The holidays are fast approaching. At least, I think we are supposed to believe they are approaching, seeing that a variety of stores have had their Christmas decorations out since they put the blowup pools on clearance. I have begun my seasonal chant to the children. “It’s not about the toys. It’s not about the toys.” If only I could convince them that it’s all about the food. Soon after the pumpkins make their first appearance, the issue of food begins to creep to the forefront of my mind. Okay, it’s always in the forefront, but the issue of holiday food comes to the forefront of this ever-on-the-forefront issue. As mentioned in previous posts, Jim and I have been vegetarians for some years now and holiday gatherings often present a particular challenge to our ethics. You might think that being a vegetarian implies the obvious—that you don’t eat meat—and you would be correct, I suppose, regarding a large number of vegetarians. But we Spiegels always like to make things a little more complicated. Jim timidly suggested one day that we stop eating factory farmed meat after research for his ethics class left him horrified and more than a little queasy. I had flirted with vegetarianism since high school for a number of reasons, one of the more influential of which was probably just to irritate my parents. (In an act of divine justice, our kids as teenagers will probably defy us with pepperoni pizza and ham sandwiches.) So it wasn’t, as many imagine, that we woke up one day with a deep loathing for meat and have shunned it ever since. In fact, sometimes at night we lay in bed whispering sweet nothings to each other about the days of Wendy’s cheeseburgers and hot dogs at the ball park.
What amazes me is that here we are now a decade into that decision and I still feel like I am trying to figure out how to go about it. Again you might be saying to yourself, what is to figure out? You are a vegetarian, so don’t eat meat. What’s so complicated about that? A lot, actually. There are the “What qualifies as meat?” questions. There are obvious answers to this and not so obvious ones. Rump roast? Definitely meat. (I think we could safely qualify as meat anything which refers to a particular part of the body, rump, ribs, wings, etc). Fish we have ruled as non-meat. Contrary to annoying pleas I once made to a college boyfriend, I don’t think fish have enough going on upstairs to register significant pain and suffering. But there are all sorts of tricky, grey areas such as chicken stock and the bacon that comes on top of the salad that you didn’t notice on the menu but it’s already mixed in and you hate to make a fuss. When faced with such a situation, we usually make eye-contact and silently ask one another “Are you going to eat it?” It can, at times, be rather comical. We have good friends who are also vegetarians of the meat loving sort. At a university banquet a few years back, we each had a large portion of country-fried steak placed in front of us. After an embarrassed pause, we began to tentatively eat our dinners. By the end, I was restraining myself from licking the plate clean. Gravy—yummmm.
The holidays, as well as other family gatherings and church potluck dinners, are filled with tension and temptation. You want to be polite, not to make people feel uncomfortable and let’s face it, ethical dilemma aside, flesh can be quite tasty. I feel guilty just piling up on veggies as if my plate is some sort of moral judgment on those around me. I feel guilty adding a slice or two of turkey when (a) I have made the commitment to forego said turkey and (b) if I am honest, I am not just being polite. So I am faced with either being the party killjoy (this makes it sound as if our families sit around, knife and fork in hand, banging on the table and shouting “Argh, give us our meat wench!” which is far from the case) or being the party hypocrite. In reality, probably no one is looking and no one really cares what I put on my plate except for my kids who love to steal the best parts for themselves. So this holiday season, I vow to turn over a new, guilt-free leaf. Be my plate carnivorous, herbivorous, or somewhere in between, I will walk with my head held high. In other words, I will make sure I follow Jim through the line and only get meat if he does. What can I say? I guess I’m just chicken.