Miss Conduct

Preferential eating

When hosts make unhealthy offerings, plus getting driving friends to put down the phone.

By Robin Abrahams
May 2, 2010

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I eat a healthy diet and incorporate fruits and vegetables into all meals, especially dinner. I have instilled the same habits in my toddler daughter. We frequently eat dinner at my in-laws’, and no vegetables are served. Would it be rude if I brought my own for me and my daughter to eat? J.C. / Waltham Yes, it would be rude. Very rude, in fact. Food isn’t just nutritional; it’s social. People with medical or religious dietary restrictions can ask to be accommodated, and vegetarians in carnivore families can bring a side dish (enough to share, of course). If you have bona fide needs, you can make those known and negotiate as appropriate. However, when you are welcomed into other people’s homes to break bread with them, you do not implicitly critique their hospitality and lifestyle by bringing your own preferred foods. The message you would send to your in-laws by bringing along your own vegetables is “My dietary habits are superior to and more enlightened than yours.”

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

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

What is the best way to express your distress when the driver of the car you are in uses a cellphone? This has happened to me more than once with different friends. I need something to say right then so that they terminate the call immediately. I would also like to know how to address this before or after it happens. K.G. / Norfolk You don’t really need something to say right then. If a person is already driving and talking on a cellphone, it’s not going to make your situation any safer by giving the driver one more distraction – i.e., your panicked pleas – to process. Stay silent and keep your eyes on the road. Afterward, ask the driver to please desist from using a phone when you’re in the car. Explain your discomfort in a non-accusatory way, focused on your own emotions: “I get nervous, so can you please accommodate me?” not “How can you be so stupid?” If people do this more than once, then the next time you ride with them, get in the car and don’t fasten your seat belt. When they ask you to, say: “I’ll fasten my seat belt if you promise to turn your phone off or pull over if you get a call. Deal?” If they don’t notice or care that their passenger isn’t securely strapped in, you should probably stop riding with them.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at

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