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"moral" food preferences, as a guest

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In the "rude guest" thread, someone said that they didn't eat farmed fish, so if served farmed fish as a guest, he wouldn't eat it, but wouldn't be rude about it, either.

I'd like to ask about food restrictions that aren't allergy-related or religious, and how much of it can you expect hosts to cater to.

For example, after more than a decade of not eating mammals or birds, I started eating them again, but only stuff from butchers or suppliers where I can query the sourcing. If I am invited someplace, would it be rude to tell the hosts I will only eat "happy" meat (for lack of a better general term)? Would that be taken by them to mean I'd consider their meat to be below my standards, or not good enough, somehow? (In this way, this isn't like vegetarianism, I think.)

Now, I am not a vegetarian, and they will usually know this. If they've come to my place for Thanksgiving dinner or for a barbecue, they'll have had free-range turkey or pork ribs from our butcher across the street. So it would be wrong for me to claim vegetarianism when invited to their place. For a while, after I started eating most meat again, I still told people I didn't, and would only buy and eat meat at home. But since I wanted to share my husband's awesome smoked ribs with friends, the secret's out.

Do I get to tell hosts that I will only eat "happy" meat (especially since this is usually more expensive)? Is it reasonable for hosts to have to cater to this, when they have allergies and other "proper" food restrictions to think about?

  1. No, it isn't reasonable to ask people to meet your moral/ethical standards, particularly when it's a significant budget issue, and yes, it pretty clearly says that you don't think the food they offer you is good enough. Everyone has to make these decisions for themselves and their families, and their decision may not be the same as yours -- and yours is no more valid (nor invalid) than theirs.

    You have three options -- a) return to vegetarianism when in public (eat meat only when you're at home and have complete control) and tell people you've returned to vegetarianism, so they know to not buy animal-based protein to serve you-- b) relax your standards when away from home -- or c) don't accept social invitations.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      I agree, those are indeed the (polite) options. I have, so far, chosen b) when I am a guest.

      To play devil's advocate, though, why is this moral choice different from being a vegetarian or vegan? Some choose a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle because of their moral objection to eating animals/animal products. And, to toss myself right into the fire, is not religion a standarised construct for a moral/ethical philosphy?

      Note I'm absolutely NOT saying that my preference for happy meat should be held to the same standards and importance as a religious rule. I'm merely wondering aloud.

      (I may have strayed past the remit of this board, I think.)

      1. re: Palladium

        Vegetables, even organic vegetables, are far less expensive than local happy meats. So, for me, you're asking a host to put a meal on the table for a cost that is orders a magnitude more money.
        In my experience Kosher and Halal are not that much more expensive and are within reach; not budget busters.

        1. re: Palladium

          Why is this different? It's different because most people will have other dishes/ingredients on hand that may be satisfactory to a vegetarian/vegan. Yours is not an ingredient availability issue, it's a sourcing issue. So it would be like a vegetarian or vegan saying "I only eat vegetables/grains/beans that are ethically sourced from farms that I'm familiar with." Placing that extra "ethical" burden on a host is a bit unreasonable.

        2. re: sunshine842

          I think these truly are the three acceptable options. A number of people have very "gray" food decisions for moral/ethical reasons, for religious reasons, for diet reasons, for personal taste reasons etc. But having the most easy to meet "restrictions" is the best social option.

          I think another thing to keep in mind is that when restrictions are "invisible" it opens people up to being sloppier than you'd think. I grew up with a close friend who kept halal, my parents keep kosher-ish so she was always confident that she could eat "whatever" in our house. Well, one day my mom's making a dish and mentions something about sherry vinegar and then this slow thought bubble goes over my head about if sherry vinegar having initially made with alcohol would or would not violate what she would eat. In that dish we swapped the sherry vinegar for something else - but there was this moment of us looking at each other and thinking "have we accidentally served her something else like that in the past".

          Very observant Jews would never eat in the home of a non-observant person. If eating "happy meat" is truly important to you - only eat it from butchers or restaurants where you trust what's going on. Putting that kind of request on hosts is both extreme and very likely of still not getting what you want.

        3. To answer the questions posed in your last paragraph, no and no.

          Sunshine's options are excellent.

