January 26, 2010

The Vegetarian's Dilemma

I'm a somewhat sheepish vegetarian (if you'll excuse the inappropriate metaphor). By that, I mean that I don't go out of my way to explain my lifestyle because I don't want to put myself in the position of defending it. Here's an illustration:

Me: Have a good weekend?
Coworker: Sure did. Have you ever gone to the District Chophouse? It's worth a trip just for the scallops wrapped in bacon.
Me: Oh. Cool.

See what happened there? I had a perfect chance to set the record straight, say hey that's cool but I'm a vegetarian but I didn't take it. Why? I've got my reasons.

As a vegetarian I'm often made to feel inferior. I'm not sure why, exactly, but that's sure how it feels a lot of the time. There's a perception that you're less - I don't know - cool if you're not a meat eater, like you're not living life to it's fullest. Like you're not like everyone else. It's the way I felt in high school when kids at parties were passing around joints and I always refused to take a hit. Our consumption and food-driven culture seems geared towards meat eaters and there's a disconnect if you don't, in fact, eat meat. Its something I'm reminded of by the surprise with which I'm greeted when I tell someone (not often) that I'm a vegetarian. I've never been afraid to stand out but that doesn't mean I enjoy being made to feel like I do.

I'm tired of having The Conversation. Whenever I do cop to the fact that I'm a vegetarian (again, not often and only when it comes up naturally or someone hands me a pile of bacon), I invariably have to provide an explanation. It's required by either an explicit question or a look of surprise. And then we have to have The Conversation.

Someone: Oh, so you don't eat meat?
Me: No, I don't.
Someone: Not at all?
Me: No, not at all.
Someone: How about chicken?
Me: Chicken is meat. Unless you know something I don't. Or you're eating some weird-ass chickens.
Someone: How did it start, I mean, why did you stop eating meat?
Me: About ten years ago, I guess, my wife and I noticed that we really weren't all that into meat so we just figured we'd stop eating it. So we did and we've been vegetarians since. It's not really about diet or any moral obligation we feel. We're just never really cared about meat. And, you know, we eat pretty well.

After ten years of having that conversation - that concisely developed elevator speech I came up with about eight years ago, tired of utilizing a piece of my brain to come up with a unique answer each time - I'm tired of it. I can say it in my sleep (I actually might). More than anything, though, I'm tired of defending myself or feeling as though I have to.

The Conversation is no longer true. That elevator speech is incorrect. Ten years ago - even five - it was dead on. But now it's not. Now I do morally object to meat. I don't find fault with its consumption but I do with the system that brings it to our tables because it is an inherently flawed, immoral and violent system which is damaging the world around us (seriously, the animal production system in the US harms the environment and contributes to global warming several more times than transportation - true fact). Now, I say that to you and you'll take it the way I intend it to be taken, as a deeply personal explanation of my own decision. But say that to most people and they'll think I'm simultaneously preaching and attacking their way of life and the decisions they've made for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth but try having that conversation everyday and the original elevator speech will seem that much more appealing. Better is saying nothing at all.

What's my point? I think in our society we're way too polite, too eager to please, and afraid of offending someone. We say things like oh, I'm sorry, I don't like apples or, I'm afraid I don't eat meat or nothing personal but I don't send my kid to a private school. We start sentences apologizing for personal decisions we've made about our own lifestyle. And that's a little crazy.

Posted by Chris at January 26, 2010 7:07 AM

I've had a similar evolution regarding The Conversation. But 2 things:

First, I wonder if you get that feeling people think you're inferior moreso because you are a man. I'm not sure I feel that way, but maybe I just stopped caring.

Second, I think even worse than The Conversation is the one that follows: the detailed descriptions of all the meat they've ever eaten ever and, of course, this is all while you are trying to eat. I've gotten more vocal in my protests because that is the thing I am most sick of. I don't know why they do it. Maybe we're actually making them feel inferior because we made a choice to live by our values and have stuck with it.

Posted by: Laura at January 26, 2010 7:50 AM

I would look at you funny if you told me you don't eat meat. Honestly, though, it's the same way I would look at you if you told me you don't eat chocolate. It's more of a look of pity, like how you possibly NOT like such delicious mana from the gods? I can be empathetic about many things, but I can't comprehend a life without meat (or more importantly, chocolate. I would give up meat for chocolate, I think.)

