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Worldwide Ace » Through the Looking Glass

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Through the Looking Glass

17 October, 2009 (10:08) | Social Commentary

Peppers
Assorted peppers and fairytale eggplant from Crescent Moon Farm.
Taken from Figs with Bri.

Hearing a Jew take Jesus’s name in vain doesn’t quite have the same gravity as when a Christian does it. There’s the immediate shock factor that the biggest name drop in the Western world just happened, but when I figure out the offending party is a fellow member of the twelve (or thirteen, if you’re superstitious) tribes, the surprise dissipates and I return to my dissection of the argument, assuming there is one.

Today, my good friend Em is getting married. Her wedding, having been slated for October for several months now, was fully into the planning stages by the middle of summer, including getting the gear, picking the guests, and, perhaps most controversial of the tasks, choosing a menu. A few years ago, Em continued her downward spiral into moral righteousness by becoming an ethical vegetarian.

I’ve never been much of one for ethical vegetarianism. I have no problem with vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, or any other flavor of dietary morass one chooses to affiliate with. In fact, I wholly laud the immense number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the Boulder area, something often taken for granted by the residents who live there. My issue with ethical vegetarians is the first word in the compound: ethical. The implication, much like the pro-life camp, is that those of us who choose to remain omnivorous are unethical by definition.

The saving grace of ethical vegetarians is their lack of militant tactics. They remind you of the wholesale slaughter of life with wit and humor, making it hard to be angry that they’re trying to change you. They encourage you to try food without meat and remind you of good implications for one’s health if you choose to participate or even just cut back on meat one meal a week. And, perhaps most importantly, they usually respect your choices even if they disagree with them, an outright friendly tactic. It doesn’t hurt that we, the proud omnivores of the world, outnumber ethical vegetarians by the dozens.

A few months ago, Emily wrote to me in a fit of aggravation. Her father, who would be peppering the audience with friends and coworkers, wanted to serve the finest foods at the reception; more specifically, he wanted to serve Fillet Mignon, perhaps the finest cut of steak known to man. Emily’s desire for a vegetarian wedding directly conflicted with what her father perceived as the best reception he could host. Emily’s aggravation wasn’t simply due to the wishes of father, but also because even she realized there was no right or wrong answer. Weddings are serious business to the bride and groom, to the families, and even to the guests. It’s impossible to please everyone, and Emily was adamant on a vegetarian wedding.

“Jesus Christ, Emily, this is a huge imposition on people,” her father told her when she voiced her bridal demands.

“It’s also an imposition on the animals when they die,” she snapped back, the gravity of the situation evident then lost in a fit of laughter. While the absurdity of her statement effectively broke the tension, ending the argument for the moment, it was clear to her that she needed to make a concise and well reasoned plea for a vegetarian wedding before she could bitterly consign herself to a meated reception.

“I’ve compromised on most issues so far, but this one is really important to me,” she wrote me. “I don’t want to have to feel guilty or bad about my wedding. And I know it seems like a really extreme thing to ask of guests, but I would say several things:

  1. I’ve been to weddings where the food wasn’t my first choice, and I survived.
  2. Last I checked, eating one vegetarian meal isn’t a traumatic experience.
  3. It would be gourmet cuisine… not tofu and sprouts.
  4. I know the argument is ‘live and let live’ (i.e. let people make their own choice about what to eat), but in this case I’m choosing/paying for the food so I’m responsible for the animals that suffer. Also, eating meat isn’t very ‘live and let live’ for the animals.
  5. I’m fully willing to publicly accept responsibility for the food….so my parents can blame me and not worry about their friends judging them.”

As a man who fully believes that a wedding is the bride’s day, despite my aloofness for the ethical vegetarian way, I sided with Emily. After all, omnivore is derived from the Latin root “omni” meaning all, implying that there’s nothing anti-omnivore about vegetarian fare. Therefore, if it please the bride and doesn’t harm the guests, that is the decision to be made. Plus, coming from Boulder, land of the myriad vegetarian options, I’m well aware of the decadence possible in meatless meals. After all, I’ve spent months at a time eating solely vegetarian fare—not for ethical or moral reasons, however—and nearly half a decade eschewing red meat, coming out no less a man for it (though I’m sure I have friends who might argue otherwise).

SIDE NOTE: There’s definitely a strange dynamic between omnivores and vegetarians. After all, you can often get vegetarian options at restaurants that serve meat, but you can rarely get carnivorous options at vegan or vegetarian places of business. It’s a somewhat facetious argument when the ethical implications of the meat industry extend to the creation, purchase, and distribution on every level, but is it so hard to put an option on the menu and tell customers you’re all out for the day so they can save face so hard?

