I have to vent about something today.
I come from a family of meat eaters, and I think 90% of the meals I had growing up had some sort of meat in them. Fittingly, I actually can’t believe or explain how I’m vegetarian. Apparently, a lot of other people can’t either. A couple of years ago, a Black teenager from Roxbury who was interning at my job asked me why I wasn’t eating the chicken wings at the lunch that was provided. I told him because I didn’t eat meat. He response: Seriously? You’re the first Black man I’ve ever met who doesn’t eat meat.
Funny indeed. I wish it could always be so amusing. As a result, I don’t initiate conversations with people over my vegetarianism. If anything, I tend to talk more broadly about healthy eating. But strangely enough…people are always engaging me in the conversation. And in too many instances, they do so in a fairly hostile way, acting like I am under interrogation for not eating meat. I try to take it in stride, and use each instance as “a teachable moment” as our President likes to say. And I enjoy having reasoned, calm and engaging conversations with many people I come across on the topic. But it does get admittedly hard when it feels like an attack instead of constructive or inquisitive.
I realize that some (many?) vegetarians may come off as equally attacking and abrasive. Of course, I do think there is a difference since many feel that eating animals is an act of killing, akin to murdering a human. And I don’t know many people that would not feel indignant (and hence, somewhat abrasive) about humans being slaughtered. But, regardless, I’m not that type of vegetarian. Really I’m not. And there are many others like me. To be clear, my main reasons are health, the efficiency of food production, and the environment, with animal welfare sprinkled in well down the list.
That’s great, but it doesn’t seem to stop the line of questioning in an attempt to bust my alibi as a non-meat eater. It runs the gamut too. Some try to poke holes in my practice (You eat fish? No. Eggs? Sure. Aha!). Others try to poke holes in my rationale (You have to eat more vegetables to get as full as eating a piece of meat, so therefore you are consuming more resources…uh, not true). And others call into question my motives (you’re only doing this because of some girl aren’t you?).
But nothing gets me more riled up than people trying to say that I’m “elitist” due to my choice not to eat meat. The usual argument states that vegetarianism is more expensive than eating meat, so therefore, I am engaging in a luxurious choice. Say…what? Let’s put aside the fact that eating healthier now has been shown to be a net savings in the long run given higher future medical costs for eating hormone induced meat (and yes, I am making an “elitist” distinction between that and naturally grown meat…like grass fed). And let’s also ignore the fact that most poor people around the globe have mostly fruit and vegetable based diets. The fact is that eating vegetables is just NOT more expensive than eating meat. My bank account can attest. As can the fact that I split bills with people all the time and am essentially subsidizing (without comment nor judgment) their meat eating since my dish costs 75% of theirs. There are expensive vegetarian choices, like quinoa for instance, and expensive vegetarian restaurants, like Pure Food and Wine (a “raw” restaurant to be exact), but they don’t even come close to approaching the cost of a filet mignon at Peter Lugers. I just don’t get it…
And once I’ve sufficiently defended myself and explained my rationale, some people nod. And we move on to another topic. Or they ask some truly inquisitive questions and we finally engage in a reasonable conversation. But again, too many others regress to the worst “attack” of all. “You know this is all symbolic, you’re not going to change anything or accomplish your goals doing this.” Full circle from elitist to defeatist. Siiiiigh….
I’m at a loss as to what is it about vegetarians, and specifically, my vegetarianism, that deserves this reaction? I’m not hurting anyone, I’m not throwing animal blood on anyone. I’m not infringing on anyone’s ability to live the life the way they choose. I’m just quietly going about my business trying to put my money where my mouth is (literally) and practice the best life I can.
Any vegetarians or non-vegetarians want to weigh in here?