When I found out that the Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to this year was a potluck dinner, I went on a search for an equivalent vegetarian substitute for turkey. On Yahoo! Answers, Love is… asked “What is your vegetarian thanksgiving menu? I need ideas!?“, to which Mildred S replied:
“a twenty pound turkey
pork sausage sage stuffing
double stuffed potatoes with bacon bits and cheese”
As a pescetarian, I have been told (jokingly) that I don’t deserve to partake in the Thanksgiving celebrations, Thanksgiving being a meat-fest holiday. The first time I met Devin’s mother was on Thanksgiving day three years ago and he had forgotten to tell her that I don’t eat turkey, so she has never again forgotten my diet restrictions, as she felt obligated to concoct me something to eat while everyone was already digging into their meat-laden meal. It can sometimes feel like having a restricted diet is a burden to oneself and an inconvenience to others, as a post by Pleasley on the SparkPeople “Calling all Vegetarians (and Vegans)!” team forum shows:
“I just got home from a friends house, her and her husband invited us over for a BBQ. The only thing she had without meat in it was potato salad. The potato salad was good but I am glad I decided to eat before I went to her house. I told them that I wasn’t hungry when they asked why I wasn’t eating, I didn’t know what to do. I have only been vegetarian for about a month. How do you handle a situation like that without offending the hostess? I offered to bring a dish with me and I was told that everything was covered, I almost took something anyway. I need to know haw to handle this without offending anyone and without always having to eat before I go.”
To this post, I replied:
“I have been to a couple BBQs lately and am invited to a couple more. Whenever I find out that a gathering will have food, I always ask if I can bring something because I’m vegetarian. I end up feeling kind of bad because usually after I say “Should I bring something because I’m vegetarian?”, the host/hostess will insist that they can cover vegetarian food for me. It makes me feel bad because I know I will probably be the only one eating it and then the host/hostess will then have to deal with the leftovers I don’t finish! The hostess at the last BBQ I went to bought an entire package of Gardenburgers AND Tofudogs just for me!
My friends and family know for the most part that I’ve been vegetarian for several years, but they just don’t think about it and I really can’t blame them. Once, at a surprise birthday party thrown in my honor, the host almost forgot to provide vegetarian food because I was the only vegetarian present! I would rather remind the host/hostess upon the invitation that I’m vegetarian, that way I won’t feel left out at the party and the host/hostess won’t be embarrassed that they forgot.”
The host at the surprise party I mentioned above was Devin and we have been eating together since circa 2004, so I understand when my pescetarianism just isn’t on everyone’s list of priorities! And as a lover of food, I won’t stand to be left out while everyone is digging into their meat dishes, so I have no qualms of reminding a host/hostess upfront of my diet restrictions and therefore have had no problems. I find it’s pretty reciprocal that a host/hostess wants to accommodate his/her guests as much as I want to find things to eat.
Unfortunately, some others with restricted diets have not had as easy a time as I have had. I’m sure it helps that I do eat some flesh (seafood) and am very relaxed about animal by-products (cheese, eggs, honey, butter, milk, etc.), but certain posts on the Serious Eats discussion forum show the dark side to restricted diets:
When srphayre asked “Is it impolite to tell your food preferences your hosts?“, some comments included:
“The vegan thing I do not accommodate. I am always honest and say to the vegan folks, I am sorry but maybe my food is not for you” from JerzeeTomato.
“I personally don’t accommodate [veganism] because I have… philosophical issues with the practice, and because [of] vegans who cannot stand to have the same cookware, knives or dishes used for their food that are used for meat, …and there are no circumstances under which I’m willing to deal with that” by thepictsie.
For lemons, it’s the “self-proclaimed vegetarians who dive into the meat, saying ‘Well, yeah, I’m a vegetarian, but I eat duck. And I just love seafood, don’t you?’” that leave her “speechless”.
Irohner believes “it is horribly rude [to tell the host your food preferences] unless there is a medical condition (allergy, diabetes, etc.) or religious belief involved”.
JerzeeTomato had more to add, writing “I will not serve tofu. I just do not. I also like KDBlue will not make vegan food. It is not because I don’t know how, it is because I won’t. If you have that many reservations with food you need to make your own food or go to a place where you are appreciated. It is great to live in a time of plenty and be able to have so many choices. We are truely blessed.”
choc_puddin, a vegan, suggests “Why not try giving up meat for one meal? People eat too much meat anyways.”
The “point is,” chefman writes, “big food pussies should let their hosts know.”
Fellow pescetarian KarynMC believes “If I invited someone with a food allergy or another food restriction, I would make a meal they could eat. That’s what hospitality is, folks.”
thepictsie provides the last post in the discussion, responding to choc_puddin’s post with “I don’t enjoy beans, and I don’t function well without meat (yes, I have tried). Trying to tell omnivores not to eat meat is just as obnoxious as omnivores trying to tell you to eat it.”
Some of the responses to the discussion topic “Is it impolite to tell your food preferences your hosts?” are very heated because restricted diets tend to carry a stigma, which is addressed in another Serious Eats discussion topic titled “Why the hostility toward restricted diets?”
On a website such as Serious Eats, people tend to be very serious about food, eating it, cooking it, and seeing other people enjoy or dislike it. Devin and I get into huge arguments when he makes a disgusted facial expression or comment about the food that I eat. I went into a silent fury once when I put a piece of pickled ginger in my mouth and my friend simultaneously commented “I don’t see how anyone can eat that pink stuff. It’s disgusting”. Wow, well that’s rude. I feel that these comments should be kept private, especially when you see that someone nearby does in fact enjoy the food in question.
I recognize that my passion for food is not necessarily something that everyone can or even should understand. We all have different reasons for appreciating the foods we love or rejecting those which are not compatible with our palates. These are things that should be respected, just as differences in other personal beliefs, and not imposed upon others. Many times I do feel like an inconvenience to the people I eat with, but I alleviate most tension by being truthful and specific about my diet restrictions and offering to contribute a dish.
Obviously, I cannot associate myself with organizations like PETA, because I do eat some flesh and most animal by-products. But I also refrain from fully supporting militant and fanatical organizations like PETA because I believe that their strategy for spreading the vegetarian cause is counterproductive. Like JerzeeTomato says, “we have the power of choice”, but unfortunately, neither PETA or JerzeeTomato seem to realize that the power of choice involves the choice to eat meat OR to not eat meat.