After a concise back and forth in which Emily and I discussed attempting meat eating at a Brazilian steakhouse, the issues relating to meat that upset her, and the militant, yet silly, maneuver of  serving a vegetarian meal while announcing that big macs were available on the guests’ own time, Emily took the fight to her father. And she won.

“As always, you are intelligent, logical, and eloquent,” he said. “And you have persuaded me! I concede! Honestly, and without anger!

“Let’s see what they can do. We’ll talk with mom and Tasha and the hotel, and come up with something nice!”

“Ben, this is unprecedented,” she told me. “I’m absolutely glowing.

“I told him our bovine friends thank him,” she finished with a chuckle.

Today, Emily marries Mark at their vegetarian wedding and I’m elated that this day will be a victory for her in more ways than simply marriage to a good man. When the guests sit down and bite into their succulent portabellos and aubergines, they’ll be supporting Emily’s choice without ever realizing it. A small part of me hopes that I’ll be able to taste Emily’s victory as well, but this is her day to shine. And though I know her joy at winning an argument for vegetarianism will take a backseat to her matrimonial bliss, I can only hope that she can taste every last delicious morsel of victory today.

For Emily and Mark on their wedding day,
a marriage consummated with or without meat.

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  • dixie

    I think it’s awesome that she could convince her father eloquently and with good logic. I am by no means a veg, but if it’s important to her, it’s HER wedding, and the guests can suck it up (and hopefully nom on free booze, instead). I agree with you 100% on this issue – I refuse to think I’m unethical just because I eat meat. And am pro-choice. Etc. It makes an interesting argument, though, about when and were ethical boundaries are drawn.

  • Cynthe

    Congrats! to your friend Emily on all counts. Vegetarian wedding receptions can be delectable, filling, and memorable. Bri's (of FigsWithBri) and my son, Marc's, homemade (by family & friends) pot-luck reception for 100+ guests definitely was! The food aromas wafting from the kitchen smelled SO delicious, the community center staff kept hovering round asking about this dish and that one.

    The most controversial aspect of Marc & Bri's reception was, it was alcohol-free. She had a bit of a go over THAT topic with her family. All guests, even those who expect alcohol at all gatherings, survived and had a good time. A side benefit was another compliment from the facility staff who said it was the most pleasant reception they had ever seen. AND were so impressed, they volunteered to help us clean up the huge commercial kitchen facilities even though the contract expressly said that was “our” responsibility, not theirs.

  • Hulse

    To an “ethical vegetarian”, an omnivore should not be considered unethical. If the meat-eaters believe, for whatever reason, that it is right to do as they are doing, you can't simply label them as anti-your-perspective. Ethics isn't supposed to be relative. Oh man I have so much to say on this topic after reading Peter Singer's “Practical Ethics”. Highly recommended read.

  • AceHarmon

    Congrats on what sounds like an excellent wedding for the two of them (and all involved)!

    Having a wedding without alcohol can seem daunting, but I think it's a generally good idea. I went to a friend's wedding a few years ago where the drunk best man, who happened to be in his navy dress whites, decided it would be fun to cut the cake with his sabre. He was blissfully unaware of the cardboard circle demarcating the tiers and promptly crushed the cake into submission. If there were a better argument for eschewing alcohol at a wedding, I can't think of one.

  • AceHarmon

    I agree that they shouldn't, but the vocal minority of them certainly act that way.

    I'll definitely look into Practical Ethics, but I've got to finish Sirens of Titan and As She Climbed Across the Table first, especially if I'm going to be ready for book club when I get back.

  • Emily

    Ben – I'm so glad Jenny called my attention to this livejournal entry since I'm not on here anymore. I really appreciate your support in the way that matters – not that you agree with vegetarianism, but that you support my decision for the wedding.

    As for the “ethical” vegetarian issue: so this one is hard for me. On the one hand, I try not to give off an attitude of self-righteousness. But take something that you truly believe is unquestionably cruel. Let's pretend you encounter an individual who believes it's okay to kill and eat dogs. (Put legality issues aside for now). Wouldn't you a) judge their decision as cruel, and b) try to convince them to stop, rather than respecting it as an equally valid decision? I realize public opinion at this time is not on my side, but I think it's illuminating when we use an example that almost everyone agrees is morally reprehensible. And pigs are smarter than dogs.

    For this reason, I've always been okay with people trying to convince me to their views. I don't mind when Christians proselytize. If they think I'm going to hell for eternity if I don't accept Christ, frankly I'd wonder what kind of friend they were if they *didn't.*

    But anyway, I want to tell you this brought tears to my eyes. It means so much to me that you were part of the joy we felt that day.

    Emily

  • AceHarmon

    I'm sure your wedding can't ever be as meaningful to me as it is to you, but it truly was wonderful being there. It was wonderful getting to see everyone and being able to share such a lovely and beautiful moment. My only regret is that it went by so quickly. I though about sending you a link to this post, as I promised it to you back in April, but I figured you'd see it eventually and I wanted to let you enjoy your honeymoon in paradise.

