It is almost ticklish to read in the Sunday Times, " ... the most political decision of Ms Clinton's wedding was not whether to invite James Carville. By choosing to have meat, she reignited a sensitive wedding-season debate among ethical eaters and the people who love them: To serve, or not to serve?" (NYT/Douglas Quenqua/At Vegans' Wedding, Beef or Tofu.)
Oh, the pot of thoughts is simmering over when it comes to the balancing act of food choices, ethical eating (will someone please define that for me), and the role of imposing personal food preferences on others. For starters, let's talk about the Clinton wedding. Is a vegan or vegetarian bride within her tactful rights to impose her eating restrictions on all her guests? According to our two top Great Performances Bridal Event Managers, our vegan/veggie brides rarely restrict the choices of their guests. Rather, they offer the meal they would eat AND the meal most of their guests might choose to enjoy. "Most brides/grooms are very sensitive to pleasing their guests," (thank you Porfi and Stella!). Very open-minded and considerate I would say, quite the opposite of needing to make a political food statement.
Interesting to think about personal choices of an individual being imposed on a group. (It could apply to dress, diet, entertainment, or politics but for the moment, lets stick with just food -- otherwise, those Taliban images dominate my imagination.) I think about kosher eaters and believe that they are happy to eat in a homogeneous environment. I am not knowledgeable about halal diners, but imagine they are no different. And guests attending a Jewish religious celebration, such as an orthodox wedding, do not expect to be offered a choice between kosher and non-kosher. So why is it that vegetarians are frowned upon for imposing their preferences on others? Do restrictive eaters have the right to impose their dietary choices on others across the board or is the elimination of animals as an option somehow different?
Ten months ago I decided I would stop eating animals (meat and poultry) as a way of expressing my outrage at the factory farming of animals. For the moment, I still eat most fish, though I actually think it is a less sustainable choice than humanely raised land animals. Okay, good for me - but how about the fact that I own a catering business that prepares hundreds, sometimes thousands of meat meals a week. Should I refuse to cook and serve meat anymore? At what point does my personal food belief system guide my role as a business owner/caterer? My philosophy - eat and let eat - allows for personal choices. I do not want to lecture my clients, it would surely be bad for business, but it is also not my way of proposing change.
For example, I have chosen not to eat asparagus out of season. Never mind that I order bananas year round for my household, that is an acceptable difference I have negotiated for myself. It is just something about those asparagus that drives me nuts, especially when I see them on menus in January and February. (Have we no more self-discipline or respect for seasonality. Do we need access to everything all the time?) So I tell myself that our job is to educate our customers -- "Yes, you can have asparagus, but have you considered celeriac/butternut squash/potatoes/turnips/carrots (what wonderful medley of roasted root veggies) whose flavors are deep and authentic?
While thinking about Chelsea Clinton, ethical eating, and restrictive choices imposed within a group, my thoughts turn to dining with my own family, with whom I am currently on vacation on Martha's Vineyard, land of shellfish. For years, whenever we traveled to New England (featuring lobster, chowder, oysters, clams and more) I declined partaking in the region's culinary bounty out of a sense of respect for the family's practice of no shellfish or pork. But if I slipped away on my own, I gorged on delectable lobster rolls and piping hot bowls of chowder! And in my professional career, I never professed any restrictions on what I would be willing to serve my clients. It's just another page in the convoluted conversation about dietary choices and personal preferences.
Ethical eating is a slippery slope -- as there is always a more pure level to reach for. It incorporates the debate between locally grown food v organically grown from near and far; vegan v vegetarian; vegetarian v pescatarian; and I suppose it won't be long before humanely raised livestock has categories of good and better as well. What about controversial government sanctioned labeling for organic or free range?
Having said this, there is a base level of behavior that defines what is ethical, which for me speaks to the treatment of the livestock we raise for food. But defining what is ethical eating doesn't stop with our personal choices of what to eat. It should incorporate the reality that millions of our planets co-inhabitants could not imagine the seriousness with which we make food choices, as they have little choice and less to eat. Does eating ethically address feeding the hungry? Does it create guidelines for sharing our obscenely rich bounty? As my grandmother Nelly would have said: 'Vegan, Schmegan. Eat."
We should be content with our personal choices of what to put on our own plates and not impose our beliefs on others. A global buffet should offer a place for everyone -- vegan, kosher, halal, vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, humanely raised, soy-free, nut-free, organic, sustainably fished but most importantly, there should be a place for everyone at the table.