#1062: My new coworkers are super-weird about potlucks and I don’t like the patriarchy.”

Dear Captain,

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?

Thanks,

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.

Moderation Note: 

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.

 

 

 

 

442 comments
  1. Pho said:

    Greetings LW,
    I have walked in your shoes. It is so not fun.
    What I have found works best for me in this type of situation is for me to say, “Well, you’re getting a much better and tastier dish than if I had to prepare it myself.”
    Best of luck. I feel for you!

    • Carpe Librarium said:

      Yes!
      Perhaps choose 3 ‘signature’ dishes that you always re-plate from the package and rotate through them from potluck to potluck.
      You can keep bringing the packaged stuff sometimes, too when you want to.
      “Oh, I didn’t have time to ‘prepare’ [signature dish] for this evening, so I just picked this up from the store.” 😉

      • Carpe Librarium said:

        Sorry, I meant to reply to CynicMom.

      • E* said:

        Yep, this was my helpful cooking suggestion.
        Step 1. Go to Goodwill and buy a worn but nice-looking casserole dish (if you don’t have one).
        Step 2. In your car on the way to the party, dump your posh grocery store item into the dish.

        I like Carpe’s suggestion of mixing it up with “store-bought” dishes still in package. Then you can still use Captain’s awesome scripts.

    • Vinegarpye said:

      My thought would be to say “wow chad, your dish looks yummy, what’s in it.” And then follow up with “what kind of prep work did that require?” And “how long did you bake it for?” Basically get hi, to admit he didn’t make his dish either.

      • J said:

        Yep yep yep yep

      • J said:

        Yep yep yep yep

      • vpopelephant said:

        #yes

      • sofar said:

        This wins so hard, I kind of wish I were in LW’s situation so I could use this response.

      • Willow said:

        boom

    • v said:

      Yes, that works perfectly. I usually said in a joking tone “I don’t want to poison you, if I cooked myself everyone would end in the hospital” and then laugh. If they get anoying, next time bring something so awful that no one would like to even try. Maybe something burned or weirdly colored. After that it’s unlikely that they would complain about you bringing something from the grocery store. XD

      • Crane89 said:

        Something with blue coloring (Bridget Jones’s blue soup for example). We humans actually have a genetically ingrained disgust against blue food.

      • Nanani said:

        I can see this backfiring REALLY badly.
        The patriarchy frowns on women who perform patriarchy badly, as LW is already seeing, but I don’t think it’s worth inviting more scolding and feminity-performance-evaluation about her cooking skills by bringing bad food.
        It’s really not hard to imagine this not only not solving existing issues, but adding another front for the broworkers to be all like “You’ll never catch a husband if you can’t make better lasagna than this!”

        Sticking with the storebought is at least not opening another can of beans for them to gender police.

        • Jules the Third (I think) said:

          +1 to this.

        • crooked bird said:

          Yeah, that one makes a better fantasy than a reality. It is a great fantasy though!

        • OMJ said:

          Plus it could turn into an opening for helpful “advice” or trying to set the LW up with one of the wives who loves to cook, which means even more awkward social maneuvering to get out of it.

        • v said:

          Sure, if they told you that you would never get married just say, “I’ll remain single then”, that usually bothers them a lot. I mean, the trick is just not caring about patriarchy evaluation of your feminity performance. and if they insist you should learn just say “great! we can both learn so you don’t have to bother your wife anymore for the potlucks!” After all, most of this guys won’t really want to admit they are sexist. We many times make a lot of effort to be liked by people who not only never would like us, but that we really don’t like. The people who would insist on you needing to become a good cook is the same people who already despise for working outside the house. And if they start with how women and men are “different” blablabla, just say “sorry, but I dissagree” and repeat.
          But most of them would just give up and accept that you are just “unmarriable” which might even come in handy to avoid the singles of the group pestering you for dates.
          Patriarchy might not frown of you perform feminity right, but the “reward” usually is that guys that are sexist and you don’t like at all decide that they “won’t take no for an answer” and that you couldn’t posible want to be single when a man like them make you the great favor to overlook your not supermodel appearance and think you are cute. So I guess is a matter of choice among two evils.

        • Besides, wouldn’t the bad food require LW to prepare it herself? When the whole point is that she is NOT cooking?

    • Sarah said:

      Look, this in no way solves the frustration with the patriarchy, but I’ve just always played up the “I’m not a traditionally feminine woman, I don’t cook/clean/hold other people’s babies” angle. Sometimes I’ve found it’s less exhausting for me to go with the assumptions I know they’re making because it’s faster than educating them on how I operate in the world with a side of giant-patriarchy-smash. So I tell stories about killing plants by accident (“How do you even kill a SUCCULENT? I bought it because it was supposed to survive the apocalypse! HOW AM I WORSE THAN THE APOCALYPSE?!?!”) and that leads into “Oh God, I gave myself food poisoning/burnt everything to a crisp/almost killed my roommate’s hamster when I tried Blue Apron. I thought I followed the directions!” pretty nicely.

      It is imperfect and it leads to reinforcing things I’d rather not reinforce about how a woman should be, but you know what? Effing nobody asks me to cook anymore (and I’m actually pretty good at it now).

      • Responding to your parenthetical: I feel you. I once killed a cactus by not watering it.

        • Solo said:

          I once killed a cactus by putting it in the sun. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN.

          • I’m glad it’s not just me and my immediate relatives who struggle to keep desert plants alive in desert conditions!

          • There is a cactus in my kitchen which was foisted off on me by a particularly disliked roommate. I have kept it out of spite in the hopes of seeing it die, basically, but it’s been months, I have not watered it once, and I think it’s only now starting to get a bit ill. (I live on the Canadian West Coast and I think if anything it could almost die from getting too much moisture from the air.) I cannot make plants grow on purpose, but this one appears to have thrived on my neglect.

          • My cactus, I honestly don’t even know if it has needed to be watered in the year I’ve owned it. I usually just spray it now and then.

            My succulant, meanwhile, is a whiny baby who should by all reasonable measures be rotting from how much I have to water him. He also should be dead a few times over by this point. He’s flowered, made babies, and twice now I have beheaded him and replanted him because he ends up looking like a palm tree eventually.

            Plants are weird.

          • Willow said:

            I kill aloe vera plants with alarming regularity.

        • Anon, Goodnight said:

          I’ve killed an ivy. 🙂

          • Emmers said:

            I kept an African Violet alive for over 20 years. I DON’T KNOW HOW. It died this past year.

          • sistercoyote said:

            @Emmers: my paternal grandmother had an African Violet that was healthy but refused to bloom UNTIL THE YEAR MY AUNT LEFT THE HOUSE.

            Much mileage has been gotten of this poor plant.

      • Silamy said:

        This was what I was going to recommend. I’m a damn good cook. I enjoy it. I’m also in a heavily male-dominated field, and even the well-intentioned casual ‘joking’ about ‘being a good homemaker’ tends to turn into bitch-eating-crackers material VERY quickly. When I’m dealing with those guys, I play up the food poisoning jokes, show off the various scars I’ve accumulated in the kitchen (I am very bad at making spaghetti), and commiserate with other students about the ramen-diets. Seems to be the most efficient way of removing the labels they expect for ‘woman’ from myself.

      • Brjun said:

        Ditto! I also always make it explicit with a follow up that references my job like, “Haha, turns out I am a better engineer/snake wrangler/marketer than I am a cook!”/”You know, as I keep saying, my skills in welding/dissecting kittens/product management just don’t extend to cooking/fashion/plants!”. (Or if you can work it in — “Then, I went away to work on this constitutional law case (*gnarly boring details*), and boom, there goes my cactus”)

        It can look a bit brusque, but if you are fed up, it is a low-key way to remind everyone why you are there (because of work) and what you have in common (pipe fittings, constitutional law, snakes).

        • I like this approach a lot. Any strategy LW picks will have to be repeated over and over (because no matter how smart a person might be in their profession, they are usually stupid about patriarchy) and has the virtue of simplicity, as well.

        • “make it explicit with a follow up that references my job”

          Ding ding ding, we have a winner!

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          This is genius. (Imagines software developer going at it from all angles, a different one for every meeting, from ‘how to disrupt potlucks’ (or ‘Uber for potlucks’) to specific language/implementation details. And, of course, user stories…

      • nottakennotavailable said:

        I’ve killed cacti before.

        I also gave away a Crockpot that my ex forgot to take with him when he moved out. I get some funny looks when I tell people this; “But Crockpots make cooking soooooo easy!” they say.

        “Not for me,” I respond. “You still have to go to the store, buy all the ingredients, chop and measure them out, remember to turn it on, and make sure the damn thing isn’t sitting next to a towel or anything else burnable while you leave it cooking all day. Fuck that!”

        No one ever complains when my “culinary contributions” are in the form of take-out.

    • PrairieChick said:

      “I’m not an experienced cook; so I brought this from a great (restaurant/ gourmet store/deli)” covers the situation. It expresses caring for others (not bringing dubious food) and for the LW’s self (not struggling with food prep).

      It sidesteps the patriarchy and disability issues, and the “need a wife/husband” idea, which are side issues and will only add drama potential. No need for passive-aggressiveness or snark. In this case, it seems best to fight the feminist battle at another place and time. Patriarchs such as the LW described may never :”get it”; and, is this the hill the LW is willing to die on, regarding work relationships?

      If pressed , such as “when will you learn to cook?”, good responses are ” when I can find the free time” or “I’m not sure” or other side-stepping answers.

      • Manattee said:

        Hmm. I actually think there is every need for a degree of passive aggressiveness and snark here. The only way for a woman to win the game of patriarchy is to position herself somewhat askance to it (even if only as subtly as a work situation may allow). By saying she’s not good at cooking, or struggles to find time, she doesn’t side-step the problem, she just loses value within the patriarchal system for her poor performance of womanhood. I like the captain’s responses because they keep the emphasis on the fact that the LW is choosing not to cook and not apologising for that.

      • thegreatdragon said:

        I think this is actually a pretty solid response if she wants a chill way of dismissing things. I’ve heard people use it in real life, and if you say it kind of casually, most people just nod and go “okay.”

        Granted, I’ve also never experienced an aggressive “everything must be homemade” potluck before (most people seem impressed about someone cooking, not expecting it.)

  2. CynicMom said:

    The captains scripts are great! I wanted to add, as a person who was a stay at home mom for years, that you can always buy something from the store, transfer it into your own dish, and tell everyone that it’s homemade when it isn’t. I’d bet money several of these guys spouses are doing the same. It doesn’t directly fight the patriarchy but it gets you out of the responsibility.

    • Ren said:

      My aunt did this for a decade with a premium brand in our country, her trick was adding a topping once she transferred it (like crushed potato chips on lesagna or just chocolate sauce over desserts) so no one would recognise it. Her husband had no idea until the trash collectors went on strike and he stumbled on all the packaging

      • CommanderBanana said:

        Hahaha, my friend’s grandmother always made her famous strawberry shortcake for get-togethers. On her deathbed (literally on her deathbed) she admitted she would drive to the next town over for Popeye’s biscuits for the shortcake.

      • Anon, Goodnight said:

        My parents were on different work schedules for a few weeks after they first got married. My mom could only cook 1 or 2 dishes and had no real interest in learning. Since it was 1968, it never occurred to my dad that my mom wouldn’t know how to cook. During the week, my mom would go to the deli and buy something, put it in a casserole dish topped with foil, and leave my dad a note with the heating instructions. On the weekend, he liked to grill, and she fixed a salad to go with. When they finally had a week night where they were both home, he asked her what was for dinner, and she looked at him blankly, and said, “I haven’t checked what the deli has today.” It never occurred to him that she wasn’t cooking all these meals, and it never occurred to her that it wasn’t obvious that this was deli food. She only repackaged it to heat up, since the deli containers weren’t oven-safe. She was like, “OF COURSE I’m getting stuff from the deli. I’m a terrible cook.”

    • bats are cute said:

      This is a good point! Presentation can be everything, even if that presentation is just removing the packaging. You are so right that some of the other food is likely store-bought, whether the men are aware of it or not.

      It sidesteps the larger issues making LW uncomfortable, but is a good low-stakes (if annoying) solution if it’s not worth the energy to constantly butt heads about it with That Guy & Friends every time there’s a party.

      • like an angry apple tree said:

        That Guy & Friends! My least favorite imaginary sitcom!

        */~ Bump ba dump bump we’re terrible people! */~

        LW, I can only full body shudder and commend you on sticking it out in whatever way works for you. That’s waaaay more frequent Enforced Socializing than I could take, that’s for sure.

    • Buni said:

      Am I the only one who flashed to Phoebe’s grandmother and ‘Nesleeeee Tolooooze’….?

      • Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend said:

        This was literally the first thing I thought of!

    • Celeste said:

      I was coming here with this very suggestion. All food comes from the grocery store when you get down to it. Let the cultural Neanderthals have their delusion. I only suggest this because the gatherings are worth it to you.

    • kate said:

      Yes! I too was coming here with that suggestion. There’s a world of difference (in perception) of transferring a dish you’ve purchased to a nice dish (with a lacy doily underneath if you’re southern like my family haha) rather than bringing something with the store brand packaging still on it. I guarantee you a lot of those dishes the wives are “making” they are actually purchasing. There’s a local store that specializes in delicious “homemade type” to-go casseroles, cakes, pies etc. that I purchase many (most) of my “homemade” items from then I add some extra cheese or chocolate sauce with sprinkled oreos or whatever on top and serve and no one has ever said a word to me about it. Doesn’t really solve the overall attitude of these jerks, but would probably help you survive these parties

      (BTW bi-monthly work events? I do not envy you! I like my co-workers but that’s A LOT to ask of employees!)

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      Mac’s Famous Mac and Cheese!

    • Music with rocks in it said:

      I would do this – buy something from a store or take out – pass it off as your own a homemade – and then when everyone starts telling you it is soooo much better and was that so hard – then you say ‘I’m glad you like it! I picked it up from store – I will remember that you like it and get next time’. Then if they ever give you a hard time again point out they liked when you got it from that place before.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Yes. If you want to spend the social capital on this, or are confident it won’t hurt you, the Captain’s scripts are great. If not, repackage something from the store and feel no guilt. Throw it in a Tupperware or casserole dish and give it a stir. If you’re afraid that it will still look package, dust it with paprika or throw on some Parmesan or something. I have gotten rave reviews for grocery store hummus put in a bowl with grocery store “Greek salad mix” on top.

      No shame in faking it. If you want to push back and fight this battle, go for it! Captain has given you superb advice. If not, toss supermarket deli fruit salad in a bowl, toss supermarket deli mango salsa on top, and the “secret family recipe” will free up energy to deal with other issues.

  3. ProfessorPat said:

    Yes to what the Captain says, but if you just want to stop talking about food or being harped on, here’s a sidestepping vote for getting a tupperware container, buying the same grocery store potato salad every two weeks, plating it in the tupperware, and bringing that. If people ask for the recipe, copy and paste this to them:

    Directions
    Boil peeled potatoes in salted water until done. Cool to room temperature.
    Place diced potatoes in large bowl.
    Mix mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt, garlic powder, and pepper in another bowl.
    Add to potatoes.
    Add celery and onions and mix well.
    Stir in eggs.
    Sprinkle a little paprika on top.

    • JenniferP said:

      You had me on the tupperware, but what part of “this is not a thread for sharing recipes” was unclear? “If they ask for your recipe, google the most basic one and send it to them.”

      • I think Prof.Pat was suggesting the recipe for if the LW asked, not as something LW could make?

        • If the LW *WAS* asked ugh I give up.

        • ProfessorPat said:

          This is correct- I was not suggesting recipes but something to copy and paste. I was not clear in this- apologies.

      • I also like, “It’s a family secret” or “I make it up as I go along.” If I’ve already bought someone potato salad, I don’t also need to be doing their googling for them.

        • David said:

          “I was channeling my Great Aunt Hildegard at the time, and I have no memory of its preparation.”

        • Vinegarpye said:

          My go to answer to “did you make it?” Is, “I made the decision to bring it.”

          • emmych said:

            My mother’s go to was “I made it. I went to the grocery store and made it my own.”

        • Turtle Candle said:

          I lik “oh, I’m not sure—I cook by ear!”

        • Emmers said:

          Re: doing their googling, I thought the point of the Great Potato Salad Prestige was to deceive them about who cooked it?

          Although I guess you could also say “I found the recipe on Google,” but I feel like she’d get sass for that too, ugh.

    • sargjo said:

      I thought of the same thing. If these dudes aren’t cooking, they will not be able to tell a nice deli grain salad or stewed chicken spread from a home cooked meal. Joke’s on them bwa ha ha ha. My go to deli contribution is those almond green beans. I always get asked for the recipe, to which i respond “butter, green beans, almonds.”

    • hummingbear said:

      I’d be careful to check the packaging for common allergens if you do this. If someone asks, “what’s in it?” they may want to know if it contains nuts or gluten, and you don’t want to lead them astray.

      • My two cents said:

        I have been to places where there are no ingredients listed, however there are little cards next to every relevant dish with “Contains milk / nuts / gluten” which I thought was fabulous!

        • like an angry apple tree said:

          This is literally all I feel a reasonable person can ask of another potluck attendee. Don’t give us food poisoning, and label non-obvious meat, dairy and at least the common allergens. Oh, and don’t be rude. IMO that is *it.*

        • Kacienna said:

          My friends group has so many allergies/restrictions that this is standard. For my parties, I often divide the table into quadrants based on the presence/absence of gluten and dairy.

          • mm said:

            As a person with many common foodstuffs that I avoid, and as a person who enjoys making food, I am one for making a card with the ingredients. The list is usually not that long. The card also includes the name of the dish (yeah, people can figure it out, but I think it is nice to help out?) and words such as “vegan” and “gluten free” where applicable.

            Resturaunt buffets and cafeterias that do this have ALL MY LOVE.

            And, oddly, that’s a preety low bar. Labeling well doesn’t even mean there’s anything I’ll eat!

          • mm said:

            Love the table quadrants. I hope your friends love you for this!

          • Kacienna said:

            It’s something of a running joke. I have my serious cooking parties about twice a year, and there are always several rounds of introducing people to the food:
            “Kerri, Bill, these are the gluten/dairy quadrants”
            “Jamie, the only things that have meat are the things that look like meat”
            “Carl, don’t eat this curry, it has carrots; and Gloria, it’s probably also too spicy for you”
            “Heather, this one is banana nut bread, but there’s another loaf made with applesauce”
            “Sherri, the things that look like shrimp are indeed shrimp, please don’t die”
            “Reggie…nevermind, you eat everything”

            (names changed of course)

          • mm said:

            (I hope this gets inserted where I think it will?)

            That sounds awesome.

            And may I introduce you to the idea of “food introductions”? Imagine a potluck that has tables of food (all covered up, no one eating). Host decides it is time to start. Host says “okay, group, time for introducing the food.”. Everyone stands around the table, and each person says their name, what they brought, and what’s in it. People are invited to ask any questions about that dish. Next person. Then we all eat.

            I’ve seen this done in places where it was **charming**. People get to talk about what they made, and it sweet and personal, with all of the mildly-awkward but good-willed things involved. Also lots of getting to show off what you brought, because even if it is potatoe chips, it took effort to bring them.

            I’ve also seen it work out less well. I’m not certain why. I asked for it to be done recently at a potluck I attended, and I think it went OKAY, but I also think this group has more of an “everyone should eat everything and not fuss” vibe, like I was maybe stepping out of line to ask people to actually say what the food is?

            Anyway, I like this even better than food LABELLING, because it is more social, more personal. and it opens up lots of possibilities for discussing the food itself much further. By maybe diffusing some awkwardness?

            I’d love it if this were standard practice at potlucks.

    • Jenny Islander said:

      Ha ha! Or make any add-whole-eggs mix cake in a 9×13 pan with one more egg than the package calls for and tell everybody it’s homemade. People raved about my late MIL’s desserts and said she should enter them in the state fair–and that’s all she did! (But make sure to use only chocolate frosting-from-a-can for the top, because nobody can tell the difference between canned chocolate frosting and real chocolate buttercream, but the other flavors are pretty obvious.)

      That said, LW, if you want to push back against this Mom-in-the-kitchen casserole culture, feel free to do so. My suggestion is just for if you decide not to budget the energy and time needed for that.

