(that is the question.) (duh.)
I don’t know about you guys, but I grew up in a society that says, “Unless it’s your grandma, don’t take food that is offered to you.” I don’t really know why other than it isn’t polite. I go to parties and just nibble when I’d love to shove my face full of delicious dips and home made snackies. I’m at a friends house and they ask if I’m hungry and I say no EVEN IF I’M SO HUNGRY I MAY DIE. If it is someone I don’t really know then all bets are off – I am absolutely turning down what is being offered. Thanks but no thanks!
And when I was in college taking ethics classes and professional classes we all learned – you don’t take from clients. You don’t take food. You don’t accept gifts. When you get a job your employer will tell you that you cannot accept things your clients give you. YOU JUST DON’T. You don’t. So there. It’s that easy. If a client says, “Here I made you this.” You say, “Nope” and you just walk away. I get it – professionally you can’t be accepting things from clients and you can’t be giving things to clients. I’m on board. Message received. Thanks but no thanks!
I’ve talked with some clinicians about this before and one flat out said, “I do not take food from clients. I have never taken food from clients.”
“NEVER?” I said.
“NEVER.” she replied.
At the time this seemed reasonable. We go to homes to do therapy and people want you to feel comfortable so they say, “Can I get you a coffee? Can I bring you a muffin? It’s hot out today would you like a bottle of water?” You respond accordingly, “Oh you’re so sweet but I’m okay. Thanks for offering!” (Because remember in this scenario you are a 25 year old, well educated, white girl who grew up in the burbs in the Midwest.) Generally, then the mom says, “okay” and we move on. No one is stressed by the situation. No harm. No foul.
HOWEVER. I was chatting with an admin assistant today about how frequently families try to feed me. I don’t know if I just look malnourished (I believe the bathroom scale would report otherwise) or if I have the look of a mangy raccoon. But moms really love to offer me food.
Now, I use the word offer. If someone OFFERS me food I graciously decline.
What I told the the admin asst and what I tell you now is… I encounter people who just push food upon me. There isn’t an offer. They just give it to me. And it very rarely is something like a granola bar that is pre-packaged. No. I’m talking people handing me a plate of hot rice and a fork.
What in the HELL am I supposed to do about that?
I asked the aforementioned clinician what she does when someone gives her food and she said, “I just leave it there.”
How? How do I just “leave it?” I can’t just leave a plate of hot food, untouched, sitting on the floor next to me. How insulting and rude is THAT?
The other day one of my moms literally handed me a banana and I was already out the front door leaving for my next appointment. She actually handed me TWO bananas and I was like, “No no no I don’t need a banana” and she was like, “TAKE THE BANANAS” and I was like “I DEFINITELY AM NOT TAKING TWO BANANAS.”
What do you do? Do you drop it and run? I wasn’t standing by a table where I could casually set it down and “forget” it! I WAS OUTSIDE IN THE RAIN.
What I left out, because I want to know if this impacts anyone’s opinion on how to deal with the situation, is that the moms who most frequently GIVE me food (not offer. they just hand it to me.) are my foreign moms. I work with a lot of families from India and from Mexico, as well as a variety of other South American countries. I’ve researched this (I really am trying to be ethical about accepting/declining food) and it appears that often culturally these moms may expect that you’ll say no initially…but then they expect you to take it and eat it.
I’ve even tried to outsmart them. Once I had a mom give me a smoothie because she was worried that I was thirsty and it was hot outside. So the next time I went, I brought in my own water bottle. She said to me, “Would you like a smoothie or a yogurt bar?” I said, “Oh thank you but I brought a water I’m okay.” She said,
“You’re getting one so pick one.”
OHMYGOD OKAY YOGURT BAR DEAR GOD.
In some cases I’m there during a “mid morning snack” so the whole family is eating together and clearly, it would be a little strange if I’m just sitting there staring at them.
One of the clinicians I spoke to about this was horrified that I actually eat food given to me. “But you don’t know where it came from! What if it was dirty? What if they didn’t wash their hands? What if it is expired? What if you get raging diarrhea because you are not from Mexico and your gentle tummy is not accustomed to the intense flavors?”
All valid questions. But I am not trying to insult my families. If my kiddos can eat it, then so can I. I cannot look at a woman who cooks and provides and cares for her family every day and turn down the hot food she just cooked for her children and herself and ME. What is so special about me? I feel like in this situation I would look a little high-and-mighty rejecting the food they eat every day. They’re inviting me into their homes, into their lives, into their mid-morning snacks, and they feel comfortable enough with me to allow me to be a part of their routine and their culture. I think that’s a pretty special compliment and I feel honored when it happens.
I feel like I could ATTEMPT to explain to them that we have a work related policy that we don’t accept things from clients. But I still can’t get over that culturally they are doing what is polite to them, and I’m being a total asshole by shooting them down. And it really doesn’t make a ton of sense. I get that gifts and food and THINGS in general = money. And we can’t take people’s money. And I don’t WANT to take people’s money. But I also don’t want to take their way of welcoming me into their home and their lives and throw it in their faces.
So I want to know…do other clinicians have this happen to them? And if so, how do you address it? One of the other therapists at work also works with one of these families and she also accepts the food (except in the case where she is allergic to whatever they give her.) Do you think we’re doing the right thing? And if not, do you have ideas about how to graciously decline without being sneaky or lying or looking like a jerk?
NP: It’s Gonna Snow