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Organic Foods.  Should We Believe?
Posted: 14 June 2007 10:29 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Are organic foods hype or real? I didn’t know, but after having seen a product—a 30% more expensive product—labeled “Organic Kitty Litter,” my skept-o-meter went into the red zone and I decided to put some Google time into finding out.

I started with a Wikipedia definition:

“For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. In most countries, organic produce must not be genetically modified.”


First, it’s notable that organic food can be grown with pesticides and fertilizers, just as long as they aren’t “conventional” or “artificial.” I then searched for “organic pesticides” and found an interesting article at http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC2756.htm with what seemed like a lot of inorganic disclaimers.

“Organic pesticides are usually considered as those pesticides that come from natural sources… [like] pyrethrum (pyrethins), rotenone or ryania (botanical insecticides), or minerals, such as boric acid, cryolite, or diatomaceous earth. Just because a product is thought to be organic, or natural, does not mean that it is not toxic. Some organic pesticides are as toxic, or even more toxic, than many synthetic chemical pesticides. While some organic pesticides may be nontoxic or are only slightly toxic to people, they may be very toxic to other animals. For instance, the organic pesticide ryania is very toxic to fish. Also, some organic pesticides may be toxic to beneficial insects, such as honeybees… .”

Apparently, organic food can be grown with pesticides that are as nasty, if not nastier, than conventional ones, most of which are required by law to decompose after a few days of exposure to the environment.

Second, it’s interesting to note that while there are rules for organic pesticides, usually insecticides, it was difficult to find much of substance about the use of conventional herbicides and fungicides which may be fair in the organic game, and the use of which can vary from state to state and country to country.

Third, organic fertilizers, appear to be good for soils, but bad for bodies of water. Virginia Tech’s site says organic fertilizers mean “that the nutrients contained in the product are derived solely from the remains or a by-product of an organism. Cottonseed meal, blood meal, fish emulsion, manure and sewage sludge are examples of organic fertilizers,” even though Wikipedia called sludge an organic no-no.

Summarizing several sources about organic fertilizers, there were praises for organic fertilizer’s ability to leech through soil, but in a strange case of damned if you do/don’t, organic fertilizers easily leech into ponds, streams, estuaries and bays where they promote the growth of algae that blocks sunlight and upsets the ecological balance of those environments.

Fourth, how did genetic modification find its way into the definition of organic? An “original” ear of corn was the size of a pinky finger. Original potatoes were the size of marbles; grapes the size of BBs. It can be argued that every morsel of food we’ve ever eaten has been “genetically modified.” What does it matter whether the modification was done by someone in a genetics lab, a hybridizer in a greenhouse, or nature over a billion years? Genes are constantly evolving, “modifying” if you will, with or without human interaction.

Fifth, is organic food really healthier than non-organic food? Wikipedia says, “For animals, [organic] means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones.” Do antibiotics and hormones even stay in the meat, and how unhealthy are they compared to the cholesterol, fat and, in some cases, heavy metals that are found in meat?

Sixth, can food really be grown organically over time? What about when the government sprays entire counties as California did during the med-fly crisis? What happens when the inorganic farmer is spraying his field up-wind of the organic one? What happens when the locusts come? Is it okay to battle a full-scale pest invasion with the flit-gun or must an organic farmer wait for the seagulls to arrive?  Are there never any cheaters?  How are cheaters caught, what are the penalties, how closely is organic farming and food processing really regulated and, as consumers and taxpayers, how much are organic fuzzy-wuzzies supposed to cost us? 

Fortunately, there are organic debunkers and some of their work can be read at http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm?headline=2643 and http://news-service.stanford.edu/pr/01/dangerous4926.html.

[ Edited: 16 June 2007 09:53 PM by JustAThought ]
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Posted: 15 June 2007 01:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I eat organic because it tastes better to me.  I’ve never liked meat either, so by default I’ve always been a vegetarian.  Even as a child my mother had an easier time getting me to eat my veggies than my meat.  I was a weird child.  Even so, I raised on home grown organic veggies, so I’m use to the taste, believe it or not.  Store bought raw veggies has a bit of a different taste for some reason.

