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Q. Dear Umbra,

With wedding season in full swing, what’s the best way to deal with the dreaded three-choice dinner card? It’s usually beef, salmon, or “pasta” (whatever that means!). Wedding guests cannot check on the sustainability of the choices (is the beef grass-fed? the salmon Pacific? Most likely not).

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So I’m wondering, is Mystery Pasta is always the best choice to check off on that dreaded card? Are Mystery Meat and Mystery Fish equally awful choices? Or are all bets off for weddings? What’s a guest to do?


Wedding invite. Photo: Sarah ParrottA. Dearest Kristen,

A happy wedding season to you. I’m glad you had time in between getting paper cuts from pastel cardstock and wrestling rolls of shiny white-and-gold paper to write (and question your meal choices).

First off, I’m not sure beef and salmon don’t deserve to be framed in eyebrow-raising quotation marks instead. Pasta might actually be the most straightforward of your wedding dinner options. As you point out, you don’t know the story behind the beef or fish. Was it grazing or swimming freely nearby until hours before the wedding? Or has it been sitting, hormone- and preservative-laden, in a freezer somewhere? There’s no way to tell.

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It’s probably not the best wedding etiquette to call up your happily engaged friend, congratulate him or her, and then launch into questions about the dinner options. That could really be awkward.

So going with the Mystery Pasta is likely your best choice, assuming it contains little or no meat. Conventionally farmed beef has a litany of problems: the land, food, and water needed to raise them; cows burping greenhouse gases; biproducts like pink slime; depressing market consolidation. Red meat has three times the climate impact as chicken, fish, or eggs, according to the American Chemical Society, and 13 times the impact of chicken if you ask Scientific American. Whatever number you fancy, it ain’t pretty.

Mystery Fish, as it takes no devoted acreage or water to raise — other than the water it’s already swimming in — uses fewer resources, but don’t forget about overfishing and health concerns. As Scott Dodd puts it, “Some types of fish can be contaminated with mercury and PCBs, and sometimes seafood is harvested in a way that’s bad for the oceans.” Unless we change our current rate of consumption, we could run out of fish by 2048. Especially stay away from farmed or Atlantic salmon, imported shrimp and prawns, and bluefin tuna (here’s a longer list too).

Isn’t it interesting how Mystery Veggie isn’t one of the options at all? How about a hearty salad of mustard greens with chickpeas and hard-boiled eggs? While the USDA’s new plate replacing the food pyramid is far from perfect, at least fruits and veggies gain some prominence.

Ah, wedding dinners. Makes you appreciate potlucks, doesn’t it?



P.S. I’m doing one unexpected eco-dare a day this month to help Grist keep the lights on. Plant peas in a teapot? (Peapot!) Done. Follow my shenanigans on Facebook.

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