Posted by: Becky at January 26, 2010 8:16 AM

I do the same thing about fast food, which I don't eat. The problem is that when people want to go out, I kind of do have to speak up, and then I'm the loser who takes out a few dining options - the weird girl who won't eat a McDonald's meal. We have gotten too polite though, in a lot of ways. Though in others, we're still incredibly rude and selfish!

Posted by: Claire at January 26, 2010 8:35 AM

I find similar inferiority when I choose to announce that I'm an alcoholic who no longer drinks. I can say all I want that I'm "allergic" or "I just don't care to." or whatever. But sometimes when I'm pressed, I pull out the big guns. "Well, if you really want to push me to take that drink out of whatever complex you think I have, be prepared to deal with the blubbering wreck of a mess, sobbing naked in the corner. Because that's how it's going to go down."

Posted by: k8 at January 26, 2010 8:52 AM

I know what you mean about not wanting to explain. Its exhausting and I am not out to convert the world anyway. I am not a vegetarian but I did give up red meat (which ellicits enough shock and awe here in Texas I can't imagine giving up ALL meat - they would commit me!) I just say no thanks and go on.

Posted by: Debbie at January 26, 2010 8:54 AM

I don't understand why people question why "you" are a vegetarian. Also, why it's not clear that "you" don't eat meat AT ALL. I usually say that I'm a vegetarian, because it's a hell of a lot better than telling people that at 30, I'm still a horribly picky eater. I just don't like food. I do eat meat (poultry only), but more often than not, I find myself preparing it and thinking about how it got there and what it is and I start gagging. It may be time to give it up entirely.

Also, Claire, I don't eat fast food either, and I swear, some people act like that's a major sin!

Posted by: js at January 26, 2010 8:55 AM

Actually, I don't really think there's anything wrong with how you already handle the fact that you are a vegetarian. It should be a non-issue. It's a personal choice and just as we don't walk around saying "Hi I'm so-and-so and I plow @ss" or "Hi I'm so-and-so and I believe in our Lord Voldemort", I don't see why you should have to say that you are a vegetarian. See how that's just a bit odd and unnecessary??
I guess that's the point, if it's not necessary to the conversation, is there a point in bringing it up? And if you do bring it up, where it doesn't seem relevant, are you then making it an issue yourself? I don't really have the hard and fast answers to these questions myself.

I do agree with you, however, that we tend to apologize for our choices. It's a mindless activity and certainly not intentional. But we do it all the same. I know I do, but I've worked at not doing it so much. Mostly because I just don't think people are that interested. It's kind of like asking "How are you?" Most people just want to hear "fine".

I am also in agreement with your feelings regarding the system that processes meat in our country. It's apalling and disgusting on many levels. I, myself am not a vegetarian, but I do try to make choices that support our local agriculture here. The beef I eat is grass-fed, organic and individually butchered. The chicken and eggs I consume are also organic and free-range. I could go on and on and on. But I think we've already discovered that we are on the same page about some of these things.

It's a fine line between wanting others to see what you see, and respecting their choices as you want yours respected. I don't know the answers, I do know that in my book club we are reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingslover. And I think it's a start.

Ok, I babbled on enough.

Posted by: varinia at January 26, 2010 8:57 AM

I initially cut most meat out of my diet because I didn't have the money, and now I strongly believe that frequent consumption of meat is unhealthy and damaging to the environment. But that seems really awkward to say to someone, especially someone that I like, even if I'm not necessarily actively judging them.

I also struggle with this on another level--I don't drink alcohol. At all. I have never had a drink of alcohol, and don't plan to start. Serious alcoholism runs strongly in my family and I see traits in myself that could make it more likely for me to go down that road. I also really don't feel a desire to start drinking.

I try to avoid telling people that, because there's nothing quite as fun-killing as telling a group of people enjoying their beers that you don't drink. They usually assume I am super-religious and that I have a moral opposition to anyone drinking, which is incorrect. And then there's nothing more awkward than telling someone the truth of, yeah, you know, I don't drink because I think I could become an alcoholic.

Talk about getting a weird look!