      • Jenny Islander said:

        Oh! If they ask, it’s a chiffon cake. You used ordinary vegetable oil and just whipped it together according to your [imaginary relative who never lived in this area and also is dead]’s recipe, which is a family heirloom. Hint hint.

      • KellyK said:

        I love this idea and am definitely stealing it, but making a cake from a mix is still making something, and might still be more work than LW has the spoons for.

  4. automaticdoor said:

    These are really great responses. (Also I love the generic dude name choices haha) I work in a pretty older-man-heavy field as a younger woman and this type of direct answer to Uncomfortable/Ughhhh Topics seems to work well. Be polite, slightly humorous, but make yourself clear. The Captain’s scripts are great here.

    • AlmstHvn said:

      My go-to for potlucks is a giant bowl of M&M chocolate candies. (1) it’s easy (2) I like M&Ms (3) there are never any leftovers to take home. I’ll even get those little paper “dixie cups” and put next to the bowl as a serving dish. Responses to critics: (1) Why, it IS homemade. You’ve no idea how long it takes to stamp those little “W”s on everything (2) I opened the bag and poured them into the bowl. In my home. VOILA (3) If there ARE leftovers, I’m happy to have them.

      I would do this every time but you might do it once and if asked, respond “well, bringing dish from xyz store got so much flack last time, I thought I’d show the other option.”

      • E* said:

        “You have no idea how long it takes to stamp those little ‘W’s’ on everything”

        HAHAHA! That’s amazing!

        • Saturnalia said:

          And now I’m thinking of my late Grandpa 🙂 he said this to very smol me, along with other Super Dad Jokes (one might even call them… Granddad jokes). He had his flaws but jokes and laughter were not among them 🙂

    • walkingwhilefemale said:

      The choice of names (“Chad” “Brody” and “Brad”) all gave me a good laugh. Glad I’m not the only one.

  5. LW, I don’t know where you live or what types of food you generally bring, but is there a convenient “specialty” store where you might stop and get something that looks “more” homemade? Weirdly enough, I have, for example, both a cupcake shop and a nice deli near me, and on those rare occasions when I’ve needed to potluck and my spoons are too low to make cooking on my own practical I’ve often used one or the other in a disposable container (because my memory is terrible but the stuff I buy is usually sturdier than takeout). Many of them will be on-par, cost-wise, with what you might buy at the grocery store; some will be more expensive.

    I’m not suggesting you should claim such food as your own (spoiler: if asked, you shouldn’t), but I know a lot of people can’t tell the difference between “I baked it from scratch” and “I raced through the store and bought the most tempting looking thing” (some can, of course.). And if someone asks, or wants the recipe, you have the Captain’s scripts as a fallback.

    “I don’t have a wife, but I find [bakery] makes the best mini-pear tarts; I can send you their info if you want it.”

    (I’m hoping this makes sense and adequately expresses what I’m thinking as I’m running on about a severe sleep deficit this week.)

    • That should, of course, say “I raced through the store…tempting looking thing and repackaged it.”

    • Kacienna said:

      I am actually totally fine with the LW claiming the store bought food is homemade. I mean, calculate the risk and consequences of being found out, but I think the jerks have given up any moral right to truth here.

      • Silamy said:

        For me, I think it depends on the store in question. A chain store, or something where it’s not a few people whose businesses rely on word of mouth is fine to claim, but something handmade that someone had to put time into, not so much.

  6. Sunshine and lollipops said:

    Are you in a position where you can organise your own hang out thing? I mean put an email out or whatever about a film trip or a evening museum opening or another thing which doesn’t involve unpaid female labour.

    • S said:

      I love this idea, especially if the hosting is shared. We have pretty regular “corporate outings” that have involved a lot of fun things from glass blowing to bowling. So when it’s your turn to host maybe everyone can just chip in some cash and get a venue, and have a different experience! Team Building! New things! Or even hire a caterer? (Spoiler, just because you make it at home, doesn’t mean it’s free. )

  7. I’m opposed to these ideas of presenting store-bought food as homemade food just for the sake of the people at the party who clearly have a problem. Screw that. They can eat what you bring or STFU.

    My first reaction to this whole story: is this really a place you want to work? This is bizarre behavior (not only the harassment at the potluck but the expectation that you show up at all). Do you all have to sit at a table and eat lunch together too?

    • Lumen said:

      That’s a solid point. These people sound awful to work with if they’re getting in LW’s face. Also… a potluck every TWO WEEKS? *nightmare*

      • Jake said:

        That is at least 24 more potlucks per year than is called for.

      • Mr. Bells’ work does themed potlucks every month(?) I think. And I do not lift a finger, because even in freaking game development men know how to cook. You want to bring 4 dozen “Lord of the Rings” – themed hors d’oeuvres? That’s on you, babe.

        • Silamy said:

          That sounds like a FANTASTIC event to go to.

      • Rhoda said:

        This! I worked at a place that had an *annual* pot luck just before Christmas. Most people brought stuff they’d made, some clearly bought something ready made, but nobody got in the face of those who didn’t cook. It was clearly understood that not everyone cooks/has time to cook.
        I bet LW’s coworkers wouldn’t be like this with a young male in her position.

      • Temperance said:

        Seriously, I HAAAAAAAAAAATE potlucks. A potluck with coworkers sounds like a nightmare.

    • Stephanie said:

      Yeah, this is like the life hacks issue a few questions ago with the crockpot. The problem isn’t the food LW is bringing to the potluck. The problem is the expectations and reactions that LW’s coworkers are having.

    • Me said:

      At some level, it comes down to picking your battles. If you want to fight back on this, Captain Awkward has given some good ways to do that. If you decide that you just don’t want to fight this particular battle, then dumping deli coleslaw in a pyrex dish is a perfectly acceptable option if you choose it.

      But it is also worth keeping an eye on the general culture of your workplace, because I’m betting that this isn’t the only place that things get toxic. What you do about it, though, can be complicated – if you’re woking in a field that’s “hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry” you might be choosing tolerably misogynistic rather than good.

      Personally, I’d be tempted to take something that was homemade but tasted horrible, and respond with a wide-eyed “But I told you I was a terrible cook!” when people call you on it.

      • Yeah, this is pretty much the thinking behind the comment I made; Captain gave excellent scripts AND IF the LW wants there are additional things that can be done.

        And now I’m imagining LW saying “Oh, you don’t like it? That’s funny, they said my cooking was too good for Worst Cooks in America…” (<-JOKE)

        • I freaking love that show. So funny.

      • Inahc said:

        ooh, good idea. 😉 if you do something badly enough, you won’t be asked to do it again. (usually a bad policy, but when people are this unreasonable I think it’s fair game)

    • Claire said:

      Yeah, the danger of passing something off as homemade is that people will be like “see? you did it this time, now was that so hard?” And then it’s like LW caved and they win, and you have to keep up the facade indefinitely. Better to use the Captain’s scripts to emphasize the important things: (1) it’s food and you can all gain utility from eating it and (2) LW is not the only one bringing something they didn’t personally make.

      • Claire said:

        (Aaaaand after that last-minute edit, I ended up awkwardly switching between referring to the LW in second and third person. Whoops.)

      • The problem is that they COULD fire you over this, or deny you a promotion. I wouldn’t use the scripts given unless A) this was a hill I was willing to die on B) I am prepared to be unemployed shortly, or give up any hope of advancement in this company and C) I’ve decided that it’s worth the potential hit to my professional reputation.. They are asses, this won’t change, at this point it’s in the “your bad boss won’t get better, you can chose to stay knowing that, or leave” territory.

    • Consultant Liz said:

      Yeah but honestly there are only so many battles one can fight in a day. I am in a similar industy to LWs and sometimes I want to save energy for getting actual work done, addressing overt harassment or discrimination. It’s not every woman’s responsibility to fight the partriarchy at every opportunity because we are the ones who are oppressed.

    • Marthooh said:

      Apparently this IS a place the letter writer wants to work, and ” .!.. o_o ..!. ” has probably already occured to them as a possible response. Me, I’d try the Miss Manners route first: “I’m so sorry you don’t like it.”

    • Is the expectation of eating lunch together not a normal thing? At my old office job, I was considered The Weirdo for sitting outside and reading (in England, in march)

      Let’s just say this line rang a few bells: ‘Watch out for the words “cultural fit” and “team player” since they are often code words for “people who remind me of me.”‘

      • Kacienna said:

        The culture for my new office seems to be solo lunches and it is glorious!

      • Some places do, some places don’t. I’m not sure there’s a normal.

        But mandatory socializing is always a red flag for me.

    • aebhel said:

      That kind of depends on whether LW wants to fight the system or just not get hassled. The latter is a totally valid choice.

    • Jules the Third (I think) said:

      She implies this company is pretty standard for her industry. If it’s one of the bro industries, (brodustries?) then the patriarchy / ableist will show somewhere. If the rest of the company is ok with promotions / compensation, I tend to stick with the devil I know.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      It depends how much social capital you think you have to burn. If you have enough to burn, go for it! But if like a lot of people you can’t take the hit, I see nothing wrong with dumping it in some Corning Ware and dusting some paprika or whatever on top and faking it. Basically, use your capital where you feel it most needed. If that’s not the potluck, no judgement from me.

  8. Rose said:

    I really like the scripts for gently reminding them that they aren’t the ones making home cooked dishes every two weeks and maybe they can bring what they want and you can also bring what you want and they don’t need to bother you about it.

    I have only attended the very occasional work potluck, but every potluck group has the folks who don’t have the time/energy/interest in cooking and I don’t even understand how that’s a big deal at your work. Maybe they get competitive about which spouse makes the best tuna casserole and you bringing store bought food is somehow a refusal to play in this unstated game? Regardless of the reasons, it’s ridiculous.

    Also, once a fortnight is an insane amount of potlucking.

    • M Dubz said:

      Right? I am a champion potlucker, and have belonged to several communities of champion potluckers (we religious liberal Jews LOVE our vegetarian potlucks). There were always a handful of people who brought packaged humus, or a dessert from that fantastic bakery, or alcohol, and the rest of us were always very grateful.

      • Silamy said:

        Plus the people who bring drinks (especially nonalcoholic), plates, cups, plasticware, napkins, ice, and the rest of the essential not-food things. Also a potential option for LW -it’s something that gives you an opportunity to contact the host ahead of time and ask. You get plausible deniability, are helpful, don’t have to spend much money OR spoons, and the host remembers you as ‘the considerate one who understands logistics’.

      • Lirael said:

        *religious liberal Jew vegetarian potluck fistbump*

  9. ayla said:

    With the ones that are rude but not hostile, an obliviously sincere “And where did you learn to cook so well to bring this delicious homemade dish of yours? I can’t imagine HOW you find the time to do it all with the hours we all work.”

    • spd said:

      I came here to suggest some version of this. I am also hidden disabled working in a competitive industry (competitive meaning culturally people who like to win). It can’t be the same one, because NOBODY in this industry has a free night every two weeks, but:

      When I decide not to attend/do extensive preparation for a recreational activity (like a potluck), I usually respond to anyone who gives me hassle (as in, doesn’t accept “not for me” on the first round) with “I’m jealous that work is slow enough for you that you have time to [x]! I’m just swamped right now.” It’s a little passive aggressive, sure… But if my coworkers are gonna try to make me feel guilty for not performing team-bonding correctly, I don’t really have any qualms with making them feel a little insecure about whether they’re focusing on the wrong part of the job.

    • Someone, anyone said:

      OH YES, I would needle them so much about this! I’m sure there are many scripts that you can come up with. Very passive aggressive, but these guys obviously need a reminder about their double standards.

      Basically, I would keep asking the rude coworkers very detailed questions about their cooking (Where did you get the ingredients? What spices? How long did it have to bake/cook? Do you think [specific ingredient] would work for that recipe?) and make comments about my luckless attempts to find a suitable wife.
      Asking them how they make the time for cooking sounds also like a good choice. You can even one-up that buy commenting on how other household chores kept you from cooking – “Oh, I would have cooked something, but I really had to [vacuum/clean the kitchen/wash the dishes/grocery shop/whatever] and what with all the deadlines right now I was lucky to get even that done! I’m amazed that you find the time to cook AND keep your home clean on top of all the work!”
      I’m willing to bet they don’t do any of these chores either (those who do surely have a better understanding of the amount of work you have to do if you don’t have a partner to do stuff around the house).

      • slfisher said:

        If this is a work event, then talk about work rather than cooking and make talking about your food very boring. “oh, I don’t cook, but I’m glad you’re here because I wanted to talk about the Smith case…”

        • T said:

          I like this very much

        • Jules the Third (I think) said:

          +100000000

        • Bess Marvin said:

          This is a great idea. If the event is about networking, then network.

          And “oh, I don’t cook, but…” said in a casual, offhand, of-course-some-people-don’t-cook type of way can be very defusing.

          Sometimes that might lead to the Follow-up of Astonishment (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T COOK????!”) but continued bland non-response-and-redirect tends to put that to rest eventually. “I don’t know, it’s just a thing I don’t do. Anyway…” “But what do you eaaaat?” “/shrug/ Things I don’t cook. Anyway…”

        • miss_chevious said:

          This is my go to for these types of things “oh, I don’t cook.” No explanation, no excuse, just a plain statement of fact. It may take a few repetitions, but they get it eventually.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        I would be careful with cooking related questions, though. “What spices are in it, where did you get the ingredients, how long did it take.” There is IME a better that 50% chance that the person will not think ‘she has called me out on not having cooked this’ but instead ‘aw, the little lady wants to learn to cook properly, like my wife does!’ Be aware.

        • Stishovite said:

          Gah. That would not have occurred to me. Good point.

        • Silamy said:

          Asking a general question about the recipe, and immediately interrupting any “my wife does….” or “I’ll have to ask my wife” response with a disappointed, “oh.” or an innocent/curious “I thought WE were supposed to cook things? [throwing in a “____ told me we had to” can work here]”. Neither has an easy response that doesn’t put them somewhat on the defensive and you in a position where the social rules of the game that people are willing to admit to are all on your side. Calling in an ally-who-isn’t can also be fun, if you’re secure enough professionally to pull it off. “Tim! You won’t believe this! Eric’s WIFE does the cooking for him! Ha!”

    • Oblivious is my middle name! save so much aggravation, I can’t even tell you.

  10. violette said:

    If you want to save your fire for more directly work related battles, another option would be to lean into patriarchal expectations and bring a crudite platter every time.

    Busybodies who like to insist that all women cook are also likely to assume that all young women should be on the type of diet that requires lots of celery sticks (lo, the contradictions!). Depending on your relationship with food, you might find it easier to say, “Oh, I just wanted to make sure there was something lighter on the menu,” and let them fill in the rest.

    On the one hand, this response kind of throws body positivity under the bus. On the other hand, veggie platters are a perfectly fine, relatively inexpensive contribution, and can be helpful for anyone with dietary restrictions (who are also probably getting hassled at these events).

    Just another tactic to consider.

    • Southernbelle said:

      The LW could bring a nice store bought veggie platter and NOT prop up the patriarchy, too. How about “I really like fresh veggies.” How about “I really like dip and nothing’s quite like that ranch in a bottle.” How about not encouraging people to think women shouldn’t eat. It’s possible to sidestep controversy without reinforcing these co-workers’ terrible stereotypes.

      • Jessica said:

        Not to mention a crudité platter takes ages to prepare

        • Rhoda said:

          You can buy them ready made at grocery stores too! Win-win.

        • violette said:

          I was suggesting a pre-prepared crudite platter from the grocery store, with the veggies all already cut up. Not proposing any more work for LW.

      • Jules the Third (I think) said:

        Fruit plates / salads get eaten faster in my experience, if they want to impress people, and are easy to repackage.

        I do think repackaging is important – you don’t have to say it’s home made, but it doesn’t look out of place on the buffet.

  11. I like cheats that let me be ignored, like – if you are at an event where there is drinking, and you don’t drink, have a cup of something. I spent the other night drinking 7 up and everyone just assumed I was drinking alcohol because they were in the same cup.

    I fully support “I made this” equaling “I put this in a bowl”.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      You made it happen with your money… how is this morally different from, “I made this happen by assuming my spouse was onboard for unpaid labor”?

      • Scarlet said:

        I really don’t see your point. This is not about morality olympics, it’s about helping LW navigate her obnoxious coworkers. (Also, your comparison doesn’t really make sense, buying food made by people who are PAID for it really does not compare with expecting UNPAID labour from your spouse).

        • sorbus said:

          I think the assumption is that OP’s coworkers think making their wives make stuff for free (that they won’t even get to eat) is somehow morally superior to buying something.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Because the person making it is getting paid in this case.

        Yeah, it only works if you have money you can throw at a problem, but it’s your own money and not someone else’s unpaid labour.

      • Because paying for something makes it not unpaid. Easy concept.

        I also made my gutters get cleaned when I paid for them.

      • Onomatopoeia said:

        Scarlet and TO_Ont, I think you are in agreement with The Awe Ritual. My read of their comment is not “Hey LW, spending money is just as bad morally as expecting unpaid labour!” but “Hey LW’s coworkers, providing food through expecting unpaid labour from your wives is *not* more morally pure than providing food by spending money!”

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          That is exactly whst I meant, thank you, Onomatopoeia. (Must… resist… saying, “bang on,” or some such.) The LW spends time making the money to buy the food and she spends time and care and experience as a taster picking it out and picking it up. I may be old-fashioned, but it seems rude and unappreciative of people to criticize her for it.

  12. McStabbity said:

    I also have a disability with similar issues, and I’d say you’re very wise for not wanting to disclose if you don’t have to. You know, a lot of the larger posh grocery stores do publish their deli recipes online. If someone asks for the recipe for the quinoa salad which you had knowledgeably tipped into your own container, you can pass that recipe along with a reasonably light heart.

    How I wish I had figured this out years ago. When standing around cooking is not in the cards, Obligatory Potluck Culture can be the worst, especially for women.

    • thegreatdragon said:

      I also have a disability and similar issues, and this whole thread is good for picking up tips. I never realizes Potluck Culture was a thing – or that it was expected to be homemade. (Most of the public parties I’ve been to (school, to be fair) expected storebought bc of the risk of food poisoning. So, wow.)

  13. Lumen said:

    Wow, look at all these brodudes offloading their social anxiety onto the nearest femme-presenting person they can find. *SMH*

    I am not by any means suggesting that you be gentle and nurturing and cater to their precious woobified weirdness about this, but it does sound like they’re trying to vent their steam-valve-o’-shame by trying to make YOU feel shame. Over something really dumb, like what you bring to a potluck. You seem to know this isn’t about you, this is them and their own unexamined emotional garbage, but still: this is super rude on their part.

    I agree with ProfessorPat though. If sticking to your guns or pushing back on this (even gently, per the Captain’s scripts) is going to cause more drama or impact you in work ways, or it just isn’t worth it to deal with: get something from the store and re-plate it. And if you’re asked for the recipe, I always like “Oh, just something I whipped together. How exactly did you make the [item his wife obviously made for him], Chad?”

    • purps said:

      /random pushback from a queer woman who would say “I’m a woman” in a letter like this but is not femme-presenting. I know that it’s a trend right now to equate the two things and I’m not, like, calling you out, but I’m REALLY looking forward to the end of this trend generally. Not being “femme” by the decades-old queer definition of femme has been a big part of my life, and yet I’m definitely and for sure a woman and get identified as such by other people in a way that influences my treatment by coworkers.

      Side anecdote/end of linguistic derail: I was all for coworker potlucks in my first job (as an office manager a.k.a. secretary) until one of the other secretaries pulled me aside and explained that as the “office wife” I would be expected to not sit down the whole time but instead bustle around refilling drinks and making sure everyone was served from all the dishes. Wow did I ever call it quits on that. We met at restaurants from then on. Coworkers pitched massive fits about it, but I barely host at my own home, I’m not hosting at work, and even in my own home people can refill their own coffee. Yikes.

      • Jessen said:

        I’ve always thought there should be a term such as “female-reading” or something. Basically something that just says, this is what most people would assume one to be, whether or not that matches up with one’s actual gender identity.

        • OMJ said:

          I was thinking “female-presenting” usually covers this, but it does imply that the person is actively trying to appear female. So yeah, “female-reading” (seen as female by the viewer whether or not the presenter intends that) makes more sense.

