Vegetarians don’t need to cater to meat-eaters at weddings

This summer has been a wedding bonanza, which naturally leaves me with mild wedding fever (in general I can’t get enough Say Yes to the Dress, My Fair Wedding, or Bridezillas, so actually being at a wedding enhances the fever). In discussing the fever with my mom, she posed the question of whether I would serve meat at my wedding reception.

I’m not a total vegetarian, but I consider myself 95 percent vegetarian, and I certainly would have qualms about paying for a gigantic feast of meat for hundreds of people. But several questions remain, which my mom also outlined for me: What if the groom isn’t a vegetarian? What about the guests who want to eat meat? What on earth will I serve to guests if I can’t serve them chicken or prime rib?

This dilemma was recently profiled in The New York Times, as Chelsea Clinton recently got married and served meat at her reception despite being a vegetarian herself. The Times article goes into detail between the debate of whether it matters if both or only one of the married couple are vegetarian, and whether one’s wedding day is about the couple wants, or what the guests they are inviting want.

1. The question of animal cruelty

A lot of people are vegetarian either for ethical reasons, health reasons, environmental reasons, or a combination of a few or all of those. If you truly believe that eating meat, regardless of how it was raised or where it came from, is unethical, then I don’t blame you for not serving meat at your wedding. A wedding is a celebration, and it’s not going to be a happy celebration if you’ve had to serve dead animals at your reception despite your moral opposition.

But if your holdup is health-related or environmental, there are ways to still serve meat at the wedding — you could either find a catering company that specializes in organic/free range/local food, or talk to a catering company about using those types of meats instead of whatever they traditionally use. Yes, it will likely cost more money, but weddings are all about allocating money and prioritizing — e.g. spend extra on catering, spend less on invitations.

This is where a bride and groom could compromise — serve equally delicious vegetarian and meat dishes, but make sure the meat is local and was raised humanely. Chances are, if you are a carnivore and a herbivore, you’ve had to make food-related concessions and compromises like this before deciding on a wedding menu.

2. “Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway?”

Aside from being another wedding show I love to watch, this slogan rings true when it comes to deciding whose dietary choices should be valued more — the wedding couple or the wedding guests. Should the couple force everyone to share in their dietary choices, or should they suck it up and give the guests what they want?

First, one has to assume that what the guests want actually is meat. As a wedding guest, I typically don’t want just meat options. Of the four weddings I’ve been to in the past three years, only one (my step-sister’s, the one in which I was actually part of the wedding party) hasn’t had any vegetarian main course. Every vegetarian attending a wedding (unless maybe it’s a vegetarian wedding) has anxiety about the meals and whether they’ll be anything aside from a side dish to eat.

But if I do end up in that predicament, I’m not surprised or insulted — it’s the bride and groom’s wedding day, not mine, and I don’t expect them to cater to my dietary and meal preferences. Meat-eaters shouldn’t take offense when a couple decides to serve only vegetarian food if that’s the food they eat and enjoy.

I wouldn’t expect a recovering alcoholic bride and/or groom to have an open bar, as the alcohol is something that person won’t drink and isn’t comfortable having around — that is a personal preference, and when you’re getting married (and footing the bill), you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at your own reception. Or, assume some of your guests aren’t religious and you are — you aren’t going to move the venue out of the church just to make them more comfortable; you’ll get married in the church because it’s your wedding and it’s your preference.

3. “Tree Bark and Lettuce”

The Times article noted that many vegetarians see weddings as a chance to show guests that vegetarian food isn’t just “tree bark and lettuce,” which is an important point to get across — like I said earlier, I’ve been able to eat at weddings typically without fail because some of the dishes are already veg-friendly — pasta, potatoes, green beans, salad, rice, desserts. It’s not like the meals would be dandelions and dirt.

What also bothers me about the Time article is part of its headline: “Beef or Tofu?” It feeds into the fact that many people are grossed out by tofu, and it makes it about either serving meat or tofu — how about just having really good food that isn’t about whether tofu tastes as good as meat, or perhaps where there isn’t any tofu at all? Vegetable lasagna, black bean burgers, stuffed zucchini …

Also, it’s important to note that not every wedding is going to be serving full meals anyway — one of my friends had a dessert wedding, and guests ate dinner before they came and enjoyed lots of different desserts at the evening reception. If the catering is that much of a struggle between meat and veggies, perhaps reimagine the theme of the reception and consider a dessert theme (I can’t imagine anyone complaining about the lack of chocolate-covered chicken).

Your family and friends should come to your wedding to support you, not to complain about the free meal they’re getting. Although one person interviewed from the article quipped, “I know it’s your day, but it’s not all about you. Why have a wedding if you’re going to be like that? Just print a bumper sticker,” that attitude is largely the problem. If you’re vegetarian, not serving meat isn’t necessarily meant to be some revolutionary political statement or preaching moment. It’s simply a reflection of your preferences and how you want to celebrate your wedding — like any other aspect of the wedding is.


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2 Responses to “Vegetarians don’t need to cater to meat-eaters at weddings”

  1. Captain Dreamboat Says:

    As a vegetarian that has attended several average weddings this year, I will say it’s a damn good thing I like side dishes, and that most of the meals were in buffet format (why yes, I WILL have a third helping of macaroni bake, thank you).

    I will say that the “your wedding is about you” line tends to wear a bit thin with guests. I recently overheard a girl at work on the phone bemoaning her family’s wishes to bring their children to her impending nupitals.

    “I thought I was pretty clear that this was going to be a child-free ceremony!” she said.

    As a wedding guest, you’re expected to get dressed up, purchase a (sometimes expensive) gift, give up one or more weekend days (normally during the summer when they’re most precious), meet awkward strangers, etc. The reason the free food and open bar exist at modern weddings is that without them, few people would attend at all. The best weddings I’ve attended focused more on showing everyone a good and relaxed time, and less on worshipping the bridal couple.

    • cathyjwilson Says:

      I agree that you want to throw a good celebration and not alienate the guests, but the case for food is different than say, alcohol vs. no alcohol or children vs. no children — it’s not between food and no food, it’s between one menu vs. a different menu. That’s what really bothers me, is that guests are so focused on the fact that there is no meat that they forget to note that there is still delicious food to eat and yes, it’s OK to just eat it without reading into the politics of why the bride and groom chose the food.

      I just think the bride and groom shouldn’t be expected to ONLY cater to making the guests happy — I mean there has to be some compromise, and I concede the guests do go out of their way to partake in the celebration, but they can’t expect a couple to forgo their ethical or ideological beliefs for the sake of their guests.

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