My sister, Rachel (42F) and her husband, Frank (43M) decided to go on a couple's retreat for their anniversary over the summer. Rachel is my only sibling and her son, Bennett (15M) is my only nephew. Because we live on opposite sides of the country, I only get to see them in person once every couple of years.
Since I (36M) had recently moved to a beach town, Rachel and Frank suggested that Bennett could come for a visit. I was excited by the idea and told Rachel to send me an email with everything I needed to know. The email contained the name and contact number of the couple's retreat and the flight information, as well as recipes for several vegan dishes.
Rachel and Frank are very into veganism and new age spirituality. Not my cup of tea, but no judgment. Though I usually eat a high protein diet, I resigned myself to cooking vegan meals for the week that Bennett stayed with me. His flight landed late in the evening, after which we watched a movie and ate some popcorn before going to bed.
The next day, I took Bennett to the grocery store to get some snacks and give me more ideas for things to make. He asked what I would normally cook for guests. I told him I enjoyed grilling and would usually make burgers, pork chops, steak, and seafood. Bennett said all of that sounded "great" and told me "not to go to any trouble on [his] account."
I was surprised and told him I thought he was vegan. He said his parents were vegan and that he eats whatever they put in front of him. However, Bennett claimed he didn't "care about any of that stuff" and would be happy to "eat what I eat." Rachel's email never said Bennett had to eat vegan food, so I loaded up the shopping cart with various meats to grill. Bennett also threw in a couple tubs of ice cream.
I had a great time with Bennett and was sad to see him go. Rachel told me later that the visit was the highlight of his summer. Everything seemed well until a few days ago, when I posted some pictures from Bennett's visit on my Facebook page - one of which showed Bennett tearing into a pile of steamed shrimp.
Rachel called a few hours later and angrily accused me of trying to "undermine [their] values." I told her she never said that Bennett had to keep a vegan diet and said she needed to discuss this with him.
She said I should have known better and asked if I would serve pork to a kid from a Jewish or Muslim family. I told her that veganism isn't a religion and she should have made her expectations clear. AITA?
OP responded to some comments:
NTA for giving him meat, A%#ole for accidentally (I'm hoping) ratting him out on facebook. I mean you had to know that the photo wasn't going to go well.
Several posters have said this and I feel the need to push back a little. Of course I didn't intend to cause Bennett any grief with his parents, but nor did he give me any reason to think that his parents might disapprove. My sister and her husband ascribe to a sort of "free range" parenting style and have always touted how they are raising their son to be an autonomous freethinker.
Bennett was completely nonchalant about eating meat and dairy during his visit with me - never once did he even suggest that we should keep his eating habits a secret.
If he had, that would have tipped me off to the fact that his parents didn't approve and we would have stuck to the vegan diet. I just figured his relationship with meat was like my relationship with Chinese food growing up.
My parents hate Chinese food, so we never ordered Chinese takeout or went to any Chinese restaurants. However, my parents wouldn't have cared if I bought Chinese food for myself or went to a Chinese restaurant with friends.
Though Rachel and her husband are vegans, I didn't think they were mandating that lifestyle for Bennett. Hence why I didn't think we needed to hide what Bennett ate while he was with me.
My only worry is that you messed up a good thing. I almost feel like this is fake or you've never met a vegan because their moral superiority is usually on full display /s. There's a reason there's the joke: 'How do you know someone is a vegan? Don't worry; they'll tell you.'
I'm sure Bennett was living the high life, eating real foods and loving trying all sorts of meat instead of meat substitutes, and getting to have real ice cream—probably heaven on earth. My only concern is that they might not trust you in the future to stick to their dietary preferences. I have a feeling they're all for their kids being free thinkers, as long as they have the 'right' thoughts, aka everything they believe.
Many vegans follow the diet because they see it as a moral thing, not just real dietary restrictions. I can understand how they might feel like you did something wrong by having animals killed, especially shrimp—a notoriously intelligent animal with a sense of pain—for their child to selfishly consume its flesh. Eating meat is something they might see as akin to (insert evil, cruel, inhumane thing here).
But I have a feeling Bennett was probably enjoying the hell out of the break from veganism. I would just say that he has free will and can choose what to eat, embodying the free thinker they want their son to grow into as an adult. I know people will use the example of Muslim or some other BS, but veganism is a choice for most.
In my personal experience, my Muslim friends had the best 'beef ribs' of their life and just said they didn't want to know because if they didn't know, then it wasn't haram. I picked up what they were putting down and smoked up the most tasty 'beef ribs' on earth.
Apart from my sister and brother-in-law, the only vegan I've ever really known was this Indian guy in college. He was Hindu, and although veganism isn't mandated in Hinduism, I thought maybe he adopted that diet as a sort of religious "extra" ... like how some Catholics still don't eat meat on Fridays. So yeah, that's my experience with veganism.
I think you're 100% correct about the hypocrisy of raising a freethinker and then being upset when he/she doesn't agree with you. Right on.
I hope I didn't mess up a good thing for Bennett and that he'll be allowed to visit again. But either way, he'll be 18 in 2.5 years and then it will cease to matter.
The only thing I would have done is asked him if he ever eats meat at home. And only because if he never does, he could have gotten sick because his body isn’t used to it. It’s supposed to be introduced in small amounts. Then if he had said no you could look up how much to introduce at a time.
Other than that your logic is actually very sound. She didn’t specify he couldn’t have it. And considering her parenting choices, it actually makes perfect sense which completely takes you out of the a%#hole territory!
Several comments have mentioned that Bennett could have gotten sick by eating a lot of meat in a short period of time - that's something that I, as a non-vegan, didn't know! However, Bennett ate more than I did and was totally fine. Which tells me that he regularly sneaks prohibited items when he's alone or with friends.
What do you think? Was OP right to