          • mm said:

            How about “read-as-female” or “read-as-a-woman”?

            I use “read-as-white” to describe myself. I know someone who says “I have white privilege because people read me as white” (or something like that). How she says it (though im not sure now about the words!) has helped me think about this for myself.

      • Inspector Spacetime said:

        Yiiiiikes. I’m not sure which is more gross, that you were expected to basically act like a servant, or that your coworker called it “the office wife.”

        • purps said:

          I am very grateful that her reason for telling me was because she knew there was no way for me to detect the secret rules ahead of time (we were in different locations and each responsible for our own lunch events) and she wanted to warn me in advance that it was, in stern Southern understatement, “not relaxing” to host things in the office. I was barely out of college and associated “potluck” with a chill time and buffet-style eating, not with pouring drinks for my coworkers for two hours. I’m absolutely sure, given the gender politics involved, that there would have been an enormous amount of silent pointed resentment as the men of the office let themselves dehydrate and wither away instead of getting up and going to the iced tea tray themselves. We are generally a pretty passive-aggressive people.

          But yes, right? I understand that there are different cultures of hospitality at work here, too, but I have a partner now and we, you know, put out a pitcher and let our guests handle it unless someone actually needs help. Infinite top-ups are for places with paid table service! Wow.

      • Oak said:

        Replying in solidarity. I’m nonbinary and do not present in a feminine way at all, but I still get read as female 95% of the time. This plus the fact that I’m a very organized person (so people assume I’m ok with helping with any and all organizational shit) means I’ll often get stuck with the mental load/emotional labor types of tasks.

    • piny1 said:

      I was going to preface this comment with, “I know I harp on this…” but that’s not right. And I think purps’ comment is also not “random.” It’s a valid response to an example of a worryingly common trend that indicates significant unexamined homophobia, transphobia, and sexism in our community. So allow me to harp on it some more, because I absolutely am calling this out:

      It is homophobic, transphobic, and sexist to conflate “women” or (“women as well as all people who are impacted by sexism in a system where ‘gender’ is conflated with ‘gender presentation’ and ‘assigned sex,’ such that (as with LW’s potluck situation) there is no separation between concepts like ‘looking like a woman’ and ‘being a woman’) with “femme-presenting.”

      Sexist, homophobic, and transphobic. There is no way around that. I am aware that this terminology is trending due to a desire to be inclusive and nuanced, but it is neither. Phrasing like this excludes women who are not feminine. It strongly implies that they do not even experience sexism. It defines womanhood and/or vulnerability according to heteropatriarchal definitions of womanhood as related to femininity, which is a regressive idea. It also implicitly defines trans people as not quite women. It also defines trans status – like, a trans woman’s gender and gender identity – as defined by her gender presentation. It presumes that no trans women are butch. None of that is okay. All of the problems inherent in the substitution of “femme” for “women” should be apparent to us.

      I understand that this is the result of good intentions. The clear impetus for this is the increased visibility of trans, gq, gnc, and gendervariant people. Everyone is trying very hard to develop terminology that is not transphobic or transmisogynistic. Unfortunately, their good intentions have not prevented them from reinscribing some incredibly regressive ideas in their revised terminology. Just like back in the day with “women and ftms” or “women and trans women.”

      This is a big problem now. I encounter a really well-intentioned, really sexist, homophobic, transphobic phrasing on a weekly or semiweekly basis. The other night I heard a feminist woman who teaches gender studies in college repeatedly say, “Women and people who identify as women,” which…you can see the problem with that, right? Why it is not trans friendly to separate those who identify as women from those who are women?

      So I would like to conclude this non-derail by asking everyone to please practice more mindfulness around your phrasing, and maybe run some of these workarounds through your personal baseline feminist/ally hopper and ask yourself if you’ve left some stuff out, because this attempt to be inclusive is hostile and I want us all to make it stop.

      PS: LW, not as a recipe resource but as a midcentury feminist artifact: you might enjoy the I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken.

      • purps said:

        piny, did you used to have a blog back in the day? I feel like I remember you from somewhere in the dawn of the internet, but it might be a different piny.

        I have friends who identify as “femme” but not “women”, too, and I don’t have any problem with that – historically “femme” is itself a pretty potent and powerful identity with a lot of interesting stuff going on! …It’s just…. not who I am? I am a woman? I am almost ridiculously cis, too, but I’m not the only non-femme woman I know, and some of them are in fact trans?

        What do you think of “women and femme people”? It’s messy but at least it’s tidier. What I really want is just to put a venn diagram on the book club announcements etc: women and femme people including women who are not femme and femme people who are not women. (Storebought snacks provided).

        I LOVE Peg Bracken. Laura Shapiro wrote a wonderful essay about her, too, about how Peg Bracken was sardonically unexcited by 50s domesticity but also really liked it when things tasted good and would tell you when cutting too many corners would make bad food. There are a lot of interesting women food writers in the 1950s who sort of created]domestic personas to get cookbooks published but realistically lived lives where they traveled all over Europe eating other peoples’ good cooking and writing about it. Heroines!

        • piny1 said:

          I did, I used to blog at Feministe, and thank you. And Peg Bracken is amazing.

          I am aware that “femme” is a useful term for some people, including some people who also are women, and I appreciate that. I also understand why interstitial terms, terms that hold space for complexity and tension, are important. I’m bothered by the way that “femme” has become used as shorthand for women as well as a way to gesture towards a more inclusive or nuanced term for “women.”

          I…don’t actually like “women and femme people,” because it presumes that genderqueer and trans and gendervariant people and some other people impacted by sexism can also be grouped under “femme.” That isn’t accurate either.

          The problem isn’t only that “femme” is being used as shorthand for “women.” The problem is that it’s being used to identify the characteristic that makes people vulnerable to sexism under cisheteropatriarchy. All of the reinscribed sexism – and effective transphobia and homophobia – follows from this basic idea that the cluster of concepts under “femme” is actually what is salient, and it isn’t.

          Like, to take your book club example, that phrasing actually excludes some gendervariant/genderqueer people who I think you probably would want to include. Would you want butch/gq/gv people who don’t identify as femme or woman to stay away? Say someone were coercively assigned male at birth, and now identifies as genderqueer but not femme or woman. That person is not exempt from the vulnerability “women and femme people” points to, and certainly not exempt *because they do not identify as ‘femme’ or ‘woman,’* but they’re excluded from the category as named. So it’s not a workable alternative.

          • purps said:

            That was you! I don’t remember what name I commented under but we talked a couple times. I always really appreciated your discussions and I hope you’ve been well!

            Do you think maybe it matters what your intent is for this hypothetical book club? If you’re saying “we’re interested in talking about womanhood and femininity and femme identity as those themes resonate in our personal lives separately or together, and someone whose identity includes none of those things might not be as excited about our selections and discussion questions”, then that might be different in use than “we don’t want cis men in this book club, this book club is intended as a safe space for people who don’t have those sets of privileges”? Or am I offbase? Either way possibly I’m not describing the most fun hypothetical bookclub in the world, or a particularly succinct flyer… (In real life I’m just annoyed that the new terminology means I’m potentially missing Octavia Butler Month because of my feelings on cargo shorts, it’s all very confusing).

          • S said:

            What if we started focusing our phrasing not around gender identification, or around presentation, but around those shared experiences. “People who have experienced sexism under the cisheteropatriarchy.” or “People of the audience!”

            In the letter writer’s case it is “People who are assumed to be domestic.” This makes it about the thing we are talking about and not their gender or presentation.

            Gender is, I guess, kind of by it’s nature exclusionary, and I think conversations that use that as a limiter are by design going to limit some people that it might apply to. Especially as our language around gender is evolving, trying to describe all the possible permutations of gender/sex/presentation that something could apply to is going to become nearly impossible. (I learn a new term every day, which is awesome for people who have felt like their identities were not represented, but super hard to keep up with from a “what is okay to say” perspective.)

            I’ve started focusing on talking to the “Team” or to “My fellow Gamers” instead of the gender of the people I am talking to. Ultimately though, isn’t that our end goal? That we no longer be talking to people based on their gender, but that we’re talking to people based on the life that they are leading?

            (And also Piny I loved reading you at Feministe and seeing you comment here!)

          • KellyK said:

            When talking about sexism in this context, would it make sense & be reasonably inclusive to use a term that addresses the *perception* of the people being sexist?

            It seems like that’s what Lumen was going for, but “femme-presenting” doesn’t really do that. People (in this case the LW’s male coworkers) are directing sexist expectations toward people they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as women. A lot of the people that sexism is directed at are women, but some aren’t women (e.g., AFAB enbies, closeted trans guys), Some women (e.g., a closeted trans woman) aren’t going have that sexism directed at them, because they’re being perceived as men.

          • Vicki said:

            i’m part of an online community that is open to women and nonbinary people. That includes people who are a lot more femme than I am, and others who are a lot more butch.

            I suspect there’s no one term that will work for all of what we’re trying here for, because intersectionality is real and can be difficult.

          • See, I read “women and femme people” as specifying the group you’re talking about, not as generalizing to people beyond that. Rather like when I say, “straight cis women writing slash,” I am not generalizing about women who write slash, I am simply talking exclusively about straight cis women who write slash. If one means, “People who are targets of sexism,” one should say that, definitely. “Women and femme people” sounds to me like we’re about to talk specifically about the experiences of those people.

        • Kacienna said:

          My book group too! We’re currently labeled as a women’s book group, and that’s fine for any trans women who want to attend, but I’d like to make it clearer that non binary people are welcome too. The group in general agrees that this is the case but for some reason doesn’t want to publicly say so.

      • Cassandra said:

        Very well stated, thank you.

  14. TootsNYC said:

    Remember that infuriating phrase, “That’s just the way she is”?

    It works so well for people who are assholes.

    I don’t know why us nice people can’t start claiming it for ourselves.

    Sometimes people just need to see something happen often enough that they adjust to it.

    So my vote is to pick a phrase, like “This is just the way I do potlucks,” and repeat it ad nauseum.

    Like, literally word for word, every time. In the same conversation, every time.

    Like:
    Them: You brought grocery-store food? I can’t believe it!
    You: This is just the way I do potlucks.
    Them: The way you do potlucks, what does that even mean? Everybody else made homemade food.
    You: This is just the way I do potlucks.
    Them: Well, the way WE do potlucks is people bring things they’ve made.
    You: This is just the way I do potlucks.
    Them: You’ll come across like you’re not a team player.
    You: This is just the way I do potlucks.

    And at some point in there, you will probably need to go to the bathroom, right? 😉

    Stick to your guns in terms of what you bring, and stick to your argument; don’t get knocked off track.

    They’ll get used to it once they’re used to it.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love it.

    • TootsNYC said:

      There’s also the “But I really like this Grocery Store Potato Salad, and this is my chance to buy it, since I live alone.”

      • I'll come up with a clever name later...maybe. said:

        YES! I love those cheese spreads but don’t buy them for myself because I will literally sit there with the spread and giant loaf of french bread until it’s all gone. For potlucks? I buy them every single time because I know others like it and I get to have some without eating it all by myself. I also like to go to a local bakery and buy a variety of all those pretty little desserts I love…they look pretty on the plate and always get eaten. 🙂

        I don’t like to cook so that is my response when I’ve been questioned about it. “I don’t really enjoy cooking and I really love this cheese spread so this won out.”

        • piny1 said:

          SAME AND tbh I am a bit all “What the hell is wrong with you that you come to a potluck and find anything that could reasonably be described as premium delicatessen sampler and you’re all like, ‘EWWWWWWWWW,’ this is such a disappointment, I am INSULTED, why have you not brought potato salad with dill filings or a deliquescing fruit salad or croquelaure bean dip? I want bean dip! Bring us the bean dip! No more tender brie wheels! No more glistening olive platters! No more golden roundels of crusty bread! We want woman food, rolled in cracker crumbs and slathered in condensed soups and baked in Pyrex like God intended, not delicious food!'”

          I guess this is an example of how sexism disadvantages men too.

          • Apricity said:

            You had me at “tender brie wheels”. Cheeeeese!

    • Liz said:

      I think being a genius is just the way you are.

    • MoragLachlanMaclachlan said:

      Yay! This is great.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      Oh, I love this! LW, be the Potluck Dinner Missing Stair!

      • Marthooh said:

        The Missing Lasagne… yesssssss.

    • OMJ said:

      Totally agreed. I find the best way to avoid criticism is to make whatever they’re criticizing into an immutable fact of life. I treat it like they’re complaining about the position of the moon or something. The moon is in the sky because it orbits the earth. You brought a premade dish to this potluck because you bring premade dishes to potlucks. It is simply the way of things.

    • Pibble said:

      Polite, honest, and unapologetic. When my kid’s school wanted parents to bring baked goods, I always bought them and put them on a decent but disposable tray. I could leave before the end of night let-me-wash-this extended goodbyes. If I was asked if I made or bought something, I would reply honestly in one short sentence and move on either physically or conversationally. If someone wants to follow you around the room as you get food/chat with other people, that someone will look very strange while you look cool and collected.

      There will always be people in the workplace ready to criticize the trivial. Act like you are calm and find such nonsense mildly amusing. It may help you gain confidence.

  15. peeta8 said:

    I hate potlucks so much! I love the Captain’s scripts. I might also use it as a networking/self-promotion moment, like “yeah, cooking is not my thing, too bad potlucks aren’t about (actual job skill I’m amazing at)!”

    • slfisher said:

      yeah, that would be the way I’d go. Don’t get into the whole thing about whether their wives cooked it or whatever. “Oh, I don’t cook.” and leave it at that.

      • Why not point out the double standard of women not having stay-at-home wives who cook?

        • slfisher said:

          Because I don’t think it’s constructive and OP wants to save their spoons. What OP said they wanted was a script to keep people from being weird about this, not how OP could change their minds.

          If this were a social event, it might be different. But turning a work function into a big discussion of gender roles and so on, particularly when it has assumptions that might not be correct (we don’t *know* that the people have wives or do the cooking), is certainly not where I’d want the discussion to go if I were in this situation.

          If the purpose of the event is to network, then network about work. As the Captain has suggested in other contexts, the way to do that is to make discussions you don’t want to have very boring.

        • B. said:

          Because queer women exist and some of them might have wives?

        • That is firmly in “Is this your hill to die on?” territory. In a male-dominated industry you WILL hurt your chances of promotion, and could get yourself fired, with that kind of talk. They might even spin it into some sort of HR claim (which, honestly, you could with the properly tortured invocation of the fact familial status is a protected class).

    • aebhel said:

      I like potlucks just fine, but fortunately I work with reasonable people who don’t expect home cooking from everyone (also, I’m in a field that’s 80+% female. Probably related.)

  16. By continuing to bring delicious storebought or restaurant-made food to potlucks without apologizing or concealing, you would be setting an empowering example for other employees, too. Maybe some of them would welcome the chance to stop at a bakery on the way to the meetup sometimes instead of asking their wives to cook every time, if they weren’t the only ones doing it. And sometimes people who live with food restrictions might be more comfortable trying something that came sealed from a store with an ingredients label, compared to eating someone else’s home cooking. (That’s not to say that you should push your gluten-sensitive, vegan, or allergic colleagues to try something, saying that you brought it especially for them – they may still not be safe or comfortable consuming it, or they just might not like it, and you making a big deal about it would make it even more awkward.)

    As a new employee trying to fit in, I think you should keep attending, at least until you get a better feel for what difference it would make if you didn’t, or didn’t always. I do think it’s okay to not always stay as late as other people, and if I were in your situation I would budget for taxis and/or arrange ahead of time for a friend to pick me up for a late movie plan.

    Things I like to bring to potlucks include the following: Sushi platter. Gnocchi from pasta restaurant (tidier to serve and eat than longer pasta). Pad Thai. Mini cupcakes from fancy cupcake place. A rainbow of coloured macarons. Cheese curds and fancy local sausage. Ethiopian food which is easy to serve/eat small portions since it’s made for eating without cutlery.

    • azurelunatic said:

      My partner and I are trying to normalize having the basic dietary information even with our homemade stuff at local potlucks. At some point I’ll probably start printing rather than handwriting on a note card, but that’s still more information than just guesswork on the part of the person who is trying desperately to not get nightshaded by the surprise bell peppers in someone’s baked mac and cheese. (I am still super peeved at the cafeteria that tried that, without listing the surprise ingredient on their menu.)

      • CoffeegirlKarin said:

        @Azurelunatic: Slightly related – I cannot eat cinnamon. My cafeteria at work puts cinnamon in eeeeeverything. I would expect it to be in apple strudel, but they’ve put it in their chili con carne and other hearty dishes that I wasn’t expecting it to be in.

        • Rachel said:

          My work put cinnamon and nutmeg in their shepherd’s pie last week. My supervisor ended up calling an ambulance. NOT FUN.

        • You should generally beware of chili—cinnamon is a very common flavor-punch ingredient in it, especially when homemade.

          As someone allergic to many (but not all!) of the things often labeled “natural flavor(ing)s”, my heart goes out to everyone allergic to some (or all!) of the things often labeled “spices”.

      • Hlyssande said:

        Oof! I got surprised by bell peppers in a shepherd’s pie once at a restaurant. I’m not allergic, but I despise the flavor and the scent makes my stomach hurgle. And nuts in meatloaf from a fancy grocery store’s hot bar. Who the eff puts NUTS in MEATLOAF?

        The next time I potluck I’ll definitely do the same thing you’re doing and make sure all my ingredients are listed.

      • Alex the Alchemist said:

        At my college’s dining hall, they were notoriously horrible for labeling things. One morning, I go to grab some pancakes for breakfast that look like they have some sort of fruit in them. I eat a few bites, making my way through a couple, and still couldn’t figure out what was in them, because it tasted both sweet and a little chewy. My friend takes a bite and discovers I’ve been eating ham in my pancakes. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 9 years at this point. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to any classes that day.

        • mm said:

          I have also mistakenly eaten meat and do not find it fun or acceptable. Fortunately this has happened only a couple of times (in decades). (oh! Except! Panda Express cooks **everything** in chicken broth and does not find it important to tell people this in a prominent manner. I ate there a LOT before I knew this. They are not lying about it, their website has the info, but they are NOT LABELLING the ingredients. Thus their tofu & eggplant is not vegetarian.)

          Yeah for LABELLING.

        • Ewwww!!! Who the fuck puts ham in pancakes?????

          • Private Jane said:

            Where I come from (Germany) pancakes can be sweet or savoury, whatever you prefer. But restaurants certainly make sure you know what you’re getting…

          • Thanks for the culinary lesson. I am American, so I’ve never heard of ham in pancakes. I was assuming the LW was American.

        • TO_Ont said:

          I usually prefer the savoury breakfast pancakes to sweet dessert pancakes, though when I think of ham I would think more of classic french crêpes, with asparagus and ham rolled up inside a thin crêpe. But pancakes with bits of ham sounds delicious.

          Anything that has tiny bits of things mixed into it requires a label or explanation, though.

      • johann7 said:

        Good on you – I ALWAYS list every ingredient due to allergy (and a lesser extent preference) concerns. It scares me that this is uncommon – my sister has a latex-related set of allergies that includes celery, which is used as a flavoring in a lot of things, but people frequently only think of it when including chunks of celery stalks.

        I’ve considered starting to include an FDA nutritional label, too, though that’s more labor-intensive.

    • Nanani said:

      This is an excellent point. It works similarly with drinking, I find. Once one person (often me when I still worked in an office that had gatherings after hours) says “no beer for me, I’ll have tea/sprite/water”, others feel free to do the same instead of having a beer just to go along.
      Source: Actually doing that and having the colleagues tell me they were grateful afterward

      So yeah, maybe continuing to be the “I don’t cook” example is helping someone else in that office too.

    • sorbus said:

      My mouth is watering. I want to go to the same potlucks as you now.

    • I was going to suggest saying something like “I know some folks have dietary restrictions, so I like bringing a package with ingredients right there on the label”. No need to disclose that you yourself may be included in “some folks”, and it’s totally up to you how to adjust wording and tone to be more or less pointed about the lack of labeling on everyone else’s Mystery Casserole.

      This works for people who have dietary restrictions for cultural, ethical, or religious reasons, too.

