1/7/10

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?


I hope Amos doesn't mind me quoting him (he wrote this in yesterday's thread)--
The breakdown of community, the lack of a shared social world, anomie, appears to be one of the chief problems we face. Do we really want to live in a society where each lives in his own mini-kitchen preparing purer than thou meals, buying ever more special foods, tuning into special vegan websites on their own personal Google phone? In any case, it will be a wonderful new market for capitalism to expand into. Then I suppose that they can begin to build vegan gated "communities".
Should I worry that I create this sort of fragmentation, though I am a mere vegetarian?  Do vegans really wind up segregated and alone? Your thoughts welcome!

18 comments:

rtk said...

Yes, vegans really wind up segregated and alone. At least the 8 or 10 that I know are. It seems to be an important aspect of their habit, part of a general trend to be a minority. *I don't* gives pleasure, at least to the several who make up my anecdote. They're fun together, out veganing each other.
Jus' sayin'

Jean Kazez said...

The vegans I have known in person are altogether "good guys" and I can't imagine they don't have creative ways of "playing well with others. I'd just like to hear from someone about how they handle these things. Maybe some have looser rules when they are guests someplace than otherwise. (I certainly do.)

Dominic said...

Being an alien from the planet vega inevitably creates social distance, awkwardness and nuisance.
For some that may even be a reason to become vegan as rtk suggests.
However, it certainly wasn't the reason why the vegans that I know chose to do so. Nor are they (and I include myself) in any way segregated or alone. For some people the fact that I am vegan may be weird enough to make them not want to socialise with me or invite me around for a meal - but to be honest, if that is the case I would rather not go.

Being vegan does make it difficult for someone else to cater for me, but not dramatically more so than someone with a severe nut allergy, gluten intolerance, or who keeps a strict kosher diet. I am more likely to invite someone to eat at my place than I am to eat at another's house, since it is far easier for me to cater for them (cooking my regular food) than vice versa. I don't bend or relax my rules when I go out, but neither do I interrogate my hosts or search the ingredients lists in their pantry.
There are reasons why I don't relax the rules that are just as important to me as they would be for someone with an allergy or religious diet. Explaining what I eat, and don't eat, and why in an open, relaxed and friendly way is something that I do often. It is part and parcel of the whole vegan thing, and to be honest - hopefully helps spread the message that veganism isn't weird, unachievable and antisocial. I am (I hope) always polite, grateful and encouraging about my hosts' attempts to cater for me.

cheers
Dom

Jean Kazez said...

Dom--Thanks very much for the explanation. You once said (if I recall) that your kids (and wife?) are vegetarian, not vegan. So how does cooking work at home? (If you don't mind my asking.)

Dominic said...

don't mind at all. It is pretty easy.
We mostly cook vegan meals, though the kids and my wife will have dairy accompaniments to their food (real cheese, yoghurt and ice cream instead of my pretend forms). We don't cook with eggs unless we have picked some up from a local free range farm, (preferably one where I have seen the chooks running around and know they are well cared for), or previously when we had our own chickens in the back yard. In those cases I will eat the eggs with my family. (So 'real' vegans probably wouldn't count me in their number).

amos said...

In no way, do I feel that vegans are responsible for what Jean calls social fragmentation. However, one of the best ways of building community (which is hard work in a society where technologies and consumism push almost everyone towards fragmentation) is through sharing food: as everyone must know, the word "companion" means "one with whom you share bread". Societies differ, and perhaps in university circles in the United States visiting someone with special dietary requirements is accepted, but I can assure you in Latin America (and in my limited experience in the U.S. in non-university type homes) it is simply an insult to your host or hostess, unless of course your diet is prescribed by your doctor.

rtk said...

Dom, you're definitely welcome at my house. I actually had at one table one vegan, two kosher, one diabetic, and a couple vegetarians plus 2 greedy slobs, one of whom was me. The most challenging, but least virtuous, was the diabetic. All in all, it worked out okay.

rtk said...