However, there are some things I dispute with the debunkers.  I truly believe the hormones are still in the dairy products.  It seems illogical to think they are not if you look at some 9 year old girls who seem physically grown.  It’s astounding and something we would not have seen 30 years ago.  However, I still drink store bought milk, eat Dannon yogart, and cheese that is not organic.  My sons drunk both soymilk and regular milk growing up and didn’t seem affected by hormones in the regular milk, cheese and yogart.  The thing about soy making males gay is bullcrap of course. Both of my sons are hetero and I raised them on soyburgers and alike. The younger one eats meat now and the older one doesn’t. It’s all a matter of what we like in my family.

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Posted: 15 June 2007 01:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think the organic food movement has its heart in more or less the right place, but it’s brain is not working that well. Sure, DDT created soem pretty serious problems (though it solved others, malaria in the U.S. b eing a good example), and a sustainable form of agriculture would be one with less reliance on fossil fuel products, including fertilizers, and long-lasting environmental toxins. But organic farming takes advantage of the misapprehension that “natural=good.” Intestinal parasites are natural, but we’re better off without them for the most part. The levels of production capable with organic methods are lower than could possibly feed the world’s population (though they’d be closer if we gave up meat), and there’s no reliable evidence that there’s a significant health benefit to organic foods. I think it’s largley a bogus term that doesn’t have much real meaning, IMHO.

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Posted: 15 June 2007 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yep, there’s definitely some good and some woo-woo nonsense in the organic food movement. Whatever else may be said of organic produce, it will of necessity be less productive, which means fewer calories per acre, which means more expensive. (I’m repeating some of what Brennen said). Health benefits are slight to nonexistent. There may be benefits to the wider environment from lower intensity farming, but OTOH if you want to feed the world, you will have to use more land to do it. (Again, fewer calories per acre). So that means cutting down more forests and rainforests.

And again, since it’s more expensive, that means lower standards of living, other things equal. People would have less money to spend on other things. Fine for wealthy western countries (especially for wealthier people there) but what of the vast majority of the world’s population?

Organic food can taste better ... but I think more important for taste is that one get local, freshly grown produce rather than produce that is picked green and transported long distances. (But again, the latter is less expensive!)

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Posted: 15 June 2007 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yes, I buy locally when I buy organic.  Besides, if it’s imported you aren’t really sure what you are getting.  You could be reaching your hand into a something that has yet another organic substance that was transported a long with it.  I have yet to find someone transport anything with a copperhead in it from outside the city limits to inside the city limits for farmer’s market and alike.  They more than likely find that in the green bean bush before they pick the green beans.  My grandparents found many a copperhead hiding in the green bean bushes and killed it before anyone got bit by it.  I don’t think anyone would find one in the box of green beans at the Farmer’s Market, unlike imported bananas (tarantulas in that case, from what I hear).  My question is, why don’t they have something to get rid of things like spiders in bananas if they have something to protect vegetables from pesky bugs?  Or have they done it and I haven’t heard about it yet?  Then again, the spiders come after the produce has been picked.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 01:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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WEll, I’ve always loved the old duPont statement, “Better living through chemistry.”  The problem isn’t organic vs non-organic.  Rather it’s the motivation for the use or non-use of the chemicals or processes.  For example, breeding tomatoes that are more square so they fit in a carton more compactly or that have tougher skins so they don’t bruise as easily, or can be picked green but will turn a nice red when exposed to ethylene are all for the farmer and marketer, not the consumer.  However, I have a nice tomato vine in a tub my back yard that gets fertilized with ammonium phosphate and potassium sulfate.  In addition, it gets sprayed with malathion when I see any tomato worms on it.  I let the tomatoes ripen before picking them and I wash them thoroughly.  They are far better tasting than store bought ones,  the malathion has been a) degraded by sunlight, b) just about completely removed by washing, and c) any microscopic amounts that get through are detoxified by my mammalian enzymes (insects, birds and fish have different systems so are more suseptible).

I’ve been having an average of about one banana a day for the last forty years.  I buy them from local markets, and I’ve never seen a spider in them.  Sounds like an urban myth.  And besides, what do you think gets rid of the pesky bugs on bananas?—- spiders.    LOL

Seriously, I don’t think it’s organic vs non-organic.  I believe that a farmer that uses the best methods of growing nutritious, tasty, safe produce that the consumers can enjoy and that is healthful for them is doing what should be done, whether he uses all “organic” or a combination of organic and non-organic processes.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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As a vegetarian I do a lot of my shopping in the organic food section of my local grocery store and would say I am at-least familiar with a large selection of organic products, how they are marketed, presented, and the sort of demographic that is buying them. While there may be perfectly respectable reasons why someone may want to seek out organic products, much like with adopting a vegetarian diet, I get the impression that the vast majority are doing it for less than respectable reasons.

