Well, nobody bats 1.000.
My favorite ethical advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, missed a soft pitch by a mile recently. The question came from a couple—an apparently insufferable couple, I may add—who sought Hax’s confirmation that they were within rightful boundaries by wanting to have only vegetarian fare at their upcoming wedding reception, since they were vegetarians themselves. “We don’t want to spend money purchasing meat or fish, and feel that a celebration of our union and the home we are making together should not have meat or fish in it,” they explained. Her parents objecedt on the grounds that, among other things, many of their older friends can’t tolerate beans and dairy. Hax’s correspondent retorts that they can certainly stand to go meatless for one reception.
And Carolyn sided with the soon-to-be insufferable married couple, saying,
“I believe the range of food permissible within a vegetarian diet is broad enough to satisfy all, allowing me to duck the question of whether the guests’ comfort trumps the hosts’ principles. I believe it’s a case-by-case call, depending on both the principles and (dis)comfort involved for the guests.”
Oh Carolyn, Carolyn. A few more duds like this, and the New York Times will offer you its post as “The Ethicist.”
The key word here is host. Elsewhere in her answer Hax says that the parents are being unreasonable to suggest that they can’t endure even one meal without meat, but that’s not what they are saying. Of course they can endure one meal without meat. They can endure one meal without food, or with lousy food, or stale potato chips, peanut butter sandwiches and diet Dr. Pepper. They can endure a crummy, uncomfortable wedding reception—I know I have—but isn’t the point of a party to make the guests happy? These people are taking the time to witness and celebrate the couple’s wedding, some presumably traveling long distances, all bearing gifts and good wishes, and these creeps say, “The heck with what they like, they’ll eat what we give them, and we don’t like meat!” Oh, nice. So, applying the same principle, if the bride and groom are devotees of Gregorian chants and Mongolian throat singing, by God, that’s what the guests will have to listen to and dance the hokey-pokey to, because that’s what the hosts like. After all, it won’t kill them to have to listen to that for one night, right?
What kind of standard for planning a party is that ?
The attitude of this pair is selfish, disrespectful, ungenerous and as contrary to the Golden Rule as it gets. The wedding reception is a party for the wedding guests, not the bride and groom’s private indulgence. Just as these two would be grateful for party fare that included non-meat selections for people like them, they should recognize that providing some non-vegetarian selections for people who don’t share their “principles” or taste in food is equally reasonable and appropriate. Oh, that’s right…they “don’t want to spend money purchasing meat or fish.” They are, in addition to being lousy hosts and friends, cheapskates. Well, do everyone a favor, then. Elope. Then you can have all the watercress sandwiches and lentil cakes you want, and your friends can mail you their wedding gifts without having to listen to the Mongolian throat-singing while munching on tofurkey.
Carolyn Hax, to her credit, goes to great lengths to avoid being judgmental, but in this case, the couple would benefit from some old-fashioned Ann Landers smack talk. “These are your friends, family and guests,” Ann would say. “Be gracious and hospitable. What’s the matter with you?” Or perhaps a little Dean Wormer would be more effective, as in, “Selfish, self-righteous and cheap is no way to start out married life, kids.”
Post Script: After writing this, I happened upon a feature in the Washington Post’s Sunday Style Section about the local couple’s wedding. After the ceremony, they treated their 60 guests to a sumptuous raw vegan dinner and reception….because, you see, both bride and groom were vegans. Maybe they are such devoted and intolerant vegans that they have cut off all non-conforming friends, co-workers and relatives, in which case the reception was ethical, even if they are not. Or, it dawns on me, perhaps I have missed some cultural shift in which couples regard the wedding reception as an opportunity to impose their tastes and preferences on everyone else, and nobody thinks the worse of them.
Facts: Washington Post
Graphic: Meat Free Every Day