June 10

True Hospitality

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I’ll accomodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine.” — Anthony Bourdain

One of Anthony Bourdain’s many influences was to make it socially acceptable to marginalize and ridicule people with dietary restrictions without concern or an interest in understanding the reasons behind the restrictions. While he had an interest in understanding people in exotic villages who enjoyed roasting goat organs, he refused to understand that some people, for example, have heart disease and choose to eat vegetarian to improve their life expectancy and minimize their dependency on medications. Others, like myself, spit out meat as infants because it just never agreed with my stomach. Decades later when diagnosed with a host of digestive conditions that required that my stomach be reconstructed, it became clear that my aversion to meat was based on physiological limitations. There are many reasons that people stop eating meat, poultry and fish. Some are concerned about the environmental impact that is real while others object to the treatment of animals in the slaughtering process but the bottom line is that the definition of hospitality is not wanting people to enjoy what YOU want to enjoy. It’s preparing something for them that THEY will enjoy. In other words it’s about the guests not the chef. I’ve brined turkeys for three days for family members at holidays and dedicated hours to cooking meat dishes that smell disgusting to me, prepared on a daily basis meat dishes for family members and sought to accommodate guests with a variety of food preferences because none of us needs to be judged nor should have to explain to a chef why some food makes us feel bad.

As such I would like to be a voice for focusing on the needs of the guests as opposed to the egos of the hosts. How about we stop ridiculing people with dietary limitations and instead give people the benefit of the doubt that maybe our bodies operate differently than theirs? We have index cards in our recipe box with the dietary restrictions of friends who frequently eat at our home because why would any host want to serve something that a guest won’t enjoy or would increase their cholesterol or give them acid reflux for example? Hospitality is not about requiring guests to eat by your rules. It’s about expressing to your guests that you want to prepare something for them that they will enjoy.