Posted by: Melody at January 26, 2010 9:05 AM

I don't understand why people have that reaction to finding out someone is vegetarian. Unless they don't KNOW what vegetarianism is. I have an internets friend who is vegan and when we met in person the first time, we all went on a shopping trip so she could have food she liked. That was when I learned the difference between vegan and vegetarian but I was all YOU DON'T EAT NO MEAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T EAT NO MEAT?*

Anyway. I usually ask my vegetarian friends what restaurants in the area have a good vegetarian selection. I'm not one but sometimes prefer vegetarian plates over ones containing meat. Just depends on my mood.

*Bonus points if you name that movie!

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at January 26, 2010 9:11 AM

Somewhere along the line I developed the Hamlet complex: make them think you are crazy to keep them off balance, and give you the edge to size up the situation.

My personal "huh" from others is football; don't watch it, and barely understand the rules. But when pressed, I always look a little off kilter and explain that I think what is missing from the sport is the combination of baseball and football. They've got all that padding, why not give them bats? Now THAT would be entertaining. By the time I'm finished, they don't want to talk to me about football, ever, ever again.

In your case, I'd smile politely and say "Oh no thank you, I don't eat animals. Only people." And leave it at that.

And it you really want to stick it to them, next time someone pushes you on meat, look horrified and say "Do you know how much feces is in that? Ugh!"

Keep on trucking Chris!


Posted by: metawizard at January 26, 2010 9:18 AM

Funny. I posted a blog last week with the same title. LOL. - http://templeoffreshandeasy.blogspot.com/2010/01/vegetarian-dilemma.html

I must confessed that I'm still a vegetarian bully here and there because I preach the way of the bacon, the gateway meat. ;-D But for the most parts, since I grew up in a country where vegetarianism is all about religion, I don't chastise anyone for their choices.

And now I've recently become a once-a-week vegetarian. My reason is of a spiritual nature. However, having watched Food Inc. the other day, I am also giving up farmed chicken whenever I can.

The only 2 things standing between me and being a full vegetarian: bacon and steaks. Heh.

Posted by: oakmonster at January 26, 2010 9:26 AM

Its interesting that you're reluctant to say you're a vegetarian, because I find that to be a far easier default that people get than explaining my actual eating habits. I do occasionally eat meat, but only when its humanely and sustainably raised. When you say you're a vegetarian, people just assume you don't believe in eating animals. When you start telling them you'll only eat certain meats, people really get offended, because you're forcing them to actually think about the living conditions of the animals they're eating and the kinds of additives in that meat. You want to offend someone? Make them think about what they're eating.

Posted by: The Tutugirl at January 26, 2010 9:55 AM

I'm an "almost vegetarian" When I lived alone - for 4 years - I bought meat twice - both times for company.

If we go to someone's house for dinner, and there is meat, which is the usual case, I take a small piece. And often, pass that piece on to Don, who enjoys a good steak or roast.

So, I'm just being polite and trying not to make people uncomfortable.

Posted by: cassie-b at January 26, 2010 9:55 AM

I find I've gotten less militant over the years. I used to say "I don't eat dead things" or "I don't eat anything with a face" or "enjoy your roadkill" but now I just shrug it off. It's been 20ish years so I'm used to it. The convo I hate now is "so are your KIDS going to be vegetarian?" No. Not until they're old enough and capable of expressing a choice with real reasoning power. Of course, my son is a de facto veg since he will eat nothing but pancakes and macaroni and cheese. Which reminds me-- I love the crap that vegans throw at vegetarians. Man, they feel more contempt for me than for carnivores, I think!

Posted by: rebecca at January 26, 2010 10:21 AM

I love in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" when she tells her Aunt that Ian, her fiancee, doesn't eat meat, Here is the quote: "Actually, um Ian’s a vegetarian. Uh, he doesn’t eat meat. 2: He don’t eat no meat? HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT?! *Long silence* Oh thats ok, I make lamb."

Posted by: Maribeth at January 26, 2010 10:39 AM

I don't understand why anyone would care what you eat or not eat (or drink or not drink for that matter).