With most vegetarians and vegans it seems that concern over personal purity or some other quasi-religous belief is often at the root of their diet. I have seen more than a fare share of vegetarians spit out food upon discoverying it may contain small amounts of an animal derived product, even something like honey which neither causes suffering nor diminishes the life of the creature from which it is derived. In a similar manner, I get the distinct impressions that a lot of organic food, and anti-GMO, consumers are also concerned with a certain form of personal purity based on irrational anti-scientific beliefs and maybe even a fear of technology.

Within the next few decades high capacity meat production facilities will begin growing only the muscle tissue of animals rather than wasting resources on the entire animal. While such a move would make meat consumption ethically tenable, my best guess is that it would produce more vegetarians than ever before.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I’m a vegetarian because I just do not like meat.  I don’t like killing either, but on that note, I do eat eggs (there’s no life there) and I drink milk (no one dies for that), but only skim milk because it tastes better to me.  I eat a lot of cheese- real cheese, none of the processed crapped that doesn’t taste like cheese.  If something even tastes like it’s been cooked in animal fat, I won’t eat it and more often than not, it’s been cooked in lard.

OK I’m sure you see a pattern with all of this.  I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life since I was 11 or 12.  My mother just could not get me to eat meat without a fight so she gave up and now I’m 41 and have spent all that time as a vegetarian.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I’m a vegetarian as well, for a combination of reasons—health (lots of heart disease in the family), environment (poor efficiency and lots of pollution in raising meat), ethics (I can get around killing to eat, but not the systematic torment beforehand which the economics of meat farming dictate). But as a rationalist and a scientist, I don’t buy into a lot of the woo-woo that seems to be widespread among vegetarians. And as a pragmatist and a bit of a relativist, I’m not militant and I don’t evangelize. It seems a rational and ethical stance, but I can see how people would come to other points of view on it. Anyway, as usual it is comforting to find that there are folks here with a similar approach, since most people who find out I am a vegetarian seem to assume I’m going to be a wacko or a zealot, and I know a fair number of vegetarians who lend credance to the stereotype.

[ Edited: 16 June 2007 11:23 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 16 June 2007 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am also a vegetarian. I don’t like the way meat looks, smells or tastes. My older son enjoys eating meat very much, but my younger one hates it. Could it be genetic?

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Posted: 16 June 2007 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Mriana - 16 June 2007 02:53 PM

I’m a vegetarian because I just do not like meat.  I don’t like killing either, but on that note, I do eat eggs (there’s no life there) and I drink milk (no one dies for that), but only skim milk because it tastes better to me.  I eat a lot of cheese- real cheese, none of the processed crapped that doesn’t taste like cheese.  If something even tastes like it’s been cooked in animal fat, I won’t eat it and more often than not, it’s been cooked in lard.

OK I’m sure you see a pattern with all of this.  I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life since I was 11 or 12.  My mother just could not get me to eat meat without a fight so she gave up and now I’m 41 and have spent all that time as a vegetarian.

See, what I think is the ethical position here is that while harvesting eggs and dairy does not result in death, modern farming techniques do result in a great deal of suffering for the animal. I don’t even mind the death part so long as it is done without pain and without stressing the animal. My understanding is that almost no animals have a concept of their own mortality and so there is no dread of impending death. The problem is that by keeping animals alive in whatever appaling conditions factory farming dictates, the animal is experienceing a lot of stress and pain.

That said, I have no problem with the ick factor. I find both dairy and eggs as repulsive as I find meat. Just thinking about consuming a bodily fluid of a cow is enough to make me gag. But I think for a lot of vegetarians its not about the ick factor, and not even really about the issue of suffering. Its been my experience that for most vegetarianism is spirtual, its about not consuming another one of God’s creatures.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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What is unethical about milking a cow?  If you don’t milk her she feels bad until she dries up- which speaking from experience after having children is very PAINFUL.  It is a very beneficial sembioctic (sorry about the spelling) relationship in that respect.

