You are hosting a summer party. The weather is lovely. People are lively, social, mingling and laughing. No food has burnt, no table-cloth has caught on fire and no one has drowned in the pool. “You’ve done it! You have hosted a successful party!” you say to yourself. Then, as you gather everyone from their divergent corners and wrangle all the kids out of the pool to sit dripping from their towels, someone pipes up about the food placed before them:
“Excuse me, are these hamburgers organic?”
“Is this banana pudding made with fair trade bananas?”
“Is there any corn syrup in the ketchup?”
The exciting fervor of the party dies down. Some people might stare. Others might roll their eyes. A lively discussion of food might ensue, which might lead to talk about politics, which might ruin your party! Others around the table, happy after their first bite of a hamburger, might now be feeling guilty or judged by one of the other guests. A wonderful party has turned into a solemn dinner….
Hopefully this hasn’t happened to you. But chances are you have been visited upon by a food Pharisee at one point in time. A food Pharisee may come in all sorts of stripes, but suffice it to say that a food Pharisee is someone who makes their food ideals known and tries to force it onto other people. The Pharisees loved to pray loudly in busy streets so everyone knew how holy they were and never missed a chance to scold Jesus for not following their rules and standards. A food Pharisee is just like the Pharisees of old, but they boast about their food ideals and let everyone know that to be good, holy or perfect everyone should start eating like them.
This is a place of great contention. Food is elemental to all cultures. It is something we encounter daily, like sleeping or breathing. Critiquing someone’s eating habits can be like telling the person they don’t know how to accomplish one of the fundamental daily acts that keeps them alive. And (understandably so!) people don’t like to be judged that way.
Thankfully, there are three easy ways I have found to eat ethically without becoming a food Pharisee.
With going hungry, it is important to remember that for certain hosts or certain cultures not eating the food items is a ghastly affront bordering on cultural taboo. In this case, be humble and open: eat the gifts of a host gladly. Always! You will never convert someone to eating differently after you have insulted him and basically said that the four hours he spent slaving over the meal set before you are really not that important.
These three easy ways really do work. When my wife and I started to eat ethically raised meat, there were whole stacks fantastically cooked chicken and pork we left untouched at family parties. We spent several barbecues happily eating coleslaw, macaroni salad and potato salad. We tried to be as humble and open as possible, and we even went without eating turkey one Thanksgiving (there is so much other amazing food at Thanksgiving we didn’t miss it). Our family isn’t stupid, and the aunts and uncles started to put two and two together. One day, to our surprise, we showed up at a family barbecue and the family had decided to buy organic chicken as part of the meal. They wanted us to be included, which was what we had always intended, but never wanted to pressure them into doing. We were humble, open and we went hungry, and now there is always some food for us and an ethically raised turkey for Thanksgiving!