As vegetarians who try very hard to be vegan most of the time, we feel a certain responsibility to be calm, rational representatives for those who eschew meat. Mostly this involves common-sense things like not glaring at people when they eat meat in front of us and not being demanding when over to other people’s house for meals.
But, we do expect some respect in return. Which is why this article from J. Bryan Lowder at Slate, entitled “Chicken Stock Doesn’t Count as Meat,” is so infuriating.
The author begins with a story:
My hand, grasping a ladle full of steaming amber liquid, froze in mid-air. […] oh God, the stock. He was talking about the stock. Vegetarians were at that moment speeding up the express subway track toward our home, and, despite my efforts to craft a menu that would appease them, I had just failed by using chicken stock in the mushroom risotto … or had I?
I flashed my chilliest Stepford smile at him as I gently stirred the liquid into the hissing pot. “You won’t say a word, will you, sweetie?”
He goes on to say “Sorry I’m not sorry” for lying to his friends because his addition of chicken stock wasn’t malicious, it was an accident! But even if deliberately stirring the ingredient into his dish wasn’t an accident, vegetarians should just take a chill pill:
But the more I meditate on this issue, the more I think that it is not I who should feel guilty, even for an honest mistake. […] When I have vegetarians over for dinner, I’m already making a sacrifice by forgoing a real entrée in favor of a meatless one. Fairness and common sense would argue that, in return, vegetarians shouldn’t make a big deal about some small amount of a near-invisible (if crucial!) liquid. I’ve compromised my culinary integrity enough already—now it’s your turn: Vegetarians and vegans, chicken stock does not count as meat.
And here is the crux of Lowder’s argument: something made out of chicken that requires a chicken to be killed doesn’t count as meat because it’s liquid! Everyone knows that meat is only solid.
We won’t bore you by quoting the veritable love poem to chicken stock that follows in the next paragraph. Needless to say, Lowder thinks you simply can’t be a real cook without using chicken stock. Why, according to him, it’s like putting “a chunky sludge of rotting leaves and other decaying organic matter” into your Ferrari!
But just in case you thought that Lowder was being dismissive of vegetarians or was putting his own “culinary integrity” ahead of a vegetarian’s ethical integrity, fear not! Lowder is really on your side!
But I know for a fact that many other vegetarians are hardy, practical folk who just care about the environment and the ethical treatment of animals. I’m with you on all that! Which, actually, is one of the main reasons I make stock. If I’m going to roast an organic, free-range, hazelnut-fed chicken, the most respectful thing I can do afterward is to make the most of the remaining flesh and bone, which most people just toss out. I’m being a responsible, frugal meat eater by doing this—can’t vegetarians acknowledge my effort by letting slide the few tablespoons that might end up in their soup?
Lowder, friend, let’s sit down for a moment and have a chat. As vegetarians, we both acknowledge and respect your efforts to be a responsible meat eater. However, we have decided that to honor our own beliefs of what is most ethical, we should not eat any meat at all. After all, even your organic, free-range chicken had to die a horrible, painful death before it became your stock.
So, how about instead of asking us to violate our own beliefs, you just accept a nice pat on the back instead?
Of course, Lowder’s not just concerned about himself. He’s also worried about society and how it will hold up under the crushing weight of bad manners.
While I realize that etiquette is on the wane at this late date, I maintain that it is very impolite to straight-up refuse something someone has taken the time to make for you (and the other, probably carnivorous people present) because of your personal preference. […] (And if you feel tempted to suggest that she take the time to whip up some creepily earthy vegetable stock to make a special, separate batch of risotto just for you, check yourself with these wise word: Ain’t nobody got time for that.)
So, is this chicken-broth-risotto the only dish in the whole meal? Is he just serving up a giant trough of risotto? Because if that’s the case, then yes, it may be rude to sit at the dinner table with an empty plate and glare around the room.
But it sounds more like Lowder made a whole meal that was vegetarian. Remember, he had to “sacrifice” his dreams of a real entree (*sniff*). How is it rude to pass on one dish, then?
Furthermore, there are plenty of vegetarians who will opt to make one exception for an honest mistake, promptly revealed. However, I don’t know any vegetarian who would think it was more polite to have their host (and friend!) lie to them about what was in a dish. Yet this is the argument Lowder makes in the last paragraph:
I’m not naïve; I realize that for some partisans, no invocations of science, ethics, or good manners will be enough to convince them that stock is the special, compromise-worthy case I’m suggesting.
What aspect of “science, ethics, or good manners” is exactly on your side Lowder? First, scientifically, chicken is still chicken no matter how small. It still requires an animal to be killed for our consumption, which is a fundamental reason we are vegetarians; we do not want to consume animals in any form, even if the only thing in your wonder stock is 1/100th of the bird. So far, you are going against our ethics and flying in the face of the science of “chicken remains chicken.”
Also, it is not good manners to blatantly disregard friends’ longstanding ethical choices. Presumably these vegetarians speeding his way on the express train are people Lowder knows well; part of respecting your friends is respecting their ethics, which is not done here. Essentially, his article boils down to “I know the ethical choices my friends made, but I don’t like them because it inconveniences me. They may be willing to take steps to lessen that inconvenience by bringing other dishes or the like, but I cannot allow them to submit themselves to such dishes when they could partake of my Wonder Stock.”
Which is why, in the end, perhaps the tried-and-true model of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is the best policy. We all know that if I didn’t tell you there was a little chicken stock in that veggie stir fry, you wouldn’t know and therefore couldn’t care. You would just recognize, in the less radicalized, more human parts of your soul, that the ingredients I had assembled for you in the pan were freaking delicious and be grateful for the passing brush with gustatory happiness.
You know, there’s another culinary genius who would absolutely agree with this argument: