Urrrrrrrrggh… More on people who can't cope with your vegetarianism

It’s been almost half a year since I wrote a piece about how people, meat-eaters in particular, try to resolve dissonance brought on by vegetarians, by externalizing guilt, or feelings of insecurity, in typical passive aggressive fashion.*

Things haven’t changed. Indeed it seems more the case in the festive season than any other time, you’re the bringer of bad yule-tidings for not joining the meat-eating collective.

If you’re the vegetarian, it’s you who’s being the aggressive trouble maker.

It doesn’t matter that you avoid didacticism on the grounds of it being a poor means for the proliferation of an ethic. Never mind that you only discuss it where it’s raised as relevant; in public discussion, or where (surprise, surprise) you’ll be eating.

Never mind that you aren’t trying to force any given eating practice on any given person.

“There’s chicken in the fridge! Help yourself!”

“I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat.”

“Not even chicken?!?”

Forget for a moment the obvious taxonomic error that sees chicken as a vegetable, the worst part is this could be the squillionth time this kind of thing will happen with any given problematic person.

“What? Not even fish fingers?”

Not that it isn’t relevant (or funny) but the problem isn’t taxonomy. The problem isn’t memory either, even if the path is well trod.

The response is always obsessive, self-pitying and defensive;  the interest is too deeply riven to be something that just arrived in their mind on a whim. They aren’t so stupid so as to not be able to tell that a rabbit isn’t a fruit either.

The problem, their problem, is that your vegetarianism, your choice (not theirs), reflects upon their character and they aren’t comfortable with that. It’s not about memory.

Yet, you’re told when they are caught for the umpteenth time…

“Oh I forgot! You can’t expect me to consider these things if I forget.”

Just like they can’t expect you to believe that they forget such things, what with the great big deal they make out of you refusing meat. Every. Damn. Time!

Perhaps you think I’m over-reacting in my response to their supposed forgetfulness. Consider then that not only do they make a big deal out of it again and again, more than one of them has kicked up a stink about the last time I wrote here about them kicking up a stink about my vegetarianism.

Surely if it matters as much as they make out, my criticism of their carnivore-dissonance, if it matters so much they write to make editorial demands upon my blogging, they can’t also plausibly claim they forget I’m vegetarian.

Of course “forgetting” comes in convenient when giving “apologies” for offering meat for the 100th time, not realising that I don’t eat “vegetables” like chicken and fish fingers. It also comes in handy during those circumstances when my meal is “accidentally” contaminated.

“These chips have chicken salt on them”.

“Oh sorry, I didn’t think…”

“I asked you less than half an hour ago to get plain salt because I’m vegetarian.”

“I must have forgotten, I usually remember…”

“Yes, you usually do. You worked three years in a job selling hot chips to people who ordered them without chicken salt.”

It also seems more likely to occur when you’re more vulnerable as well; like when you haven’t eaten in a while, and are too worn out to prepair something. When you have less fight in you it’s easier to make you an honorary meat eater by slipping something into your food.

Of course food contamination isn’t the only “forgetful” passive-aggressive trick in the book the insecure meat-eater uses. Oh no.

You’re at a family occasion hosted by a family member you haven’t seen in a while, one who probably doesn’t know you are a vegetarian yet. It’s okay, or it should be okay because you’ve brought your own food.

If it inadvertently becomes an issue, if your host in perfectly good faith offers you some food with meat in it, you’ve done the necessary preparation to manage things without awkwardness. Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

Along comes one of those people who “forget” you’re vegetarian. They search the food prepared by your host for something with meat, then doing their best impersonation of a bad actor in-character as a thoughtful host, proffer the carcass in front of your host.

The moment you refuse, no matter what you say, they’re instantly offended on behalf of your host. They highlight how you’re insulting such fin cooking. And of course they give no hint of knowing you’re vegetarian, no matter how many times they’ve been told.

The opportunity to explain yourself, your choices, on your terms and with those who actually have any standing in the matter has been stolen by someone with an axe to grind.

