A couple of weeks ago me and my partner decided to change our diet/lifestyle to a mostly plant based diet. It has made us feel much better and happier. We make the occasional exception here and there but both have no wish to eat animal products on a daily basis.

We eat at my in-laws about once a week (sometimes we cook at their place, sometimes they cook) and they have been having issues with our new lifestyle. They disagree with it and refuse to prepare plant based meals. After not feeling well a couple of times after dinner and helping to clean up, we found out they were lying about the things they were serving. (ie, cooking with cows milk and claiming it's soy milk)

I am just not sure how to go about this. I don't wish to eat there anymore like this, but they are direct family and obviously my partner does not want a fight with his parents. His solution was to just bring Tupperware with our own food or only to invite them to our place and have us cook.

I feel like we should be able to discuss this as adults to adults. I don't feel that lying about these kinds of things is a very adult decision. What would be the best approach to discuss this without it escalating?

Edit from comments: I am not deadly allergic to any animal products, but specifically lactose products can bring me discomfort. If eaten in large amounts it will make me sick to my stomach.

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    Does anything from This Q or This Q help? – OldPadawan Oct 16 '17 at 10:43
  • @OldPadawan Not really, I had read them before but both are more about discussions about it and not about actual dining together. The first is also in an office environment which is a little different than a parent-child situation I guess. – Summer Oct 16 '17 at 11:11

Your in-laws have broken your trust here. It's not so much about the diet itself (they're free to disagree with it, they can even refuse to cook it and let you cook) but this is about them refusing to respect your personal decisions and then deceiving you by making you things you don't want to eat.

So approach it like that. Revoke their privilege of cooking for you because you don't trust them, make it clear you're doing that, and then offer alternatives.

And stick to that revocation until your in-laws understand how wrong it is to do this, apologize for it, and you believe they won't do it again.

If you need an idea of what to say:

I (or we) noticed during cleaning up, that you've been secretly making us food that goes against our diet. I'm saddened that you didn't respect our wishes and then lied to us about it.

Unfortunately, this means I can't trust you to cook for me anymore. I'll gladly continue to come around, and I'm more than willing to cook for you or order take-away, but we won't be able to join you for dinner (you made) anymore.

Additionally, you could also put in the part about how the cow-milk makes you sick. It depends on how serious your reactions to this food are; on one hand it can help make clear that your diet restrictions are quite serious. On the other hand, it can also make your in-laws just smuggle other things into your food that won't make you sick because you didn't deal with the problem at the root. I'll leave it up to you.


This is not about justifying your diet. Such discussions can be endless. The problem is that they don't respect your choice. The best approach is to appeal to their conscience.

You must make them feel ashamed by showing them how disappointed you are. Tell them that you never thought they would abuse your trust like this.

It's important to trigger real regret. If you can cause these feelings, they will understand it.

I know this may sound slightly offensive, but this is not about hurting your in-laws. I'm sure they just don't know how serious you feel about your diet.

  • "You must make them feel ashamed": I do not think that it is a very constructive goal to make the in-laws feel shame here. I think the right question is how to discuss the problem to move forwards; the in-laws' feelings about this issue are up to the in-laws to manage. – a3nm May 16 '18 at 22:28

The politest way to stress that you won't eat something is by not eating it. I have digestive issues with cow's milk. My children do as well. My wife has issues with that plus others, including gluten and a few other American staples. Eating at other people's house is very difficult, save for a few friends and family that understand our particular needs.

Some people will just plain never get it. You have a preference for your diet, which is in contrast with theirs, making it difficult to share the same meals. They take this in a few ways. First, they are offended that you won't eat their food suddenly. You used to eat it. They have served you those meals for years. Next, they feel burdened and disbelief. They say, "Really!? You're allergic to milk now? And you don't eat meat? I'm not going to bend over backwards because your on some trendy diet." Finally, they disconnect. They "can't figure out your weird diet needs" and they aren't going to try. They stop making things for you altogether or just expect you to eat some of the meal, bring your own, or some other solution that you came up with. If they reach this point, it will be an issue every now and then, mostly manifested in offense and disbelief.

If you're lucky, they will feel offended, burdened, and disbelief; but instead of disconnected they adapt their menus when they know you will be there, sometimes even making a special entree just for you. And eventually, they understand and no longer feel offense or disbelief.