    There's always been a nagging feeling that our ideal of freedom is applied far too indiscriminately. On the one hand, I'd like to think that I'm tolerant and would respect people's beliefs until they truly prove to be horrific and beyond belief. Take, for instance, a cult which ritually performs human sacrifice. Those sacrificed are volunteers from the congregation. Under US law, it's illegal, but if its their choice, I can't see how I could interfere. At the same time, I feel like it's my duty to try and convince them its wrong, even though I couldn't necessarily force my views on them.

    In your scenario, I'm actually afraid I'd watch, feel upset, and say nothing, eventually extricating myself their ranks. More and more, I have difficulty understanding what gives me the right to judge others. I do it naturally and subconsciously, so the only recourse I have while I figure that out is to keep silent until I know for certain that my judgment is correct.

    The other day I was helping out at a friend's farm loading bales of hay. He told me how a lightning strike had killed two of his horses and that his father had buried them recently but he wasn't sure where. My first question was why didn't they eat them. He looked at me as if I were mad. “It's like eating a dog,” he replied indignantly. “It's just disgusting to think about. They have way too much personality.”

    I understand why that argument is made, but I've eaten dog. It's not something I go out of my way to do, but while traveling, I wanted to try everything (except balut, which is where I draw the line). In many places, cats and dogs are no better than rodents, scavenging off the people around them. And rather than let the bodies pile up, eating them is like Homer eating Pinchie (he would've wanted it that way). It's a very cold and utilitarian argument to make, I know, but there's something respectful to me about using everything available to you and not wasting.

  • Emily

    Ben – I'm so glad Jenny called my attention to this livejournal entry since I'm not on here anymore. I really appreciate your support in the way that matters – not that you agree with vegetarianism, but that you support my decision for the wedding.

    As for the “ethical” vegetarian issue: so this one is hard for me. On the one hand, I try not to give off an attitude of self-righteousness. But take something that you truly believe is unquestionably cruel. Let's pretend you encounter an individual who believes it's okay to kill and eat dogs. (Put legality issues aside for now). Wouldn't you a) judge their decision as cruel, and b) try to convince them to stop, rather than respecting it as an equally valid decision? I realize public opinion at this time is not on my side, but I think it's illuminating when we use an example that almost everyone agrees is morally reprehensible. And pigs are smarter than dogs.

    For this reason, I've always been okay with people trying to convince me to their views. I don't mind when Christians proselytize. If they think I'm going to hell for eternity if I don't accept Christ, frankly I'd wonder what kind of friend they were if they *didn't.*

    But anyway, I want to tell you this brought tears to my eyes. It means so much to me that you were part of the joy we felt that day.

    Emily

  • AceHarmon

    I'm sure your wedding can't ever be as meaningful to me as it is to you, but it truly was wonderful being there. It was wonderful getting to see everyone and being able to share such a lovely and beautiful moment. My only regret is that it went by so quickly. I though about sending you a link to this post, as I promised it to you back in April, but I figured you'd see it eventually and I wanted to let you enjoy your honeymoon in paradise.

    There's always been a nagging feeling that our ideal of freedom is applied far too indiscriminately. On the one hand, I'd like to think that I'm tolerant and would respect people's beliefs until they truly prove to be horrific and beyond belief. Take, for instance, a cult which ritually performs human sacrifice. Those sacrificed are volunteers from the congregation. Under US law, it's illegal, but if its their choice, I can't see how I could interfere. At the same time, I feel like it's my duty to try and convince them its wrong, even though I couldn't necessarily force my views on them.

    In your scenario, I'm actually afraid I'd watch, feel upset, and say nothing, eventually extricating myself their ranks. More and more, I have difficulty understanding what gives me the right to judge others. I do it naturally and subconsciously, so the only recourse I have while I figure that out is to keep silent until I know for certain that my judgment is correct.

    The other day I was helping out at a friend's farm loading bales of hay. He told me how a lightning strike had killed two of his horses and that his father had buried them recently but he wasn't sure where. My first question was why didn't they eat them. He looked at me as if I were mad. “It's like eating a dog,” he replied indignantly. “It's just disgusting to think about. They have way too much personality.”

    I understand why that argument is made, but I've eaten dog. It's not something I go out of my way to do, but while traveling, I wanted to try everything (except balut, which is where I draw the line). In many places, cats and dogs are no better than rodents, scavenging off the people around them. And rather than let the bodies pile up, eating them is like Homer eating Pinchie (he would've wanted it that way). It's a very cold and utilitarian argument to make, I know, but there's something respectful to me about using everything available to you and not wasting.