My daughter and I are both vegetarians, but my husband Tom, and the rest of my family, are not. We usually celebrate Christmas day at my house, everyone gathered about our dining table, made long with the addition of two leaves. I love it. For years I dreamed up celebratory meatless dinners designed to make sure that no one felt any gustatory lack. And though the meals were (if I may say so) delicious, and everyone was sweetly appreciative, there was an unspoken, silent meditation happening around the table: “A slice of sweet hog sure would be good right about now.”
Not sure what came over me, but a few years ago I decided to surprise everyone by serving ham. I went to our local food co-op where I knew the meat would be “natural,” and surveyed the section–bone in, bone out, spiral cut, cured. I’d never bought a ham before, and had no idea what any of this meant. I hailed the nice Meat Lady, and explained my situation. You would have thought I told her I was about to give birth. She grabbed my arm and said, “This is wonderful!!” She called to the back, “Rob, this vegetarian woman is buying a ham for Christmas dinner!” Rob ran out to join in the celebration. I spent about a gajillion dollars per pound on a round piece of meat that, in its incarnation as a pig, had her own nanny, an electric blanket, enjoyed stimulating games, got plenty of exercise in a sunny meadow, ate only local organic grain and vegetables prepared by her personal chef, and had bedtime stories read to her by the farmer himself. It was, I heard, the most delicious Christmas ham in the history of Christmas hams. (I heard? OK, I know–I am after all a vegetarian for ethical reasons, not because of any dislike of ham, and there it was…I sneaked a dripping taste when Claire, a true veg-evangelist, wasn’t looking.)
I’ll serve ham again this year. I’ll fix it with a simple maple syrup-orange-mustard glaze. My guests will be over-the-top happy. I will feel conflicted, but still strangely pleased with myself, and reminded once again that life is not reducible to black and white and right and wrong.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all creatures.
Thanks to Flickr users Brent and DaveKav.