But they do, don't they. Before I retired, I often heard it about not drinking. Not so much anymore; the social climate has changed somewhat. But still, I went to one political gathering during the Presidential campaign and I thought the host was going to burst into tears when I declined (for the 3rd time) her offer of wine. People are strange.

Posted by: ann adams at January 26, 2010 10:51 AM

I have the same problem with alcohol. I have nothing against it, I just think it all tastes unutterably horrible and I have no desire to drink it. Why is this such a difficult concept for many people?

I agree with you about the meat production system, unfortunately, I do love it and I'm so picky that I don't have as many other options. I feel guilty about eating it though.

Posted by: Jess at January 26, 2010 11:01 AM

Ugh! Any time someone wants to get in my face over what they believe and the personal choices they make for themselves it makes me feel stabby, like, seriously? Are you trying to change my mind? Because I've spent the better part of almost thirty years making these decisions and I doubt your 5 minute sermon will be so enlightening that I will be forever changed. I love the new slang phrase "You do you, I'm-a [I'm going to]do me". We very rarely eat meat in my household, and when we do it's usually fish, but I would never ever claim to be vegetarian or even semi-veg because just my luck I'd be within earshot of a hardcore vegan! I was vegan once (for about 6 months) and can tell you that they are so militant because they are hungry! Very very hungry!

Posted by: mymilabean at January 26, 2010 11:05 AM

I am a meat eating, alcohol drinking, lactose consuming, chocolate loving person, but I am friends with, coworkers with and general coexister with plenty of people who don't consume meat, alcohol, milk or sugar etc. and am perfectly 100% fine with that. I invite them to dinner and accommodate their dietary needs without making a stink about it. I go their houses knowing I will eat what they prepare and love it. I don't eat ribs in front of my veggie friends when we dine out. I am a live and let live kind of gal. All I ask in return is that they don't get up in my business about what I DO consume. I think if you have people in your life who aren't that way, fuck em. You don't need to explain yourself, defend yourself or otherwise feel badly about your choices/decisions/need to live a healthy existence on your own terms.

Posted by: MidLifeMama at January 26, 2010 11:43 AM

Try adding the extra adventure of managing food allergies. A polite "no thank you" always elicits more questions that end in, "really, I just can't." And from there it's a rat hole of explanations.

I'm not being rude - I'm trying to keep from needing the EpiPen in my purse, asshat.


Posted by: Pammer at January 26, 2010 11:48 AM

I think people try to make you feel inferior because they automatically, and perhaps subconsciously, get defensive upon hearing that. I honestly think that deep down most people are aware of the meat issues but turn a blind eye because they enjoy the taste or whatever. So, I think that they actually feel inferior (as others have already posted)
I think you should be proud of your choice and I wouldn't make any apologies or explanations, unless prompted.

Posted by: laineyDid at January 26, 2010 11:49 AM

I could have written this exact post. Sometimes I think people just have so many problems with it because they assume they are going to be judged for their own choices.

I'm not judging anyone because I'm a vegetarian! I just choose not to eat meat!

Posted by: Keri at January 26, 2010 12:02 PM

I am kind of in the same boat as MidLifeMama above - she said it very well I think. I have made my consumption choices on what I think is right for me, but I won't give anyone crap about what they do or don't eat. Right now, my choices are evolving because I, too, have concerns over where my food comes from and how it gets to me. My diet is also evolving a little because of some health issues my husband is having...

Posted by: Sue R at January 26, 2010 12:08 PM

You should live in Seattle where it's cooler to not eat meat!

It's funny, back in the day, you would have been my favorite kind of vegetarian - the non-preachy, just living your life and letting me live my life kind. (I would have been your favorite meat-eater, the non-preachy, just living my life and letting you live your life kind.)

But I've evolved with you. I'm deeply upset about the meat industry in this country. It sickens me. So now I'm a preachy meat eater. (I buy ridiculously expensive meat that came from happy animals and at this point it's mainly chicken, almost no red meat.)

Posted by: Erin at January 26, 2010 12:20 PM

BTW, I preach because I love. The only way things will change is through consumer opinion and the only way consumer opinion will change is through knowledge. Look at how far we've come with big tobacco... it will take years, but I believe we can take down the meat industry, too. Not so sure about soy and corn, though. Monsanto is scary.

