Carolyn Hax: Don’t let food obsession ruin family feast

Tell Me About It

Dear Carolyn: I am in an OOD (Obsessive Organic Disagreement) with my daughter-in-law and her husband — my son. Three families are coming to my house for the holiday. The OOD couple decided not to join us if everyone didn’t contribute dishes made from foods labeled “organic.”

The OOD couple have three preschool children. They buy only organic foods, and dine at cafes of all-organic grocery stores. Otherwise, they bring organic food and beverages for the children. Letting them bring their own organic-labeled foods for holidays hasn’t worked well. My daughter-in-law brought so many vegetables for a cookout that she monopolized the entire grill cooking them. They proceeded to eat dinner as we had just gained access to the grill.

I was brought up that if someone invited you for dinner, you ate what you liked of what was served. You didn’t order the hostess to prepare foods specific to your family nor did you bring your own dinner to the “dinner.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety hotlines say all food sold in grocery stores is safe to eat. Would it poison the OOD family to eat one holiday meal that was “regular” food? — OOD Grandmother

Answer: Being right doesn’t do you much good if you’re answering the wrong questions.

Of course these kids could safely eat one “regular” meal, no hotline confirmation required, oh my goodness.

And yes, etiquette tilts heavily toward gracious acceptance of whatever hosts choose to serve, although allergies and other intolerances can politely factor in.

And, organic? Sure. Their prerogative, though it’s an imprecise business at best.

But this isn’t about food or manners. It’s about fanaticism.

Your daughter-in-law — she’s the driver here, I gather, while your son is the passenger? — is an extremist. Extremism is psychological, not dietary.

This is also more of a hostage situation than a menu challenge. Your access to your son and grandchildren lies behind that “OOD” gate, which your daughter-in-law controls, and your son buys into (again, I gather).

So, sure, you can fulminate eternally over impure coffee about your daughter-in-law’s food sanctimony, with full justification and no doubt ample validation from those other families, your friends, and people like me — but your son and grandkids won’t be there. And that’s the thing you want, isn’t it? Not winning, but companionship?

If it’s winning, then that would explain what your son sees in your daughter-in-law. 

But if you do want your son and grandkids there, then you need to stop trying to reason with — or, perhaps more aptly, harrumph your way to triumph over — the fanatic. You just need to meet her terms.

It’s merely an extreme version of what we all have to do, though, always, to interact with other people. You don’t choose what other people believe or stand for or request of us. Nor does the FDA or Emily Post. We can only choose from the options we’re given. In this case: Fight your daughter-in-law over food, or celebrate with your son and grandkids.

Rarely is the grovel barrier so low as just cooking organic food. Seriously. This potato versus that potato. I say do it and zip it — before she raises the bar.

Hi Carolyn! I just graduated from college and my mom invited me to live with her rent-free so I could save up some money. I’m very lucky and have tried not to be a burden.

We really disagree on what I should be saving for. I want to max out my 401(k), correct some dental issues, and travel. This really upsets my mom. She wants me to save to buy a new car and is always mentioning the benefits of new car models she likes. If I had to guess, she probably thinks the timeline for me to save is urgent, since she wants to give my car to my brother when he graduates next May.

I honestly want a used car. My current one is 15 years old; it runs fine, and I really like it.

I don’t know how to talk to her about this. I don’t want to be disrespectful, since I love my mom and she is being very kind by letting her adult child live with her. But I feel like our priorities financially are just so different. Is there a way to compromise, or politely talk it out? — Grateful Daughter

Answer: Time for you and Mom to have a come-to-Prius moment. (Sorry, sorry, ugh.)

Setting: A time and place when you and your mom are together and at ease and not scheduled to be anywhere.

Opener: Tell your mom how grateful you are for her generosity in giving you this opportunity to save money.

Point: Say you are concerned lately that her goals for this time and yours might be different, and you’d feel better if you knew what she had in mind. You don’t want to be an unwitting source of angst or frustration for her.

Key question: Is she willing to share her expectations? Such as, a deadline for you to move out? A goal she’d like you to reach personally? A goal of her own that she has in mind, maybe one she hasn’t fully articulated, and that’s dependent in some way on you? Say, for example, your buying a new car and giving the old one to your brother.

If she isn’t forthcoming, then all you can do is keep trying to pull your weight, save like the wind — we’re pretending that’s a thing — and get out of there as soon as it’s prudent to.

If she is forthcoming, then you work with that — bending where you can or where it won’t cost your integrity much to bend, and holding firm where you need to. And if holding firm is a problem for her, then this grace period might be up. It happens.

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