Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Wedding Food Question

First things first: let’s not jump to any conclusions.  No one is getting married around here, especially not me.  There have been no proposals, no rings, no bent knees, no “Will you marry me?”s.  The topic of this post is a hypothetical proposition, not a real one.

The situation is this: say that you are a dedicated vegetarian.  You like being vegetarian for lots of reasons, but you happen to be in love with a nonvegetarian, one who is very enthusiastic about eating meat.  Most of the time, the two of you figure out how to feed yourselves without too much hassle.  You cook mostly vegetarian meals together to please the nonmeating person, and when you go out to eat, the carnivore (I say that lovingly) is free to order hunks of meat.  The two of you have managed to establish an unspoken agreement that you don’t harass each other about your eating preferences: no tofu jokes from him, no snide remarks about eating cows from you.  In fact, he seems to enjoy the vegetarian meals the two of you eat together, so really, you don’t feel bad about abstaining from meaty, homecooked meals with him.

The two of you are really quite mature about the whole thing, and you are kind to each other, so there’s no tension over the food issue.  But let’s say that you decide to get married.  You decide to have a more-or-less traditional wedding celebration, with a big reception where you feed 200 of your closest family and friends.  Being sane, rational people, you decide to let someone else do the cooking for this reception, but you have to decide what to serve your guests.  Let’s say, for this hypothetical scenario, that your caterer can and will cook anything you like, and it will be delicious.  The quality of the food will be amazing, and the price is not an issue.  For the purposes of this question, you can serve your guests anything you want, and the only real issue is what to put on their plates.

What do you select for your wedding menu?  As a vegetarian, do you feed your guests meat, or do you insist on an all-vegetarian menu?

I find this question endlessly fascinating, because it speaks to the tangled issues of the personal versus the political.  Of course, the hypothetical people I’m thinking about are me, the vegetarian, and Matt, the happy carnivore.  Like I said, no one is getting married, so there is no real-life dilemma to solve.  But when I think about my own (hypothetical) wedding, I love the idea of an all-vegetarian menu.  Of course I do!  Why wouldn’t I?  It would be ridiculous for me to host a wedding reception that included food that I couldn’t eat.  Serving meat at my own wedding would force me to say to myself, Wow, even at my own wedding I feel excluded.  My own wedding makes me feel like an outsider because of my freakish food preferences.

And yet.  There’s the groom, who might feel a sense of disappointment if we didn’t include an entree that satisfied his craving for something meaty and celebratory.  There is my father, who is a traditional, German-Irish meat-and-potatoes man.  There are any number of older family members who might be confused by the lack of meat—confused and unhappy by the way I have forced them to eat what I like to eat.  They might even refuse to eat most of the menu options, because old people can be stubborn that way.

So what do you do?  Do you stake your claim to a vegetarian event, or do you compromise for the sake of marital harmony?

I know what my answer would be, but first I have to say this: I know that for many cultures around the world, slaughtering animals is a custom that precedes the celebration.  To kill a cow or a pig is a happy sign that there is something joyful to be observed, and part of the celebration is eating something rich and flavorful: meat.  For many of these cultures, eating meat was (and is?) a rare event, which is part of why it is so closely associated with celebration.  I don’t think I hold it against these people that meat is part of their event.  But for my happy event, ideally there is no animal slaughter.  There are no cows or pigs that lose their lives for my celebration.  I feel sad to think of my “special day” as the cause of their death.

Despite my sadness, I think I would let my groom and my meat-and-potatoes father have their meat.  I would compromise on that one element of the menu, letting my guests have a meat course if they chose to partake in it.  I would do it because I’d rather give and receive love, with a few sacrifices, than be alone and righteously abstaining from meat.  I would do it for a person who has made me happier than I could ever imagine, even if he’s making me laugh while carving a steak across the table from me.

I would insist that the meat came from animals that were raised humanely and treated with respect.  I would hope that we could source the meat from someone who loves and respects his animals, even if it seems contradictory that one could love animals and still raise them to become food.  I would also insist that everything on the wedding reception menu that isn’t a hunk of meat is something that fits my vegetarian standards: no lard, no animal-based stocks, no gelatin.  And I would make it known to my groom that this compromise is something that I am doing for him and for us, not because I want to establish myself as a martyr, but because I want him to recognize and respect the significance of such a decision.  I’m not a pushover, but I want both of us to be happy.

And then I’d announce that I plan to raise all our children as vegetarians.