          1 Reply
          1. Rather than lying (which is another moral/ethical issue) about a return to vegetarianism, I would suggest saying something along the lines of: "I don't usually eat meat away from home."
            And I think, vis a vis eating at friends' homes, the difference between your former vegetarianism and your present position, is that the latter is a more familiar and probably less expensive one for potential hosts to deal with.

            2 Replies
            1. re: almond tree

              See, I would normally be perfectly happy to have a vegetarian/vegan meal, but I don't want to tell people I'm vegetarian, because I'm not. It only makes real vegetarians' lives more difficult when that person later sees me eating a steak or whatever.

              1. re: Palladium

                So, um, tell them that. Say, "here's what I'm not willing to eat, BUT, I'm not picky. If what you've got is peanutbutter sammiches -- and just for me, that's fine."

                Again, the point is to not impose more than absolutely necessary.

            2. Any proper host should ask about dietary restrictions and prepare a meal with those in mind. Doesn't matter the reason for the restrictions.

              In the first place, meat is not an essential. Specifying a meatless meal is ok and limiting the meal to a certain kind of meat should be accommodated. You are not forcing anyone to buy a really expensive meat.

              27 Replies
              1. re: Steve

                True, just because someone only eats happy meat doesn't mean i have to serve it. Unless of course they ONLY eat happy meat.

                1. re: Steve

                  Then you'd better invite only one person at a time or you will likely end up making a different meal for each person or no meal at all (gluten-free, no meat, no meat that might have antibiotics, no meat that wasn't raised and killed humanely and in an environmentally sustainable manner, no fish - or as one other recent thread had it - fish is ok except for salmon, I hate this and I don't eat that, I've got high cholesterol, blood pressure...).

                  No. Just no. A restriction for health reasons - allergies - is one thing. Personal preferences? Cook your own dinner at home

                  1. re: Just Visiting

                    Thank you for worrying about how much work it will be for me.

                    As I am doing the inviting, I have never found a vegetarian request to be burdensome. I would aways want to prepare a meal for my guests that make them feel welcome.

                    1. re: Steve

                      I think we're talking about making the hosts buy ingredients that are astronomically expensive, not the work involved.

                    2. re: Just Visiting

                      <<Then you'd better invite only one person at a time or you will likely end up making a different meal for each person or no meal at all >>

                      this is a complete fabrication.
                      i've made many, many, meals that could accommodate such folks.
                      a gluten-free vegan meal normally accommodates everyone.
                      truly, it's not even difficult, much less impossible.

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        Not trying to be combative here, but I honestly don't think I could persuade my family to attend too many dinner parties where the meal served was gluten-free vegan. We might oblige very occasionally, but I think we'd just suggest we meet those folks at a restaurant next time where everyone not only could be accommodated, but find something to eat they enjoyed.

                        And that's not to disparage your cooking (I'm pretty certain yours is better than most, including mine), I'm sure you put a splendid gluten-free vegan meal on the table. While, I've gotten my family to give up the concept of a big slab of meat at every meal, and we even eat vegetarian frequently, and perhaps vegan occasionally, but a vegan gluten-free meal as the foundation for a dinner party sounds absolutely joyless to me. I understand some folks need to eat this way for health reasons, and we would accommodate that, but otherwise, it's not something I could persuade my family to do with great frequency.

                        By the way, we seldom accept dinner invitations from the other extreme, either, where the meal is giant slabs of meat with meat on the side. And lest you think I'm joking, I was once (not that long ago!) served a meal where the choice of entree was beef or lamb (or both!) and then your "vegetable" was pork and beans. Custard for dessert. I don't accept many dinner invitations at that house anymore if I can help it, either, unless I get to bring a vegetable or two.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          There are families where meat is the focus of the meal. And, in some cultures, it's the expense that makes it so;;"Nothing but the most expensive, best for my guests" and meat gives the best perception. The host would lose face to serve a vegetarian meal.

                          LOL, we have such different backgrounds but I've been where you are. Dinner was a huge steak (we always shared one or two steaks in my family of four) per person, starch was pasta salad, vegetable was potato salad. I like my vegetables, just like some people like their meats!

                          1. re: chowser

                            Yes,. it's something we have had to work through as we've merged our friends and families through marriage. Sometimes I'm aghast.

                            I will say, the meat served on these occasions is always very very carefully sourced, and raised, finished and perhaps even slaughtered by some of the people present at the meal. The meat itself would meet (ha! I almost typed meat) the OP's current (but not her former) standards, but there would be (in my opinion) too darned much of it.

