This is a pretty low-stakes question, but I was wondering if you and your lovely commenters could help me out here? I’m a young, disabled woman working in a hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry. I recently started a job at a new company, and in my department there’s a potluck every fortnight at one of the senior people’s houses. It’s pretty much expected that you attend — which I have pretty mixed feelings about, because, like, what if you have kids or other home responsibilities? or if you don’t drive and don’t want to have to rely on your possibly-drunk co-workers for rides? — but they do seem to be good fun and are a great networking opportunity.
Because of my disability, I can’t stand up for long periods of time, and I have pretty severe fatigue issues, so cooking is not in the cards for me. So, the night before the potluck, I go to a posh grocery store, buy some super nice potluck-appropriate food in a reasonable quantity, and bring that. Sounds good, right?
Nope. Basically everybody has told me that I should be bringing something home-made, with comments ranging from discreet, well-intentioned warnings to super-aggressive in-your-face attacks.
I have so many issues with this, including: (1) most of the food is made by my co-workers’ stay-at-home wives, not them themselves, grr patriarchy, (2) a lot of the home-cooked food is legitimately terrible, whereas my grocery store stuff is at least tasty and unlikely to give anyone food poisoning.
I don’t want my disability to become general knowledge, I probably shouldn’t rage against the patriarchy, and I don’t want to insult anyone else’s food, but I need a script to get people to stop being weird about this. With the people I outrank I typically make a joke about how all I do is work all the time, but I don’t actually like doing that, because promoting overwork is bad and also I’m female and super-young for my rank so making a big deal out of my job title is a whole new level of awkward. And otherwise I just try to change the subject? But that’s not really working?
Making lasagne is not in my job description
Dear Not In My Job Description,
Please continue to attend (or not attend) these potlucks as you wish and bring whatever contribution is easy and comfortable for you to do.
Leave the fact that some of the food is gross totally alone. It won’t help your case, and the uneaten lima bean fishsticks surprise sitting pristine and untouched in its casserole dish or crockpot sends its own message to the perpetrators. They know what they did.
When folks get in your face about bringing homemade food, you can go with “neutral-positive:”
- “Thanks for the info, this is what works for me.”
- “I don’t really cook, but I like to be here with all of you, so this is what I’ve got.”
- “I like to play it really safe with food and this is what I bring.”
- “I like to bring something I know I want to eat. You don’t have to eat it, though!”
Remix and repeat as necessary. “Yes, Chad, you mentioned that last time, but this is what I bring to parties – would you like some?”
Or, you can maybe mention the stay-at-home wife thing if you think you can do it with a smile:
- “Brody, your wife always knocks it out of the park for these things. I should hire her to make something for me!”
- “I guess I’ll have to find a wife so I can both work all day and also show up to parties with exquisite home cooking. Where did you meet Mrs. Brad?”
- “If I had a wife who could cook as well as yours, I’d totally bring better food. Alas, I’m married to the Whole Foods.”
Like, gently call attention to the fact that these dudes are not exactly gourmet chefs themselves.
If someone is getting in your face, try treating them like they are the ones making a giant faux pas (because they are the ones making a giant faux pas):
- “Wow, you are very adamant about this! Is there a ‘homemade food’ clause in my employment contract I missed?”
- “Wow, people are really serious about these pot lucks! I’m going to keep playing it safe with my grocery store food. Nobody’s forcing you to eat it.”
Watch out for the words “cultural fit” and “team player” since they are often code words for “people who remind me of me.” Make a note of which people get really aggressive and weird about this stuff and find other mentors and allies and friends in the office. Someone who is gonna be a jerk about the bimonthly party is probably going to suck to work with in other ways, too.
Over time, these folks will either figure out that you generally bring the delicious cheese plate, or they will get so aggressive and weird that you will decide to forgo these “fun parties” and “awesome networking opportunities” that come with a side of being berated by dudes in your free time.
Dear Readers: If you want to share recipes for easy stuff you like to make for company potlucks, try your own social media feeds or blogs, recipe-sharing websites, and/or the forums at http://friendsofcaptainawkward.com. I don’t want to read a single “helpful” cooking suggestion as a response to this post. The Letter Writer’s cooking ability or knowledge is not the issue.