Dig In

Hostess with the leastest.

If you’ve ever hosted dinner, you know that there can be snags. Maybe you’re short on fish filets because someone brought their super-secret-surprise significant other who nobody knew about. You graciously give up your comfy seat and end up on that one spare uncomfortable stool sans fish, now a head higher than the rest of your guests, eating in your lap. They indulge in both your filet and each other’s faces. Or, that cake stuck to the inside of the oven from a baking incident involving a too-small bread pan for that luscious batter? It burned, permeating your subsequent oven project of the night with a heavy, smoky flavor. Which wouldn’t have been unfortunate, if you hadn’t been baking chocolate chip cookies. Which you were.

All these pale in comparison, however to the horror instilled by these three words, “I’m a vegetarian.” (Substitute “vegan,” if desired. Then multiply the following reaction by about three times.)

"Vegetarian?!"

Hitchcock couldn’t begin to cover this moment

Oh no! What do you do!? Do you run out and get last-minute soy-based imitation meat? Morning Star or Boca brand? Seitan or tempeh? What’s the difference? Do you play it cool and heap extra servings of the side dish onto the vegetarian’s plate and hope they get the hint? How offended is this person by others eating meat? Are you expected to ask about their dietary choice and force smiles and nod while you are regaled with an underhanded holier-than-thou bildungsroman? You make sure to sit in the chair that faces the TV.

It can be awkward to have someone like this in your dinner party. The idea of this person might make you triple check everyone’s dietary preferences before sending out invitations. Maybe you have a friend like this and stash veggie meats in your freezer, just in case. Maybe you don’t, because one dinner with them was enough. Why does the idea or reality of eating in the company of a vegetarian make so many people uncomfortable, even in the absence of verbal controversy? 

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4 responses

  1. Hey Sam,
    Again thanks for such a thought provoking article. I don’t think that I can speak for everyone but as an omnivore with a good amount of vegetarian friends its nice to have the go-ahead to respectfully open that dialogue about their decisions and express my own. Growing up in my family if you didn’t eat something you were considered “picky” or worse yet “ungrateful” and reminded that there were starving people in (insert third world country). It didn’t matter if it was a clump of frozen peas or a slice some defenseless caged calf, you prayed to God, thanked him for such a blessing ate it and liked it. I think my attempt at being a vegetarian in 3rd grade lasted 30 seconds. It’s such a different mindset to speak out against it and it really is a revolution. Just to pose a question, do you have any idea what kind of regulation do we have for food we send to people in third world countries and do you see a future where that is regulated more stringently?
    Sincerely,
    Kristen

    • Hey Nancy,

      I’m glad you’re up for opening the dialogue! You’d be surprised how open and happy vegetarian friends are at discussing the hows and whys of their choices. Most vegetarians were omnivores too, and might still even occasionally eat meat.

      Thanks for sharing some of your background, I think a lot of people experience(d) a similar mindset in their upbringing. Food certainly is a blessing. In food’s most positive sense, it nourishes and provides the glue for bonding at mealtimes. It can be difficult to speak about dangers or larger implications of certain types of food, especially when those that are dangerous are a part of us culturally and/or religiously. I would feel awful having a conversation with my grandmom about the role of animal protein in disease and slaughtering practices over Thanksgiving dinner.

      This brings up an interesting point. Sharing information (notice I say share rather than lecture) with those who are not receptive just puts them on the defensive. Even though it’s hard, you have to know a lost cause when you see one. I’ve tried in the past, but there is no use in trying to force someone’s mind to open to new facts. This is even true in the non-profit world. It’s impossible to save everyone, and it’s impossible to get everyone interested in your cause, but it is possible to put as much information out as you can and hope that people might listen. Are many people ready to really make a lifestyle change? It really just depends on how interested the listener is in their health.

      “Just to pose a question, do you have any idea what kind of regulation do we have for food we send to people in third world countries and do you see a future where that is regulated more stringently?”

      Ah, regulation. You know all those government-funded free breakfast and lunch programs at schools? The majority of food that goes to those consists of meats and products that are taken off the shelves of supermarkets because they would have been thrown out for being past the due date. Once food or produce is picked from the ground or slaughtered, it immediately starts decomposing. You’d be surprised how rotten food actually is given how clean it can look. Point is, the government essentially gives food going bad to our own young citizens. Then they complain that our kids don’t do well in school? Not that this food is the cause of it, but it certainly is a contributing factor. Feeding our kids rotting meat (which they can’t tell because it’s cooked and mixed with flavoring) is barely better than giving them a bag of sugary candy or chips.

