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Carolyn Hax: Abide by vegetarian's wishes for meat-free graduation party

By Carolyn Hax
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; C07

Hi, Carolyn:

Our family is in the midst of planning our daughter's graduation party and would appreciate your advice on the menu. Our graduate is a vegetarian and she does not want to serve any meat, chicken or fish at her party. Our family supports and respects her decision to be a vegetarian. However, no one else invited is a vegetarian (except her best friend), so we wanted to offer a main dish containing chicken or meat along with vegetarian side dishes and desserts.

Is our daughter imposing her values on others and expecting too much? Or am I making a big deal over nothing and should abide by her wishes? This has become a hot topic at the dinner table . . . .

J.

Given that vegetarians are decades out from being an exotic breed, and given that round-the-clock cooking shows and worldwide cultural cross-pollination have made brie the stuff of convenience stores, and given that pasta, beans, dairy, nuts and eggs can give your guests all the protein they need in a form that won't even scare Uncle Phil, there's absolutely no reason to go against the guest of honor's wishes.

She may be one of two vegetarians there, but putting meat on the menu just for the sake of serving meat is actually a case of your imposing your values on her.

And if your guests are of the sort to get their noses out of joint at the prospect of eating lasagna, or sesame noodles, or even high-end macaroni and cheese? Well, then, let them eat quiche.

Dear Carolyn:

My mother-in-law LOVES me. She has all sons, always wanted daughters. My husband thinks she likes me more than she likes him and I'm not sure he's wrong. When she and I are alone, she'll disparage him and try to get me to go along with it (joking about how irresponsible he is, how he can't cook, whatever she can come up with). Occasionally she'll go beyond joking-but-not-really-joking jabs to outright insults.

I know that I have to draw a boundary with her, and that I should have done it ages ago. But can you lay it out for me? What do I actually do or say? When do I do it? Help a reserved Midwesterner out!

Des Moines

It doesn't sound as if you need a boundary-boundary -- she does like you, after all -- but instead a let's-bond-over-something-else boundary. Like one of those little wire border fences on a flower garden.

To guide her in a new direction the next time she starts in on her son, say once -- as in, once -- "You raised him, I married him. I think both of us should be proud." Adapt for your voice as needed.

Then, thereafter, lightly: "Hey, don't start in on my feller/guy/dude/man/Pookie/Fred," adapted for your voice as needed. Or, "I'm going to tell," or "I didn't hear that," or, "Ooh you're bad," or any other lighthearted example of a conversationally impervious surface. Then shift the subject to something else. It's saying, "I'll neither fight you nor join you," which, once you find it, isn't a bad path to walk.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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