Table Fellowship

I didn’t care much for Jonathon Safran Foer when I first read his book excerpt in the New York Times. That changed when I got to see him speak at a book fair on the National Mall. So much so, I decided to read his book called “Eating Animals”.

He is a writer. He uses words as skillfully as a surgeon uses a scalpel.

I’m enjoying it so far, especially this one quote in particular ( page 55 ):

Sharing food generates good feeling and creates social bonds. Michael Pollan, who has written as thoughtfully about food as anyone, calls this “table fellowship” and argues that its importance, which I agree is significant, is a vote against vegetarianism. At one level, he’s right.

Let’s assume you’re like Pollan and are opposed to factory-farmed meat. If you’re at the guest end, it stinks not to eat food that was prepared for you, especially (although he doesn’t get into this) when the grounds for refusal are ethical. But how much does it stink? It’s a classic dilemma: How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how much do I value acting socially responsible? The relative importance of ethical eating and table fellowship will be different in different situations (declining my grandmother’s chicken with carrots is different from passing on microwaved buffalo wings).

More important, though, and what Pollan curiously doesn’t emphasize, is that attempting to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism. Imagine an acquaintance invites you to dinner. You could say, “I’d love to come. And just so you know, I’m a vegetarian.” You could also say, “I’d love to come. But I only eat meat that is produced by family farmers.” Then what do you do? You’ll probably have to send the host a web link or list of local shops to even make the request intelligible, let alone manageable. This effort might be well-placed, but it is certainly more invasive than asking for vegetarian food (which these days requires no explanation). The entire food industry (restaurants, airline and college food services, catering at weddings) is set up to accommodate vegetarians. There is no such infrastructure for the selective omnivore.

And what about being at the host end of a gathering? Selective omnivores also eat vegetarian fare, but the reverse is obviously not true. What choice promotes greater table fellowship?

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2 thoughts on “Table Fellowship”

  1. The host then replies “Please feel free to bring a dish to share that you feel comfortable to eat.

  2. I think that line works better as an offer coming from the guest to bring their own dish to share. Coming from a host “Please feel free to bring a dish to share that you feel comfortable eating” could sound too much like ” … *fine*, bring your own FOOD …”.

    Offering to bring a dish to share works for vegans and vegetarians, because there is the understanding that the host doesn’t know how to prepare such dishes.

    A Pollanesque carnist offering to bring a dish to share doesn’t have that understanding with the host. S/he is basically saying that any meat the host may provide isn’t good enough for his/her standards so she will bring their own. The insult would probably get worse once everyone sits down to eat and asks the person why they brought their own dish to a dinner with so much food. The guests then get an implied insult, in addition to the host. The host’s meat is fine, for you, the regular guests, but it isn’t up to my standards so I brought my own.

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