|...meticulous advice for the refined activist|
Dear Gwendolyn Good-Deed,
I want to involve her in the process because I know how much it means to her, and so far we've been able to work out most of our disagreements. However, we've got one major snag we just can't get beyond: my fiancé and I are both vegan, and we want our wedding to reflect our values. My mother, however, is not, and thinks that a vegan wedding would leave our guests unsatisfied.
She has offered to have it mostly vegan as long as there are some non-vegan choices, and she is really insistent that we have a meat entrée as an option. She thinks that I'm being obstinant and unrealistic, and that I'm unfairly pushing my beliefs on my guests. Whether this is so or not, I simply don't my want wedding to have any association with meat. Have you any suggestions on how we can work this out without a huge brouhaha?
Back in the day when Gwennie was engaged to her third ex-husband, Reginald B. Fussypants, Jr., she had to dip into her considerable reserve of patience to cope with her future mother-in-law, the fierce, humorless and indomitable Mrs. Fanny A. Fussypants. This was the kind of woman who with a mere glint of the eye could send visible shivers down the spine of even the most imperturbable maitre d'; she could make a birthday party clown's balloons wilt and pop one by one: she was Wonder Woman, Queen Victoria and Atila the Hun all wrapped into a single 100-pound mother-in-law.
While planning the wedding, the matriarch Fussypants demanded that every detail fall within the range of her exacting standards, and she also insisted on final approval of any pertinent decisions regarding the wedding. To her, a pertinent decision was whether the bar used chipped or crushed ice; whether the linen napkins were folded with a crisp or rounded edge. Needless to say, not a single begonia could be chosen and placed without her active consent.
Oh, was Mother Fussypants a handful!
Gwendolyn was able to placate or indulge her on most of her demands, and was even beginning to recognize a glimmer of humanity - faint though it was - pulsing within Mrs. Fussypants' persnickety body. That is until the food planning came about.
Mrs. Fussypants was a regular Mellow Melanie compared to the ferocious, take-no-prisoners warrior she transformed into when dictating her food requirements. While Gwendolyn had been clear throughout this whole process that her single request was a meatless wedding, it had simply sailed through one diamond-studded ear and out the other. Mrs. Fussypants had a knack for ignoring anything that didn't fit neatly into her world view of the way things "should be". The fifth time Gwendolyn changed Fanny's plans for squab into squash and beef into beets, however, it could no longer be ignored.
"How dare you assume that guests of the Fussypants would feast on anything other than meat for my Reginald's wedding?!?" she thundered. "No son of mine is going to have a v-v-v-vegetarian wedding!"
"But Mrs. Fussypants, I've told you all along that my only request for the wedding is that no animals have to suffer or die to - "
"Then," she interrupted, eyes narrowed to slits and conviction oozing from her well-bred pores," you will not marry Reginald."
After the elopement, it took a while for Mrs. Fussypants to allow Gwendolyn back into her good graces. There did become a point, however, when instead of loudly slamming the phone down when it was Gwendolyn on the other line, she'd simply hang up without much fanfare, making Gwennie's ear ring much less. At one point she even smiled, wanly but a smile no less, although that was when Gwendolyn and Reginald announced their separation and imminent divorce. (It turns out that Reginald inherited more than a healthy trust fund from his mother: he also inherited an ample supply of her DNA.)
So, gentle vegan, back to you. Weddings can cause anxieties even among the most well-adjusted, simpatico families. There can be a tremendous amount of stress, pressure and worry even without much added interference or conflict. As you know, there are many things to think about and organize without additional familial pressure.
As it is clear from your letter how important it is to you that your wedding be vegan, Ms. Good-Deed recommends that you do not compromise on this issue. There are certain things that are okay to compromise on, depending on whether it poses an ethical conflict for you or not: for example, you might like cream colored napkins while your mother prefers peach. In the big picture, it is worth it to be flexible on such inconsequential matters because it gives you room to negotiate on big decisions, such as the kind of food that will be served. If you accrue enough points with these small matters, your mother may be more willing to be open-minded about your wishes.
Additionally, it might quell your mother's anxieties to have the caterers prepare a vegan meal for her to sample (this is usually standard), so she can see for herself what would be served.
At the core of your mother's resistance is obviously a fear that people will be disappointed by the food served, and she will be embarrassed. Being open with your mother not only about the food you'd like to offer, but also about your mutual feelings and concerns on this matter can only be worthwhile. Try not to be defensive or standoffish: that just raises the stakes and will make your mother more adversarial.
One of the difficulties you face in this particular case is that it's quite possible that you and your mother are actually hung up on old mother-daughter "stuff", like issues of control and rebellion, when you disagree over food. Be aware of when this is happening, so you can step back and diplomatically point it out.
It should be explained to your mother that although you very much appreciate her generosity, you shouldn't be asked to compromise your ethical standards. Many times, people who aren't vegan don't quite understand the conviction behind it, and they think that it's just a personal choice that can be tossed aside whenever it becomes inconvenient. It is vital that she grasps how important this is to you and your fiancé.
If, after all this, your mother still is resistant hosting a vegan wedding, you and your fiancé may want to consider biting the bullet and paying for it, or at least the food, yourselves. Regardless of your financial status, if your mother will not accept the wedding you want to have, then the price tag for her voluntary involvement is too steep. Rather than compromising your principles, you must simply say thank you, but no thank you. This might mean scaling down your wedding considerably, but at least it'd be the wedding of your choice.
Best of luck to you, gentle vegan. And don't forget to eat a vegan stuffed mushroom on the behalf of Ms. Good-Deed's ex-ex-ex mother-in-law, Fanny Fussypants!
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