So what do you do? Don't eat anything you don't want to eat. It's pretty simple, really. Ask your hosts (not just the subjects of this post), "Is this made with cow's milk?" If trust is now an issue, because they don't believe you and don't think you'll notice if it is made with cow's milk, look in their fridge for evidence of not cow's milk. When lacking, just don't eat it.

At this point, you need to be frank, not polite. Call them out. You aren't on a trendy diet; milk really does affect you negatively and you have a right to not feel like crap. Ask "Did you really use soy? Because last time, it didn't taste like soy and I got sick, so I don't really believe you." Depending on the kind of person they are, they may double down or fess up. You'll have to play that by ear.

Strong relationships are built on an appropriate measure of politeness and frankness. Polite in this instance is simply not eating anything that you know or believe has milk in it. Frankness is calling out the lies when you find them.

Overall, keep perspective. You can't eat milk without negative affects. You don't really want to eat meat. These are personal choices that frankly do burden the ones around you. So you better be extremely grateful when hosts do accommodate your wishes. Also understand that they may be hurt that you won't eat their food. Sometimes assurance is the best route, or "I'm sorry, I'd like to try it, but milk doesn't agree with me". Sometimes you just ignore it and they'll get over it. Worst case scenario, you have a light meal and need to top off when you get home. Don't make or let this get bigger than it really is.

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    I'm curious. In other comments, you claim that the hosts are not acting maliciously, yet here you're saying that they are offended, burdened and disbelieving. In these circumstances - when they have been told what won't be eaten and their reaction is to both provide that food regardless, and then lie about providing it - I don't see how you can argue that the behaviour is not malicious. (PS: not the downvoter) – mcalex Oct 18 '17 at 5:35
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    @mcalex Because the in-laws don't believe eating it will actually harm her. We lie to people all the time to make life easier for us and them, parents especially to children, grown or not. Malice is lying with intent to harm, or at least belief harm will result. I strongly doubt there was any intent to harm or even belief harm would result. – fredsbend Oct 18 '17 at 5:44
  • Helpful to seek possible rationale or motivations for the in–laws to deceive and disrespect, but let's not downplay the hostility on course they chose to take. – can-ned_food Oct 19 '17 at 11:18
  • @can I say let's not overplay it. Hostility is also a word I wouldn't use to describe this. – fredsbend Oct 19 '17 at 14:43

The other answers are exactly right: it's not so much the diet, it is them not seeing/accepting your diet.

They love you enough to lie to you and tell you it is soy milk instead of cow milk. but they don't understand the value you give it. (they think, there is no difference it does not matter).

As long as there is no conflict they will not say what they really think and i don't think you can change the way they think.

Getting angry, disappointed and sad, especially when they lie to you and you bust them, will start this conflict. Be sure to communicate your emotion but focus on the goals, don't throw blame.

As in life you need to compromise:

  • either they accept your wishes
  • You no longer eat with them, until they do
  • You accept they don't cook your lifestyle
  • You meet somewhere in the middle (tell them thinks you really not like, make it very practical so they can accept your wishes).

Maybe start with 1 or 2 practical wishes: use soj milk insetad of cow milk. But also Compromise on your side: tell them you don't mind doing groceries, or you actually want to pay for the soy milk (since it is most probably more expensive?).

Finally: positively motivate good behavior as much you can.


Tupperware, eating out/take out, sealed pre-packaged food, your own cooking, etc. Bringing all your own ingredients yourselves and cooking alongside with them. Those are all good choices. Also, it doesn't have to be dinner or lunch, you could just eat before you get to their place, and only have tea or coffee with them.

Whatever option you choose, you should still let them know that you know they've lied to you (if you haven't done so already) and inform them of the course of action you've chosen.

You should let them know this by phone a few days in advance. This way if they get upset, they may get it out of their system by the time you visit. But either way, there is really no way to prevent this situation from escalating once they notice you're no longer eating their food.

If they try to escalate the situation, your spouse and yourself should leave early. There is no point in rewarding such behavior by staying. Or if your spouse doesn't want to leave early, you should leave early. The remaining spouse can always take an Uber/Lyft/Taxi. Just agree to these contingency plans with your spouse a few days in advance so you don't spring it on him at the last second. You don't want to make it appear to his parents that he's not ok with you leaving early. In this, you must show a united front and pre-decide all the contingencies before you get to their house. Also, it will be easier leaving if you went to their house (instead of them coming to yours).