                            ~TDQ

                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                            You would then be amazed by a japanese kaiseki meal that's based on the vegetarian temple cuisine. There's a great place in NYC that recently got reviewed by the Times. Read the review and let me know if this doesn't seem at least the tiniest bit intriguing to you.

                            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/din...

                            1. re: Bkeats

                              I would be all over that. I don't think my husband would relish it, however, and I'm hoping my toddler would find it intriguing enough to at least try it.

                              ~TDQ

                          3. re: westsidegal

                            "a gluten-free vegan meal normally accommodates everyone"

                            sooo much like our American education system we accomodate to the most needy of the group inspite of the desire pleasure or experince of the the group?

                            1. re: girloftheworld

                              Everybody gets to eat, so...yeah.

                              1. re: Hobbert

                                This is why I like to have different dishes because not everyone has to be able to eat every dish. A host could easily do a meat, a vegetable stew/dish, some good bread, some sides and please everyone. One size doesn't have to fit all.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  Very true. My book club consists of 6 members- one is vegetarian and another does Paleo, yet somehow we all easily manage to eat. I think people are making a far better stink about this than is necessary. Occasionally, yeah, you're going to get a host or guest that's too much of a hassle. Ok, so they're not dinner party friends anymore. I don't do the exact same activities with each of my friends and this is no different.

                                2. re: Hobbert

                                  I am picturing a Saturday NIght Live Skit guest host Gwenth Paltrow," I have prepared a meal to fit everyines specal needs. The beautifull dressed dinner guest go to the dining room The wait staff brings out the ubiquitous silver domed plates and lifts the covers on china bowls of ice. To which Tina Fey responds " Was this ice made from all natural American spring water that only flowed through the Applechian trail?"

                                3. re: girloftheworld

                                  That's what I was thinking. The only person being accommodated is the gluten-free vegan, and the desires of the rest of the guest are ignored. When I have a party, I try to cater to the majority, not the minority. However, if I have a vegan (blessedly almost never) or a vegetarian in the guest list, I will do my best to have a few dishes that they can eat. For example, I'll have some substantial grain/veggie salads that everyone can enjoy, and I always have some veggie burgers on hand.

                                  1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                    How are they ignored? The omnivores can't eat a dish not containing meat? I think your solution sounds great- a variety of dishes that everyone can choose from. I just don't see how not having meat at one meal is such an issue. I do it pretty regularly and have gotten a pretty regular rotation of vegetarian dishes I enjoy and make for myself.

                                    1. re: Hobbert

                                      I can empathize w/ meat eaters in that I like to go heavy on vegetables (not starches) and they're the bulk of my meals. I've been to parties where there has been no vegetables (outside of corn and potatoes which I consider starch). I would NEVER specially request vegetables when I'm asked by a host but there really is little for me to eat, as I said below, when the dishes are steak, potato salad, pasta salad. But, when you come down to it, it's not about the food, as much as CHs might not believe it. It's about getting together and I can deal with it. This is also why in the OP's situation, it not being such a strict diet, I'd let it go--there are usually some no meat dishes at a party, as I found back when I used to be a vegetarian. I never went hungry.

                                      1. re: Hobbert

                                        Actually, there are plenty of omnivores who eat a low-carb diet (by choice or necessity) who would not be accommodated by a vegan, gluten-free meal. I'm a low-carber by choice, so it wouldn't do me any immediate harm (unlike many diet-controlled, Type II diabetics I know, who would be sent into a sugar rush/crash spiral by a meal of rice, lentils and vegetables), but it is still completely contrary to the way I prefer to eat.

                                        However, if I were invited to dinner at a vegetarian's home, I would never expect them to go to the trouble and expense (or endure the possible moral quandary) of providing meat for me. I would simply make sure I ate adequate protein before I arrived and enjoy the lower carb portions of the meal insofar as possible.

                                        1. re: biondanonima

                                          A very reasonable solution. My husband does the same thing when we eat at friends' houses if we can't politely find out about the menu. Fortunately, he eats every 4 hours or so at the moment so he's never too hungry. When we were dating, he kept protein shakes and peanut butter and jerky in the car when we ate at my parents' house. I finally got him to give me a list of what he wouldn't eat so I could let my mom know. He was too polite to say anything and she was too polite to ask why such a big guy wasn't eating much. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to accommodate and we just have a variety of dishes.