    • caraway said:

      I love the sushi platter — the great thing is that some people will devour it and very few people are going to say “why didn’t you bring homemade sushi?” Because the professionals do it better than 99.9% of us.

      Likewise an Ethiopian assortment. I cannot make it like that, I’ve tried. (Though my kids’ school potlucks have some awesome home-
      cooked Ethiopian.)

  17. TO_Ont said:

    I would be sooo tempted to make jokes about the fact that some people didn’t make their contribution themself and how that shouldn’t really count, should it?

    Or invent a wife or husband who cooked your (store bought) food and give them a different name every single time you mention them. Bonus points if the name changes multiple times in one conversation.

    • Jake said:

      “I would be sooo tempted to make jokes about the fact that some people didn’t make their contribution themself and how that shouldn’t really count, should it?”

      inorite? It would be so hard not to say, “well, since I don’t have a wife to take care of things for me…” or “Oh really? You made that yourself? Oh Linda made it? Why didn’t you bring something you made yourself?

    • bats are cute said:

      Yeah, I’d be tempted to quip “Oh, unfortunately my husband is a terrible cook!” / “Sorry, I haven’t found a man to cook for me yet!” but that in itself re-enforces the hetero-normative patriarchy and is presumptuous of LW’s person, which is problematic, and arrrrgh why is it so complicated to tell dudebros to STFU.

      Maybe just insist you are involved in a serious relationship with [grocery store] and talk about it like it’s your boyfriend/husband. That’s a bit more flippant and obviously a joke that it’d be hard to actually make a big deal of out it. My mother did something similar when my dad, during their divorce, accused her of having an affair because she kept leaving the house–yes, she was! With the local mall. 😛

      • dngrousgrpfruit said:

        Buy casserole from Trader Joe’s

        “Oh, no I’ve been too busy with Big Account. TJ made this for me to bring”

        • thegreatdragon said:

          I know this is the funny hypothetical and not the serious solution to this, but I would live for LW casually mentioning ‘TJ’ making the food for her at every potluck, and it becomes a thing where her coworkers assume TJ is her SO that they never get to meet.

    • azurelunatic said:

      No joke, some former co-workers of mine (excellent dudes, fairly woke, but still with a few unexamined assumptions) invented an entire wife for a third co-worker based around the unexamined assumption that men don’t do home cooking.

      Fred: “I am sad that D moved [far away] before he brought in pasties.”
      Matt: “Mmmmmmmm, D’s wife.”
      Fred: “Yeah, he never said much about her, I don’t even think I know her name, but dang can she cook.”
      Me: “Er, I was under the impression that D was single? And he did his own cooking?”

      I followed up with D later, just in case I was remembering incorrectly. No hint of a wife. And his pizzas are absolutely delicious.

      • Emmy Rae said:

        That is tragically amazing.

      • thegreatdragon said:

        That’s funny in the worst way possible.

    • M Dubz said:

      Gerald makes wonderful deserts, Brunhilda makes great salads, and you should really try Asher’s quiche!

    • IrishEm said:

      “Oh, no I didn’t buy it, Alistair made it. Zevran’s such a good cook. I asked Cullen to do me a favour and this is what he made. Anders is so good at cooking that the food looks store-bought.” I’m so tempted to try this the next time I get SO-related hassle from the relations (“Where is he? Can we meet him? Sorry he’s abroad in Ferelden right now.”) *cackling*

    • Prakriti said:

      Just look at the name tag of the store clerk/ bakery worker/ deli worker who made it/ rang it up/ said “Have a nice day!” to you. And voila! That’s your house-spouse of the month! ;D

  18. Nicky said:

    Also disabled with fatigue and mobility/standing issues, here. *Hugs* if you’d like them LW, I remember how much this whole situation sucks.

    It’s always a tricky thing to navigate the balance between “I shouldn’t have to divulge medical stuff to casual acquaintances/colleagues” and “damn it, I’m not lazy, you are being unreasonable”. I got through it at university by deciding that stuff it, it was a lose-lose situation and I might as well own my disability from the treetops, tell everyone and dare them to try treating me worse for it – but I also know that that option isn’t a good fit for other people.

    Part of me wants to suggest that if you haven’t told your boss about your disability, that this might be a good reason to do so – and then it’s his job to corral the others when they get out of hand about the potluck issue. The other part of me is very firmly in the “Nope. You have a legal and moral right to not disclose and if that’s your choice, go for it!” camp – because even if you didn’t have medical issues, they would still be being unreasonable by complaining and pressuring you like this. As the Captain said, producing homemade food for the regular potluck is not in your contract.

    As far as scripts go, the Captain’s are far better than anything I could come up with. I think if I were feeling snarky, I’d probably come back at them with something along the lines of “Well, it’s not like you made your contribution either – so since I don’t have a wife, I thought I’d let [Brandname] take the strain for me!”

    (…Alternatively, on the sneakier and ethically dodgy side of things, I think this might be one of the few times when I’d consider buying food from the store, decanting it into cookware/tupperware and letting people assume it’s homemade, in order to save my energy for socialising and work, rather than fighting.)

    • postitnote said:

      I personally would not disclose over this. The potlucks thing is annoying, but since it’s not part of the LW’s job, I just don’t think it’s worth it. Based on the behavior so far, I wouldn’t trust this group to handle it well just because I disclosed.

      My general policy is that I only disclose when I absolutely need to and for a very specific purpose, e.g. if I need an accommodation or my work is impacted. It does impact how people treat me (really lovely people have said really ridiculous things to me when I’ve disclosed at school and work), so I try to be very deliberate about how, when, and why I share that information.

      Of course if LW wants to disclose, they know what’s best for them. I just got the sense that that wasn’t an approach they favored.

      • KayEss said:

        Disclosing may help if this reaches the point of affecting LW’s performance reviews (which it well could, unfortunately, even though it absolutely shouldn’t)… but at that point LW may be winning the battle at the cost of the war, in terms of the workplace being tolerable. It’s a truly sucky situation.

        • In an employment-at-will state in the US, the LW could literally be fired for not bringing home cooking to the potlucks.

    • Anisoptera said:

      I’m not disabled but I work, am single and am not a great cook or especially interested in it, so for any kind of pot luck I usually buy something (I’m big on cheese platters or giant plates of fancy berries) – I don’t think you need to have an “excuse” for not cooking. I like the Captain’s scripts for this – both the polite “this is just what I do” and the wading-into-it “I guess I need a wife where did you meet yours?” (although I probably wouldn’t start with the snark unless it got really bad or I got more comfortable in my position).

      I don’t think this is a good reason to disclose disability, if only because it’s entirely reasonable to buy food for potlucks even if you’re not disabled. I work in a male dominated field with male coworkers whose wives and girlfriends sometimes send them in with tupperware full of home baking. And some of my male coworkers are great cooks/bakers themselves and they make stuff for the team. I haven’t yet, and the world hasn’t ended – and that included a pot luck BBQ where other people had amazing home made contributions and I came with store bought things.

      If you’re worried about not being seen to contribute enough, I recommend something a bit expensive and fancy and thinking about presentation. So take it out of the store packaging and put it out on a nice plate/bowl with associated serving implements (cheese knives, salad spoons, whatever is appropriate) – make it look instagram worthy. It’s not about making people think you made it – I mean, no one thinks I’ve personally made the gourmet cheese or grown all the fancy fruit and berries – but if you lay it out nicely it goes a long way towards lining up with the effort and presentation of home made food. It has a bit of a personal touch and shows you’ve gone to a bit of effort and that seems to mollify people who freak out when you slap down a plastic container with store branding.

      • TO_Ont said:

        ‘“I guess I need a wife where did you meet yours?” (although I probably wouldn’t start with the snark unless it got really bad or I got more comfortable in my position).’

        There are non-snarky ways to say these exact words. A lot is in the tone of voice, how sincere your smile is, how interested you can act in the story of how they met.

  19. Every corporate workplace I’ve worked at does have potlucks, but they have always been in-office (on the clock), and no shaming about buying something pre-packaged. Last potluck I brought a tub of mixed greens, some sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and various salad dressings. This is because I just love salad. But I actually got the idea from my previous workplace, where a male coworker would always bring salad ingredients to potluck and everyone loved it (me included) as a break from the greasy and/or sweet things that other people would bring.

    I love the suggestions of buying stuff and putting it on your own dish or tupperware so no one has a clue it wasn’t home made. If someone in the future decides to make a comment about the “laziness” of store-bought, I’ll keep that in mind.

    Oh, I just remembered one more cool thing about my current workplace’s potlucks: buying or bringing food is as I mentioned completely up to us. But one male coworker is known for his amazingly delicious cheesecake experiments. That’s right, not his wife, but *him*. I work in a pretty sweet office culture at the moment. 🙂

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      “I failed home ec. Are you volunteering to be the food taster?”
      “I don’t cook.”
      “I make a mean dog food. Do you prefer raw chicken or turkey necks with tripe?”

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        Oops. Didn’t mean this to be a reply here.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          Best part about the last one is, if you’ve known me longer than 15 minutes you know it’s true.

    • gothicarch said:

      We sometimes have salad parties in my unit – everybody brings one ingredient, and we have an enormous yummy salad for lunch.

    • Tuna said:

      ” Last potluck I brought a tub of mixed greens, some sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes, croutons, and various salad dressings.”

      This do-it-yourself salad is my go-to as well. Leaving toppings on the side gives options to folks who have nut allergies, or can’t have diary, or are gluten free.

  20. Lisakoby said:

    At all the work potlucks everyone brings chips. Just a sea of different flavoured chips. But that’s my workplace.

    They will get used to it if you react blandly. If they don’t get over this then you know the issue won’t be with your home cooking and can act accordingly.

    • There was an Ask A Manager open thread a few weeks ago where someone brought a sliced bell pepper to a breakfast potluck. Just … a pepper.

    • c. said:

      i’m all about potato chip potluck. #POTATLUCK

  21. tinyorc said:

    I like all the Captain’s scripts, but I would be careful if you are going to bring up the stay-at-home wife thing – you don’t want to make it sound like you’re having a go at a specific wife or denigrating homemaking in general. Maybe you could try something like: “Well it’s just me at home and with the hours I’m pulling right now, I really don’t have the time to make casserole from scratch on a weeknight.” This shows you know full well that Chadford is also not cooking for these things, but without bringing his wife into it.

    Also, just general sympathy ugh. I am a young-ish woman who is not a good cook, has no interest in becoming a good cook and severely dislikes when people assume that I am capable of producing last-minute homemade cupcakes or whatever based on literally nothing except my gender. In my friend group, I have cemented myself into the role of Cheese Plate Person. If there is a food thing that requires contributions, I will always bring some quality cheeses, cracker selection and chutney. Maybe you could also assign yourself a role like this, LW, where you bring a staple item every week? I find cheese good because a) popular and b ) not something people can reasonably expect to be homemade.

    • thebewilderness said:

      Congrats tinyorc. I am fruit plate person at all gatherings except the ones in my home.

      • tinyorc said:

        Fruit plate also good. Unreasonable to expect apple and grape to be homemade.

      • Heck yeah fruit platter. One, free fruit is the best fruit.

        Two, I actually went to a party last weekend where of the catered meal, I could eat garlic bread and plain pasta without getting sick. Five hours later, still looking two hours before I got home, they brought out deli meat and cheese trays, and fruit and veggie trays, and I had never been happier in my life to see vegetables, lol.

        Not trying to get all woe is me here, lol, but I personally think the more simple the food is, the more likely it is to be liked by a large group of people.

        • Anisoptera said:

          Fellow designated cheese plate or fruit plate or both person here. 🙂

          Although I lean more towards fruit plate now because my social circle currently contains a lot of cheese plate people as more and more of us realise it’s a good no-cook option. Hah. If I want to be fancier I buy lots of berries and stuff. At the last party I was at the parents of little kids were rather pleased with my contribution because their kids all stuffed their faces with blueberries and currants and strawberries and stuff rather than begging for more cake. 🙂

      • Jules the Third (I think) said:

        My social group has vegan and gluten-free and multiple allergies and kids. I always bring a raw fruit dish of some kind, and I never have leftovers. Except that one fruit salad with grapefruit, honeydew and cantaloupe… *I* liked it. Still make it for myself regularly.

        I like fruit plates because:
        1) It’s easy to label
        2) I can go upscale if I want – melon cake for example, or bring another dish if I feel the need for something hot
        3) I can go easy as I want – costco fruit salad + blueberries: in bowl and DONE
        4) I love to eat it myself

        It provides a definite contrast to all the casseroles and fried and dessert stuff.

        That said, I wonder if packaging is an issue – if OP’s dish is the only one in a grocery store container, that would stick out a lot. Would it be bowing to the patriarchy to repackage, even if you don’t claim it as store-bought? It’s definitely a classist thing, but it sounds like this is a fairly -ist industry, and OP has to thread that needle of ‘having a good job and opportunities’ and ‘not selling out’ carefully.

        • Anisoptera said:

          I actually suspect presentation will make a big difference here. And conveniently it’s not much effort – nice plate/bowl and some serving implements and if you want to be fancy throw on some garnish. It’s not about pretending you didn’t buy it, so much as showing you put thought into it. Plus I think people who complain about store bought are often just reacting to how not-the-same things look and if you can line up the appearances they’re suddenly mollified.

          It’s certainly a classist thing. It’s sort of saying “check out my fancy and stylish cheese platter and knife set” (or whatever) but as you say I suspect that matters to these people.

        • Grapefruit might be similar to allergies – if you’re on many many medications including antidepressents and blood pressure medication, grapefruit can make you quickly dead.

          I miss it, but I like living more than grapefruit.

          • vortexae said:

            High-five. I miss grapefruit too. But I guess hypertension is bad soooooo….

          • Private Jane said:

            Not to mention grapefruit juice – oh my, sweet memories of grapefruit juice indulged in freely and without thought.

            But as it is now, I have enough stuff in my blood already fighting over processing slots in my liver without adding grapefruit juice to the mix.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      I agree about not specifically mentioning wives.
      I’d go for something like, “whoa, you’re a better man than I, working all day, then going home and cooking for a bunch of people! Wish I could do that, but it’s not happening.”

      I’m particularly fond of the mixed green salads that come in bags. Cranberries, walnuts, and dressing and you’re good to go. It’s also what I eat almost every day for lunch, so my snarky side loves bringing to a work potluck what I eat at work. That is, as far as I’m concerned, I’M STILL AT WORK DAMMIT.

      • Triumphant Fox said:

        Yes! I had a potluck at small group every week – not work related, but it was at 6, so cooking beforehand was not an option.

        My go to was to get a salad in a bag, plus spring mix because often the toppings are a little dense. My favorite was that costco salad – Kale, brussel sprouts, cranberries, various nuts – and a bottle of dressing placed on the table. It was always a favorite because no one else ever brought anything green, ever.

        Buying deli salads, immediately placing them in a bowl with tongs, then saran wrap is a favorite and doesn’t have a lot of the tell-tale signs of store-bought foods.

    • Amy said:

      Re: gendered expectations: I’m actually a good baker (literally the only kind of cooking I’m good at, and that only because 10 year old me thought the ability to produce cakes at will was worth knowing) and I’m still a store-bought-potluck-contribution person. Good baking is time consuming, and is only worth it when a) I get to hoard the entirety of the fruits of my labors, or b) I actually like all the people I’m sharing with. Work potlucks generally fail those requirements, and store-bought is still tasty, so there it is.

      • Saturnalia said:

        Yep. I basically came here to say this. I enjoy cooking/baking, I’m good at it, and I never brought anything homemade to food based work social events where my (older male) coworkers brought their wives’ cooking/baking.

        In addition to A and B, the gender dynamics made me too uncomfortable. When most of the coworkers are men and older than you, the rare woman in [industry], the last thing you need is for someone to start associating you with domesticity.

        As you can probably guess, I’m on team Buy Premade and No Apologies.

      • purps said:

        I think I would be willing (PERSONALLY) to make a joke about my own singleness out of it, like “Aw, well everyone else here has someone else at home to help out and I’ve got a years-long relationship with the Whole Foods Deli/Marks and Spencer. Is there something I can bring from there that everyone will like?”. But that is still letting people into your personal business and you can go as far as your own judgment allows.

        I seriously second replating. I don’t know what weird emotional weight people are putting on “homemade (by other people) potluck food”, but it’s entirely possible that the symbolic significance is along the lines of “people are taking time to care about this coworker event”, in which case putting the food into a nice serving dish might actually fulfill the purpose on its own. (I hope that doesn’t cross too far into recipes, and I know that there might be spoons involved here as well – but I still have to do some hosting stuff for my current job, and no one thinks I’m slicing the cheese or baking the triscuits, but I sure do set them on a plate with the best of them).

    • Nanani said:

      Same. I used to live very close to a fantastic cheese shop too, and it gave me an excuse to go there and SAMPLE :3

      I am not going to cook anything for other people, and I barely cook for myself. My family have eventually accepted this, at least.

    • allreb said:

      I am 100% the person who brings a bottle of wine to parties and potlucks.

  22. thebewilderness said:

    I raise my right eyebrow and say “indeed” in as frosty a manner as I can manage when people complain about the food I am providing. I agree with the person upthread who said remember who they are because if they are jerks at a potluck they are bound to be jerks at work.

  23. craniest said:

    omg, I still tell people about the horrific MANDATORY potlucks at work when I worked for a Certain Bank With A Wheat Thin Logo back in the 1990’s. These were during our lunch hours once a week so we didn’t even have the sweet blessed relief of walking out of the office for a whole 50 minutes. And you had to bring something. And you had to make it, not buy it. And we’d all sit around and be miserable while the manager I REMEMBER YOU THERESA acted like “isn’t this all fun we’re all together and oh look YOU MADE LUNCH FOR ME and I guess you guys can have some too I guess”

    This routine only lasted a couple of months because then we merged with another bank and most of our senior staff got the heave ho right before they shipped all our jobs to the other side of the country. But man I miss nothing about that job.

    All the above scripts are genius and don’t let them make you miserable in the name of “team building”. My past self cheers you on.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      ew no! that is terrible

  24. anon a mouse said:

    if the OP is interested, Fridays are ‘open mic’ days at askamanager.com for work-related topics, and the commentariat are awfully opinionated and usually pretty good with advice. the site isn’t as “safe spaces” as this one is in regard to language and attitudes, but i’ve often found the aggregated advice helpful.

    i have had lots of luck deploying “aww, too bad you don’t like it, i hope you find enough to eat!” in a REALLY CHIPPER tone of voice.

    • I second asking AAM about this, maybe even writing in. I feel like the Captain’s scripts are a little risky if this place really is conservative and heavily male-dominated.

  25. H said:

    Hi,

    If some of the food is pretty awful & they’re hassling you about not cooking is it possible that there is some prior-group-think that has decided to NOT turn these events into a competitive catering thing?

    (I’d salute any workplace that deliberately tried to reduce competitive catering at potlucks. – such a time waster. I occasionally go out of my way to explicitly state to newcomers to a group I’m in that the potlucks aren’t to be competitively catered – pretty much everyone is relieved that the rule exists)

    If so, then maybe the food you are bringing is too nice/ complicated / difficult for the group culture. If that’s so then can you just dial it back to less fancy stuff & see if you get less grief?

    (I’d do what people up thread have suggested with vege platter & hummus – easy & non threatening)

  26. Nesprin said:

    Why not bring drinks? I mean there’s no way to home cook a bottle or wine and a bottle of coke…

    • MsM said:

      I was thinking this. (Plus, if they’re stereotypical dude-types, you can hopefully placate them with cheap beer.)

      • MamaCheshire said:

        Another, albeit often somewhat expensive, option is to be the person who regularly brings in some kind of packaged allergy-friendly food so you can read the label and see exactly what is and isn’t in it and since it’s packaged it isn’t getting cross-contaminated like something homemade might. Either “in case” someone needs that or because you know damn well someone DOES need it. This can work as a way to build the cred of “see, I AM being a good hostess, making sure there is something people can eat even if they can’t have [common ingredient]!”

        I don’t know if that would work for you or if it would actually make things worse with dudebros at your job, but there is a good chance that someone will see this and be super-grateful for it. The four of us in my 50ish-person division who can’t have gluten all make sure we have each other’s backs about this, and after a bit of lobbying there is now a specific GLUTEN FREE line for both side dishes and desserts when we set up potlucks at work.