Posted by: Erin at January 26, 2010 12:23 PM

Wow, I could have pretty much written this word for word. When I stopped eating meat (almost 12 years ago now), it was because I never had a taste for it. I just find meat (including poultry and fish, which come from animals, DUH!) to be completely unappetizing. Ick.

It was never a moral, religious, or animal rights issue for me. But over the past few years, I've become much more aware of the environmental impact of producing meat, at least as it's done here. But I don't have a problem with someone hunting or fishing for their meat (as long as it was done responsibly). I just think it's gross.

I don't get preachy about it though. I'm just not comfortable about it, probably because I dislike how preachy animal rights activists can be. But I will educate people with what little I know if asked.

Posted by: stephanie at January 26, 2010 12:36 PM

I am vegan and, most of the time, when this comes up (at the dinner table) I find myself either having to listen to people horrified because "I am depriving myself from such basic pleasures of life" and then go on and on about those pieces of animal flesh they could never EVER live without. And/or I'm having to answer to "Ok I can understand you don't want to eat meat but why not milk or eggs, I mean you are French, what about cheese??".
I don't lie about it, but I generally ask them if they really want to know (most people don't and that's fine, I'm happy to skip the subject). The bottom line is I don't eat animal products (or wear them) because I don't like the idea of animal exploitation and slaughter, I don't like the idea of eating food that my body will have a hard time processing and that might make me sick in the long term. And I can't bear the idea of contributing so largely to the pollution of this planet. And the truth is, I live very well without it.
A lot of people take it as a personal attack and come to the conclusion that vegans are self-righteous and trying to convert the world. Being vegan doesn't mean you adopt a certain type of personality. I am convinced that you can find arseholes amongst vegans as well as amongst omnivores.
The other day my husband and I (he is vegan as well) had to listen to a loud and annoying person go on and on about meat and cheese eating to a point where I felt as if she would not let go until we'd say that we are giving up being vegan. So I am asking you: who was trying to convert who here?

And by the way, I don't go hungry, the food I eat is delicious, rich with flavors and very satisfying. :)

Posted by: Alejandra at January 26, 2010 12:39 PM

Well said. My husband and I only eat birds and fish. When we tell this to people they don't understand and I really don't want to explain. Sometimes I completely avoid talking about it just so I don't have to go into the heavy discussion of how we came to the conlusion that those two (and only those two) meats are okay for us. We are also very picky about where those two meats come from. We don't eat just any old chicken or fish. Usually to save a big discussion where I feel like I am being a snob I just tell people I am a vegetarian.

Our personal choices that end of being public can be very tiring to defend. I hear you loud and clear!

Posted by: Ashley K at January 26, 2010 12:48 PM

People are strange. Two of my four children are African-American. I never explain why when I'm encountered by an awkward moment. I just say, yes, I'm his or her dad and leave it at that. I leave the stranger having upset the order of their world.

I love talking about my priest and her wife. I get some serious double-takes on that one.

All of these things are good though. Shakes people out of their sense of "normal" and gets them to think.

I recently saw "Food, Inc." and I'll never be the same. I don't know what type of food-eater I am anymore, but I know it's changing.

Posted by: James Proffitt at January 26, 2010 1:38 PM

People haven't yet been as educated as they should about where their supermarket meat comes from (hello, Tyson, are you listening?). So sticking with your elevator speech keeps a lot of the contention out of The Conversation. I don't see anything wrong with that.

And the apology at the beginning of the sentence is probably the result of someone having proffered that pile of bacon, and you don't want to insult them by refusing. Also, pretty much human nature. We want to be kind and sensitive to possible feelings of rejection...not that everyone has that inclination, but most do. I guess "Thanks but I..." would be a less apologetic option. :)

Posted by: reen at January 26, 2010 2:05 PM

I sympathize. I don't buy meat, cook meat, order meat, or serve meat to my child. However, I have the natural questions that come if I say that I am a vegetarian. These comments tend to include lectures on health and protein-we are vegetarians not vegans and we are far from suffering from a lack of protein! Anyway, because of that I don't usually offer the information and quietly eat lots of side dishes and bring strategic contributions to dinner parties.

I too began just because it seemed healthy-but now I am horrified by the treatment of animal and food safety.