                                      2. re: ludmilasdaughter

                                        Nothing wrong with chowser's approach, providing good options for everyone, even if not everyone can eat every option.

                                        But have you considered viewing cooking for special diets not as the inevitable ruination of your meal but as a challenge to overcome, a learning opportunity, a chance to expand and improve your cooking? Fun, even? If you guys really think nothing delicious is left once you take away meat products and, say, gluten, I suggest your imagination is failing you.

                                        Besides - and this imagined dinner is obviously a hypothetical situation - but in this hypothetical situation your guest is a friend, someone you like, someone you want to please or impress. You resent accommodating them... why? You INVITED them.

                                        Again... hypothetically.

                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          Yep. I used to think vegetarian cooking was tragic and limiting and meant eating weird stuff like fake meat but once I got over myself, got a few vegetarian cookbooks, and some tips from CH :), its really been an eyeopening experience.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I am only speaking for myself. It has nothing to with my skill. Nor with my hosting. It really has even moved away from the OP. My take is..and again it is only my perception. That most of us as host do offer choices to accomidate our friends and loved ones in our homes. It is our pleasure it is our heart it our joy as a host... the peevishness comes into play when the "manners" seem to lay with the host and not the guest. When the guest is at liberity to order from the host as if he/she is a private spa with an air of self importance beyond freindship and common curtisousy. When as guest do you have responsibility to your host?

                                            1. re: girloftheworld

                                              "When as guest do you have responsibility to your host?"
                                              ______
                                              The answer to that may depend on your point of view.

                                              Personally, I think the guest has a responsibility to speak up about their restrictions before showing up for dinner and turning their nose up at the offerings. I think the guest has a responsibility to avoid lecturing or sermonizing about dietary choices that the host does not share. I think the guest has a responsibility to be gracious about any honest attempts by the host to accommodate them. And I think the guest has the responsibility not to pressure the host into an unrealistic financial burden, or to unrealistically compromise their own ethics (do not expect vegetarians to cook meat for you, for example).

                                              The OP violated none of these things, so it passes the smell test. For me.

                                              If you think the guest has a responsibility to eat what's in front of them graciously (as long as it won't cause them physical harm), and not make any requests, I may not agree, but that's a coherent set of expectations that others share with you.

                                              If you think that a guest can request ethical dietary restrictions that you understand or sympathize with (vegetarian, perhaps), but should not request ethical dietary restrictions that you do not (vegetarian with less-cruel meats allowed), then I think the cognitive dissonance alarm should be sounding in your head. How is the guest to know?

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                >>>>And I think the guest has the responsibility not to pressure the host into an unrealistic financial burden, or to unrealistically compromise their own ethics (do not expect vegetarians to cook meat for you, for example). <<<<

                                                You were doing fine up to that line. Is being Vegetarian "higher" on the ethic plane? If a host has to compromise their value system for a Vegan guest, why is not the opposite also true?

                                                1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                  Admittedly, it's a gray area of cooking ethics.

                                                  I suspect that while very few omnivores feel they have an ethical obligation to cook meat, quite a few vegetarians feel they have an ethical obligation not to buy or cook meat. An omnivore cooking vegetables is not really the equivalent of a vegetarian cooking meat.

                                                  Note that I write the above as an omnivore myself. Also of note, I have been cooked meats before by vegetarians who did not partake themselves, so it's not a universal thing. But I suspect the 'opposite' isn't true because there is no true 'opposite.'

                                              2. re: girloftheworld

                                                You're right, that's another thread.

                                                In relation to this one, if the guest has not been forthcoming about their food restrictions, they should not complain about the food provided.

                                                That is why it's best for the OP to be forthcoming about food restrictions.

                                  2. Stay home.
                                    If a person has medical issues, then, yes, but if it is a choice, then choose to not be a guest where someone does not share your particular beliefs over "happy meat," whatever that is.
                                    and yes, you are right when you say, "In this way, this isn't like vegetarianism, I think."
                                    Having vegetarian options is one thing, but getting picky about someone else's food choices as to the happiness of the meat (????????), well, that's ridiculous.
                                    Eat with like-minded folks, and politely decline the invitations if you feel you must judge whether or not their meat is "happy" enough for you.