Yet despite this, it’s usually you who’s created the awkward situation, allegedly.  And not acknowledging they knew you’re vegetarian goes a long way in your antagonist not having to admit they set things up; that they’ve attempted to recruit your host and family member into their pathetic little ego struggle.

It’s only when it starts to become obvious to others that they’ve been dragged into something pre-existing, something that’s become more acrimonious than it ever needed to be, that the old excuse comes out of the deck.

“He’s been pretending to forget I’m vegetarian, and trying to start arguments between me and family members for some time now, because he doesn’t have the cajones to confront me directly, by himself.”

“I did forget! It was an honest misunderstanding! It’s you who’s upsetting people!”

***

The crux of all of this, the reason why I bother writing about it, is because being vegetarian isn’t easy.

I don’t avoid eating meat because I don’t like the taste of it. I don’t do it for health reasons; the research doesn’t pan out.

I’m a vegetarian because I’m not okay with the suffering of those that can suffer; non-human animals included.

Meat is still tempting. Walking past Mc Donalds is more tempting now than it’s ever been.

Being offered meat, even innocently, is stressful. It’s worse when deliberate and repetative.

Then there’s the “self-denying” crap.

“If you want to eat it, then just eat it!”

Consider for the sake of argument, that I told you I had an urge to punch in the face, those people who laid unnecessary temptations in front of me. That this urge is just, if not more tempting, than eating the meat.

Would you have me, to avoid being self-denying, eating the meat and kicking their arse? (At least you’d be being consistent).

I mean, if the suffering of animals doesn’t matter, if it’s all about pure self-affirmation, then you can’t complain about me slicing off someone’s face and throwing it on the barbecue to make crackling, can you? Especially if they tempted me to do so.

I was first taken hunting at two years old. I’ve worked a shitty job in a meat factory. I’ve had attempts on my life. I’ve survived amongst some of the nastiest people in Australia. I’ll be screwed if I’m going to tolerate the gastronomic directives of human herd animals!

In light of this, the step from non-human to human in matters of survival and eating is probably less a graduation than you imagine. My vegetarianism not withstanding, there’s more of the predator inculcated into me than you’ll ever learn from browsing pre-slaughtered, plastic-wrapped, corpse-cuttings at market.

(And technically, I’ve already eaten human flesh – fun story).

I think the emphasis on the logical implications of harm-as-immoral could afford to be reversed for once. Reframed if you will.

Vegetarians often talk of extending the rights of persons to all beings capable of experiencing harm. I adopt the same logic, more or less. But rhetorically turned-on-its-head, morally, the criteria stopping me from eating non-human animals, is the same one stopping me from eating you.

It probably wouldn’t hurt for a few people to learn a thing or two about empathy for animals, and I dare say that if I put them through the experience of being hunted, they’d have such a learning experience. Or taste good trying and frying. Nom nom nom.

This is of course quasi-hypothetical, and I’m having a bit of a laugh. Honest. I’m not about to actually start slaughtering people; I believe I’ve explained why I’m a vegetarian.

But the moral absurdity from this half-reality-half-thought-experiment remains in the real world as well. It persists. It’s annoying and I believe I’ve conveyed adequately why.

Yet it goes on and on, because some people, quite unnecessarily, seeing someone else doing something different, are urged by their frail egos to defend their choice to remain amongst the herd, using disingenuous and universally cowardly means to do so. Nietzsche didn’t cast his net wide enough; you don’t have to be a predator to be an object of ressentiment.

If someone wants to take a shot at my vegetarianism, they should be direct in articulating something logically coherent, factually sound, argued in good faith and at an appropriate juncture. If someone wants to raise the matter, especially when they demand I don’t discuss their antics elsewhere, they should at least endeavour to provide a climate conducive to honest discussion.

It’s telling that instead they resort to stupid mind-games, lame high-school sophistry, pubescent politics, back-handed jabs, egocentric posturing, puerile food-tainting, mock politeness, victim-feigning and infallible fight-starting while I’m just trying to eat!

But hey, I’m the one who started it, right? I didn’t have to start a fight just by being vegetarian.

Merry Christmas!

