In one of those odd turns of fate that life hands us, during a full calendar of wedding catering one summer a few years ago, we at Foodisima prepared not a single wedding meal that included meat other than — in certain cases — some wild and sustainably caught salmon.
We did some beautiful weddings, too. They were mostly gorgeous affairs that included white dresses, rented tuxes, perfectly turned-out bridesmaids, elegant cakes and weeping mothers of the bride. In short, from the outside looking in, they were mostly somewhat traditional, beautiful weddings. And the food we prepared for these weddings was beautiful and, in some ways, traditional, as well. That is, looking at the food what you would see is elegant, well-prepared and served wedding fare.
Foodisima Catering & Chef Services have always prided ourselves on local food that is, as much as possible, handmade. We make our own stocks and sauces, our own breads. Our polenta begins with cornmeal and when we serve scones or sorbets (and a lot of other things!) they are made by hand.
Over the years, our own awareness of local, organic food has grown to the point where we are very sensitive of carbon footprints, not only for ourselves but for our clients: we recycle, of course (doesn’t everyone?), but we also expend a lot of effort thinking about how we can not only reduce our own waste, but that of our clients, as well. It turns out that if you think like that long enough and hard enough, it trickles down into everything you do. Which, one way or another, led to the summer of 2010: all those weddings. No meat.
In the middle of what I think I will look back on as a watershed summer, Chelsea Clinton got married. And it happened that while I was busy preparing stocks and sauces and dressings for what would be a mostly vegan wedding, I was hearing about how Clinton — who is vegan — would be serving some vegan cuisine at her wedding, but also organically raised beef. The thought of this very prominent vegan serving meat at her wedding sort of appalled me. After all, this would be her day. Well, her and her (presumably also vegan) groom. If you can not, on that very special day, ask that your friends and family respect your choices, when can you? The rationale I heard (though admittedly not from Clinton herself) was that people have traditionally offered vegetarian options at carnivorecentric weddings, so why should vegan weddings not offer meat for attending carnivores? And my answer to that is… well, it’s different.
It isn’t that we at Foodisima don’t like meat or have a problem with it. In fact, aside from the watershed wedding thing, we prepared meat for a lot of other types of functions last summer. We don’t mind doing it and we do it very well. Also, if you want meat at your wedding — if that’s part of your personal design brief for your special day, or even if it’s just that you always dreamed of filet mignon at your wedding, or chicken kiev, that’s just what you should have. But if what you really want is a different kind of wedding, well… nothing need stand in your way.
See, here’s the thing: for many people, their wedding will be the largest party they ever host. And it’s meaningful, this party. It represents a new beginning, in a way. And the birth of a new aspect in a special relationship. A whole new day. A party like that — an important party, heavy in symbolism and sharing — should stand for something. Especially if the wedding couples have made choices of conviction in their lives.
And here’s the other thing: even while I was hearing about Clinton’s compromise at her own wedding, I knew from experience that it was a compromise not worth making. And why? Because by that point I had helped create a special and meaningful day for several vegetarian couples and had watched while guest after guest not only ate happily of the vegetarian and vegan food on offer, they raved about it: this including grumpy looking uncles and obviously meat-eating dads. That’s because we’ve discovered that really good vegetarian and vegan celebration food is not about what isn’t there. It’s truly about celebrating what is.
Somewhere during that watershed summer — somewhere between Chelsea and eight or ten happy brides — I came to a place of conviction about what a wedding meal should look like. Truly, it can take many forms: it can be a stand-up affair, with luscious tidbits handed round by cater-waiters. It can be five courses beautifully served while the wedding party sips and toasts. Or it can be a bountiful buffet. But whatever it consists of, it should reflect the convictions of the wedding couple, whatever they happen to be.
This is your special day. The most special day ever. It need not be a day for compromise: it’s the day that will take you forward into the next phase of your life. Having that day — and that beautiful party — perfectly reflect your beliefs is not too much to ask.