in habit, mindset, and values. I urge you to step down from your seasonal, local, organic pedestal – if just for the week – and, as their guest, follow their lead. You married into the family; try and focus on something of value they offer. It may not be dietary and it may not be something you’ve ever considered before, but it’s there and you need to find it. The sooner you move to a place of honest appreciation (of something, anything!) about them, the better.
I should think you would be able to discuss your work as a market manager and fundraiser without sounding “snobby and condescending” without too much difficulty. First step: don’t be snobby or condescending. You like your work, it’s important to you, simply talk about it as such. Don’t lecture, don’t explain how important it is, just talk about what you like about it on a personal – not a political or ideological – level.
I have one little but important caveat to add: When asked.
That’s right. When asked. It’s really a basic getting-along-with-people and having-adult-conversations rule. Don’t assume the other party is all that interested in you, especially with Midwesterners. Sensible Midwesterners know that no one really cares what anyone has to say. When they ask how you are, the answer is “Fine, and how are you?” If they ask “How is work,” the answer is “It’s going great” or maybe “It’s been a really busy season” if you want to hint that you’d like to discuss it more. If they ask follow-up questions to that, which I’m guessing they won’t, respond with one-sentence answers and wait for more questions or encouragement. A tendency to natter on about themselves is a (quite negative) stereotype many Midwesterners have of East Coasters; don’t feed that beast. Find subjects of mutual interest: what their child, who you married, was like as a kid is a good bet. The weather is a classic stand-by, of course. How various family members are doing can also eat up some significant conversation time.
In terms of your diet, let me be clear: No one cares. What people do and do not eat is super duper boring for everyone except themselves. Eat what you like of what they serve or don’t eat it, but do not talk about it either way except to say “thank you” and “this is delicious” or any other sincere compliment that comes to mind. “This is such a treat” is a good one too, especially if they’re serving pierogies.
Since you are from the East Coast and thus bizarre anyway, I will give you one pass. You can choose one thing you’re going to be all weird about, but only if you make it clear that you know it’s crazy and beg everyone to please indulge you. The “morning lemon water routine,” for example. Sure, bring organic lemons and have some whole “routine” that involves them. But know that you will look crazy and try to embrace it in a good-humored way. They will, I assure you, “dine out” on stories about it for months, if not years to come, with their cranky, Mountain Dew-drinking friends.