How to Talk About Food and Not Piss People Off
You’re at the annual family gathering and your uncle offers you a plate covered in meat. You stall. Do you tell him you recently went vegetarian? Maybe you should just suck it up and eat it. No, you decide to stick to your ideals. But you’re nervous. What do you say?
“Um… thanks… but I recently stopped eating meat.”
“My god! Why?”
Talking about food isn’t always easy. Especially when we make individual choices that don’t match up with those of the people that we’re eating with. On one hand, we want to have a conversation about food, get other people to think about what they’re eating. On the other hand, we don’t want to offend people and push them too far, for fear that they’ll close off and not be open to change.
If you care about what you eat and are on a quest to get more people eating real food, this is certainly a dilemma in which you have found yourself at one point or another. Food is emotional, which is why many people have strong reactions regarding it. Tell someone you’re off gluten and they go on a tirade about how they could never give up bread. Tell someone you’re trying to cut out processed foods and they remind of how they have a family and how impossible it would be to give up macaroni and cheese.
For a compassionate, caring person who loves food, these situations are tough. We want to get people involved in a conversation about how to eat better, but we want to have that conversation without being alienating. We want to be inclusive. We want to be supportive. We want to get people engaged without scaring them off within the first few minutes.
How then do we talk about food without coming off as if we’re on a soap box? Ultimately, it comes down to basic communication skills and respect.
You know what’s often more impactful than talking? Listening. Ask questions, the kind that prompt someone to think about what they’re saying and work through things on their own. Don’t assume you know someone’s personal stance to food, listen to what they have to say first.
2. Know your audience
If you’re at the meat-heavy family summer barbecue, it’s probably not the place to immediately launch into statistics on how bad the pork industry is at the same time as you pull their plate away from them. They’ll be offended, you won’t be heard, and there will never be a conversation to be had about today’s current meat industry, which is unfortunately, a missed opportunity. Very few people will make drastic changes overnight and because of that, you want to know who you’re talking to. This allows you to frame your thoughts in a way that makes sense to them. You want to be tactful and impactful and that requires knowing who exactly you’re speaking with.
3. Ease into it
While you may spend your days discussing food politics, remember that not everyone is always on the same page, and launching into an intense debate too quickly can be overwhelming to some people. Eating well often gets equated with a certain level of pretentiousness, and you want to avoid that. Real food is something that we can all care about, so make sure you go slow enough to get everyone on board.
4. Be relatable
Let’s be honest: whatever your personal position on food is, it didn’t happen overnight. Most of us have gone through a transition at one point or another, and that transition is usually one that has taken time. Why did you stop eating processed foods? What was your turning point? What recipe was it that finally made you love broccoli? When was the first time you met a farmer? The more you pepper your conversation with relatable personal stories of your own trials and tribulations, the more people realize that you too have gone through a learning process.
5. Lead by example
Sometimes it’s far better to simply act than to speak. You don’t always have to give a reason for your choices; sometimes it’s as easy as simply showing them.
6. Show passion
Passion is contagious, and if you show how excited you are, about food that comes off a lot better than if you just appear to be lecturing. Excited about everything that was in your last CSA box? Really happy about how a new recipe turned out? Share those things and get other people excited about eating real food in the process.
Photo Credit: Greg Younger