~ Bruce

* I use the psychology terms more as literary device, than as actual, technical psychology.

(Photo source: Davide Vizzini)

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30 thoughts on “Urrrrrrrrggh… More on people who can't cope with your vegetarianism

  1. There’s another tack you might take – one that is more memorable. Like I say “I don’t eat things with a belly button” (giving a chance to point out the environmental advantage of macropod over hooved animals), you could say “I don’t eat things with a trace of haemoglobin” (don’t say “with chlorophyll” or mushies are off the menu, and you might theoretically be offered weird animals that do use photosynthesis as a supplementary energy source).

    And if there is a Grill’d nearby, go there rather than Maccas – Mushroom Burger – proper big field ones – mmmmm… And B12!

    • I try not to get down to the technical details with some people.

      Technically, “vegetarian” is of course a categorical term, when I’m not one for the categorical imperative. Specifically, I don’t weep for the plight of sea cucumbers much more than I would kelp; it’s more their ecological function than their personal well-being I’m worried about (sea cucumbers not really having the pre-requisite personhood).

      In certain instances, I don’t have a problem with eating meat; such as when failing to cull would result in greater suffering (especially in damaging outbreaks of r-selected species), eating the culled animals is to me morally acceptable, and of course there’s road-kill.

      Though I don’t find myself in the contexts where I’d find it moral to take advantage of eating road kill, or culled animals (I hear koala is practically innedible anyway, and I don’t like the idea of eating poisoned plague mouse), hence I don’t eat animals.

      When you try to explain this to those that will argue with you in bad faith, usually they will blind themselves to your consistency (and original criteria) to allege hypocrisy (usually with attendant strawmen). I couldn’t be bothered going to the effort with people who aren’t willing to go to the same effort themselves.

    • just so you know… the Grill’d chips actually aren’t vegetarian. They come pre-coated in beef tallow (which is not noted anywhere on their menu). I have written them a complaint and would recommend anyone else who is concerned does so as well. I HATE being tricked into eating animal products without my knowledge.

    • Actually jazziefizzle, the ones I ate didn’t use tallow. Even before I was a vegetarian I hated the use of tallow on chips – for me it ruined the mouth feel of the potato. Even when it wasn’t listed on the bag, I could taste it, and eventually could spot a chip that had been manufactured with it (which is most).

      I’ve been in the habit of watching other people eat chips from a given chip shop to see if it’s cut potato, or the nastier of the mass produced stuff which contains tallow.

      I’m yet to see oven-fries/chips from the freezer section that don’t use tallow of course. They all seem to (and I believe they actually use more tallow than the worst of the wholesale frozen chips that ship to chipperies).

      The secret to a good (vegetarian) chip of course, is good potato and oil that’s suitably hot (which negates the “need” for tallow which is supposed to make a chip crisp and give it structure even when cooked badly).

      Oh yeah… I used to cook chips amongst other things for a living. 😉

  2. Stop projecting about whose politics might be pubescent. Vegetarianism is generally the domain of pubescent girls rather than mature adults who’d simply say “no thanks” when offered something rather than pontificating endlessly about food. When you’re the one going against the grain, you don’t get to determine the norms for the masses or complain about them; your own behavior over what you consume isolates you from the mainstream, and you only compound that isolation by alienating everyone else by making such a fuss over what is a very trifling matter.

    So, ultimately, you are the troublemaker. Not so much for turning down meat but for being a boorish, prattling arse about it. It’s one reason why I don’t invite vegetarians over or out to dinner anymore, even when there’s no meat on the menu (which in our house is about 90% of the time).

    • Seriously, why the incessant rants as if it’s everyone else’s dilemma what you eat and why? Maybe it’s only your problem. Well, nix the maybe. 😉

      They’re only trying to be considerate and generous by offering you something. You could politely decline (“no thanks”) without diarrhea-of-the-mouth explanations (if prodded beyond that, you could just say that you’re just not hungry for it at the moment). You’re only making it a bigger, ruder deal than it ever should be by blowing the issue completely out of proportion and coming off as an inconsiderate ingrate — or worse, a 12 year-old girl trapped in a grown man’s body.