Posted by: Kate at January 26, 2010 2:18 PM

I recently posted something about how my neighbor was kind of a vegetarian and the comments I received bashing my neighbor were quite surprsing. But here is the thing....and I say this with all honesty and because I like you, most people only know vegetarians from those pompous irritating annoying people who have to shout that they are a vegetarian because they are holier than thou.blah blah blah.. so most people feel like a vegetarian is imeediatley judging the meat eaters.

Just like holy roller christians..you somewhere here before knocked the Christian Right, because those bible thumpers are annoying pompous irritating annoyiong people who about that they are christians and they are better than..blah blah blah.

I get that you sometimes feel the need to explain yourself...but ask me why I am a Christian and you may immediatley feel, as I explain it to you, that I am preaching to you. Ask me why I like the color blue and as soon as I start explaining it it will sound like I am preaching to you.

I understand why you morally object to the process in which meat is obtained but why are your morals better than mine? I am a Christian, I like meat. Thebody of Christ tastes like bacon.

Posted by: William at January 26, 2010 2:32 PM

I know I've been guilty of the "You don't eat meat" conversation with you. It wasn't to make you feel inferior though, I just felt like you were missing out. And it's funny you mention the "Do you eat chicken" conversation. I know many vegetarians that do if it's free range hormone free chicken. Interesting how people differ.

I generally don't have a problem with vegetarians - though I did have a confrontation one time. I was at a Japanese hibachi steakhouse. There were some vegetarians at my table. Why do vegetarians go to steakhouses? Seriously? I got pissed when she referred to the eggs the chef was putting into my rice as a chicken abortion. I lost it on this woman. It was NOT a good scene....

I agree with you that we as a society shouldn't be apologizing for so much. I tend to do it when I stumble upon someone who home schools their children. (my brother's family included)

Posted by: Rose Winters at January 26, 2010 2:39 PM

It's interesting, I feel like I've had the opposite reaction, especially as (1) a former vegetarian who now eats meat, and (2) a resident of Los Angeles. In my experience, it is very common for people to be vegetarians or vegans out here. Now, factor in the fact that I was a vegetarian for 9 years, made lots of vegetarian friends, and then went back to eating meat -- I constantly feel judged for that choice. Actually, looking back, I definitely get more flak now for eating meat than I did as a vegetarian.

Some (not all!) of my vegetarian friends can be incredibly judgmental about the fact that I choose to eat meat, and I get tired of them lecturing me for my "mistakes" -- to the point that if I'm out to eat with them, even if I want a meat dish, I just order vegetarian. I'm used to it anyway, and it's just easier not to have to deal with their pointed looks, raised eyebrows, and offhand comments about animal cruelty, environmental damage, and the type of people who participate in it. I wish they would realize that yes, I actually AM aware of these issues and my choice to eat meat is a conscious one. When I go back to vegetarianism - which I feel like I will, eventually, as it's getting harder and harder to justify being a meat-eater -- it will be MY choice, not a result of peer pressure.

I think vegetarianism is a hot-button issue anyway, so it can definitely be very, very tiring to have to step carefully all the time. You seem to handle it very well - if only people could just accept the choices others make without comment. The world would be much nicer.

Posted by: Catherine at January 26, 2010 2:46 PM

I will gently rib my friends for not eating bacon (because DUDE, it's BACON), but I agree. I mean, I really don't care if you eat meat, or testicles, or cloven hooves.

Some people can't separate themselves from the whole, I'm eating an animal aspect, and others are like, PETA members. I get it. I don't like the way animals are treated either. But honestly, I just love the taste of meat. I've had alternatives, like Morning Star (which I wonder how much of that is GMO, which bugs me) and some of it is OK and I can get away with not feeling cheated, but I'm sure you know, some of that stuff tastes like refried ass.

It's a personal preference, but like so many other things, if you're not like everyone else, people feel the need to lambast you for not believing what they do. Whatev.

