So a Meat-loving Omnivore Comes to Dinner at a Vegetarian’s House …

That string of words reminds me of one of those bad bar jokes:  So a vegan and a vegetarian and an omnivore walk into a bar …

In what is my shortest blog post ever, I’d like to ask a question:

If a vegetarian is hosting a dinner party for a group of omnivores, and she knows that one of her guests is not simply an easygoing whatever-you-care-to-serve-me kind of omnivore, but rather, is a fairly militant where’s the beef? kind of omnivore, should she, as a gracious host, feel obligated to provide some sort of meat-containing dish? Or should she use the opportunity to show the where’s the beef man how delicious vegan and/or vegetarian fare can really be?

10 thoughts on “So a Meat-loving Omnivore Comes to Dinner at a Vegetarian’s House …

  1. Hmmm….I think it depends upon the vegetarian’s reasons for being a vegetarian. If the reasons are connected to the vegetarian’s moral/ethical values, then: No, I don’t think he/she needs to serve meat–because we shouldn’t ever feel the need to compromise our values when it is not necessary to do so.

    If vegetarianism is grounded in something different (say, a dietary choice), and serving meat doesn’t require the vegetarian to do something he/she feels uncomfortable doing, then sure–bring on the hamburgers.

    I’ll refrain from answering the question you didn’t ask about who should or should not be invited to a dinner party. 🙂

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    1. “we shouldn’t ever feel the need to compromise our values when it is not necessary to do so” – yes, thank you for this. I do feel I would be compromising something I feel strongly about, simply to keep the peace, all the while *knowing* it’s not necessary (no matter how much where’s the beef man will insist meat at every meal is a necessity!)

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  2. Personally, I think of wine as an important part of a nice meal, particularly a festive/convivial one. But if I were invited to dinner at an observant Muslim’s house, I wouldn’t expect them to be asking me “red or white?”

    So no, don’t serve meat if you don’t want to. I think that polite hosts should accommodate their guests’ dietary restrictions, but it doesn’t follow that they also must accommodate their guests’ dietary predilections.

    I take Rita’s point about how the reason for a person’s vegetarianism might play in to the decision, but there’s a lot of gray area there. And, even if it is just a value-neutral dietary choice then it’s still within your rights as a host to serve the menu that you want to serve. Sure, try not to serve your guests things that you know they dislike, but you shouldn’t feel obligated to plan the menu that your guests would have planned if they were hosting (or serve what they would have likely ordered if they were going to a restaurant).

    I would steer clear of trying to plan a menu that will make Mr. “Where’s the beef?” embrace meatless meals though. Converting people like that strikes me as a fool’s errand!

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    1. I’m so glad I put this question out there, since both your response and Rita’s have made me look at it from a different angle. Yes, there’s an obligation (or there should be) on the host’s part to allow for dietary restrictions such as allergies and ethically-held beliefs, but there’s also an equal obligation on the part of the guest – to be open and accepting of what is served, and to not make things onerous for the host.

      I hear you on the fool’s errand bit! Mr. Where’s the beef is my brother-in-law and I know I have no hope of convincing him to go vegetarian (my niece recently made the burritos from the Oh She Glows vegan cookbook (which are amazingly good) and (sadly, IMHO) added ground beef to the recipe because she knew her father wouldn’t eat them otherwise. (EDIT: I’m now second guessing whether my niece made the burritos from Oh She Glows (which are good) or the enchiladas from Oh She Glows (which are amazingly good) (Just didn’t want to oversell the burritos 😉 ). We have been on the hot seat on many occasions over the years as he’s questioned our various practices (from buying free range organic, to going vegetarian…). Anyway, the occasion in question, which I am very nervous about for a variety of reasons (not least of which is the fact that we seldom entertain): in three weeks we’re getting company for my husband’s 50th birthday – his parents, two brothers, and one sister-in-law, and while the birthday supper will be at a restaurant, the other meals will likely be here, so I’ve been trying to think of what I should serve. We’re nearly 100% vegetarian at home (for a variety of reasons) and while I wouldn’t be opposed to serving salmon, I nearly always mess this up by overcooking it (something my family doesn’t mind, but will be a major faux pas to my in-laws, who are very good cooks and seem to be able to cook perfect salmon consistently). (And uppermost in my mind with salmon: I’d like to not have a repeat of what happened several years ago when they were visiting for thanksgiving and my father-in-law, deeming that I was cooking the turkey “all wrong” jumped in and took over!). I’d also not strongly object to cooking a chicken, but as it’d have to be free range organic, and our teeny tiny whole-foods-type grocery store went out of business last year, I can no longer find such a beast, at least not without driving an hour! All my reading on nutrition and food, together with knowing about the environmental impacts of certain foods, has really backed me into a corner, and while I have the whole-hearted support (and desire to eat this way) from everyone in our family (except my 10 year old who would love me forever if I’d cook chicken wings 😉 ) I do fully expect some ribbing from my brother-in-law.

