Neither Etiquette nor Black Culture Requires Eating Unhealthy Food

Race Manners: Your connections with family members really shouldn’t be based on what you put on your plate.

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Take it from me: I once ate a bite of pigs’ feet in an attempt to be a good guest and had to spit into a kitchen trash can, causing a little bit of a scene. Lesson: “No, thank you” is powerful expression. When it comes to significant others’ families, be as kind and as gracious as possible, but you’re under no obligation to gain weight or give yourself digestive issues—or even just consume something you don’t enjoy—in a futile attempt to get on anyone’s good side.

With your son, though, maybe there’s room to find some way to appease your mother-in-law—because he probably likes macaroni and cheese and red velvet cake (a lot), because it’s nice not to put any extra requirements on someone who’s watching your kid for you and because doling out food that children wouldn’t get at home is kind of what grandmas are known for.

Plus, Kendall pointed out, “you cannot control everything your child will be exposed to in the end. Your primary responsibility, as a parent, is to make sure he has a solid foundation that he can use to come back to as a reminder of how to eat healthily even when he’s out someplace where Mommy and Daddy won’t have a say. As he grows, he’ll understand that ‘my parents don’t keep this stuff around because it isn’t healthy, so maybe I should limit how much of it I eat,’ or—even better—‘maybe I shouldn’t eat that at all.’”

My best guess is that your mother-in-law feels disconnected from you in some totally non-food-related ways, and there are strategies you could use to get closer without compromising your principles or ruining your health. Can you go with her to church, ask to look at her scrapbooks, get in on non-food-related traditions, ask her about her childhood or text her more baby pictures? Let her know that you appreciate her for how she raised her son and cares for her grandson? (In my case, that one uncle who gave me the gag reflex-inducing pigs’ feet ended up liking me because I talked to him—and listened to him talk—about politics.) It may take a little extra effort to repair this relationship, but I’m certain that what comes out of your mouth will mean more to the effort than what you put in it.

The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.

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