  27. kazari said:

    My standard response has always been ‘Yep, I don’t cook, so I prefer not to poison you by attempting it.’ And if they are really pushy, my other line (stolen from a friend) is ‘Well, my mother always told me not to learn to cook, so I wouldn’t get stuck in the kitchen.’ which is a REALLY fun way to hand them back their patriarchy and usually stops them asking.

    • MsM said:

      I’ve always liked “I come from a long line of takeout menu whizzes.” (It’s true!)

    • ‘Well, my mother always told me not to learn to cook, so I wouldn’t get stuck in the kitchen.

      Bless you and bless your mom 🙂

    • Turquoise Dragon said:

      My grandmother, by all reports an excellent cook, decided she was tired of it wasn’t going to cook anymore, and if my grandfather (also an excellent cook) didn’t want to cook on a given night, she made ‘phone calls for supper’.

  28. Clao said:

    LW:What did you make, Chad?
    Chad: I …
    LW: No, that’s what you brought. What did you make? Emphasis on the you, and the make.

    Enjoy the sweet silence and your victory.

    • Nanani said:

      Would this even work on a dude who wasn’t a reasonable degree of “woke” in the first place?
      It takes some grounding in gender theory and acceptance of the central idea of feminism (“Women are people”) to recognize the point being made here, which is that “your wife” is not an extension of “you”.
      The patriarchy quite literally insists otherwise.

  29. Karak said:

    My instinct is probably not the best one, but: Lie, or lie by omission. Have the grocery store make whatever, put it in your own pot/pan, and be done with it. Drop it off without comment.

  30. Liz said:

    So I had a coworker (male) who made no bones about or secret of his absolute aversion to germs. He once saw a sub shop employee touch his face and then wouldn’t take the sandwich that had just been made for him. And he just declared potlucks grodie and skipped them (we only had 2 or so a year).

    This might work for you as well.

    • Rhoda said:

      I suspect that men can get away with that sort of thing better than women can, on the whole.

    • I'll come up with a clever name later...maybe. said:

      My BIL is germ phobic in all things… but it worsens when it comes to food. He won’t eat at potlucks or buffets. When he and my sister got married the cheaper option for their wedding was to have a buffet style meal. He was the exception. The caterer prepared a special plated meal just for him so his food wasn’t touched by anyone else.

      I don’t eat at our office potlucks anymore. Not since I watched a woman I work with, whose onion dip I loved, come out of the bathroom stall and keep walking without washing her hands. Ew!

    • Temperance said:

      I’m a germaphobe. I will go to upscale buffets, but I absolutely hate potlucks. There are few people I honestly trust with food prep. I’ve gotten norovirus from badly prepared food in the past, so hell to the no.

  31. Drew said:

    I’m going to be even more passive-aggressive than some other folks here, but I might be tempted to show up at one of these totally-not-but-really-totally mandatory potlucks with…nothing.

    “LW, why didn’t you bring anything?”
    “Well, when I brought the storebought stuff that I had time and energy to get, y’all gave me so much static that I resolved not to buy stuff for the potlucks anymore. And I don’t have time or energy to cook something, so…”

  32. enigmaticblue said:

    Do you have a mentor/manager at work? I know you said it was a heavily male-dominated field (AND I SO GET THAT), but it might be worth checking in with someone a little higher up the food chain if you’re worried that folks are going to hold this against you. (They shouldn’t, to be clear. You should be able to bring whatever the hell you want, and they should thank you for your awesome presence.) But checking in with someone who is a little higher up, who might be sympathetic, and who can say, “Yeah, this is our office culture, but we aren’t going to hold it against you if you don’t make something homemade” vs. “PEOPLE WILL HATE YOU UNTIL THE END OF TIME” or somewhere on the spectrum could help you figure out the best response if you’re uncertain.

    To be clear, I’m not saying you should disclose your disability, but a “hey, I don’t really cook, and I’m getting a lot of weird push back, what’s up with that?” to the right person might clarify things for you, and maybe they’d clear things up with your coworkers and say, “Hey, we hired Not in My Job Description for her awesome skills at X, not her cooking ability. We cool.” It might also help you identify folks in your office who are going to be supportive of you in a general sense, and might be good allies.

    Otherwise, I think it’s completely legit to either give a flat “yeah, I don’t cook” or a “trust me, you do not want me to cook for you because it will not be edible, and who wants that?” with varying levels of jokiness depending on how weird they’re making the situation. We all know someone who “doesn’t cook,” and eventually everybody will come to know you as someone who “doesn’t cook,” and it will become part of the quirkiness that is you.

    • Jtttfo said:

      Also find out who is behind the potluck culture and what they think. To me a fortnightly potluck and “ hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry” don’t really match ( I was expecting macho competitive drinking, hooters, strip club etc)
      Maybe good intentions are being perverted by the minions.

      And also… I’m probably a fool …but I wonder if the right general script for this kind of culture is a simple “F*** Off, Chad”. Don’t give an inch.

      • Lasslisa said:

        With a friendly laugh and eye-roll, this would be it for some of the guys I work with – but you’d have known they weren’t serious about the complaint in the first place either.

    • TootsNYC said:

      yeah, I think “I don’t cook” is enough. No need to go into health, and standing, and fatigue, and yada yada yada.

      You don’t cook. Period. And you don’t have time, energy or inclination to learn to do so for these events.

    • Potlucks are stressful said:

      Seconding the suggestion to loop in your manager (assuming he/she/probably he is not one of the ones being weird about it already). They’ll be able to give a better perspective at where this odd potluck culture comes from, and may even be able to give you some cover, either at the parties or in discrete conversations beforehand.

      If nothing else, they’ll be able to give you a better sense for how much not-cooking-for-potlucks threatens your professional standing at this firm (which is a bizarre question even to have to ask, and yet here we are).

    • PartTimeJedi said:

      It may also be worthwhile if you can identify any co-workers or higher ups who might be sympathetic, and talk to them. Even if they’re not in your direct chain of command, they can still do some of the work of changing the culture at potlucks on your behalf.

      You may not feel comfortable calling Chad out on the fact that he puts even less effort into bringing a dish that his wife makes than you do picking up something from the store. But someone else might.

  33. S said:

    This feels like a pretty toxic workplace culture. Have you looked at the employee handbook or any internal policies that might relate to this issue? This is a pretty huge time burden for a working person, married or not. 40 hours a week, plus a 4 hour pot luck plus cooking for the 4 hour pot luck? That’s… kind of insane.

    It sounds like this is a “your department” and not a “your whole company” issue. Is HR aware of the level of off the clock at people’s houses networking that’s happening in your group? That’s a lot and it could be setting up the company for a lawsuit. (For instance by a young single mother who can’t show up to this kind of event on a bi weekly basis AND cook and whose position within the company was damaged as part of not participating in BI WEEKLY non work events.)

    I know you probably don’t want to be the person who rains on the parade, and if the potlucks were friendly and chill and no one was a dick about what you brought or if you didn’t make it for a month or two or whatever. But this is just a minefield, and you are unfortunately the one standing on the mine at the moment. (My company actually has a policy where you can’t even ask people what they want to eat, in case we get in trouble for discriminating against vegetarians or religious dietary restrictions. They get sued a LOT.)

    If you think the company HR is good, it might be worth having a conversation with them and see what they suggest.

    Having worked in a lot of male dominated departments I do completely agree with the Captain’s scripts about your wife, and their wives.

    • Clarry said:

      I’m wondering about this workplace culture too. I’m getting away from the storebought food question and wondering who benefits from these potlucks. It would be one thing if all the guys loved them and only LW was complaining. It would still be wrong, but I’d attack the problem differently. In this case, I can’t imagine the guys whose wives are cooking for them are enjoying the mandatory events either. What’s management getting out of it? A show of loyalty? Free food? Those are honest questions. The advantage doesn’t seem to be team building. Is this something where something is done this way because that’s the way it’s always been done? I’m imagining a scenario where someone suggests making the potlucks once a month, then once every 2 months. Whoever gets them cut all the way back to a once a year holiday party will be hailed as a hero.

      • S said:

        Yeah, down stream someone suggested talking to a mentor or someone who might know the history of how these came about and what the history is. I think getting an idea of why they are happening might help figure out how to handle questions/issues and just overall understanding of it.

        It seems like the kind of thing that started when it was a super tight knit group of people and evolved into becoming a Fundatory activity for everyone because each new person was afraid to be like “The fuck? Twice a month?” And now the people who started it are in charge and having a fantastic time and everyone else is pretending to.

        So there is a real risk of blow back from senior folks on this as someone else pointed out. While the junior folks might be thrilled, there are certainly some people whose enthusiasm isn’t entirely feigned. (I was shocked to hear our corporate boilerplate genuinely quoted back to me by some folks here. Team players are a THING.)

        So the LW has to decide what they value. Generally, I tend towards the “I’m not doing that, that’s stupid” end of dealing with corporate culture. (I always know i’m in the wrong place when the words “attitude problem” get used.) So my stance on this is probably aggressive.

        • Clarry said:

          I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. I can imagine a history where the potlucks started as something everyone in a small office enjoyed. As new people came on staff, it wouldn’t be right not to invite them. Then it may have snowballed to where they’re now too often and too rulesy, and no one knows how to scale it back or quit.

          If LW did want to bring up the possibility of discontinuing the potlucks, the way to do it would be to compare it to a well known corporate problem. It’s easy to increase the complication of procedures, much harder to decrease them. Let’s say the company has a small amount of business so one person does a simple procedure to take care of something- Say Annison takes care of a, b, and c. As business increases, it’s more efficient to have Annison take care of a and b, for Bellview to do c and d, and for Carlyle to do e and f. d, e, and f became necessary because there was so much to take care of and keep an eye on. Great. The trouble arises when business goes back to its previous levels. It’s going to be hard to explain how one person just doing a,b, and c is all that’s necessary. If LW were to take up the cause, she should do it in terms of greater efficiency to achieve the same goals, not in terms of how it’s a burden on her.

          LW does say they seem to be good fun and good networking opportunity. It seems to me the best advice is to figure out how to make the best out of an admittedly bad situation.

          I think the Captain’s original scripts are great. As much as I’ve enjoyed the ideas of bringing in some horrible concoction, that really does just make her look bad in others’ eyes. People aren’t logical when they’re thinking ill of someone. They just get a bad association and apply it everywhere. Without thinking it through, they’re likely to get an idea that LW is incompetent at potlucks and assume she’s incompetent at other aspects of the job. (And to them, the potluck is just another aspect of the job. Like I said, this is illogical.)

          One rule of the workplace is to keep advertising your assets even after you’ve got the job and are doing the work. Don’t assume everyone knows how well you’re doing the work because you’re doing it. Bring it up at every opportunity. Don’t wait for the annual review. If you do have to put yourself down by saying you’re not qualified to do something or need help, do so in a way that’s still advertising what you can do and are good at: “I’m afraid my organizational skills that made me handle the GHI problem so well have never transferred to cooking for me.” The beauty of this is that pretty much every skill applies to cooking, so if you want to blow your own horn about creativity, then it’s: “The creativity that serves me so well with JKL, doesn’t work with casseroles.” It doesn’t matter if these statements don’t make perfect sense. Just remember some skill you want to remind your co-workers of, and bring it up in the context of food.

          Another rule of the workplace is that credit for ideas or work are like cash in the sense that if people find cash lying on the sidewalk with no one around to claim it, they don’t think it unethical to pick it up and pocket it. If work happened or a good idea is out there, in the work environment someone will just take it for their own. That’s likely what’s happening with the wives making the potluck food. The food is there so the guy can claim it.

          I don’t recommend quizzing the guys on exactly how they made the dish they brought because they’ll understand it as a compliment. (I have a funny story about this, nothing about work, when I brought home made cookies to a hobby club meeting. One of the women called to thank me for them, then insisted on the recipe. I told her it was the recipe on the back of the nestle’s chocolate chip package except I’d used raisins instead of chocolate chips. She told me I was a genius and kept asking for the recipe. I kept telling her the recipe was available everywhere, on the package, online, in practically any cookbook, but she insisted that she couldn’t do the substitution. Finally I shrugged and sent her the recipe. I figured that there are plenty of things I’m not good at and appreciate extra help, so I could write a recipe for her. When she thanked me for sending the recipe with more over-the-top compliments, we chatted, got on to other topics, and in talking about other things, she said that she never cooks, never bakes, never goes into the kitchen. There was an uncomfortable pause as I realized that the whole deal about needing the recipe was because she thought I’d be thrilled to write it down for her.) Point being that the men whose wives are cooking for them will never understand it as a trap even if they fall in it. They’ve got it in their heads that the food must be homemade, and that’s that. They may have it in their heads that women must cook and are teasing LW. In no way will pointing out the illogic do anything to make them change their minds.

    • MuddieMae said:

      I would really, really not do this. Ending the potlucks by overreaching HR dictat is much more likely to damage the LW’s reputation in her office, a place she has decided she wants to survive.

      • S said:

        That’s fair. Someone posted below about a trusted mentor and I think that is a better idea.

        Though, if you decide to leave, BURN DOWN THE POTLUCKS!

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yeah. It’s not fair that this could tank LW’s reputation, but it’s true.

    • Kacienna said:

      “(My company actually has a policy where you can’t even ask people what they want to eat, in case we get in trouble for discriminating against vegetarians or religious dietary restrictions. They get sued a LOT.)”

      On one hand, I get that. On the other hand, how are you supposed to make sure people with dietary restrictions of whatever sort have something they can eat?

      • Nanani said:

        Probably by not mixing meals and work. No potlucks. People eat what they eat and arrange for it themselves.

        • Kacienna said:

          Definitely a reasonable option!

      • S said:

        We make sure there are vegan/kosher options at every meal.

    • (For instance by a young single mother who can’t show up to this kind of event on a bi weekly basis AND cook and whose position within the company was damaged as part of not participating in BI WEEKLY non work events.)

      Ahem. Young single dads also exist. Just saying.

      • S said:

        It was an example…. so, one thing, not a representation of all people who would be negatively impacted by this. That’s what For instance implies.

      • notnow said:

        a world where people are tripping over themselves to help single dads while letting single moms rot also exists, I live in it. Don’t pretend like single dads and single moms are treated the same by society.

  34. Crab-ish said:

    I’m basing most of my reply on these words “hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry” and “basically everybody has told me…”

    While it might be fun for LW to correct people on their stupid attitudes, this may not be a battle worth fighting at the cost of being labeled “difficult”. I worked at a fairly conservative company where a young woman being groomed for management (not me, btw) who had been labeled “difficult” filed an HR complaint about being harassed when she visited another department. Nothing was ever done about it. In fact, people laughed about it, esp the ones that didn’t like her (most of them). But if she was a bad employee, they wouldn’t have been grooming her for management so HR shouldn’t have ignored her like they did.

    LW, you didn’t mention specifically if the people being sexist in your direction were the seniors in your department, but especially if some of them are, I recommend switching to dishes you’ve never brought to these gatherings before and re-plating. If the hosts have never confronted you, you might be able to meet with them and discuss this. There may be something they can do. Perhaps they’d also be willing to mentor you more! That would be awesome, right? Because in a hyper-competitive industry, these pot-lucks are priceless networking opportunities and the fact that the seniors in the office are willing to do this is actually kind of cool (even if nightmare-ish to the an introvert). Sometimes I kick myself for not going on more lunches with my co-workers. I definitely miss out on networking opportunities and my field is very male-dominated too.

    I do like some of Captain Awkward’s suggestions that also compliment the skills of these men’s wives (bonus points of the wives get to hear it too). I’m just less certain that they will be effective depending on how conservative your workplace is. And the fact that people that the LW out-ranks still felt it was their business to confront her is…worrisome.

    • Crab-ish said:

      Oh! I’d also like to add…it might be worth fighting more if you’re not planning on staying at the company very long. But if you are…yeah…making waves over something that can be fixed by re-plating doesn’t really feel worth it.

    • I’m getting the same read, that this is not a battle worth fighting. I’d recommend a long-term plan to get a job in a less hostile place, and a short-term choice of 1) “This is just how I do pot-lucks,” ad nauseam, 2) buy-and-replate, or 3) pay someone like a neighbor, a housekeeper, or someone off care.com to make something for these things.

      And focus on getting the hell out of there, or at least working the place to your advantage.

  35. Rosie said:

    Please don’t buckle on the potluck thing. If this weird insular group zeitgeist is like other weird insular group zeitgeists I have known, they’ll complain and moan until they get used to the idea that LW brings storebought food and then some of these poor wives are gonna take that as a shift in culture and permission to bring storebought food to the potluck and stop forcing themselves to make terrible food they hate making. Everyone will eat better and hate themselves less.

    Or maybe none of the above will happen, but you still won’t be stuck making lasagne for the patriarchy.

  36. Hortensia said:

    I would cozy up to the person who’s house it is and make wildly complimentary comments about what a sacrifice it must be to hold these parties and that it shows real team spirit. Followed by, “I’m pretty sure if I were in your place I couldn’t do it.”
    Purpose: to maybe sabotage that team spirit thing a bit by making the host feel that it might be too much to do it so often.

  37. Ne'er-do-well said:

    Just ask the huffy dude for his recipe for whatever he brought.

    And I would absolutely go talk to somebody (preferably female, because I bet the boys won’t get it) and see if they think there’s any kind of training they could hold. (And this, huffy dudes, is why we can’t have nice things like potlucks.)

  38. Donkey_Cabbages said:

    Wow. I adore cooking, I love throwing parties that feature food, and yet I would be livid if I hosted a party and my guests were being interrogated about did-they-didn’t-they cook their dishes. Ask about ingredients, sure, to make certain vegetarians don’t accidentally eat animals and people with food sensitivities remain safe and people who hate certain things can have a good time. But otherwise, back off– this is time for a literal application of “take what you can and leave the rest.”

    Are you being tested for marriagability? Reminded that you are a woman? I don’t get it. There is no reason that professional colleagues should be giving earnest advice about your culinary decisions since you are not a cook in a restaurant.

    So, no advice, just enraged solidarity.

  39. Amy said:

    Another option, if you just really want these conversations to stop, is to go for a little light deception. There are a lot of store-bought things that, if you take them out of the box and put them in your own tupperware or plate them somehow, can pass as homemade. Brownies are good for this, since a plate of brownies cut into squares will mostly look like a plate of brownies no matter whether they’re from your oven or the local grocery store’s bakery. Or, take a fruit platter and move it from the store’s plastic thing onto your own plate. A bowl of meatballs will look like a bowl of meatballs regardless of whether they were lovingly shaped by hand or purchased from the freezer section and thrown on a baking sheet.

    Many people won’t be able to tell your stuff is store-bought without the packaging (especially given the level of food quality you’re describing–we’re not talking a gourmet group here, from the sound of it). Of those who suspect but aren’t sure, some will feel (correctly!) like it’s too awkward to call you on it. The remaining few are being really weird, and at that point I don’t think most people would blame you for saying something like, “Why are you so hung up on my potluck contribution? This is getting weird. Anyways, how about that weather?”

  40. megpie71 said:

    I have a question: are the wives/girlfriends/boyfriends/partners who generally cooked this stuff invited to the Pot-Luck as well? Or is this just a “work social” thing, where you’re expected to be socialising solely with the same people you work with, and probably talking about work stuff to boot? (I get the feeling this may be included under “work/life balance” in any formal paperwork – “your work is your life, therefore where’s the potential imbalance?”).

    If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then point out you’re single at the moment (or if not, your partner doesn’t have enough free time to be able to make anything for you) so you’re doing the best you can with the time and resources available to you. If the answer to the second question is “yes”, then I’d be saying “talk to HR, if you have them, about this apparently-unmentioned-in-job-description work requirement”.

    I also second the suggestion of talking to a workplace mentor, trainer or similar about the background for these pot-lucks – what’s the history behind them, why were they started, why do they happen so frequently and so on. Usually finding out the whys of things explains a lot of the unspoken rules. Then you can make your decisions about whether you’re going to go with “dump the store-bought salad in my own pyrex” (or equivalent), or whether you’re just going to bring the groceries in their packaging.

