Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Tainted food: I am taking my son to visit my dear uncle and aunt later this year. My aunt prides herself on her cooking, and meals are a big part of socializing with them. My uncle has already told me how happy they are that we don’t have any “food issues” and that we can enjoy our meals together. (My cousin is vegan, and his spouse is gluten-free.) But here’s the thing: My aunt has served us spoiled meat before. When visiting our city, she always tries to bring us food, and this has included raw meat that has sat in her trunk for hours. She has some cognitive issues and won’t take no for an answer. I fear that raising the subject at mealtime will be a disaster, but how do I raise it beforehand?
A: I think that this is a situation where you’re going to have to offer no as an answer, especially if the alternative is eating raw or spoiled meat. If your aunt’s cognitive difficulties make it difficult for her to understand the issue, you can try to bring up the subject with your uncle and ask for his help. Don’t worry about sounding diplomatic; focus on the health issue: “We’re looking forward to seeing you, but I’m concerned about meals. Calpernia has served spoiled meat in the past, and the health risk for our young son is especially high if the meat hasn’t been properly refrigerated and cooked. We’d prefer either a vegetarian meal or, if you’re not willing, we’ll bring our own main course to share. Let us know which one works for you.”