The Vine: November 28, 2012
My husband and I are at an impasse with holiday hosting plans, and I'm hoping you might be able to make a ruling for us.
For each of the last several years, about half of my family spends an afternoon/evening at our apartment for Christmas. My sister and her husband come out from California (we're in New York City), my dad and my stepmother come downtown, my stepbrother and stepsister occasionally tag along with significant others — it's nice.
We always make a bunch of food, and my stepmother (whose family is Polish a few generations back) is particularly fond of the little slices of farmer's-market kielbasa we serve. Said kielbasa has become an unofficial fixture at these gatherings, both because she praises it every year and because she's a fairly picky eater. I'm a vegetarian for moral reasons and have never loved serving meat at our place, but my husband and the rest of the family aren't, so I kept quiet. I even purchased it myself the first few years we had everyone over; I wanted to be a good host.
I'm finding it harder to be a good host these days. My husband is on the road to vegetarianism (he still eats fish, but that's it, and he's wavering on that), and I can feel myself turning vegan; I've become increasingly uncomfortable with the way laying hens and dairy cows are treated, and animal products like wool and silk are dropping out of my wardrobe. I've never been the sort of veggie who picked fights or made people feel guilty about their choices — I've quietly eaten crappy side salads at steakhouses for decades, and I think I've been mostly diplomatic about the internet's obsession with bacon — but I think I'm becoming more active.
I am also no longer cool with buying or serving meat at our house; while I want our family to enjoy themselves, I also want to be a model vegetarian. I want to demonstrate that tasty food can be cruelty-free, I feel that my actions and what goes down in my home should be consistent with what I believe is right, and I do not want to give a butcher my money. If Christmas is going to continue to happen at our house (which seems likely, since my dad and stepmother's place is cluttered and they don't cook), I feel that it should be kielbasa-free.
My husband disagrees, strenuously: He also believes it's wrong to kill pigs for food, but he thinks that indulging my stepmother on this once a year is a sign of respect, and he's willing to make the purchase and serve the damn sausage. What should we do?
Thank you in advance for your wisdom,
It's that time of year again…with the exception of weddings, nothing hands you a Sharpie and forces you to figure out where to put the line between standing your ground and keeping the peace quite like the holidays do.
I agree with your husband — but my vegequarianism is a digestive-logistics stance, not a moral one. It's no big deal for me to put out a separate plate with charcuterie, but it's an ethical problem for you; I see both sides. You in turn could certainly argue that, just as it's "this once a year" for you, it's also once a year for your stepmother, who could actually probably get said kielbasa from said farmer's market herself since you all live in NYC, so why does she have to enjoy it in a vegetarian home when she could have it every week if she blah blah blah.
So, I don't think either course of action is "wrong," but I also don't think it's about the kielbasa for your stepmother. Yeah, it's the rare food she likes, but what she really values is that you put aside your own discomfort about meat in order to respect her family background, and make her feel seen and included with this holiday tradition that's about her. You don't have to do things in your own home that you don't agree with, obviously, but consider that the kielbasa does not read to her in the same way.
Maybe the answer is to call her up and just tell her…that. "Stepmom, I know you love the kielbasa, and I love that it's a holiday dish we've shared over the years. The thing is, I just don't feel comfortable serving it at our house anymore. Can I just tell y'all where to get it at the market, and then we can think about a different food tradition we could have together?" Like, just put it out there. I don't get the impression that she's a harpy you can't talk to at all; try telling her that you want the same fondness of feeling with her, but maybe associated with a potato pierogi or something?
Or you can bring it up with Dad instead, but I wouldn't wait until the gathering and spring it on them, which among other things makes a bigger deal of it than it has to be. I also wouldn't decide to serve the sausage but then act pointedly beleaguered about it; if you make the exception, own it as an act of goodwill towards family, and remember you can always change your mind next year.
Good luck! Let us know how it goes.
Tags: etiquette happy hellidays the fam vegequarianism