Many people will eat what is offered in someone’s home whether it is good-tasting or violates their diet. To slight someone’s offering of food could be deeply offensive. My mum told me when I was a kid to accept what is offered, keep a smile on my face even if it disgusts me, and say thank you. She was speaking from a place of childhood poverty—choice was not part of the ethical dilemma. I distinctly remember being in the home of a friend from junior high and eating dinner. The meal included a traditional Turkish dish with something that had a liver-like taste. I held it in the middle of my mouth, chewed and swallowed other bites, and kept the liver-like piece right where it was until I could excuse myself and spit it in the toilet.
What got me thinking of this today is the ethical spectrum of the woman who felt slighted and upset because her realtor refused to shake her hand by adhering to his religious choice. The key word is choice.
Another interesting dive into moral code as choice is vegetarianism/veganism. What made me evaluate this one is the chef/world traveling food connoisseur Anthony Bourdain. I’m not referring to the clips of him saying vegans should kill themselves--though this comment made him hideous in my estimation. After all, their choice has zero affect on him. Someone mentioned that he respected and sided with Bordain when he said on a program that he feels that vegetarians should experience the cuisines of the world, especially if traveling and it is offered. He thought of it as a rude personal lifestyle choice—it rejects not just the meal, but the entire culture itself. If one wishes to experience all of a culture, that includes its sustenance.
I was almost indignant in my reaction. Really? Go against what you stand for that has more than just physical repercussions to please someone else? Offending an entire culture? I doubt that. If someone cares about you, they don't ask you to transgress your boundaries. If someone does not care about your limits, why endeavor to please them?
Again, the spectrum emerges. The question is where to step along the spectrum? How to offend the least possible? Who to satisfy? Is it “just food” or a matter of soul? Pieces of the spectrum:
*Eat and repent later- your choice not to accept what is offered is as flimsy as your vegetarian muscles (heehee, just kidding). To omnivores, this is likely their part of the spectrum. I keep hearing a Bordainian “Live a Little!” “Just Eat It!” proclamation. If you do not show up with food that maintains your diet’s boundaries, your only choices are to partake or go without.
*Make an excuse without being sanctimonious- say you are allergic and it will negatively affect you. Yes, this part of the spectrum leads you to lie. However, it was my firm ally for years, especially at restaurants. People will most likely accommodate and ask no further. It’s only when it is not a choice that people understand. People don’t want to hear “No, thank you. Meat is cruel, unnecessary (where I’m from), and destructive to one’s health and the environment. Furthermore, I’ve read numerous credible reports to support my choice.” They also don’t want to hear “Sorry. Meat will give me excruciating gas that will cause me to cry unmanly tears in an ER.” Humor goes a long way. At least here the roast beast will be cautiously slid away from you. Your body and the nasal cavities of all who surround you will be protected.
*Honor your choices and refuse (vocally or quietly)- you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone, especially since you can do very little to convert meat eaters to your way of thinking. You also risk sounding self-righteous even if you are humble at heart. However, you may be asked questions that yield unsatisfying answers, no matter how sound and passionate. Best option? Take your own offerings and eat from them. The movie Everything is Illuminated has a few funny scenes in which the main character (played by Elijah Wood) says he doesn’t eat meat. His tour guides and a restaurant server look at him like he is insane and ask what is wrong with him. As he travels through the Ukraine, he is seen as an anomaly and often goes hungry due to his dietary choice.
Interesting, interesting. Again, no easy navigation. Live in accord with society at large? Live in accord with your values? It's hard to ease your own mind most of the time. Minds can and will see segments of the spectrum and sway with context and time.