      That’s why I abhor inviting anyone I know to be a vegetarian (worse: vegan) with such a shitty view of others who invite them over to eat, lest I have to deal with a zillion inane questions about the ingredients in every goddamn item and then still have to produce a box that something came in to prove it won’t invalidate their ersatz principles (funny how “annoying your hosts” is never one of those principles of tolerance and ethics, huh). When vegetarianism includes good manners and thoughtfulness to other humans without regard for their diets, maybe I’ll reconsider.

  3. In my circle of friends, I’ve observed something: vegetarianism is contagious! It started out with just 1, then we met 2 more, then I and my girlfriend converted, and most recently 2 more friends did as well. Now the vegetarians outnumber the omnivores. Fun times!

    I wonder if it’s because we’re all skeptical thinkers. I think the most grief I’ve ever been given was by a friend who tried to convince me that shrimp don’t feel pain. Then I pointed out that I’m an ecological vegetarian and really have no sympathy for crustaceans, and he quickly agreed and changed the subject (which is honestly the best I can ever hope for).

    As far as non-skeptic reactions go… My roommate once (before I was vegetarian) went off on some ill-conceived rant about how we evolved to eat meat, so that means we have to eat it. All I could do was laugh, because she’s a staunch supporter of asexual rights, being an asexual herself. Maybe I should point out that we evolved to boink? 😛

    • It’d be a cliche of me to raise the “is-ought problem” in response to the tale of your friend’s “we evolved to eat meat” comment. I’d go with permutations of the Price equation instead, particularly what they spell for those less related. Ugly stuff – it’s the opposite of altruism.

    • @Bruce re: “the opposite of altruism,” please re-read your entire rant against your hosts who generously and innocently offered you meat. Awful rich to complain that meat eaters invalidate concepts of altruism when you write stuff like this. 😉

  4. We carnivores are probably going to burn in Hell for all eternity, too. (Which one is that, “back-handed jabs,” “egocentric posturing, ” or “victim-feigning”?)

  5. pedantic point, but meat is often defined as the flesh of _mammals_ to the exclusion of fish and poultry. I used to say ‘animal products’ when I was vegetarian/vegan, it seemed to work better.

    http://www.answers.com/topic/meat#Etymology

    Mind you, I’m coeliac, so I got into the habit of bringing my own food for when the people who were preparing dinner were unable to get it right. Maybe you ought to try it. Rather than exacerbating the tension, you’ve taken responsibility for your dietary choices.

    Cooking vegetarian / gluten free / whatever is a huge change in cooking procedure, and any who cooks regularly will recognise the auto-pilot state they go into when cooking big meals. Checking every ingredient for animal products / gluten doesn’t fit into that flow unless you’ve been cooking that way for a long time. Hell, my mum’s vegetarian _herself_ and she still mucks it up occasionally.

  6. It is amazing to me how much resistance there is when it comes to vegeterianism. I was ordered a veggie sandwich one day and when the guy behind was asked what he’d like (mind you, I haven’t spoken a word to him or even know him) he looks at me and says “NOT a vegetarian sandwich”

    And I never expect anyone to cook special for me, state as such-people still get upset. It’s hard and people fail to realize it isn’t a judgement (if it were, we’d make those same snarky comments they do), it’s simply a personal choice.

    People don’t run around bashing Jewish people for needing to eat Kosher…and that’s equally as difficult.

    • I’m resigned to it being a judgement, epistemologically/ethically speaking. This doesn’t mean the same thing as being judgemental in the conventional language of course, it just means that I’ve used my judgement to make a moral choice.

      It is a bit of a double standard, people’s religious eating prohibitions being sheltered while non-religious prohibitions are fair game.

      I have been told to just pretend I’ve got religious reasons, but aside from not working because nobody that knows me would believe it, I’m not comfortable with lying about it. So I just have to put up with the double standard. Fun fun!