    • S said:

      I think the mentor idea is a very good one. Getting the skinny on the pot lucks and the wherefores and all that will at least show some respect for the existing traditions. (you know, before you smash them alongside the rest of the patriarchy)

    • Oak said:

      “Your work is your life, therefore where’s the potential imbalance?” So much this. Thank you for putting this attitude into words.

  41. Kate said:

    I’m just. I can’t even. WHYYYY in the world do people insist on complaining about food SOMEONE ELSE BROUGHT, BOUGHT, MADE, PAID FOR, IT IS FREE WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM JUST SAY THANK YOU. If you don’t like it, shut up, and pick up chinese on the way home if you’re still so damn starving. WUT.

  42. Sabina said:

    God, these people sound insufferable. I’d be tempted to respond to the “whaaaa, why is this food not homemade” with “well, I used to make my mother’s special goulash recipe for these events, but since the accident with the meat grinder and the propane stove and mom being gone now, I just (sob) can’t quite (sob) bring myself (sob) to…(sob) (sob) (sob)…..

  43. J said:

    Never thought I’d disagree with the captain but… Maybe don’t say ‘maybe I should find a wife to cook for me too’ kind of comment. You mention being young and female as unusual in your position. If you’re confident you won’t experience backlash I’d say it was an awesome comeback! But if there is a lot of patriarchy in attitude you’ll be resented by both sides potentially. By the wives bc they may feel you are looking down on them and by the husband who just got caught out as being a douche. Is it fair? Nope. I am a senior ranking female in a male dominated field and ironically I just had a conversation with another senior ranked woman about how the wife of the Ceo complained that female scientists at conferences looked down on her. And I know she was right I’ve seen similar. Tread carefully there. At least don’t say it in a way that can be construed even remotely as equating a wife to an acquisition of a helper. If any of those chicks are vindictive they’ll make you pay potentially, and you don’t want to appear antifeminist when in fact you’re pointing out the patriarchal poo. I like the sentiment but maybe not quite the execution.

    • Rhoda said:

      Right. Also LW may not know for certain that these are stay at home wives – some may have full time jobs themselves and secretly hate cooking for these potlucks.

    • Thursday Next said:

      Yes, exactly! I think a comment of this kind could come off as defensive as well as demeaning. I think LW’s letter was very respectful of spouses; this is the only part of the Captain’s script I’d quibble with.

    • LeighTX said:

      I would also caution against saying a snarky “wife” comment unless you are 100% sure that their wives prepared the food. There are several men in my office who are excellent cooks and their potluck contributions are always their own. It’s tempting to be cutting, but unless you know for sure these guys aren’t doing the cooking themselves I would go the less aggressive route of putting my store bought item into a dish from home. I wouldn’t lie about where it came from, but maybe that would stave off most comments.

    • LW says later they’re queer, and I’m not sure if they’re out at work, but if you’re in any shape to also be read as queer, that could be dangerous, too.

  44. Lark said:

    I have a vision of the LW bringing, eg, oreos, and when people say “why is this not homemade”, LW would give them a puzzled look and say, “But this IS homemade, I got a make-your-own-oreos recipe off Smitten Kitchen and ordered the molds from Williams Sonoma, I spent hours on it”. And then no matter what they say, insisting that you made the oreos. “The filling? Oh, I just blended together coconut oil, organic agave and a pinch of cream of tartar and then set it up to mold in old bottle caps, once you’ve done it five or six times it doesn’t take too long!” Sort of in the spirit of the “pretend you haven’t heard of Slavoj Zizek” game.

    • The said:

      “So Why’s it still in the packaging?”
      “Oh, I drew that myself, i painted it on the plastic. did you know i am a painter?” 🙂

  45. neverjaunty said:

    OP, the only good thing about all this nonsense is that it has given you an extremely clear picture of your likely future at this company, i.e., you should run for the exits (and a better company) at the first career-appropriate opportunity.

    I mean, I don’t have to tell you that as a young woman in a macho dude industry, you already start out behind the eight ball. But your company also has a culture where people are being aggressive at you because you are failing to perform Proper Woman by cooking from scratch – a requirement you have astutely noted falls to exactly zero of the guys.

  46. e271828 said:

    LW, I second the suggestion above from anon a mouse to take this to Ask A Manager’s open thread. There are a lot of ways you can use these potlucks to your advantage, but there are also ways to derail your career path at this company.

    Are there other women in the potluck group? Other single people? What do they do?

  47. EchoFlower said:

    “I can’t cook.” / “I don’t like to cook.” / “I’m not a cook.” / “Cooking is not one of my hobbies.” / “My Dad did all the cooking in my house growing up, so I never really learned how.”
    What can they say in response to any of these? Women are supposed to know/enjoy cooking? That’s a sexist remark with no plausible deniability for them to rely on. It’s possible they might say “suck it up” or “you should learn”, but why should you? You brought a perfectly delectable treat to the potluck, you contributed your hard-earned money to the potluck in the form of said delectable treat, and you’ve survived this long without cooking regularly (even if you actually do know how to cook, but would rather your colleagues didn’t know that and, bonus, you get to buck gender expectations by claiming you can’t cook).

    More importantly, a slight alteration to the scripts joking around about if you had a wife: “If I had a husband who could cook as well as your wife, I’d totally bring better food. Alas, I’m married to the Whole Foods.” In my opinion, this challenges the patriarchy a bit more still without being offensive to your colleagues who are upholding it.

    Then again, I do not have a high-powered job in a hyper-competitive industry, and I’m not even very good at networking. So, please, take these suggestions with an awareness of their socially-awkward source.

    • Kacienna said:

      In general, I agree with your scripts above, but people can learn to cook from an adult of any gender. (I got most of my cooking from my mom, but my chilli and my raisin cookies from my dad 🙂 )

      • EchoFlower said:

        You’re absolutely right! I, obviously, didn’t think through the implications when I suggested that. Thanks for calling me in on my unconscious bias. For the record, my mom did almost all the cooking when I was growing up, but I didn’t learn from her. I primarily learned from cookbooks. Meanwhile, my cousins learned to cook from their father, who did do the cooking in that family

    • Vicki said:

      Or even “if I had a husband who could cook as well as you do, I’d totally bring better food. In the meantime, I’m married to Whole Foods,” in case Brad either does his own cooking for potlucks, or really wants to pretend he does.

      • EchoFlower said:

        Good point! Plus, I like this script even better.

  48. The Captain’s comment about the lime bean fishstick surprise reminds me of this song:

    • Rhoda said:

      Aaaagh! Flashbacks to horrible 70s food! I learned to cook at an early age precisely because my mother was a terrible cook. We had more of those lime jello type dishes than I want to remember. I laughed myself sick reading the Lilek’s Gallery Of Regrettable Food website.

      • My mother’s attitude towards cooking was that it was like scrubbing the toilet – maybe you had to do it, but you didn’t have to like it or aspire to anything beyond “done”. I’ve grown up to really like cooking and it’s resulted in conflict of the “green beans are supposed to have a little crunch/no they’re not, they’re meant to be limp and soggy” variety.

  49. Also, a potential problem to joking about finding a wife: the LW’s coworkers could start making nasty comments or otherwise targeting her for sexual harassment.

  50. TO_Ont said:

    I think some of it depends on the personalities of the people involved. Some people respond really well to jokes, others will feel offended. Some respond well to jokes that are basically complimentary.

  51. Chameleon said:

    I would just raise one eyebrow and reply “You reeeeeeeeally don’t want me cooking, Bradforth.”

    If they persist, a minor white lie could be forgiven: “I have managed to give people food poisoning via a grilled cheese sandwich. You don’t want to eat my cooking.” (True story, BTW)

  52. I am reminded of this video from the ABC about women going to “wife finishing school” so their husbands could get work promotions:

    Perhaps this would be useful for changing the conversation? 😉

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      To horrified screaming? That (obviously-terrified) Serena Joy figure? The woman whose boss’s wife stopped her and HELPFULLY CUT UP THE CLOTHING SHE WAS WEARING? The man who described the process of data-mining the names of job candidates’ neighbors so they could call them up and ask them about the candidates’ wives attitudes” as “a very frank and honest approach’? Ugh. It’s icky, but I wonder if it would convince anyone who wasn’t on the side of light to begin with?

      I don’t know why, but I kind of get a vibe that these ripples of disapproval of “non-homemade” goods originate from a single person (this may be just because I don’t want to believe that a whole culture of people can “enjoy” these toxic attitudes with a side of five nasty slow-cooker dips…). Regardless, LW is fighting the good fight for decent food made in sanitary spaces by people who don’t find cooking super-draining, and CA… well, when I read the letter, I sort of wished that Judith Martin were answering it, with the traditionally focused charm and snark wrapped around a baseball bat— but Cap knocked that out of a the park. (“Alas, I married Whole Foods…” SNOOOORT.)

    • Cynda said:

      The music during the photo montage and at the end was hilarious and the fashion/style was interesting to look at but the rest of that video made my skin crawl. Ahhhhhhhh.

    • OMG at 8:00 hubby went to a phrenologist? that adds so much legitimacy to the video.

    • notnow said:

      This is all about midcentury Australian-British class anxiety, it’s really totally irrelevant to right now.

      • Monica said:

        And yet – the subject of this letter.

  53. GG said:

    I’m the sort of person who overthinks and tries to bend over backwards to please people and mest everyone’s expectations. I would be that person who tries to work hard and bring homemade food to the potluck… and no one would touch it because no matter how fool proof the recipe is, if I’m not focused I will mess it up. And then feel bad. You can’t effing win with this.

    LW, I like your approach better. You should keep at it. Question: Is there a regular at these potlucks that you like and who doesn’t give you grief about your refusal to perform Wifely Skillz (TM). Maybe you can ask them for help with the guys who get really in your face.

    Long term question, echoing the other responses in this thread: Can you see yourself working long term for this company? Because your letter makes the situation sound like you’re being asked to do a demanding job and then perform some traditional gender role twice a month for the sake of… team building? If your coworkers get in your face about a store-bought cheese platter, how likely are they to be sympathetic if/when you need to bow out of other “i can do this because i have a wife” activities? Or if you need to adjust your work schedule because of your disability, or, if you decide to have a family, around any commitments you would have? I’m not saying you need to quit because you do say your chosen industry is very male-dominated but the question for you shouldn’t be “Which company I least hate to work with?”, it should be “Can I do the work I love in this company and trust it to have my back when I need it to?”

  54. LW #1062 said:

    Hello everyone! OP here. First of all, I wanted to thank the Captain for these wonderful scripts and all the commenters for the additional suggestions (and validation that twice-monthly you-must-home-cook-or-else potlucks are really weird). I’ll have more to say later, but I just wanted to pop in to say that upon re-reading my letter, I realised that it could be interpreted as disparaging the stay-at-home spouses, and omg I didn’t mean that at all I’m so sorry. I want to make it clear that what I’m upset about is* the fact that the married men get praised for bringing food that was made by someone else while folks like me are expected to cook things ourselves; if anyone, of any gender, chooses to stay home for any amount of time because that’s what makes sense for them and their family, that’s awesome, and I would do anything in my power to structurally support that.

    *(I mean, I’m upset about a lot of other things, like the fact that my country has maternity leave but not paternity leave, that I have personally witnessed people in my field saying things like “oh, we shouldn’t hire her, I’ve heard that she’s planning to start a family soon,” that _every_ woman with kids in my industry is constantly asked how she balances the two but men with kids are almost never asked the same question, etc, but that’s not the point of my letter.)

    • Rhoda said:

      Some of those wives may very well have full time jobs outside the home and resent having to cook for all those potluck dinners. Hence the awful inedible dishes. Maybe you could, just once, do one if those gawd-awful 1960s lime jello “salad” dishes (takes about 10 minutes to make). I can almost guarantee they’d STFU about bringing home-made dishes after choking down something like that.

      • Thistledown said:

        I once heard of a retro casserole recipe called saucy fish pie. Maybe you could prepare that once to convince people that buying is best? (It’s also a hilarious euphemism. If you’re so inclined, this could allow for some delightful small talk to keep you entertained at what sound like very boring parties.)

    • Sarah said:

      Ohhhh OP, I had male coworkers once tell me they’d never hire a woman in her 20s because you never knew when she was going to pick up and leave to start a family. I was so mad I could spit and barely got out, “I’d never hire an ambitious man in his 20s because you never know when he’s going to pick up and take a different job,” without kicking them under the lunch table. I feel so SO HARD on this.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        Hmmm, my response to that comment would probably question the legality of that strategy. “Setting yourself up for a discrimination lawsuit?”

    • TO_Ont said:

      Oh, I don’t think it sounded like you were being disparaging of the wives; it was pretty clear what you were getting at.

      It was just worth bringing up because it affects your choice of words, as you have to think of comments that can’t easily be misinterpreted as an insult to their wives.

      IMO the guys who get all huffy about homemade stuff while simultaneously avoiding actually cooking anything are fair game for insults :). Though there is a judgement call about what is in your own best interest to say or how strongly.

    • HistorianNina said:

      LW, I just wanted to say I’m a stay-at-home parent/spouse and I didn’t at all feel you were demeaning at-home spouses in your letter. I thought the comments about being careful how you phrase comments about spouses were guidance on saying things to co-workers at potlucks because you never can tell how people will take things, not a response to how your letter (or the Captain’s response) came off.

      Also, the whole business is bullshit and I’m sorry you have to deal with it!

    • Jules the Third (I think) said:

      I think most of us read it this way, which is why we’re sharing the ‘old women who hate outsourced non-consensual labor’ tricks of repackaging the food, and ‘here’s our favorite repackaging options’.

  55. TinyFrog said:

    “I’m not a good cook, and I’d rather bring something tasty to these things, rather than something that isn’t tasty. I really hope no-one’s going to be weird about that. I appreciate the heads up, thanks for looking out for me. Actually, would you mind passing it around the group that there’s nothing strange going on here? Thanks!”

    • Tuna said:

      “I tried this dish at my local deli last week and it was so good I just had to share it with all of you.”

  56. DameB said:

    The expectation of performative femininity pusses me off. ‘You female! Must cook!’

    I love cooking, it’s my passion, and I bring store-bought to potluck dinners sometimes bow that I’m not a SAHM anymore.

  57. IrishEm said:

    I am SO HAPPY that pot lucks don’t seem to be a thing in Ireland. Yes dinner parties, but I just rock up with a nice bottle of prosecco or pinot grigio (especially when visiting ppl who only drink red wine – I have a major issue with something in red, maybe sulphides?) and offer to help with washing up.
    Semi-related story time. Earlier this year, I was sent on a job interview to an artisan butcher for a customer service job. First thing I asked the recruiter would there be cooking/preparation involved because the only food I can cook goes in the microwave. Oh, how the Recruiter and I laughed. Recruiter said “no, you’ll be fine, it’s just assisting customers!” Cut to me having spent €20 on a taxi to the interview, walking in, seeing a customer service person cooking filet steak on a skillet (or other pan-shaped utensil) and my telling the interviewer on the spot that I literally can’t prepare food, and he saying that’s like 90% of the job. And so I immediately went home without interviewing. Another €20 taxi. *siiiiigh* Just because I’m female does not mean I can cook.

    If I were in your shoes, LW, I would be so tempted to call the Dudrebros out on their sexism.

    Chad: You have to make it yourseeeeeelf!
    LW: Just because I’m female, don’t assume I can cook.

    Brad: That came from a shop! (*clutches pearls*)
    LW: Because I don’t cook. My gender doesn’t make me a cook.

    Chuck: It neeeeeds to be home made!
    LW: If it doesn’t go in the microwave or come from a shop, I don’t make it.

    Norris: We all brought things we made at home!
    LW: How did you make it? Talk me through EVERY SINGLE STEP. Where did you buy the ingredients, how much did they cost, when did you start preparing, tell me EVERYTHING about the prep work!
    Norris: I told the wife to make it.
    LW: *LONG AWKWARD AS FORK SILENCE*

    Not especially helpful, I’m sure, but so satisfying to imagine the looks on their faces. The other suggestion I have is to bring a carrot. Not peeled, not washed, not chopped, just a carrot. From home. Like the person on that Ask A Manager thread who just brought a pepper, but even more ridiculous (imo) because the dudebros are being ridiculous.

    • Montresaur said:

      Seconded. This comment is both hilarious, and on point.

    • That recruiter was stupid for not taking you at your word.

  58. poolgirl said:

    When I was little, mom would playfully say that she slaved over a hot stove to make something. Now, when I need to bring a contribution and all the other ladies have nice homemade things, I will pick out something delicious from the Deli or bakery at the grocery, and tell everyone that I slaved over a hot check out line for it. Always gets a laugh.

  59. I’ve seen too many episodes of Hoarders to partake of any potluck, ever. I would welcome LW’s storebought food with open arms and mouth.

  60. kible said:

    If they’re going to be that rude I’d just stop going. Or bring charcoal brick cookies so you can “prove” you don’t/can’t cook lol.

    • Lapis Lazuli said:

      If this is a network opprtunity, she will have to deal with going.

      She can just bring cole slaw. Or better yet, plates and cutterly and NAPKINS.

  61. Beth said:

    My favourite remark when I bring something storebought is “I slaved for hours over a hot . . . computer, to earn the money to buy this.”

    • Nanani said:

      I thought the end of that sentence was going to be “to order this takeout”. Which could also work.

  62. Montresaur said:

    Wow, I am so floored that these potlucks happen every two weeks. Even if I wasn’t cooking / bringing a dish, that would be way too much for me.

    LW, the captain’s scripts are great, especially when they highlight the fact that your coworkers aren’t themselves taking time out of their personal lives on a regular, bimonthly (?!?!) basis to cook for a work event.

    I wonder whether the more aggressive offenders are insecure about how their spouses’ contributions stack up against a Whole Foods dish. I really hope it’s more that than a Why-Won’t-This-Female-Colleague-Put-In-Her-Kitchen-Time issue (because: gross. So gross). Either way, it’s bizarre and unacceptable.

    • Not to mention the expense of buying all the ingredients. Lots of recipes call for stuff that nobody except for foodies and chefs use in real life.

  63. Lapis Lazuli said:

    I would avoid the baked goods (easy the spot the “store boughtness”) and just prder a gallon of slaw, potato salad, etc and put it in tubberware. It is one of those things that are pretty much “homemade”, even if not made from home.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Yeah, deli salads are made by a person instead of an assembly line.

      • Depends on the salad. Some of them come premade and they just put them in a bowl and sell it to you for 2 times as much instead of you walking over to that fridge.

  64. Amber Rose said:

    What if you bought a giant salad, dumped it in a bowl, and didn’t tell anyone that you bought it?

    Or, any food really. You can dump any store bought food into a personal Tupperware.

    I mean, it’s great if you want to put your foot down, but you don’t have to.

  65. The very best recipe – a neighbor* who cooks and would like a bit of income, and can produce home-made at the same (or very slightly above) the cost of posh place + time spent going to posh place.

    * neighbor and/or relative, but ther have been too many letters recently about family taking advantage of family, so maybe not.

  66. EmilyAnn said:

    My office loves a potluck. On the sign-up sheet we have spots for paper plates and utensils so a few people can contribute without bringing food. My boss has a wife who packs him a lunch every day, but for office potlucks she has told him that she cooks for her own family, not for his co-workers, so he makes a big deal about how he had to cook for the potluck and his food is usually pretty good. These people sound awful. Store bought fancy food is just fine. A box of cookies is just fine. Frozen food is just fine. What is wrong with these people?

  67. Several people mentioned ‘but what about allergies’ – I really really want to know what all the men who Made Their Own Food [tm] for the potluck are doing about this situation.

    It is holiday season and at a family party one person could only eat home-made food where the cook could list ingredients, or store food where the packaging with ingredient list was present.

    • Nanani said:

      I would put odds on “it never crossed their minds” with a side of “real men TM don’t have allergies”.

      • I will never, ever forget the older woman who told me that “lots of people have allergies nowadays—people you wouldn’t expect!”

  68. Rhoda said:

    The lime jello surprise video that someone posted above gives me a possible solution for the LW. Maybe – just one time – she could make something so stupendously awful that her co-workers can barely choke it down. Something like the lime jello “salad” (lime jello, shredded carrots, olives) that I grew up with. Prep time, about 10 minutes. Or a mushroom “casserole” made from a tin of mushroom soup dumped over some ramen noodles.

