When my parents were getting married and crafting many intentions for their life together, they chose to eat vegetarian. They also chose to keep their income below the federal tax level so they would not be paying for bombs, bullets, tanks or tailguns. Eating vegetarian was not about the animals, but to be in solidarity with most humans of the world, who eat primarily vegetarian because meat is too expensive to eat often.
Apparently my birthday meal request as a young child was a hamburger — maybe because it was a rare treat, and probably because the colorful packaging and plastic toy made it a happy meal!
Childhood memories of eating in restaurants all include my grandfather, who had more money than my parents and used food as a primary source of comfort. The perks: a lot of fond memories of feasting as a family. The costs: he lived and died with unmanaged diabetes.
I became vegetarian in high school because factory farming and slaughter practices are appalling. By my senior year I was vegan. These were easy choices to live with since I’d grown up with satisfying and nutritious Puerto Rican rice and beans, Indian curried lentils, and other protein-rich meals from Extending the Table and More with Less cookbooks.
I lived in Northern Ireland during college and as we sat down for our first dinner with our host family, my vegetarian classmate and I did the only thing we could: eat spaghetti and meat sauce, the only food on the table! (That was the only time our host family cooked for us, so we returned to vegan/vegetarian food after that — mostly beans and vegetables from Tesco).
About ten years later, various physical struggles led me to the other extreme. I ate a low-carb, high-protein diet for a summer, learning to eat (and occasionally enjoy) steak and chicken. Bacon, the candy of meat, was my favorite. My body felt better! After a couple months, I settled into an omnivore reality and stopped watching carbs.
Pretty soon, meat left my menu. My body didn’t want it, my mouth didn’t enjoy it, and my heart rejected the torture that nearly all animals experience their entire lives and death. Still, when visiting friends in India who saved money to purchase meat for their guests, I didn’t think twice about eating the goat curry. Food nourishes relationships as much as our bodies.
In the past year I’ve had quite a few health quirks. Seeking physical healing, I’ve tried gluten-free, low-histamine, no-fodmap, intermittent fasting, longevity fasting, and a few other diets! If I am what I eat, I am all over the place and in constant scrutiny! Do you say “I eat gluten-free” or “I am gluten-free?” Do you say, “I eat vegan” or “I am vegan?” How important is your diet to your identity? I get embarrassed, frequently, about how much time and energy I spend on figuring out what to eat. Yet convenient eating nearly always drains our energy and time through poor health.
As Thanksgiving approaches and we have at least four family meals to celebrate, I am already chewing on what I’ll eat. Will my in-laws notice how different my plate will look than theirs? Should I risk headaches and rashes to enjoy breaking bread (and eating it) with my family?
I recall Paul’s compassionate choice: “Therefore, if food is a cause of [my sibling in Christ’s] falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13, NRSV).
Paul is writing about food sacrificed to idols, but we could apply the same ethic when celebrating with family members and friends who struggle with alcohol dependency, food allergies or heart disease. How can hospitality infuse the menus of your holidays this year?
Here are some ideas for hospitality for family or church gatherings.
*Check in about dietary needs. Suggest everyone bring a list of ingredients for their dishes. Offer to set aside some boiled potatoes before mashing them with butter and milk.
*What other ways can gatherings become more accessible? Do you need a location without steps and/or with a family-friendly bathroom?
*What about social/emotional accessibility? Reach out to someone newer to the family, or an introverted relative, with a message of encouragement: “I look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks! I always appreciate your sense of humor/take on current events/way with the kids.”
*We can cultivate hospitality (even as guests) by paying attention to one other.
*The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker is an excellent resource for those who want to grow in hospitality and intentionality.