Eventually, they'll get used to the new pattern, at least I hope that they will.


Because you've cut so many irritating foods out of your life, eating/drinking just a little bit of them (after having none for some time) will cause a greater bad reaction. One way to avoid getting sick would be to have a little bit of it each day until you get accommodated to it. But that would be a step backward.

You need to let them know you do not want cow's milk and that you really mean it. To soften the blow, stop by one or two days early with a carton of soy milk in hand, give it to them, and tell them why. Let them know the cow's milk made you sick; it's not just a preference or a matter of taste.

Perhaps one of them tried soy milk and didn't like it, so they don't want to use it in a meal you all will have. They sell lactose-free milk (presumably cow's milk that's had the lactose removed somehow). Would that be an option?

  • Thanks, I am not looking for advice on my diet however. I would love to provide them with anything they need, we have offered to do the groceries or even to cook but they have refused, telling us there is no problem at all. Only to find out there apparently was a problem and they just disregarded the whole thing. I don't know how to stress to them I don't wish to eat something and don't wish to be lied to either... – Summer Oct 17 '17 at 9:53
  • This doesn't really answer the question. – fredsbend Oct 17 '17 at 15:42
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    The first paragraph is often wrong (e.g. celiac, lactose intolerance) and can be potentially fatal in the case of an allergy. – Mithrandir24601 Oct 18 '17 at 9:28

There are 2 separate issues here: the diet and the lying.

1) If you're visiting someone, you eat what they serve. It's not a restaurant that you can order food. You don't get to be picky. Same goes when they visit you, they don't get to demand a meat meal. Your dietary choices are your problem, don't make it other people's problem.

2) The other issue is lying. You asked, they agreed, they lied. There are no excuses for that even without making you sick. The fact that it made you sick makes point #1 questionable. We don't really know enough to judge them. Maybe they agreed happily, planning to lie from the beginning. Maybe you were grinding them for months and they've finally buckled in and lied to get you off their backs. But the point is that it doesn't matter for the end result.

I don't wish to eat there anymore like this, but they are direct family and obviously my partner does not want a fight with his parents. His solution was to just bring Tupperware with our own food or only to invite them to our place and have us cook.

That's actually how you solve this kind of things. If your lifestyles are incompatible, it's better to dial down contact rather than engage in a cold war. It's not a fight, it's a fact - you just can't eat there. Make shorter visits that doesn't involve eating or go out together to a place where both parties can order something they're comfortable with. Weaning takes many forms and levels, this is one of them.

I feel like we should be able to discuss this as adults to adults. I don't feel that lying about these kinds of things is a very adult decision. What would be the best approach to discuss this without it escalating?

Well, from my point #1 it's not an adult thing to come to someone's home and have demands. Even if that's parent's home. It's not an adult thing to lie about what was actually served either. I don't really think there is a room for discussion. However you present it, either as you stopping pressuring them to cater to your needs or you holding them accountable for what they did, the end result is same: you don't eat what they cook. It's not end of the world.

The actual compromise would be both sides stepping back a bit: you accepting some meat, they accepting no milk. But I don't think it's possible here. Elimination diet is pretty much defeated by weekly breaches and veganism is perceived as a kind of cult by non-vegans. You sound like a moderate person, but it doesn't stop the other side from perceiving you through the "weird vegan" stereotype. I'm only talking about veganism, even though you carefully avoided the word, because the stereotypes about vegans still affect you, even if you're not identifying with the movement. Parent's insistence on not changing their cooking once a week may stem from them seeing it as defending their lifestyle against alien culture.

Or they might be just picky eaters. Like my father-in-law who eats pretty much 3-4 things and wouldn't even try anything else. For this reason alone, my mother-in-law is very rigid when it comes to menu. They're more stubborn than kids and they have the means to have it their way. It took my wife many years to learn that it's not even worth trying.

For a person who's making their signature dish in a same way for decades, asking to substitute an ingredient usually is a grave offense. They'll fight defending the original recipe. The soy milk could be that.

There is also another angle of you "driving" your partner away from his mother. He used to like her cooking, now "you've made him" reject it. That's subconscious insult to every mother.

For all reasons, I suggest trying the neutral ground of a restaurant or takeout food for a while. It can make everyone cool down and open up.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 17 '17 at 17:12

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