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?