Posted by: statia at January 26, 2010 2:54 PM

I think attitudes about being vegetarian differ between USA and Canada. When we have vacationed in the USA it seems like meat really is the predominant thing on the menu, and if it's served there is a LOT of it. Finding even a salad without bacon is really difficult, and we're always the family with the complicated orders. (whole wheat bread, no cheese, skip the mayo, dressing on the side, no bacon, etc)

My family eats chicken and fish/seafood, and occasionally my teenager loves to eat lamb or beef. We don't eat pork. Nothing religious, it's just fatty and once we saw a video on trichinosis we were so grossed out we couldn't stomach it. Vegetarian dishes are great for us because then everyone can (and will) eat them.

Where I currently live, being vegetarian is common. Nobody cares about why anyone is, and when there is food in the staff room there is always a vegetarian option for those staff. Some schools offer vegetarian hot lunch, even. It's far easier to find a vegetarian meals in the restaurants, too.

Actually I find it harder to explain Hubs eating habits, which balance between health issues and just the fact that he's downright picky. It's easier to list what he will eat then what he won't, so when he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it made the explanation easier. Factor in that Jake is lactose intolerant and I'm allergic to tree nuts, and nobody ever invites us to dinner. Ever.

Posted by: Scatteredmom at January 26, 2010 3:00 PM

See, I spend my time around lefties, so vegetarianism is the norm, rather than the exception. In fact, I once lost an apartment because I wasn't a vegetarian. The owner didn't want meat cooked on his property -- you've gotta love Berkeley!

I don't apologize for my life choices. I dislike these conversations, because why should I have to justify my personal decisions? IMO, people have become too invasive in judging others to their face, all in the name of being "real." For the sake of civility, let's return to the "phony" glossing over of differences and go back to judging people behind their backs in the privacy of our own homes.

Posted by: Laura at January 26, 2010 3:08 PM

is it that people think that you're inferior or think that you think you're superior? i've seen it go both ways, as an on again off again pescetarian that also didn't like The Conversation.
i totally agree with your intentions, i just don't have the same kind of follow-through for the last few years. i wish i did. i don't know if i'm just lazy or hungry. you'd think with the amount of horrible info i know about our food supply, i'd practically eat nothing, but i am a slacker lately. i just had a delicious turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. quality, all natural turkey, though. hopefully that counts for something...

Posted by: kati at January 26, 2010 3:18 PM

So can I, after you have said, "I'm sorry, but I'm a vegetarian" reply, "Fuck you, but I eat meat?" :)

Posted by: Stephanie at January 26, 2010 7:27 PM

I probably would be vegetarian if I thought about it - or at least would have to buy the ridiculously expensive meat that I can by no means currently afford. I don't disagree with eating meat, but would definitely prefer that it had been humanely raised and killed.

Posted by: Heather at January 26, 2010 8:15 PM

I don't eat chocolate of any kind. I never really liked it even as a child so 4 years ago when I stopped eating it, not a big deal. The pain comes when someone offers me chocolate. No, thank you I don't eat chocolate brings the same questions as not eating meat. People have asked me what is wrong with me because I don't. Yes I am probably one of the only women on the face of the earth who doesn't like chocolate.

Posted by: sarahs at January 26, 2010 11:09 PM

You know who you should get tips from? My 11 year old. He never voluntarily ate meat, except from age 4-8. And then he started protesting it again. At 10, he just flat out said, "Look woman, I don't WANT meat. And I'm not eating it anymore."

If anyone looks at that kid funny about, he'll let them have it. Not because he has any moral issues with it (his dad runs, like, the best steakhouse in the world) but he just doesn't dig it. And it's his choice. And he's so not afraid of that.

And you know what? He makes me proud every day, even though my dinner options are now a nightmare, since I also have one very-much-so carnivore son.

Posted by: Mr Lady at January 26, 2010 11:14 PM

In the words of Homer Simpson... "You don't win friends with salad!" Though to be honest, I wish I could go vegetarian, for the same moral reasons you described. I'll get there someday.

Posted by: April at January 26, 2010 11:32 PM

I had a similar conversation with my brother-in-law Marcus at Christmas - my sister (his wife) is essentially a vegan - a vegetarian by choice and she is allergic to eggs and cow-dairy, so ... and Marcus is a partial vegetarian (he eats fish) - they choose not to feed their daughter meat but she does eta eggs & fish and LOVES the fish - in business settings Marcus says he to avoid having to disclose the fact that he doesn't eat meat because it can be awkward - funny how "admitting" to not eating meat can make a 6'4, 225 pound man feel somehow less

Posted by: Kathryn at January 27, 2010 1:25 AM

My answer, for once, is a short one.