Dear readers, what would you do, as either the vegetarian or the carnivore, in a “mixed-food” couple?  What issues would be or were most relevant to you when planning a meal for a large group of people?  And for my vegetarian readers, how important are your partner(s)’s food choices?  Do you try to influence what they eat?  Would you or are you dating a nonvegetarian or nonvegan?


Jess said...

Hi there! We had a morning wedding and served brunch: omelettes, french toast, salads, fruit, cheeses, salmon. I don't think anyone missed the meat. Hope you're having a lovely holiday weekend.

Rosiecat said...

Jess, that sounds lovely! You really are a morning person: baking, exchanging vows, feasting in celebration...

Now fish is a totally different story. I hadn't thought of salmon when I was thinking about my hypothetical wedding menu, mostly because I never ate much fish before I became vegetarian. I imagine that my hypothetical groom would eat fish, but I don't know about my father...maybe!

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

I love this post! It's a little easier for me, since my partner is also a vegetarian. We are mostly vegan but for our wedding, I think we'll have a vegetarian feast. I would allow local, happy cheese and dairy and probably some kind of egg dishes, but no meat. I think a wedding is a celebration of two people and that they're sharing their love with the world on that one day, and being a vegetarian is a huge part of my world! Granted, my father would probably sneak a hamburger into the reception and I would probably let him. But for food I was presenting, paying for and watching people eat in my honor? Vegetarian, please!

Rosiecat said...

Chrissy, your wedding menu is EXACTLY what I would like to do, if left to my own devices. I always wondered if I would ever date a vegetarian guy, and if we'd opt for a vegetarian wedding. I don't LOVE that Matt is a meat-eater and probably always will be, but at the same time, I think our different eating habits are a source of good conversation and experimentation. And besides: when it comes to love, there are only so many things you can choose because every person is a package deal.


Raquelita said...

Hi there! I came over to your blog from Chrissy's. I guess I should preface my remarks by saying that I currently eat some meat (humanely raised and local) but that I was a vegetarian for years and a vegan for a while. I have lived in countries where there is almost no understanding of vegetarianism and where many consider a chicken dish to be "vegetarian." I married a meat eater who despises legumes and doesn't like a lot of fruits and vegetables. I'd rather not make a separate meal every night so we have compromised. I eat the occasional piece of chicken or fish or a meatball here and there and he eats chickpeas and picks out the vegetables he doesn't like from dishes.

When we got married this was a dilemma for me when we started planning, but ultimately, my feelings are that a wedding isn't just about the two people getting married, especially if non-vegetarian relatives are paying for part of the ceremony and/or reception (my husband's parents paid for a large chunk of our reception). It's about their comfort as well. Knowing that my husband, most of our family members, and many of our guests were not vegetarians but that some were, we had options for both.

Incidentally, this has been the topic of a lot of discussion on wedding forums on sites like Off Beat Bride and The Knot. The etiquette really isn't clear, but most people expect a meat option when they attend a wedding in the states.

Chrissy (The New Me) said...

Great points, Raquelita! While I don't want my guests to feel uncomfortable at my wedding, I don't want to feel uncomfortable either! You make a good point about who is helping to pay for the ceremony - in that case, I would try to pay for the food myself. :) If I did decide to offer any meat, then I would do my best to find local, organic, humanely raised meat.

On the other hand, I wouldn't tell my guests that it was going to be a vegetarian wedding (if that's what I decided to do). Hopefully the food would be so delicious they wouldn't even notice the lack of meat. (Hey, a girl can dream!) :)

Rosiecat said...

Oh my gosh, it is so embarrassing that I have taken weeks to respond to the latest comments. I'm sorry! But here we go:

Raquelita, thanks for coming over and saying hello! I can definitely appreciate your feelings on not cooking separate meals when you and your husband are eating together. I feel like there is something special and lovely about a shared meal where people are enjoying the same food. For that reason, I'm very grateful that Matt is willing to eat mostly vegetarian meals when we cook together.

I agree with your thoughts that a meat option is expected at American weddings. It's traditional of course ("beef or chicken?"). But maybe it's that traditional aspect of it that I dislike. I don't feel compelled to honor many traditions, and certainly traditions that involve food are low on my list of traditions to uphold. Though "traditional" foods like fermented foods and grass-fed animal products--those traditions I can get behind!

Chrissy, thanks for your follow-up comment! Clearly you are more on the ball than I am with this blogging thing :-) I think ultimately, my dream menu would have one meat, one vegetarian, and one vegan option for the main course. Then everything else on the menu would be vegetarian. That's a menu plan I can get behind.

Thanks for all the great comments, everyone! What a fun topic.

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