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Meat ain’t rocket science people. C’mon!

May 27, 2011

No meatI had one of those days a couple days ago when I felt like a helpless spectator in my life of stupid interactions. I had some important unexpected phone calls that comprised of unrehearsed dialogue, in which I totally felt like I was choppily reading someone else’s lines. Needless to say, I didn’t feel I performed very well and after the conversations, I felt almost resentful for not being given enough time to prepare my responses. (Why doesn’t my life have a backspace button?) Most of my lame responses came from a place of fear. I believe that when I have an assertion or query to make, I have a split-second (but life-changing) thought of doubt and wonder about how the other person will perceive me if, say, I ask “What exactly was the hold up?” or “Is the price negotiable?” I listened to myself agree with statements and requests of the other parties while I shook my head in disgust with myself thinking, “What has happened to my backbone?” At one point a few year’s ago, I made a commitment to myself to not do what I didn’t want to do, even if that led to awkward or complicated situations, but lately, I feel like I’m slipping up and I’m starting to opt for doing and saying shit I don’t want to do and say in order to please everyone else (or at least not rock the boat). So the following day, I took more charge of my pronouncements and ensured that what I said, asked, and did was all in line with what I believed in or what I wanted. Sure, it’s risky behaviour, but at the end of that day, I felt truer to myself and thus more fulfilled. I strongly suggest giving this a try.

This week, I received an email from a friend who has just recently gone vegetarian and is having to deal with the common familial problems of coming out as the first veghead in a meat-eating family, namely (in his words):

I don’t know how many times I’ve told them I’m vegetarian for a year, yet they keep asking me if I still eat fish…
He had a very important question for me that has no easy answer:
How do I explain what I’m doing so they “get it” and stop asking me at every bbq or get-together if I still eat “x”?
His solutions really haven’t worked very well:
I started this thing by saying I’m not eating meat for a year… quickly realizing that they assumed i was still eating poultry, fish and pork… I guess to them, meat = beef.
So then I said no animals… to which they reply with fish not being an animal, and sometimes even chickens.
Then I thought I had the solution by saying anything with eyes, but of course I overestimated my cleverness, and that’s when the mussels, scallops, etc. comments come out.
I’m starting to see what vegetarians, especially vegans must have to go through to explain to new people what they choose to (or not to) eat. It must get tiring having to explain it all the time. I know I’m starting to get tired of it.

So, I’m opening this up to my readers. I ask that you please use the “comments” function of this blog post to respond to his question. He is a reader of the blog and is excited to receive some moral support, feedback, and potential solutions to his newly-discovered social dining predicament.  But first, I’m going to respond with my initial reaction and what I consider to be a potential solution (based on the assumptions made in my initial reaction).

It seems to me that his family is being unjustifiably antagonistic. This is a common response to someone choosing vegetarianism. It may have to do with the perceived (and accurate!) moral or ethical superiority of the vegetarian argument. For the same reason people try to make you feel like an ethical hypocrite for going veg [click here for previous post on this], his family is trying to poke holes in his “vegetarianism”, by trying to get him to find a platonic, seal-tight definition of his vegetarian diet, which is very difficult, if not unattainable. Sure, we can say, no meat, or no flesh, or nothing with eyes, or nothing that’s sentient, but then you’ll get people mocking you with comments like: well I guess you can eat fish, or you can’t eat nuts, or you can eat mussels and shrimp, or you can eat insects or other lowly animals whose sentience is debatable. I guess you can state that you don’t eat anything from the “animal kingdom”, but that usually would involve a evolutionary biology lesson to get people to understand that yes, fish and insects are animals and no, this term (at least officially) isn’t synonymous with “mammal”. But that’s stupid. No one should have to go to such lengths to explain something that is obvious. People know what vegetarian means. Perhaps “vegan” or “lacto-vegetarian” or “ovo-vegetarian” will still be perceived as impossibly confusing (they’re not), but at least we can all agree that “vegetarian” has been understood long enough to AT LEAST rule out ALL meat. Meat is muscle, it’s flesh, it comes from animals and it’s obvious once you actually think about it. For the record and as a side note, if you eat fish, you are not a vegetarian. You can’t use that word. You are doing a great service to the world and to other non-fish livestock animals by not eating non-fish meat, but you are unfortunately not vegetarian. You’re also not a vegetarian that eats fish. That’s like a pregnant woman who is not having a baby. Paradoxical, ain’t it? You’re a pescetarian if you need a term, otherwise you’re a “sorry-I-only-eat-fish” person. So why is it up to the vegetarian to defend his eating choices by providing a perfect explanation of his eating habits? It’s not. However, it is the responsibility of the vegetarian to explain what it means to be vegetarian and what that means he can’t eat (even if it does seem painfully obvious). At the point when people start asking “But what about x ?”, my answer would be a repetition of “I don’t eat meat. Is x meat? Yes? then I don’t eat it. No? Then I may or may not eat it.” So let’s define x = meat in case that gets messy.

meat = the flesh of an animal

Let’s define what an animal isn’t:

animal = not plant, fungi, bacteria

That should clear it up for your family! And if at that point, they still don’t get it or they still are questioning what is “meat” or what is “animal”, then either (a) they learn things very very slowly, or more likely (b) they would prefer to be unsympathetic to your cause and either cause you grief or tease you. If you are OK with the latter, then fine, but I do warn you, it gets tiresome after a while having people tease you about not eating meat. Eventually, you just have to put your foot down, ignore that split-second nagging doubt in the back of your mind, and tell them how it makes you feel, why it is offensive to act that way, and why you would appreciate it if those whom you love the most (i.e., your family) would support you and love you unconditionally. Isn’t that what family is for? I assure you that even if they still don’t get it, saying and doing what you feel is right will make you feel truer to yourself and definitely more fulfilled. Stick to it and with time, they’ll come around.

Your turn, readers. Any bright ideas?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelly C permalink
    May 27, 2011 7:22 pm

    I always say I don’t eat anything that has a face or a family but realistically if someone wants to poke a hole in your argument/statement they will find a way. Don’t engage people, it never ends well. Just state the facts and move on. They will get bored of it eventually. And good for you for trying to go meatless for a year! That is a great thing to do and also good for you for not giving in when it’s hard, that’s the hardest part when you first start out in my opinion. Asking for support from the community is a great way to not feel alone when it seems like everyone around you disagrees with your decision. The veggie community is an awesome one and is always around to share recipes, tips and helpful advice! Good luck!!

  2. May 27, 2011 9:25 pm

    I’m not vegetarian, but I’m very familiar with restricted diets.

    It’s that nobody can keep straight which of their vegetarian, or vegan, or ovo-lacto, or low-carb, or low-glycemic index, or low-gluten friends can eat, or can’t eat, or who changed their diet to which different diet this month.

    They’re being polite and considerate. Appreciate that you have people around you who are trying to accommodate your nonstandard diet. If you can’t, you’re the antagonistic one.

  3. Mary Ann permalink
    May 27, 2011 11:32 pm

    It’s frustrating that people aren’t more supportive of something so clearly positive. We drove by a truck full of pigs the other day, and while it still made me sad, it was good to know we weren’t contributing to their suffering – or at least contributing less.

    People seem to have a million silly reasons for not being more accepting of a veggie lifestyle. I think support from like minded individuals is what will help lots :)

  4. June 4, 2011 3:39 pm

    I’m 20 years into vegetarian and still the family can’t grasp the framework of animal vs. plant. Still the lectures of protein.

  5. Katherine permalink
    June 11, 2011 8:01 pm

    I would- and do- respond with ” I only eat plant based foods.” That pretty much says it all.

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