  7. As a meat eater who holds no acrimony against non-red-meat eaters, pescatarians, ovo-lacto vegetarians, or vegans, I find that the *reason* for your vegetarianism will typically change the reaction of the meat-eaters around you quite dramatically. (Now, I am also from the States, and I think there is a *bit* more tolerance here, but maybe that’s just because I tend to run in more liberal circles.) Are you against animal- and eco-unfriendly mass market farms, but willing to eat wild meat? Not so bad. Do you feel you are healthier without meat, or that eating lower on the food chain is better for the environment? Also not so bad. But the moral judgement of “meat is murder” is what tends to get folks’ hackles up, I think. In the same way that I (and likely you too) get immediately defensive when a hard-core Christian tells me I am going to Hell, so too does putting my decision to eat meat in a *moral* framework make me more defensive. Because at that point you are not arguing on the basis of logic alone, there is an inherent judgement built into your decision. Meat eating is wrong, therefore you are wrong for eating meat. Now, I’m perfectly happy to allow Christians to go on thinking I’m going to Hell and not worry about them, and I’m also perfectly happy to allow you to not eat meat and believe that I am wrong for continuing to do so. But I suspect this is at the center of the so-called “fragile egos” of those around you — whether you say it or not, the fact that your decision is a moral one, rather than health or ecologically motivated, automatically puts a moral judgement on the meat-eaters you know.

    As for their insistence on trying to talk you into eating meat, or provoke a fight, or blame you for making a scene, or constantly “forgetting” about your vegetarianism, that is unforgivable in my opinion. Just as your failure to respect their religious beliefs would be unforgivable. Everyone has a right to make their own way through this world, and act in a manner that they think is best. Assuming, of course, that they are not putting anyone else in physical harm’s way. *smile*

    • I really, really don’t want the ideas behind my vegetarianism (or my economic views, or my taste in art etc) to be “respected”, or in any other way sheilded from criticism when I put them out there. It’s when my choice to be vegetarian is interfered with, or otherwise sabotaged, or endlessly questioned in private moments, that I have a problem

      Unless I become religious, I’ll never “respect” religious ideas, but I’ll respect people’s right to hold them, and act on them (provided it doesn’t harm anyone). And I’ll never go door knocking in the name of atheism, because that’s just intrusive interference.

  8. The best is when someone asks you:

    “Do you eat fish?”

    “no, of course, fishes are animals too”

    “And tuna?”

    So what, tuna is a can?!

    This happened to me sooo many times that now it’s actually funny.

    • Waaaaaay back when I was doing a Science Ed. course for teaching primary school kids (K-7), we had an interesting discussion on the progression of children’s ability to classify objects and organisms – trees not being living, that sort of thing. It’s interesting to see that some adults don’t quite have the knack for it, and even less intution for it than kids (e.g. some creationists and various haven’t-thought-about-it types).

    • Actually, I do deliniate animals from humans. Just not in traditional ways.

      For example, I don’t think all animals can experience suffering to the same extent. I think someone be rejected after a job interview is very much likely to induge more suffering than what a sea cucumber would experience being roasted over an open fire.

      That being said, I think most edible, and available animals (those relevant to the discussion) are easily capable of sufficient suffering to warrant consideration and a stay of execution.

      It’s more of a continuum than discrete catagories of course. And context matters.

      Also, I try to emphasise when I can, that non-human animals (for good or for worse) aren’t capable of the same moral agency as human beings.

      But yes, people do still get offended that I’m not delineating humans from other animals, even if I still do. It’s a very common misconception and I’m hardly the only one on the receiving end of it!

  9. I’ve decided to cut down on meat and chicken for the New Year – not because of ethical or ecological, but because it’s so damn expensive for this poor uni student!

    OK, maybe also for some ethical reasons. Stories such as Karen Barlow’s Lateline piece about those chooks (haven’t got time to find right now) has made me rethink where the food is coming from. Some things I just cannot support.

    • I’m not sure that I’ve seen the piece on chooks you’ve talked about. There’s been a lot on the issue of late, what with “free range” not being a protected term and the subsequent exploitation of the fact by people selling caged eggs.

      I’ll have to have a look for it myself.

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