      I talk about the issue of the quality of the food sent to our schools to make the point that even here, in the United States, the domestic aid is not well regulated and its regulation not a high priority.

      What’s interesting is that, both in food politics and other kinds of movements like sustainability, these principles and concepts apply only after basic human rights are met. These rights include healthcare, shelter, education, and having enough food. I learned this while attending a conference on energy and sustainability at Princeton.

      If someone is starving, or doesn’t have access to clean foods, they’ll do the best they can. Hopefully though, even this can change. I would like to be a part of the movement to increase access to clean foods to needy populations (check out the Corner Store Initiative by the Food Trust, for example). In any case, these children do have access to food, which is why I feel compelled to argue for better quality. When there isn’t food, like in the developing world, I’d be hard-pressed to argue about quality when the issue of quantity is still hanging in the balance.

      As for the issue of the quality of food we send abroad, should we be sending better quality? There’s no doubt. If the quality of food is sub-par here, I can only imagine what it is that we’re sending as aid. Maybe it’s the same quality, I’m not sure. I can say this, though. If our government agencies are slapping our school cafeterias with meat and food going bad, I don’t think they’ll be up for quality control on our foreign aid food. My best guess is that the future for more stringent regulation both here and abroad is a bleak one unless there is much (much) more public interest.

      I will look into the regulation (if any) that exists and reply back, though, I’m glad you asked!

  2. For every animal they don’t eat, I’ll eat three.

    But seriously, both you and the commenter above me raise some good points. However, to even begin to care what processes/chemicals go into the food we intake, first we’d have to conquer more macro principals such as – STOP EATING FATTY CAKES. The obesity epidemic is so ridiculous and I believe far outweighs (pun. get it?) the need for heavily researched labels. Most people don’t even read the basic nutrition information which is provided for all foods.

    I think your article speaks more to people who already are interested in what goes in their bodies. BTW – I like my veal extra cute.

    • Hi Noah,

      You’re exactly right! My intended readers are those who are interested in more than weight loss, they are interested in the politics and implications rendered by a profiteering industry. They are interested in knowing how it is that food plays a huge role in public health, culture, politics, environment, and economics.

      Obesity is, of course, a huge problem. I don’t deny it in the least. It is but one of many sad consequences Americans face due to misinformation fostered by corporations combined with a lack of interest in personal responsibility. Readers are always welcome to draw health information from this blog, but in no way am I intending to construct any guidelines for weight loss. My intent is to compile information useful for recognizing when the industry isn’t truthful, and how to make alternative choices leading to better health.

      Additionally, the chemical ingredients in food do make a difference to our waistlines. When we consume toxic food, one of the responses the body undergoes is the storage of fat to contain the toxins that cannot be eliminated quickly enough. This is one of the reasons you hear the quip, “it’s not just how much you eat, but what you eat.” As the amount of toxins we consume decreases, combined with a proper caloric intake, the body is able to save energy it would have spent digesting and protecting our organs from toxins. The saved energy is expended to finally flush out toxins along with the fat that contained it. The obesity epidemic is not only a result of eating a large volume of food, but also foods that are incredibly toxic. So you see, the ingredient list is important for both for those who are looking to achieve optimum health and for those who are looking to lose weight.

      Most people don’t read the labels! You hit the nail on the head. There was also a time when people didn’t care about what was in their cigarettes, either. Once people begin to understand that the government not only approves but promotes known cancer-causing chemicals in food, perhaps they will begin to flip over their food and start reading. Like cigarettes being a large factor in lung cancer, so too are many foods in diseases. The information is just not in wide circulation (yet). So many people could save their own lives if the information was more accessible. Genes or no genes, the percentage of preventable diseases is high. I want people to know that. It’ll be empowering for people to really begin to understand and feel confident in their eating choices. Nobody likes being lied to and manipulated, and that’s why I’m writing.

      As for your veal comment, I respect you eat it but we’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ve read too much on factory farming and slaughterhouses, so I’ll have to take a pass.

      http://www.chai.org.il/en/compassion/food_factory_veal.htm

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