    Women’s magazines of the 60s were chock full of these awful recipes. Take something like this in just once and they’ll probably never hassle LW about perfectly good pre-made stuff from a grocery store again. Here’s a good source of ideas for spectacularly bad “homemade” food.

    http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/index.html

    • LW doesn’t have the time or spoons to cook something like these even once; they said so in their letter.

      But thanks for the reminder about the Horrible Food blog. 🙂

      • Rhoda said:

        For these awful “recipes” I think all you need is an electric kettle and normal cutlery. “Cooking” is a very loose term where these creations are concerned.

        • Drew said:

          Please don’t nitpick the LW’s statement. If they don’t have time, they don’t have time – we don’t get to second-guess how MUCH time they don’t have.

          • Rhoda said:

            Which is why I suggested doing this (or finding someone else to do it) just the one time only.

    • That’s a funny revenge idea – but the LW said that horrible homemade food has already popped up at these potlucks.

  69. 1. When I go to food events, sometimes I buy things that I am particularly partial to. e.g. I really love the orange chocolate decadence cake at Sel Marie in Chicago, and I don’t remember seeing that at any other place. So it is a special thing for me to bring to an event like a potluck. I’ve known some friends who get very particular about chocolate and would be able to recommend special botique things.

    If these people are being competitive about food, you might try bringing things like the above in case that would fit and be less of a chore. Then you can show off the specialness of your taste or a place you know about instead of the specialness of cooking something.

    It sucks that you’d need to do something like this, but if you are stuck working there then maybe finding a substitute thing that can pass as food-snobbery will help.

    2. Would it be career limiting to go to these things once a month instead of twice a month? maybe having to put up with this less often would also help.

    Ps. I don’t like the advice about being sarcastic or snarky about partners cooking or hypothetical wives/partners. It’s wrong and perpetuates a bad culture.

  70. stellanor said:

    Ugh, cripes, the patriarchy.

    I’m an excellent cook and I love cooking. I also bake quite well. And I work in a male-dominated industry.

    All things being equal I would probably bring baked goods to work on the regular, because it’s hard to dispose of that cake you wanted to try making without eating a whole cake and getting an epic tummyache. But because cooking and baking are considered Lady Things Done By Ladies and I already have enough problems trying to be taken seriously here in Broville, I do not. Because that way lies A Bunch Of Dudes Expecting Me To Be Their Work Mom.

    So, ugh, cripes, the patriarchy: it even cramps my style when I want to do something societally marked as feminine.

  71. c. said:

    LW — i’m so proud of you for being successful in what sounds like a brutal male field as a woman AND with a disability that affects your energy levels and stuff! wow. that is super impressive.

    all this advice about how to give storebought food a faux homemade makeover are missing the point. but i like the advice to just ask about all these rude dudes’s wives or servants or whatever.

    • c. said:

      also my unproductive not real suggestion is to just be like “so, if i don’t cook, can i just stay home?”

      • Kimberly Israel said:

        Love this!

    • Jules the Third (I think) said:

      We’re not ignoring the problems with this company and their bigotry. We’re recognizing that OP has a needle to thread, between ‘keeping a job and not losing opportunities’ and ‘complying with the patriarchy’. She’s not stated that she’s looking to challenge the patriarchy; she’s said she’s fairly new and junior. There’s a serious risk that too much standing up for herself will have serious career impacts.

      The snark is more useful when she’s older and well-established. For now, boring + subject change is a great way to respond, and repackaging is a way to head it off.

  72. Lurker in the light said:

    Ugh, LW, what irritating behavior.

    I can’t believe *people you outrank* are giving you grief about this! That’s some hardcore patriarchal “stuff” going on. With them, I might turn it back and assert a little rank. “Well, you have my permission to bring something store bought, too.”

    With people higher in rank I’d go with “you didn’t hire my for my cooking skills.” And then segue into a conversation about what they did hire you for.

  73. Thursday Next said:

    The nice thing about crudite platters/fruit platters/green salads is that they generally look the same, whether you prepare them yourself or buy them in the prepared foods section. (Unless you’re getting those platters with radish rosettes and cucumber unicorns.) I’d vote for getting something like that, putting it on your own platter/in your own bowl (you could even buy your own divided platter—hey, you are nothing if not excited about your crudités!). If someone needles you, you could say, “Oh, I thought some crisp bell peppers/orange slices/Greek salad would be a nice complement to Dudebro’s (wife’s) tuna casserole/chicken surprise/falafel.”

    Personally, I wouldn’t make pointed remarks about their wives’ doing the cooking, but I’m not there and don’t know the situation like you do. I think deflections of the brief non-defensive response (“so you’ve said before”/“I would, but I don’t want to hospitalize anyone”/“this is how I roll, thanks”) + subject change would be my personal route.

  74. I’m going to suggest a couple things that are less about scripts and more about reducing whatever yuck feelings come up when these interactions happen. First off, I’ve only been to social potlucks and not work-related ones, but having people complain that the food you’re bringing isn’t home-made strikes me as really weird, and even weirder when I read the letter a second time and noticed you said that practically everyone is doing it. It can be very disconcerting when you see things one way and everyone around you sees things a different way, so I’m hoping it might help you a bit to know it’s not actually *everyone* everyone who thinks bringing store-bought stuff to potlucks is Not Done and you can feel free to see it as just a weird, albeit annoying, quirk of this particular workplace (and yeah, one that is playing out in an ableist and patriarchal way (and I’d guess there’s all sorts of class and culture baggage as well.)) There’s a second layer to this which is even given that your workplace culture does have this quirk that they apparently all think is normal and reasonable, being in-your-face confrontational about it is still seriously rude and would still be seriously rude even if all the manners experts in the world agreed that bringing store-bought food to potlucks was a massive breach of manners. Generally the correct thing to do with someone who makes a manners breach is to ignore it if practical, or to bring it up discretely.

    I’m thinking that another idea that might help you in these situations is thinking about what “winning” looks like for each of you and who gets to “win” if you can’t come to agreement. Presumably “winning” for your in-your-face coworkers would be you getting embarrassed, maybe apologizing, and bringing a home-cooked dish next time. Is that going to happen? No. Is there anything within their power that will make it happen? No. What’s winning for you? Continuing to bring store-bought stuff that doesn’t exhaust you, ideally with a side-helping of being left in peace about it. The latter isn’t really under your power, unfortunately, but the former is. Unless somehow this escalates to your job coming under threat for you insufficiently exerting yourself for an outside-of-work social event, you have (almost) all the power here. Maybe remembering that will help? Like, it actually doesn’t matter that much exactly what you say or whether you can get them to agree with your point of view, because they can’t actually force you to do things their way. (I know it’s a bit more complicated because these are people you work with and you want to get along well with them, but that goes both ways: they should want to get along well with you too.)

    As a side note, it might be good to see if you can find some allies: not necessarily people who support you bringing store-bought if that’s hard to find, but people who at least think you shouldn’t have to put up with “super in-your-face aggressive attacks.” If those aren’t already happening in front of a large audience I’d bet many of the discreet-warning types have no idea of what you’re having to deal with and would actually be kind of shocked, or at least have accepted that some people at the company are jerks and be willing to offer a “knock it off” or well-timed subject change/excuse to go somewhere else if asked in advance.

  75. Mrrpaderp said:

    For superiors, use it as an opportunity to talk up your awesome work. “I was busy working on [super incredible accomplishment you’ve now given me an opening to tell you about].”

    For peers or subordinates, personally, I embrace my role as the burn-the-patriarchy-feminist of the office. “I’ll cook for the office when all the male employees do the same” or for the more persistent, “[Man 1] didn’t personally make the dish he brought, correct? Nor did [Man 2]? Nor [Man 3]? You’d better go tell them what you’ve just told me – they can’t bring food that they didn’t personally make! I won’t take up any more of your time, you have a busy night!”

    • Yay! I love that script, Mrrpaderp!

  76. Yay for buying food.

    The script about “this is what I bring. Would you like some?” is one I like. If you spot any allies, that could be a great time to get them enlisted too. “Sorry you don’t want any. Hey, Rene, would you like some […]?” and they respond ‘Yeah, great!”
    Which ends the conversation with ungraceful person, and brings shared enjoyment of food stuff with an ally.

  77. Kacienna said:

    I have strong opinions about mandatory unpaid work socializing in general. I like my work and my coworkers, but I’m there to do my job and get paid. If I make friends with some of my coworkers, well and good, but I have no desire to replace the groups I already have. I would rather spend my evenings doing almost anything else than work socializing. (Unless there are live animals involved, then sign me up!) I barely tolerate networking because there are so many other things to do. Semimonthly potlucks would be way too much!

  78. Lapis Lazuli said:

    I remember a facebook video that went around of this one dude reacting to a recipe video. The video in question featured wonderful things like lime jello, whipped cream, and mayonaise.

    You could make that and horrify your coworkers. They’ll beg you to just get store bought after that.

    };) /Bad? Advice

    • Jules the Third (I think) said:

      Yeah, unfortunately. As someone upthread pointed out, people who do patriarchy badly are punished too.

      The ‘do it bad’ is likely to undermine her position, and as a young woman in a bigoted field and company, she can’t afford to have people laugh at her like that.

      • Lapis Lazuli said:

        Bahumbug. As I said in one of the previous posts, dudes should be learning how to cook too and not expect the women to cater (pun intended) to every meal. It aint that hard to make a potluck meal.

        OP, I would just bring plates, napkins, utensils, cups, and drinks. Cause those are the staples that no one thinks of and require 0 cooking

  79. Oaklet said:

    I would avoid the pretense of passing store bought food as my own, because it misses the point. The LW doesn’t want to be forced into a role she doesn’t want to play, does she? She wants a script to help her hold her ground. So, I’d simply assert, and keep asserting as needed, that “I don’t cook, and I won’t cook. I contribute in the best way I can, and this is it. Take it or leave it.” Embellish as needed (shrug, turn away, laugh, whatever), as long as it doesn’t come across as apologetic or kowtowing to the mob.
    Another answer to “buuuut you didn’t maaaaaake it” might be, “would it be preferable if I brought nothing next time? because that’s the only other option for me.” And then, next time, show up with a bottle of wine instead of food.

  80. BigDogLittleCat said:

    “A friend said to me, ‘You’re the only person I know who when you say you have to clean your stove, you mean dusting.’ ”

    True statement.

    • Drew said:

      Internet fistbump of solidarity, yo.

  81. LSM said:

    I agree with everyone who suggested drinks, a crudite or fruit platter from a deli, or putting deli food into your own Tupperware.

    Another thing I used to do when I didn’t want to cook for a potluck was to bring a really nice, complicated dessert from a deli, or a box of upscale chocolates. (The TJ Maxx nearby often had really good ones and didn’t cost that much, either). When someone asked me why I didn’t make anything, I would smile sunnily and say, “Oh, I’ve had such a craving for (Parisian macarons) or (dark chocolates) lately, this is a great reason to indulge!”

    Also, being the “go-to” person for something (i.e. salad, drinks) everytime can help close the question and let you get back to blissfully focusing on work.

  82. DuchessofMarlborough said:

    I’m in a very male dominated field (senior staff civilian employee of the military) where many officers have spouses who are underemployed. I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the potluck behavior–way more store-bought and re-plated things just in the five years I’ve seen this arc. Some of our administrative assistants who put these events together try to be the home-made police, and fewer people care every year. I just left early from putting in a brief appearance and then skipping the holiday event for being overtly “Christmas” in a federal workplace and just being overwhelming and loud. When I first started, my first potluck, I could honestly say that the movers hadn’t yet delivered all my stuff, which was met with appreciative nods. The next one, I could honestly say that I was having some work done at the new house (a two day water heater replacement, but still) and people assumed it was a months-long kitchen renovation, which they also understood. That got them used to my re-plated pimento-cheese spread and crackers contribution to most things.

  83. Nope octopus said:

    NGL, I’m suspicious of the entire company culture just based on this. Twice a month is a lot!

    white lie?

    “The last time I brought homemade food to potluck, I accidentally gave everyone at the event food poisoning. This is safer for everyone. *Shrug* ”

    Or transfer the grocery store food to a homemade looking vessel for presentation?

  84. nnn said:

    Thank you to Captain Awkward for keeping “helpful” cooking suggestions out of the comments! As someone who dislikes potlucks myself, I hate when my attempts to redirect potlucks to something more inclusive (I’m trying to normalize a potluck/delivery hybrid) are always hijacked by people saying “All you have to do is [insert recipe that’s 10 times more difficult than anything I make for myself and would take hours and hours of practice to get up to a standard where I could feed it to other people]”

    • Rhoda said:

      I wouldn’t want to do potlucks every. two. weeks. and I actually like cooking. That being said, the brand XXX pumpkin pie at the supermarket down the street is far better than mine and the meat fatayers from the Lebanese restaurant in town as good as the ones I’ve made but don’t require a whole afternoon of waiting for bread dough to rise, chopping up tomatoes and stuff, heating up the oven…. Even for those of us who aren’t half bad at cooking, there are times when we want to just let someone else do the work.

    • KellyK said:

      A potluck/delivery hybrid sounds awesome, and I hope you can be successful in normalizing it. How would that work? (I’m picturing something like “either chip in for the pizza or bring something to go with it.”)

      • nnn said:

        Yep, that’s exactly how it would work 🙂 Either you sign up to bring a dish, or you sign up to contribute to the pool of money for having something delivered.

        I’m still working on the logistics of calculating how much money everyone needs to contribute and determining exactly what food should be ordered.

      • Vicki said:

        The other way to do that might be, people could either bring a dish to share (cooked stuff, salad, a loaf of bread) or something delivered. If I were organizing something like that, I’d probably ask people not to order from a restaurant they hadn’t tried before (in the same way that if I was making a new recipe for a potluck, I’d give myself enough time to do something else if it didn’t work). My very local potluck culture is to provide a list of ingredients, which I would extend to “give the name of the restaurant and the dish, and anything you know about likely allergens.” Don’t assume people know which restaurant puts cheese in the red sauce, or cashews in the house special chicken.

        Quite a while ago, I organized a monthly get-together for a Usenet group (yes, that long ago) at a bar that, instead of a kitchen, had copies of the menu for every local restaurant that would deliver. They were also fine with people bringing a bag of chips, or some cookies or whatever, to share around. It wasn’t a potluck, in that nobody was expected to bring food: but if you’re getting together after work on a weeknight, it’s good to have food available.

        I have no idea what sort of pushback LW would get if she suggested something like this for her office potluck, though.

  85. perlhaqr said:

    That’s a lot of potlucks. Sympathy on having to spend so much extra time with the boss.

  86. Frankie said:

    Anecdote: once in college I was invited to what ended up being The World’s Most Awkward Dinner Party (for multiple reasons which did not involve the food), and when I brought a hashbrown casserole I made from a box because I only had a dorm kitchen to work with, I was told by the hosts “uh, we don’t eat packaged foods.”

    Which has nothing to do with LW’s problem but I wanted to add to the “OMG WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE SO RUDE AND WEIRD ABOUT WHAT FOOD THEIR GUESTS CONTRIBUTE” conversation.

    • mm said:

      I’m sorry this was horrible, and I want to add that it is ALSO (sometimes) very awkward to not eat things. I don’t eat LOTS of things, and I often attend events where I don’t eat MOST things. Sometimes I attend events where I don’t eat ANYTHING. So I have thought long and hard about how to decline food. I have not gone to some things. I have spent lots of emotional labor and time writing emails that say essentially “I’ll be attending the potluck, with something I’m happy to eat, and please don’t be offended or surprised if I don’t eat most or ANY of the food y’all bring. I’m taking good care of myself.” (Note: at a large party I would not say this and would not expect awkwardness, but at a small dinner, it could be highly awkward for people that I am not eating their food contribution. This is a very personal thing.)

      So, there’s also an awkward side of things for people who don’t eat (whatever).

      Basically I’m saying that it is awkward that I don’t eat a lot of what is culturally common food around me. Food is SOCIAL, and these a lot of bonding in it. I struggle to make that less awkward for both me and others in ways that do not undermine my own self-care about food. And I absolutely do not think I’ve mastered this balance AT ALL. It is forever a work-in-progress to me. And I hate with passion that I’m BEING anti-social. (Okay, I see I am working out here what to write to CA.)

      Here’s what I’m saying: I guess your hosts could have been feeling awkward, and I’m sorry it came out in a way that made things so unpleasant (and felt unappreciative and judgemental) for you. They might have been trying to get the awkward fact they were not going to be eating your kind contribution over with immediately. Due to the awkwardness.
      It would have been nice if they could have said (without the um) “great that you brought that, let’s put it over here next to the casserole”.

      • Frankie said:

        Honestly, if they had mentioned dietary restrictions, or even been the slightest bit polite about not eating it, I wouldn’t have been bothered. As it was, the tone (which I realize does not come across at all in this format) was definitely one of “ewwww” rather than “welp this is awkward but we can’t eat this.”

    • Rude and classist! Don’t they know most college students don’t have the equipment, expertise, or money to fix fancy food?

  87. Barbara A diJeannene said:

    I was very well known for bringing strange cheeses and crackers to all potlucks. A little cutting up and all done. Bonus if the cheeses didn’t get eaten completely cause I love cheese.

  88. LAF said:

    I encountered a similar for the first time at my new workplace. One of my coworkers was complaining that when they have potlucks people don’t bring things they’ve made themselves. I always figured cooking isn’t everyone’s thing, and that if you are the person who brings something store bought/drinks/paper plates whatever to the potluck, you’ve contributed. It takes all the fun out of these types of gatherings if everything is seasoned with a sprinkling of “you didn’t potluck well enough.”

  89. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Having re-read the letter, this leaps out at me: “Basically everybody has told me that I should be bringing something home-made, with comments ranging from discreet, well-intentioned warnings

    If there are genuine warnings, this is more than a bunch of jerky dudebros, this is a company culture problem, which potentially could hurt LW beyond annoying comments at potlucks. If that’s the case, the smart comebacks and shut downs won’t help in the long run.

    I would:
    1 – check the company employee manual to find out what the official company policy is on these potlucks. There probably isn’t one, but you ought to know what the territory is. Find anything officially from the company in writing about the potlucks. Friendly emails from people above you on the ladder are official.

    2 – respond to the comments by:
    a- asking why? that and asking about the coworkers’ food preparation will help flesh out what is going on, including who relies on their SO to do it (and whose SOs are women) and who thinks woman = cooking.
    b- including in your response to the comments that you can’t cook. Not don’t, not won’t: can’t. I don’t know if you need to say something like ‘oh I’ve got a thing that makes standing in a kitchen long enough to cook impossible.’ Maybe spin crazy ass stories about why you can’t cook like why Phoebe Cates can’t Christmas? Anyone who keeps pushing, “Why?” is your friend here also. ‘Dude, why the questions? No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!’
    Whether you deflect or semi-answer, by saying “can’t” you’re drawing a line that if they keep stepping over, they’re in the wrong.

    3 – keep a log of the comments: who said what and when. ESPECIALLY any comment that is gendered or ableist.

    4 – go to your supervisor and/or HR and tell them you you enjoy going to the potlucks and bringing something to share, but you’ve been getting “warnings” and hostility about the home-cooking so is there something you should know? I’d lay cards on the table that cooking is outside your job description, it’s an extra burden on people like you who don’t have someone who can do it for you like a lot of your coworkers do, and that you have limitations that prevent you from doing it. You’re not there to make a complaint, but you want clarification regarding what is up because all the comments are starting to affect your enjoyment of the potlucks.

    I know you don’t want to tell them about your disability because it’s not their business, but if the company is pressuring you to do something that you cannot do, you might need to let them know to get them to back off. Mention of course that you’re telling them in confidentiality, but you want them to understand you’re not just being stubborn.
    If you are in the US, the ADA requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled employees, and if letting you bring store-bought isn’t reasonable, what is?

    I would not at this point mention the patriarchy, the wives, or the crappy food.
    What you’re doing at this stage is gathering information and getting into position in case this turns out to be a more serious problem than dudebros.