If there is no rooster around, there is no chick growing in the egg, so what is so unethical about that?  The egg just goes to waste.  Speaking from experience again, an unfertilized egg is just something that slid out and is nothing.  So you are not eating anything but protein and cholesterol- basically.

The unethical part comes from pumping the animal with hormones, which intern is passed on in the milk- yes even human’s milk has whatever the mother ingests, thus why a breastfeeding mother should never ingest medicine without first speaking with her doctor.  Even illness can be passed on from mother to baby via breast milk, so it is logical that whatever we feed the cow will be in the milk she gives us.

However, as far as milking the cow goes, I have not found any reason to boycott skim milk or any other dairy product.  I have yet to find a cow being beaten and mutilated for her milk.  Same with a chicken.

However, I do agree it is a very spiritual to be vegetarian and is not about “God’s creatures” as you put it.  I do have a problem with seeing very valuable life with feelings in the eyes of an animal and then killing it for whatever reason.  IMHO, they do have emotions and very strong feelings.  If you go to a science site that deals with animals there is discussion about this and even they have found emotions in animals. Vets will even tell you that a pet does feel love for his/her caregiver.  I have had many a pet who has saved my life, so I consider any relationship that we have with an animal a special bond- and yes, I had a pet cow once, as well as a runt pig- I named it Wilber.  When I learned Old Bossy, who was never bossy, but very sweet, was turned into jello, I never touched anything with geletin in it again- no jello, no pudding, or alike.

So I won’t deny there is that element in it for me too, but I cannot put it into words.  My cats are like my children and I would defy any cat eating nation (and they do exist, like dog ones) who tried to make them into food.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 08:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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While I’m an omnivore, I try to avoid mammal meat whenever possible.  Since the majority of the teens in the group for which I was an advisor were vegetarians or vegans, and we often had potlucks or went on retreats in the mountains, I came up with a fair variety of vegetarian and vegan recipes.  Because I believe in quite a bit of flavor and spicing, all the kids including the meat eaters always finished off my contributions first.  If you want some recipes, Mriana, I’ll be happy to PM them to you.  Oh, most pudding doesn’t contain gelatin.  The thickener is usually corn starch.  Check the box and you may be able to go back to enjoying it.

Occam

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Posted: 16 June 2007 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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What is unethical about milking a cow?  If you don’t milk her she feels bad until she dries up- which speaking from experience after having children is very PAINFUL.  It is a very beneficial sembioctic (sorry about the spelling) relationship in that respect.

If there is no rooster around, there is no chick growing in the egg, so what is so unethical about that?  The egg just goes to waste.  Speaking from experience again, an unfertilized egg is just something that slid out and is nothing.  So you are not eating anything but protein and cholesterol- basically.

As a vet, I have to say I think you may not have an accurate picture of the dairy and egg industry.

The part that I consider unethical is the treatment of the animals, no whether or not they are killed in the end. Dairy cows don’t usually hang out peacefully in a field munching grass and getting milked periodically. They are bred to have such enormous udders they traumatize then just walking or lying down, they are often tightly confined, and of course they reason we get the milk is the babies don’t, which means we are not symbiotically mopping up extra but actively producing baby cows (which usually end up as meat unless they are potentially good producers themselves) and then taking it in their stead. And, of course, medical care is virtually on-existent for dairy cattle because the unit price of a cow has gotten so low in large modern herds that it is cheaper to send one to slaughter than care for it. So their injuries and illnesses go untreated unless so severe as to interfere with their production, in which case they are culled and replaced. Average productive life is 3-5 years and then they are culled since their production begins to wane, despite a normal life span being in the teens.

Chickens are, generally, an even uglier situation, with debeaking, strict confinement in cages where they can’t walk (to prevent damage to eggs) and nothing like normal social interactions with conspecifics.

Hormones are the least of the ethical issues when it comes to dairy and eggs, as far as I’m concerned. I do often eat eggs and milk products, but I try to stick with small local farms that free-range raise their animals and avoid the most egregious maltreatment of their animals. I think a good argument for a vegan approach can be made, but I’m not sufficiently motivated to completely eliminate my contributions to the industrial agricultural system. I do what I can. Anyway, just thought I’d point out that your image of how those products get produced may be a bit rosy. Sorry if I got carried away.  red face

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Posted: 16 June 2007 09:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Yes, I can understand your concerns and I have been to a slaughter house as a child.  I got physically ill, because it is so inhumane.  The farming I was exposed to as a child was not like that, because my grandfather did not believe in mistreating animals even if they were going to be his dinner.  He took great pride and care with his animals. The chickens ran free as did the cows in pastures- never over populated.  He fenced them in to protect them from automobiles and cruel humans.  He didn’t breed them just to breed them.