Live your life without unapologetically! Once I started doing that, I found myself with others that liked me just fine. It took a while, but it is kind of freeing.

Posted by: Holly Reynolds at January 27, 2010 7:27 AM

people are so funny about food.
a couple times every year, i like to do a juice fast for a week. i have an awesome champion juicer, and i spend the entire week with nothing but beautiful fruit and veggie juices, and detox tea. It makes me feel incredible, i'm not hungry one bit the entire time. But i have to isolate myself from all of my friends during that time, because nobody really gets it... like, "you don't just want a little bit of salad? or some of my fries? or ANYTHING?!!!"
people have a very strong attachment to the food choices they make, but people actually have gotten ANGRY at me for not wanting to eat any solid foods for a week. i don't get it.

Posted by: karma at January 27, 2010 12:41 PM

The same thing could be said about a lot of things. Shortly after college, I quit eating sugar of all kinds (except sugar that is naturally found in fruit). Whenever I was forced to admit it, people would look at me like my hair was on fire. One friend actually said, "I really hate you right now." and she wasn't kidding.

Posted by: Rengirl at January 27, 2010 6:01 PM

I was a vegetarian for 12 years. So for 12 years I was the butt of many a dinner table joke/comment/inquisition/puzzlement.

I think we can eat meat and have it come from responsible sources. Can we feed the world that way? Possibly not. (And maybe that's easier in Canada or other countries where we have more farmland?) Frankly, I'm more worried about the pesticides, herbicides, and plastic shit up the ying yang than I am about my organic beef.

But I'd also say that if America looked at the pure amount of food that went into landfills (I'm sorry but portion control in America is a joke), we could all farm more responsibly and still feed ourselves. Maybe? What do you think?

Posted by: Mandy at January 27, 2010 10:47 PM

1. I was a vegetarian for six years. I went back to eating meat because I am also a chronic anaemic who can't absorb iron supplements (no, not even the supplements for people with absorption problems). I do make sure I eat meat raised outside of a factory setting. If vegetarianism is keeping you healthy, then more power to you.

2. Having said that, factory-farmed veggies are scary too.

Mostly, we just need less processing and less factory farming. We have to stop eating as if we're on war rations (um, unless we're actually in a middle of a real war).

Posted by: Kat at January 27, 2010 11:12 PM

I really try not to reduce everything in life to a book recommendation, but in this case, I can't resist it. A really great book that talks about the social implications of vegetarianism is "Living with Meateaters," by Carol Adams. I first read it when I became vegetarian, and I thought it was insightful at the time (granted, that was many years ago when my brain was smaller).

Posted by: Librarian Girl at January 30, 2010 1:18 PM

I've been off meat for sixteen years now and for the first 10 years or so I had to deal with a lot of obnoxious reaction. Not so much anymore. And no one has ever given me flack about my kid being a veg too, probably since i've been doing it for so long.

But my favorite conversation generally goes like this:

Them: You don't eat meat? OMG! Really? what do you eat then?
Me: Don't you eat things that aren't meat?
Them: Yes, of course.
Me: That's what I eat, too.
Them; *silence*

It just doesn't happen much anymore, and to be honest I dont miss it.

Posted by: jessica at February 4, 2010 4:18 PM

I'm not a vegetarian but I completely agree with your point. And I think women are worse than men.

Posted by: Courtney at February 6, 2010 9:51 AM

I've found it helpful to compose a short elevator speech that is honest but not sensationalist. I try to avoid making people feel defensive but I don't downplay the significance of my choice. It is a very meaningful choice for me and I won't trivialize it.

I usually say something like, "I became vegetarian because I realized that how I was living my life was not in accord with my values. I value kindness, compassion, nonviolence."

If the person seems open to more I'll continue: "I saw that my everyday behavior was promoting cruelty to animals, environmental degradation, and human suffering. So, a little bit at a time, I made the transition to a kinder lifestyle"

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It is getting to a point in American society where that isn't as much of a problem. Especially out west. In times where being more responsible is better vegetarianism thus is popular.

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