Lemme add that the diabetic wanted to give me the whole list of forbidden foods and expected me to omit them entirely from the whole dinner. The vegetarians did not even tell me ahead of time of their restrictions and just quietly asked for a bit of reassurance that the tomatoes were not stuffed with any naughties. The kosher guests couldn't get a serious answer out of me. I claimed piggy was everywhere. I think if I had restrictions I would not present myself as a guest anywhere I would need to say no to any dish presented to me.

Jean Kazez said...

Dom, Ahh...I hadn't pictured it could be that simple. Chickens in the backyard--I keep hearing people say they want to do that! I think they'd overheat here in Texas (and then overcool on a day like today--17 deg!)

Amos, I think there may be some cultural factors here, or so I have been told before. If I am ever visiting a little village in Africa, I probably have the goat stew rather than break every social rule in the book.

rtk, Weren't there any Jehovah's Witnesseses?

Jean Kazez said...

skip some of those e's and s's please.

Dominic said...

One of the advantages from this end (and another reason why it is easier for me to cater), is that my diet is often the lowest common denominator. When friends who are vegetarian, pescetarian, or kosher eat at my place there is no need to alter the menu or cook different things for different people.
On the other hand the combination of vegan and coeliac starts to get tricky (I eat huge amounts of wheat based food, usually have to cook south-east asian for the evening), and a low-carb diet might really test me! Haven't faced that yet.

Dominic said...

PS thanks for the offer rtk

rtk said...

In fact, two Mennonites, one Mormon, and a bunch of A.....ts.

amos said...

Yes, Jean, it's cultural. I recall that when I was in California, people would begin conversations with "what do you eat?" instead of "what do you do?"
or my preference, "what do you think of X?" The question "what do you eat?" irritated me immensely and brought out my tendency toward perverse irony in my answers. Still, I find it strange that people should seek each other out on the basis of what they eat, instead of sharing food because they have other, for me, more basic affinities.

Tina. said...

I've been a vegetarian for more than half of my lifetime, and I spent six or seven of those years following a vegan diet. I've never had any real issues when it came to having me over for dinner--both my friends and relatives were always graciously accommodating. But I have always been one of those people who does not but their nose in other people's plates either (or freak out if my soy burger would touche someone's meat burger on a grill, for example). In other words, I would not judge anyone according to their diet (my husband of three-and-a-half years is an omnivore); on the other hand, and especially during my vegan years, I was usually the one who had to explain herself to people and had to defend my diet because some felt entitled to question it.
In short, no; I never feel segregated or alone. But I am also a vegetarian/vegan who doesn't mind preparing meat for my omnivore friends from time to time.

Alex Chernavsky said...

Amos wrote: "I find it strange that people should seek each other out on the basis of what they eat, instead of sharing food because they have other, for me, more basic affinities."

To me, veganism is the expression -- on an individual level -- of the principles of non-violence and the abolition of the exploitation of sentient creatures. What could be more basic than that?

amos said...

Alex: That's the theory of what veganism is. It's as if I were to say that communism is the end of the exploitation of man by man.
In the practice, both veganism and communism attract a wide variety of human types, of saints and sinners, of fanatics and open-minded souls, and I prefer to judge people not by their ideology, but by who they are and how they live.

amos said...

Alex: Once again. It matters little or not at all to me what a person eats or which party she votes for or whether she goes to church or not or what her profession or sexual preference is.
I look for certain qualities: honesty, above all, honesty with oneself; wakefulness, wisdom (whatever that means), empathy,
concern for others (including animals), respect for others (including animals and the environment in general), commitment to something or someone, hardness toward oneself (that term comes from Nietzsche),
that is, not being childishly spoiled. I avoid people who sermonize about what I should or should not eat or for which party I should or should not vote, etc. So, whether or not a person eats meat or not, does not appear to be basic criterion to me. Probably, I would avoid a person who stuffs herself with meat, but for the same reasons that I avoid people who stuff themselves with sweets or who drink excessively.