Now my bio-father he was another story.  The pigs he raised were crowded and I begged and begged for him not to kill the runt that the others were trying to kill anyway.  He put it in a separate pin just for me to care for and I treated it like a pet.  It was the only decent thing he did do for me.  Unfortunately, we had a 1/2 boxer 1/2 wolf who broke his chain and killed Wilber.  :(  My mother shot the dog.

She was just as bad when she beheaded chickens so she could have chicken and dumplings.  rolleyes  I laugh so hard when a chicken got free after loosing her head.  She ran into the woods, but it served my mother right, IMO, even if the chicken was running on nothing but nerves and left over adreniline until it dropped.  Funny thing is, she could not figure out how I could catch a chicken with little energy and hold it in my arms without getting hurt, when she could not.  It’s simple- they knew if she caught them, they were dead.  If I picked them up, they would not be harmed.  Animals are not stupid.

3 black angus bull calves (yes, I said bulls) and she could not tell them apart.  I could though because I got right in the pin and played with them.  She could not figure that one out either, esp when I laughed at her confusion and told her she had the wrong one and that is why he would not nurse from Old Bossy.  I even bottle fed them at first until we got Old Bossy.  One was weaned by that time and the other two were too young to be weaned.  All three looked alike to her, but I knew who was who and they liked me better, probably because I fed them, but not necessarily because I had no fear of them and played with them in their pin.

I really believed if people stopped being so cold to animals, they would see some of the things I see in them, which a vet would probably understand and it seems you may McKenzie. They aren’t brainless emotionless objects we control. They aren’t slaves to fill our whims either.  They aren’t human either, but they have the copacity to know a good human from a bad human, when to be afraid and when not to be afraid.  They can show affection and love- even if they are cattle.  By the same token, they can show distain and they know when a human is about to put them to death for reasons they cannot comprehend, but if they had the capability to think like humans, they would attempt reason, I’m sure, to keep from being killed. Even so, all they have is self-defence or running to protect themselves from humans.  They do know who is not going to harm them.  I’m as sure of that as I am sure of which three black angus bull calves were who as a child. They were turned in to veal.  :(

The one thing I could not protect them from was the decisions the adults made about their lives and I still can’t, but I think it is people like us, Mckenzie, who can help to make their lives better before they are killed.  Giving up milk and eggs won’t solve the problem by itself, but activism (not like PITA, but like ASPCA and alike) I believe is a step in the right direction.

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Posted: 16 June 2007 10:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I stuck to the topic to organic fuzzy-wuzzies in the original post, holding back my suspicions about vegetarianism, which I don’t know that much about.  But I don’t mind this drifting into general dietary concerns because the comments, with one quotable and ignorable poster’s exception, have been so interesting.  It’s refreshing to hear from vegetarians who have sorted through the wheat and chaff of the subject and your views have given me an understanding I didn’t have before.  I too am a non-mammilian eater, mainly to lower cholesterol intake, but if someone serves it as a main course at a dinner, I’ll eat a share to be polite and because I think I can spare the 20 extra seconds of lifespan in exchange for good company.

Two more areas of enlightenment please.

First, I wonder if any can comment on whether it’s right for an invitee to a dinner party to request special preparation of food because he/she is vegetarian?  (Or because of religious dietary practices?  Or personal tastes, such as not liking, say, spicy food or liver?)  I feel that if someone is extending hospitality, it’s not up to the guest to tell him or her how it must be done, yet I realized this is just an opinion not to be shared by all. 

Second, is it acceptable for the vegetarian who doesn’t request special service to pick around the host’s food?  As in, “Let’s see.  The salad has egg in it.  The side dish has honey.  The muffins were made with milk, and that prime rib main course is definately a no-go.  That’s okay, please don’t let me be any bother.  These olives make a splendid dinner!”

[ Edited: 16 June 2007 10:48 PM by JustAThought ]
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