Thursday, August 01, 2013

Veganism, Year Five: It's a Nice Day for a Vegan Wedding

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

We discuss veganism fairly frequently on this blog.  With the three primary writers on the blog all being ethical vegans, it could hardly be otherwise.  A bit more than five years ago, I posted "Meat, Dairy, Psychology, Law, Economics," in which I described my decision to become a vegan.  Since then, in addition to occasionally writing about veganism at other times of the year, I have written an annual summer post -- the most recent of which (posted last July 23) included the lamentable neologism (Neilogism?) "veganniversary" -- celebrating my decision to become a vegan.  (Via that 2012 post, interested readers can find links to the 2011, 2010, and 2009 veganniversary posts as well.)

Typically, the veganniversary posts have been devoted to a discussion of "how it's going."  That is, whereas my non-vegan blogging here on DoL tends toward the technocratic-wonkish, the purely political, and the theoretical, my veganism posts tend to address more prosaic questions like: "How long does it take before it doesn't feel like 'work' to be a vegan in a non-vegan grocery store or restaurant?"  Answers: After at most two trips to the grocery, and after about twenty restaurant experiences.  In other words, to the extent that people think veganism is "too hard for me," my message has been that it is surprisingly easy -- even though I well remember feeling intimidated while weighing my decision five years ago.

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I was married earlier this summer, and we returned from our honeymoon very recently.  As it turns out, while we were in Europe, another of the occasional discussions about veganism took place on the DoL comments board, in response to Professor Dorf's post announcing the publication of Professor Colb's new book Mind if I Order the Cheeseburger?  Although I have not yet had a chance to read the book, I have had the benefit of some in-process conversations with Professor Colb while she was writing the book; so I know that the book is simultaneously serious as a work of ethics and public policy, and engaging as an effort to bring the animal rights debate to a larger audience.

Which leaves me with my annual, more modest contributions to the discussion.  One commenter generously invited me to descibe how veganism plays out in a multi-country trip across Europe, while other people have asked me about how we set up our wedding, given our commitment to veganism.  Therefore, I have decided to make this year's veganniversary post a two-parter.  Today, I will explain the issues that arose in planning the wedding, and tomorrow, I will discuss the state of play in terms of traveling as a vegan.

As a threshold matter, it is important to know whether both parties to this wedding are vegans.  I had embraced veganism about a year before I met my now-wife.  Happily, after we met, she heartily embraced ethical veganism in her life, too.  So, when the wedding planning came along, at least we knew that the bride and groom were both on the same vegan page.  We do have non-vegan family and friends, of course, which is why some decisions had to be made.

There are now (and have long been) excellent vegan recipes for everything that one would want to include in a wedding reception dinner.  In particular, a quick search by my then-fianceee on the web turned up a large number of vegan-friendly bakeries, and an even larger number of vegan wedding cake recipes.  When we saw that none of those bakeries was near our wedding venue, it was easy to find a bakery that would use one of the vegan recipes.  How did it turn out?  Even discounting for people's desire to be effusive when talking to the bride and groom, it is safe to say that the wedding cake was a huge hit.  Not only were there no complaints that it "tastes funny," but most people were asking for the recipe to try at home.  Score a big win for cruelty-free celebrations.

What about the rest of the menu?  And, more importantly, how does one handle the expectations of those family members and friends who still think that a meal must include animal flesh?  One choice, of course, could have been to serve meat to those who wanted it, and to serve vegan food to the bride and groom (and to those guests, such as the Colbdorf family, who wanted to join us).  We rejected that idea immediately, because we felt that -- for this meal, at least -- our loved ones would be happy to join us in eating food with which we felt completely morally comfortable.

Even so, it was important to choose a menu that did not seem "weird" to people (this being a group of guests ranging in age from 16 to 87, most of whom are not used to thinking about animal rights, and some of whom think that vegans eat nothing but sprouts and tofu).  We ended up making two key choices.  First, we decided to offer two entrees: a mock-meat dish, and a "naturally vegan" entree.  This meant that people could choose between "vegan beef puff pastries with gravy" and "pasta vegetale."  This seemed important to us, because we wanted the uninitiated to be able to say, "Vegan beef?  Hmm, well, I've at least had pasta with vegetables before."  Second it was also important not to advertise the vegan beef in a misleading way.  (One possibility that I briefly considered was announcing in fine print that everything on the menu was vegan, and then just calling that entree "beef with gravy."  Fortunately, someone quickly convinced me otherwise.)  We decided that it was important to let everyone know that there was an entree available that they would not find on the menu of most restaurants.

The RSVP's ran 2-to-1 in favor of pasta, which was not surprising.  Given that fewer than a third of the guests were vegan, however, this represented some willingness to experiment on the part of nieces, uncles, friends, and so on.  What I found most surprising, however, was simply how good the vegan beef entree was.  From the moment I became a vegan, I had never yearned for the taste of meat.  In part, this is because I quickly figured out that most meats are more "spice delivery vehicles" -- with unhealthy, cruel, and environmentally disastrous side effects -- than actual taste treats.  But I have also never missed even the meats that were arguably tasty on their own (compromised) merits.  In this case, it turned out that the mock meat was so convincing that we could have successfully engaged in false advertising.  It was simply delicious, both the fake meat itself and the other tastes that were included in the entree.

Perhaps the most gratifying result of all this planning was that our vegan friends were able to enjoy a wedding reception in the way that all meals should be enjoyed: choosing what looks tasty, without having to ask about various items (and to exclude the items about which it is pointless even to ask).  That, after all, is what non-vegans get to do all the time.  It is the difference between eating in a vegan restaurant or in a vegan-friendly restaurant, about which I will write more tomorrow.

My fifth veganniversary ended up being extra special.  Happily, we were able to put the same amount of planning into the reception dinner as would be required for any wedding, yet create a memorable event that was fully vegan and satisfying to everyone who attended.  Yes, I am biased in my assessment, but I am confident that our vegan wedding was better for everyone by virtue of its being vegan.  That is something to celebrate.