    A good manager or HR can read between the lines and see that there’s potential discrimination brewing and take defensive action to shut it down, but good or bad the reactions of your supervisor and/or HR will let you know whether it’s dudebros (by saying WTF are employees saying weird shit about home-cooking and we need to shut that down because hello, harassment) or it’s a systemic problem (you’re imagining things, LW. they’re just joking, LW. why is this a problem LW? just cook something!) and you need to be vigilant about documenting sexist and ableist problems and maybe start looking for work elsewhere.

    Good luck.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Part of 2a above came out all wrong: if someone keeps pushing about your not cooking, asking them why they’re saying/asking what they are. I hink “why?” is often your friend.

  90. nnn said:

    An entertaining but unhelpful idea that occurs to me: get into a relationship with someone who works at a posh grocery store or somewhere else where you can get premade food that’s appropriate for a potluck.

    Then you can tell your co-workers that your partner made the food you brought.

  91. Convallaria majalis said:

    Uh, LW, you sound like a champion for enduring 24 potlucks a year. I would probably shrivel into a tiny ball of anxiety even after one such thing as I often want to keep my job/studies separate from the rest of my life. The Captain’s scripts are again very solid and in my opinion also many of the commentors have given good suggestions. Only you know what works best for you and which battles to pick and which to try to evade.

    As a woman who loves cooking I have also encountered the flipside of the patriarchal default assumption that every woman can and want to cook. Usually I do it happily – but that does not mean that this applies to every possible circumstance. I find the behaviour of your colleagues very odd and cannot help wondering whether yelling at you was really about bringing home made food to potlucks at all but about trying to bring down a bright young woman in their male-dominated field. A dude yelling about anything to you in a workplace or a work-related event is a terrible person, no matter what the yelling is about.

    I would probably carefully consider how useful these potlucks are to career and future job prospects – which I am sure you are already doing. Are most of your colleagues okay beside a few bad apples? How do the other colleagues react to the behaviour of the ill-mannered persons? Why on earth should the food be home-made? Perhaps it could be useful to find out who really makes the food to find out what is behind this weird obsession of the food being home-made.

    I find several of these suggestions very good depending on how you want to spend your spoons. If the general opinion of the group is pro-home-made, serving the food as home-made or perhaps asking a friend to help might be the easiest way. If the views are mixed or especially if only a few vocal people promote the importance of home-made food brushing the issue off just like The Captain and several commentors suggested sounds like a good way to go. Also getting to know the nicer people in these events will probably help in the long run – also because once they know you better being in their company during these events might even tone down the ill-mannered behaviour.

    I understand that some people hinted at the home-made food more nicely than others. Is it possible in your situation to ask a few of these friendlier pro-homemade dudes why is this so important. Do these potlucks have some kind of a special history in this company?

    Dear LW, may you have lots of strength, courage and luck in your chosen path! Clearly you rock!

  92. nnn said:

    On a more productive note, a way you could nudge the tone in a better direction is to compliment any other store-bought food you encounter at the potluck, without commenting on its store-bought status. Simply “OMG, this is so good! You must bring it next time!”

  93. Raptor said:

    This isn’t helpful, but I just saw a video of how to make Spaghetti O Jello, and my SO and I decided that that’s what you really need to make for a potluck you hate.

  94. H.Regalis said:

    UGHHHHHHHH. Your coworkers, we hates them, precious.

    How good are the networking opportunities? Are they legit good **now** or are these fucks dangling them in front of you like a shit fishhook? If yes, then maybe buy something, peel the labels off, and ta-da! You made it yourself like a good little female. If the networking bits have thus far been punted to a nebulous future date, then I think this is a shitty gender role performance exercise and it’s best to skip it regardless of the friction, and if they make a big enough stink about it, find another job.

  95. cartesiandaemon said:

    I love embarrassing the “oh well, no *I* didn’t make it myself” entitled guys, but I’m worried that it won’t actually work — that “my wife does everything” is just what they think is normal, and not something they’re hiding, and they don’t see any hypocrisy in expecting LW to cook when they don’t, because their worldview is just, “women cook, men don’t”, regardless whether women have a full time job or not.

    I’m not saying, DON’T shame them for that, because they richly deserve it, just be careful if they just don’t care and make the whole thing worse.

  96. mm said:

    About “required socializing” for work: I once, long ago (thank all goddesses), worked at a TEENSY family-owned company. It was very awkward in many ways. Anyway, one of the co-owners (brothers, naturally) was having some big company party thingie over the weekend and everyone was TOTALLY EXPECTED to attend.

    I felt great pressure about how to decline (and attending, with my actual spouse, would have been really really awful). It felt like a no-win situation, I had no CA to ask for scripts! and I would kind of manage things with the best I could do at the moment. I had not said I would go, but was not sure how to decline. And I knew work required social event were a thing, but felt badly that I didn’t feel I could do them.

    What happened was funny and pleased me. The actual host of the party, co-owner of the company, whose TOTAL expectation that I MUST attend, came and pointedly asked me about my plan for attending. I think he must have literally said “where will you be?” and I said “I’ll be in Europe for the weekend”. We both knew this was not true, it was not possible, it was preposterous. But it was FUNNY too in some way. Like “hey, I realize the ONLY thing [to you] that is a valid excuse to miss this is if I’m on another continent or hospitalized”.

    The nice part was his reaction. He seemed to think it was funny. He accepted it as an answer, and left me alone. Plus I think my boss (who worked in the same room) probably overheard this conversation.

  97. Chris Byron said:

    Ya, I would avoid this company like the plague.

  98. johann7 said:

    As we have of commentary directly addressing the questions from LW, I’d like to examine the underlying problem.

    Potlucks for work parties are a bad idea IMO, mostly due to the implications of “optional” things not truly being optional within the command hierarchy that characterizes many workplaces (in the USA, at least). In addition to the weird, often sexist social dynamics they can precipitate (both those raised here and an inordinate amount of the logistical and service labor falling on women) and assumptions about ability raised here, unless the business model is a worker’s collective, they functionally amount to capital (or the state, in the case of public sector jobs) demanding unpaid work and/or financial contributions from labor, and fuck that noise. Ditto for not-really-optional contributions to office funds, gift exchanges, etc. If you are in a management position, I urge you to at the very least not encourage/coerce any of these practices yourself, and to consider banning them outright. If you want to have work parties, have the business – or maybe the best-paid, top-level manager(s) – provide all of the funding. Labor can be either contracted or explicitly paid time for employees.

    As suggested by this letter, a lot of these norms result from the assumption of workers having an unpaid laborer (wife) at home who supports the business indirectly in various ways, and even in cases where most people – or everyone – in an office enjoys the parties, the standard models are still inherently exploitative. They CAN BE adapted to not be exploitative – for example, with management being clear about optional things being optional and then actually following through to address any retaliation against those who opt out – but they very often aren’t. Certain models like potlucks are more difficult to adapt: one could, for example, give people the option of bringing food while providing some catered/purchased food with company cash to make sure there is enough if most people opt out and also reimburse the cost of ingredients and clock the time spent shopping and cooking as paid time for people who do opt to make food, but most places I’ve worked would opt for a fully catered party at a rented venue over something like that for the sake of simplicity.

    • Kacienna said:

      I don’t mind them if they’re:
      – during work hours and counted as part of the workday
      – totally for reals optional and only meant as a fun way to socialize over lunch for those who want them
      – open to contributions ranging from homemade to store bought to bring the paper towels to chip in less than $10
      – aware that dietary restrictions exist and encourage labeling/listing ingredients

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Ugh. My department head is hosting a lovely holiday party for us, based around the super-fun activity of preparing the goddamned meal ourselves. And it’s starting late in the afternoon so someone who doesn’t even work for the company can attend, meaning we’ll be stuck there for 2 or 3 hours past quitting time, and it’s in a part of the city convenient to no one and will add at least 30-45 minutes on everyone’s drive. On a work night.
      Needless to say, failure to attend this super fun and totally optional gala will be noticed. The whole department is seething. Except the head of course. She thinks it’s a great idea.
      What a great way to thank people: make them work more. And no one has any idea what the menu will be, but we all assume it will be some fancy trendy bullshit, which we might be willing to eat if it were prepared by professionals.
      Oh, and since there’s going to be like 30 guests, plus the staff of whatever hell-house real estate dreamed up this venture, apparently a bunch of us will be put to work making desserts for some shelter. Of course I’m on board with helping people in need, but knowing it will be billed as from “employees of ABC, Inc.” really pisses me off because the company gives ZERO charitable contributions nor gives charities discounts, so we’re being used to make the company look good.
      And she thinks we should all be excited and looking forward to it.

      I keep reminding myself of what my co-worker said, “you can’t cook without sharp knives.”

  99. Lala said:

    I tell people I can’t cook. Sometimes I wish I could, because it would make me more palatable to the more basic humans, but I don’t care to learn. Therefore I bring the wine, cheese platter or other premade thing from the grocery store. And they can suck it!

  100. LW #1062 said:

    OP again! I want to thank all of you so much for this fantastic array of scripts, re-plating suggestions, and things to watch out for with my company culture. Some of these are going to work great for me, and hopefully anyone else in a similar position will be able to pick and choose what would be appropriate for them.

    Good call on this being a red flag about my company overall: I wrote this letter a while back, and in the intervening two months there have been a number of other worrying sexist/albeist/homophobic incidents. (Yup, I’m queer, and though my country has decent laws on the books protecting LGBT folks, this company hasn’t quite caught up with the times.) (Further sidenote: perhaps unsurprisingly, this company has almost no racial diversity, even by my industry’s fairly appalling standard.) Luckily, company-hopping is very common in my field, so it would be pretty normal for me to move on in a year or two. In the meantime, I’m taking very good notes about how to — or, rather not to not — foster supportive environments for women and minorities.

    A short story about these potlucks for your collective amusement: at the most recent one, we had an unusually high of women attend, and it just so happened at one point that all of us were standing in the same place.
    Senior man: OH WOW there are so many women in this room, I need to get a camera, this will look great for the company brochure!
    Junior woman, muttering to me: It’s 10 o’clock at night; this is the least family-friendly event imaginable. This is terrible brochure material.
    Senior woman, overhearing: You’re right, but this isn’t the time or the place to discuss it. Smile and pretend that it’s the middle of the afternoon.

    • Dia said:

      I hope the time with this company feels like it flies by!

    • postitnote said:

      Yiiiiiiikes. What a mess.

      I hope you’re able to move on the a better company sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I hope you can connect with some decent people in your current company.

      I’m a minority woman with a disability in a mostly white, male field. I relate to your letter so much. I’ve managed by moving to a non-traditional work setting, but have taken a huge professional hit in doing so.

      It’s a hard situation. I think you absolutely rock though. You are clearly really great at your actual job (unpaid catering be damned). You sound like someone I would love to work with. I hope so much that you end up with coworkers who are as professional, intelligent, and considerate as you are.

  101. LuckySometimesandAlive said:

    “That sucks you feel that way, but no man I’ve ever known has liked my cooking, so, Whole Foods it is.” – me @ anyone who gives me a hard time for bringing store bought food

  102. S said:

    I once made brownies for my workplace and left them in the break room for people to enjoy (because I was leaving? or something?). Someone decided to leave a note that I needed to add more cocoa. I wrote back that they should contact the Betty Crocker company because that shit was from a box.

  103. jmm said:

    I hate the idea of making up lies to tell about what a bad cook you are or that you made something you didn’t make or whatever. Or even being subtle about what jerks they’re being. “That’s kind of a hurtful thing to say” is more honest and makes the situation clear — without you needing to disclose anything. If they repeat it, you can ask them to stop.

    I do endorse putting whatever you bring into your own dish. The less you have to talk about the food, the better.

    If it were me, I’d only attend once a month and I’d use a vague excuse like “plans.” I guess I wouldn’t mind lying about that, because it’s not about whether you’re bad or good at your assigned gender role. I might even make up a book club or something. If I wanted an extended break, I might make up a 3-month night class. Or a string of imaginary boyfriends whom you won’t bring to potluck night because you don’t like to mix your personal life with work.

    Also, if it were me, I’d start looking for another job as soon as possible. Mark my words, this is the tip of the controlling, judgmental iceberg. That place is dysfunctional and a dysfunctional workplace can and will sear your soul. During the time you have to work there, try to give these people as little info about yourself as possible, and give them even less heart and mind share. Ask a billion questions and they won’t notice that they don’t know anything about you. They’ll think you’re the greatest.

  104. Jennifer Storm said:

    I am an attorney which means I have often been the only employee without a stay at home wife. My go to response to exactly this situation is to lean in as if to share a secret and say, “I actually went to law school because I am a terrible cook.”. Usually I get a laugh and they get the message.

  105. Ssl said:

    I would flat out ask the nosy ones… Did YOU make a dish or did you get someone to make it for you? When they sputter that their spouse made it, you can point out that you also had someone else make yours for you and to assume you should do differently just because you are a woman is a slope that they really don’t want to go down.

  106. S.H. said:

    I don’t know that I’d actually do this, but sometimes I would want to respond with the same sense of entitlement as some of these men.

    “Really? What do you think I should bring? No, really, I want your opinion. Do you have the recipe for that? Oh, well, then can you email/fax/mail it to me later? Just bring it to work and leave it on my desk. You know what, I’m actually not great at baking/frying/whatever, so maybe you could make some on my behalf and present it to the potluck as my dish? Since you’re the one who’s really invested in me having a homemade dish at this party, can you just do all the physical, mental, and emotional work to make sure that happens? I think that’ll be the most convenient thing for everybody.”

  107. Kastrel said:

    Wow, that is weird and sucky. I know a lot of people where I work actively prefer shop-bought to homemade at these things because at least then you are getting something a) edible b) tasty c) not made in a potentially unhygienic kitchen d) clearly labelled for allergens.

  108. Janet said:

    Years ago I was whining about not having time to make something for a potluck; my husband said ‘well duh, buy something’. It had never occurred to me. I took my own casserole dish to the grocery store and had it filled with German potato salad and then microwaved it to heat it at the site. Everyone raved about it and I only had to admit that it was purchased when my department head kept demanding the recipe.

    It is sort of crass to plop a deli container on the table, but putting the potato salad or three bean salad or pulled pork or whatever into your own dish may reduce the comments. A frozen container of pulled pork, heated up and put in your dish is not going to be obviously store bought food. You can buy a frozen lasagne designed for a family and put it frozen into your own dish and bake it and then heat it up on site and no one is going to know.

    I usually brought a bucket of KFC to the big potlucks in our department because staff would bring kind of awful salads and desserts and there were never enough of the main course. It was the first thing to be grabbed up at every potluck. My other professional peers would tend to bring a ham, a roast chicken (if they cooked) or other substantial offerings as well.

  109. Cat said:

    Huh, it seems I’m the only person who had an immediate reaction of ‘it is fairly rude to bring store-bought items to a potluck, though’ (though I think if they are very very fancy then it’s much less rude)–but there’s also the matter of how very strange the whole ‘every two weeks’ and ‘mandatory’ things are. These don’t seem at all like how normal potlucks function at all. I would second other advice to find a mentor or someone at the company who can explain how this weird situation came to be.

    • Kacienna said:

      I don’t see where the rudeness comes in. I think it’s frustrating if one organizes a potluck for fun with friends and people accept and then everyone brings either a cheese plate or a fruit tray, but I don’t think it’s rude, likely just unfortunate timing where everyone got unexpectedly busy. But for mandatory work socializing, whatever you have to do to get by (as long as it doesn’t hurt people of course; no poisoning the cookies!)

      • Cat said:

        I’d agree that work potlucks are a bit different, but unless it’s at a special potluck with the specified rules that bought dishes were okay or there were extenuating circumstances I’d find someone bringing a bought dish to a potluck to be very rude. It’s kind of like, I dunno, buying a single dollar-store pencil for a secret santa–it’s trying to take advantage of something nice and communal without being a real part of it.

        • Kacienna said:

          I guess it’s one of those things that depends on your local culture. In my circles, homemade and store-bought are both understood as fine. I think our equivalent to a single dollar store pencil would be something like bringing the half jar of pickles you had left in the fridge 🙂 (On the other hand, bringing the half box of fancy chocolates you have left would be entirely welcome!)

          • Cat said:

            Yeah, and there’s definitely contextual exceptions–people who have just had a baby, are known to be horrific cooks, need super specific dietary needs, etc can definitely buy something, though usually there’s an understanding that it has to be fancier/nicer to make up for the lack of work done in making it. (Though potluck dishes don’t have to be super complicated or anything–homemade coleslaw from a bag mix and an interesting salad dressing is usually a hit, as is hacked box cake and slow-cooker meals.)

          • Store-bought being acceptable for potlucks is also my experience, I don’t think the rules for ‘normal’ potlucks are universal.

          • Cat said:

            gracelessglobetrotting–they certainly don’t seem to be! It just stood out to me as very strange that everyone in the entire comment section was in agreement that it wasn’t rude at all, and now I’m sort of wondering why it is.

        • monologue said:

          What if the value was right though? Like if secret santa spending cap was $x and you made something worth $x or bought something worth $x that would be fine right? I think similarly about potlucks. Sure, dont just bring a bag of potato chips, but if you go to a nice grocery or deli and get nice cheese or a premade salad or casserole, the value is the same as a homemade one.

          • Cat said:

            I mean sure, making things can be fine (though with lower caps it can be hard to keep the value of a made thing to actually be within the cap and going over the cap is very rude–and some types of made things are more likely to not be a hit at all and so would be unwise to make). And I think it would be highly context-dependent–it’s not just that potlucks are about eating nice food, it’s that by skipping all the labor and the thought and the work put into it, you are doing substantially less than the people who cook, especially people who make more complicated dishes. I’m not saying it’s impossible for it to be fine, but that it would have to be a REALLY well-liked or rare or good cheese, or the potato salad that everyone adores, or something similar.

          • Kimberly Israel said:

            Ah, I think that’s where the cultural differences come in!  My potlucks are definitely all about eating nice food!  When I organize one, it’s basically because I feel like making about two tasty things, but I don’t feel like making a whole meal, so I invite people over to share and ask them to bring something in addition so that there’s enough stuff to make an actual meal.

    • A colleague/friend of mine invited a bunch of us to her wedding tonight, and she said it was going to be potluck. Remembering this discussion, I asked if it was okay for me to bring store-bought, and joked that nobody wanted to eat my cooking. (They know why I’m too busy to spend a lot of time cooking.) (But really, nobody would want my cooking.) Colleague/friend laughed and said that would be fine. A lot of people will be coming in from out of town and hitting the grocery store before they arrive.

      • Cat said:

        And that’s their wedding, so they get to set the rules. (I hope it’s really great for them!)

  110. Proffie Galore said:

    LW, I’m with you on the obliviousness of regularly scheduled, all-but-mandatory “social” events after normal work hours. I could rant (and have done) for hours. There are SO many reasons this reeks of the privilege of having abundant health, no caregiving responsibilities, and no addiction recovery issues.

    It also adds to one’s work hours without compensation while adding to one’s costs in the way of food contributions and, in your case, taxi or Lyft arrangements.

    Fuck all of it.

  111. bopper said:

    Buy your food, put it into your own tupperware so it looks as if you cooked it.

  112. “But it’s our tradiiiiiiiiition!” Ohhhh dear. This is so familiar. I also have ‘invisible’ health problems in a community where potluck is religion and have seen possibly every coercive behavior relating to one’s culinary labor over what I have come to think of as the SPECIMEN. There is a surprisingly wide range of emotional tactics and approaches involved in enforcing the home-cooking of the SPECIMEN, ranging from backhanded compliments, passive-aggressive hints, open disappointment, disapproval, general and personalised lecturing, outright hostility with flying spittle and, weirdest, autopsying of the SPECIMEN. I accept that this is how many community members express their devotion to the community and how we should connect and strengthen our ties, up to and including the point of martyrdom. I get it, I do. But indulge me by letting me share what I have learned about issues surrounding management of this SPECIMEN: Firstly, you are unlikely ever to change their attitudes, nor is it your mission to jeopardise your position in the community (employability!) to do so unless you want to take on that mission (pick. your. battles. are three great words, aren’t they?); you can’t advance the wellness tactic (shame! It’s otherwise an excellent riposte to the Quiche Snub) without outing your disability status; this leaves you with subterfuge as your only move, and one that actually enhances your integrity. All of the ideas ^above about faking your domestic goddess-ship are valid. I think I’ve tried ’em all. Pick one and never look back!

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