THE BLOG
09/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eco Etiquette: Do We Have to Serve Meat at Our Wedding?

Dear Eco Etiquette:

I'm getting married this fall, and my fiancé and I are both vegetarians. We're not only vegetarians for health reasons -- we are also opposed to eating meat for ethical and environmental ones (animal rights, reducing our carbon footprint, etc.). Here's the problem: My husband's family are big, Midwest, steak-loving types, and my mother-in-law is absolutely insisting that we have some sort of meat option on the menu. (And it doesn't help our cause that she's footing part of the bill, either.) Do we have to serve meat at our wedding?

-Carolyn

I'm a firm believer that weddings are about the two people who are joining their lives, and that they should create whatever type of celebration they darn well please. Your parents are there to celebrate you, not show off to their friends and the rest of the family, and if you and your husband-to-be are caring, concerned citizens of the planet, then they should want to embrace that part of you -- including the part about being vegetarians.

Easier said than done. I think your mother-in-law's worry (and a common concern of many non-veggies) is that without meat, people will somehow go hungry and not have a good time at your wedding. So here's what I suggest: Sit down with her and explain how important it is for you both to be true to yourselves on your big day, but that you still know how to throw a soiree in style. Vegetarian party fare doesn't have to mean seitan steak and Tofurky.

You could do a cocktail reception with passed hors d'oeuvres so fabulous that people won't even realize they're meat-free: mini gourmet pizzas, little bubbling crocks of mac and cheese, Thai fresh spring rolls, vegetable samosas, tomato and mozzarella skewers, vegetarian potstickers, falafel dipped in tahini... (alright, I'm starting to get really hungry). Want to offer a sit-down dinner instead? Arrange for an elegant Italian feast: Place beautiful platters of grilled vegetables and creamy burrata on the table, have waiters come by with plates of Tuscan white bean crostini, and serve handmade pasta for the entrée.

Once she gets the hang of the idea, let your MIL make some suggestions -- it'll help her feel included (and help assuage some of your guilt about her financial contribution). And remember: You can never please everyone at a wedding, so you may as well throw the party you want. So what if a few complaining naysayers go a wee bit hungry? Just make sure that there's plenty of booze.

Dear Eco Etiquette,

How can I be sure if something says "organic" that it is actually organic? There is the thought that there might be deceit in advertising.

-Karen

You're right to be wary of labels. It's good news that organic and green have hit the mainstream, but there are a lot of companies out there looking to profit from the sudden popularity in environmentally friendly products. The name for this kind of deceptive marketing is called greenwashing, and it's more widespread than you think: In a study earlier this year by environmental marketing agency TerraChoice, a whopping 98 percent of products labeled "green" mislead their customers about their true environmental benefits or company practices.

The labels for organic food and products, fortunately, are regulated by the federal government and other watchdog operations (like California Certified Organic Farmers), unlike other eco monikers like "natural" and "green," which can be slapped on almost any item without substantiation. According to the US Department of Agriculture's standards, food and products labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organic ingredients, which means grown or raised without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones, genetic engineering, and radiation; goods labeled "organic" must be at least 95 percent organic; and those "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70 percent organic materials.

That being said, when shopping for organic produce at local farmer's markets, you shouldn't necessarily overlook farmers who are lacking the "certified organic" label. It's a difficult and costly process for small growers to achieve that status, and many of them still cultivate their fruits and vegetables without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers while they're working to get certified.

And remember: Just because something is labeled "organic" doesn't mean it's healthy. I laughed out loud when I first saw a box of Russell Stover assorted organic chocolates at my local CVS pharmacy. (I don't mean to diminish the company's efforts, but organic corn syrup is still corn syrup!)

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.