Groan… People who just can't get over your vegetarianism

Way back in 1998, I made my first attempt at vegetarianism after being chewed out, rightly, by a young lady who thought I was better than that.

It wasn’t easy and like my many attempts, it only lasted a few weeks. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, eating meat is something that’s normalised in me.

The primary reason – always the primary reason – has been that of the suffering of animals.

I’ve been told a lot of dodgy-to-not-so-convincing reasons such as the claim that it will increase your lifespan.

The World Health Organisation is the source usually cited for the studies that saw higher mortality amongst meat eaters than vegetarians. But, what people citing this source – apparently not reading or not understanding it – don’t tell you is that the vegetarian groups in the earlier study had a lower incidence of smoking and once this was accounted for in further studies, the morbidity difference between lacto-ovo vegetarians and meat-eaters went away. In fact the vegans scored significantly worse.

Then there’s the water and fossil fuel usage. I’m not adverse to the idea that not eating meat in general may leave a smaller carbon footprint, or save water. But I’m yet to be shown a convincing study by the advocates. The problem with research I’ve been shown is usually that fuel/water usage between vegetarian and meat-sources are counted differently (e.g. double counting for meat produce, or omitting certain uses from vegetable produce while counting it for meat produce).

Although, I’m not prepared to go into great length looking into the veracity of either when even if true, it wouldn’t change my behaviour. My vegetarianism doesn’t hinge on the truth of  either of these kinds of arguments.

Now if it’s not hard enough for me just to check my food sources while at the same time resisting the urges that were inculcated into me as a child, people have to go and make it harder by being dicks.

There’s a phrase of Bertrand Russell’s that is apt, “conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.” Although to be more precise, I’d go with “roused to resolve cognitive dissonance through ego defence”.

I’m not talking about the likes of a friend that said “I’m going to give you so much shit from now on!” There’s no mental gymnastics there – just humour and an understated, implicit admission of moral failure.

It’s pretence and moral indignation that’s the problem.

People most often like to think of themselves as being good. The observation that I’m avoiding doing something bad, something that they’re themselves doing, causes dissonance with my meat-eating acquaintances’ self-image of goodness.

I’m not judgemental about it. I don’t jump down anyone’s throat. The only time I snap at anyone about the issue is when they’re already digging away at me.

It’s not jumping down someone’s throat if they started it.

1998 (I paraphrase).

Cousin: “Would you like a metwurst sandwich?”

Me: “Geez! I’m a vegetarian! I only told you again a couple of hours ago.”

Cousin: “I CAN EAT WHAT I WANT!”

Notice how I’m supposed to be oppressing my cousin?

I didn’t tell anyone what to eat in that conversation. I was newly vegetarian, committed but struggling, had communicated the fact already and was then thoughtlessly offered something that he knew I’d find tasty.

I’ve found it amazing the level of mental gymnastics some people will go to blame me for something because of my vegetarianism, even if it hasn’t happened yet.

Last Christmas (again, I paraphrase).

Mother: “I hope you’re not going to ruin Christmas for everyone else with this [vegetarianism].”

My not eating meat will ruin Christmas for everyone else? Even though I’d already pre-cooked my own Christmas lunch and tea to save any hassles.

And if it’s not a big enough pain in the arse that they’ve got these kind of issues, it’s the mental gymnastics they go through to convince themselves that they aren’t going through mental gymnastics.

“I’m just trying to be a good host!”

“I forgot you’re a vegetarian!” (An odd thing to forget given how obsessed and neurotic they can be about it, no?)

It’s the ones who are the “forgetful good hosts” that needle you about it the most. Needle, needle, needle.

They’ll serve something up with a big fat hot steak or piece of pork with crackling smacked on the plate, hover it in front of your face and then proceed to inquire as if to be considerate.

Of course they know this kind of thing is attractive to me, they know that I don’t want to be offered meat and rather than ask if I don’t want it, they’ll ask why I don’t want it and if I’m sure I don’t want it, all in the tone of the most conscientious host. All while hovering the plate in front of my face.

The context always shows they should know how to behave better. You’ve already talked to them about it within the past few hours. They spend time trying to “serve” you, all why others are waiting hungrily. And why ask why you don’t want it if they don’t already know you don’t want it?

Odd behaviour for the conscientious or for anyone who supposedly doesn’t realise that you don’t eat meat.

I mentioned some of the justifications I don’t use to inform my vegetarianism – health and environmental reasons.

Yet surprisingly after the umpteenth time I’ve told them “no”, they can still pull the straw man rejoinder like…

“It won’t kill you!”

…or…

“It won’t cause that much environmental damage. Just one.”

Of course, I don’t repeat my reasons for being a vegetarian ad infinitum to people who behave like this. What’s the point of expressing a moral justification if your interlocutor isn’t interested in listening.

But it’s not like I haven’t tried – it’s just that I’ve learned that it’s futile so I’ve stopped.

And oh, the sheer hypocrisy of asking why, when they don’t care why! The disingenuous questions aren’t much fun.

I no longer justify my choice if they ask me to explain. The dialogue is closed.

And why not? It is my body after all.

Why am I even having to have these discussions? Well, we know the answer of course – my choice through no intent on my part reflects on them in a way that they aren’t willing to admit to themselves.

But that’s their problem. I shouldn’t have to hear about it. I’m sick of hearing about it.

It makes being a vegetarian that much more difficult on top of everything else.

There’s only so much time before I grow so tired of this that I’ll stop being the passive party and I’ll actively use their own neurosis on the issue against them.

The discomfort they feel now at my being a vegetarian – the imagined persecution through imagined ruined public holidays and imagined chastisings – will seem insignificant when I play the double jeopardy card and actually do what I’ve been accused of doing. Namely chastise and ruin public holidays.

It’s either that or just walking away when it gets too much. Ultimately, I can afford to burn these bridges if my stock in these relationships falls so low.

I’ve been vegetarian for over half a year now and things are staying that way.

~ Bruce

(Photo source: Davide Vizzini)

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