I am a Unitarian. I am also a vegetarian. And I can see how you might think these things have nothing in common. But when it came down to that One Issue that I had with my future in-laws, my beliefs were suddenly on display.
I find that others' religious beliefs make me uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable. Any time I go to an event and they make me pray in public, I vow to never return. (I mean Public, like at a 5k race.) I do not like it when people tell me they are praying for me. I don't like it when people talk about their relationship with God. It's not any of my business, I think, and I don't want to know.
I also do not share my religious beliefs. I was nervous about having a prayer in our wedding service because it means admitting I believe in God. Get it? In my opinion, Beliefs are Not For Sharing. My church does not pray together. We pray quietly, or we meditate, during a moment of silence. I am okay with this.
I became a vegetarian when I was 15 years old, for a lot of different reasons, but the biggest one was that it just felt wrong to keep eating meat. Eating meat was not, to me, respecting the interdependent web of which we are a part, which is one of the Unitarian Principles. (Your own interpretation of this tenant is up to you, but this was mine.)
Long ago, before we got engaged, I decided I wanted a vegetarian wedding. Although I did start eating fish five years ago, I originally wanted a truly vegetarian wedding. (I did not really have a good reason for this.) I compromised very early on and agreed to serve fish, at my fiance's (extremely reasonable) request. Most of the reactions we got were "oh, as long as you're serving fish, that's fine." (because you were going to walk out of my wedding in protest otherwise?) I got a few raised eyebrows, but I've been a vegetarian for 10 years and so our choice didn't really surprise anybody. A lot of people asked if we were having a vegetarian wedding, excitedly.
My fiance was completely, 100% on board with the meatless wedding. It is pretty much how we live now, and meant we would be serving food we both could eat, and that we both liked.
When we first told my future in laws that we were having a meatless wedding, they freaked out. They continued to freak out, and I couldn't reassure them. Well, I didn't. I couldn't reassure them because I felt that my choice to be a vegetarian was deeply personal, and Not For Sharing. If I believe eating meat is wrong, and you do not, I do not want to tell you that because you will think I am making a moral judgment on you.
But weddings are also deeply personal. And it turns out that all I needed to do was say, "this is what I believe". All I had to do was say, "I am genuinely and on a deeply personal level, grieved by the idea of serving meat." All I really had to do was say, "This is what I believe. Please respect that on my wedding day." I didn't say that though. I didn't say that because I was afraid it would seem like I was making a moral judgment on my future in-laws and they would forever be uncomfortable having meat at the table when I came to dinner.
What I said instead was, "people can suck it up." I said, "I don't want to serve anything that I can't eat." What I said was, "I'm worried that if we serve meat and vegetarian food, people will eat all the vegetarian food and there will be no food for the vegetarians." (This is totally true, by the way, and maybe something to think about when you order food. Order veggie servings for everybody, and less of the meat.) I whined about the environmental impact of our wedding. I mentioned briefly that I wanted people to experience how great vegetarian food would be.
But what I didn't say was what really mattered. That every time I thought about serving meat at the wedding, I saw the soulful eyes of a sad cow being slaughtered for my wedding. I saw the free range chickens our sustainable caterer would use fleeing for their lives. In my mind, I kept making a connection between animal sacrifice and our wedding, and while I could make my peace with the fish, I couldn't do it with the meat.
My in-laws were concerned about the impact on our guests - who were paying thousands of dollars to come to the wedding. They were concerned that it was rude to not serve them meat, and that our families didn't like vegetables. They were concerned that vegetarian food wouldn't be impressive enough to our guests - that they wouldn't feel properly treated at our wedding. We finally solved everything by inviting them down for a tasting with a caterer. The caterer served us an amazing meal of beautiful and impressive looking vegetarian fare that wasn't too vegetable-y. My mother-in-law made a last minute push for meat hors d'oeuvres, saying, "you wouldn't even have to see them." (Again, my failure to explain my actual problems at work here.) This was the point where I finally spoke up and said, "I've tried really hard to be okay with serving meat and I'm just not okay with it. It's not okay. What can I do to make you okay with the hors d'oeuvres?" So we agreed to make the hors d'oeuvres less vegetable-y and worked it out.
Several times, people reminded me that weddings were about compromise. I countered this with a few arguments - that if I kept kosher, and we had a kosher wedding, nobody would bat an eye (I've been to several). That serving fish was already a compromise. And that there was no reason we couldn't compromise on what vegetarian food wouldn't offend our guests. We didn't have to, and didn't, have a boring pasta reception. We had a crab cake station, a grilled cheese sandwich station, and served a delicious fish dish, pasta dish, and butternut squash risotto. Many people have told us that the food was delicious and they loved our wedding, so overall, it worked out. But I can't help think about how much easier it would have been if I had started off by saying, "This is what I believe."
Ellie is a recently married lawyer living in Baltimore with her husband Mark. She writes about weddings at Wedding for Two, and you can read more about her relationship with food at Barefoot and in the Kitchen, her cooking blog.