A Vegetarian Serves Christmas Ham

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.)

That's me hovering on the left, while my cute sister Kelly expertly oversees the operation.

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.


  1. claire

    no offense mom, but this is one of the worst blog posts I have ever read. it would be much appreciated if you would delete it. it is not pleasant at all to hear your mom (who raised you to believe truly in not killing the earth’s creatures and loving the earth) talking about how happy it makes her feel to buy a ham for CHRISTMAS! Christmas is supposed to be a time of love, happiness, and peace TOWARD ALL CREATURES! I am very disappointed in you mother.

    1. Ah, but Claire, as you as a reader of complicated stories know, it’s impossible to fully understand another character, hard as you try. So give your mom a little space! this is a grandmother’s point of view! love, cookie

  2. Dan Hortsch

    Some years back I would serve or help cook and serve a turkey at Christmas even though I no longer ate it — my older daughter didn’t see how I could do that — but, with due respect, I could never serve ham. If only all pigs were raised in the kind of conditions shown, or at least implied, in the photo above. (I still eat some seafood and so I cannot claim to be special.)
    By the way, I loved “Crow Planet,” given to me by that same daughter after I heard about it — on NPR I think — and wanted to read it. It is a wonderful book. Thank you.

  3. angie

    Have you read the Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith? It’s an excellent perspective on the sustainability of vegetarianism. I too understand the reality, and kudos to you for sharing tolerance, acceptance and understanding during this holiday season.
    Merry Christmas! Don’t forget to share the scraps/suet with the neighborhood crows.

  4. Alana

    Good point, Claire! People shouldn’t try and have it both ways just when it suits them or rationalize their lapse in ethics by using the “black and white” argument.

  5. Amy Mauldin

    I love everything about this post – the values conflict, the darling piggie photos, and especially the mother-daughter exchange of comment.
    Good on you both, and happy holidays!
    oink oink,

  6. seth

    hey; Im currently pecking away at your latest book and wanted to say hi. My sister bought me Crow Planet after I told her about a large crow funeral I ran into at Discovery Park. If you ever want to meet an aggressive barred owl I can suggest a prince mushroom patch in the middle of Seward park that is “guarded” by this formidable creature. For 2 yrs in a row I was attacked at the same location in late summer; the first time I was clawed in the back of my head and chased for 40 ft [I could see the wings inches from my head peripherally as I sprinted and screamed] Last August I was more careful and escaped his pursuit unscathed. Lookng frwrd 2 follwing yr blog!

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