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      1. Yikes, I can understand why you are nervous, throwing a big family party for a milestone birthday. But in a way it simplifies things, I think. Because the real question is — what’s the best strategy, menu-wise, to make sure your husband has a happy 50th celebration? In other words, this event is about your husband, not your BIL, and if BIL tries to make it about him, well– ahem…

        I will understand if this this suggestion sticks in your craw a bit, but what about asking one of your in-laws to cook some salmon? BIL gets his animal flesh, you don’t have to stress out about cooking it, in-laws feel their cooking skills are being appropriately recognized, everyone wins. (Except the salmon! Hee, just kidding!)

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      2. Okay, total laugh out loud at everyone winning except for the salmon 🙂

        Your suggestion is terrific! If I ask my in-laws for assistance with a salmon beforehand that pre-empts the whole “rescuing” bit, which I admit I found slightly hard to take with the turkey. Plus, because it’s not a turkey, I won’t have to worry quite so much about my FIL spreading germs all around my kitchen! (Which, as someone trained in sterile technique, I found extremely hard to watch during the turkey debacle!!). Thanks so much, Sarah – this is a solution that will make everyone happy and it’s now one less thing I have to stress about!

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  3. I like what Rita had to say that we shouldn’t compromise our beliefs and I agree with her, but I also think that when we are hosting people in our homes we should do what we can to make them more comfortable. I’m not saying you should become a roast and potatoes family for the duration of his stay, but smaller concessions (like having your FIL make some salmon) go a long way.

    I also think it depends on how long your company is staying with you. If you’re talking about an overnight that’s no big deal, but if it’s more than a day or two – you’re asking a “where’s the beef” guy to go three-four days without any meat. I’m a full fledged omnivore who goes meatless two or three days a week (we buy local and sustainable meat and to make that work in our budget we just can’t have meat all the time) and the idea of going four days without any meat/fish makes ME pout a little.

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    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts to this, Kate. I too, agree that as a good host we should be making our guests comfortable – within reason, of course, and hoping the guests know it’s a two-way street 🙂 . Your point about the duration of stay is a very good one. In our case, my BILs and SIL will be here 2 and 1/2 days. Because they’ve never been here before and we’ll be showing them around, I’m imagining that there will be some meals eaten out at restaurants (besides the birthday dinner), which will definitely take some of the pressure off. I’m also hoping my BIL doesn’t “require” meat at every single meal of the day! As someone who chooses to buy local and sustainable, you no doubt understand, and share, many of the qualms I have with conventional meat and chicken, but my BIL is kinda sorta the opposite of an environmentalist, and I don’t think he’d understand the reasoning behind “well, I used to be able to get free-range, organic chicken, but now that we can no longer get it, we simply do without”.

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      1. I think you have a pretty good handle on things. Hopefully he will be as gracious of a guest as you are host.

        And good luck!

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  4. Came back to see what others thought about this question, and so glad I did. I hope you have a lovely dinner. You are a much more gracious wife and hostess than I will likely ever be! I think Sarah’s suggestions are wonderful and Kate’s insights are valuable, and the next time I’ve got a sticky family dilemma, I’m going to highjack your blog and ask your readers to help me figure it out.

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