I am frequently asked why I am vegetarian. Often, the question has a follow-up, such as, “Do you just not like meat?” or “Do you think there’s something wrong with eating meat (almost always in a defensive tone)?” or, a personal favorite of mine, “Oh, I could never be vegetarian. I like meat too much.” I thought it would be good to answer some common questions and address a few of my own concerns. Just to clarify, I have encountered every single one of these questions and comments multiple times. They are in no way intended to stereotype the meat-eating population, but they are based in extensive personal experience. That said, let’s start at the very beginning.
Here is why I am vegetarian:
1. Because I just don’t like meat.
When I was a teenager, I began to feel like there was something off about eating meat. I gradually and almost unconsciously stopped eating red meat, nearly altogether, mostly because it was bloody when it wasn’t fully cooked and gray when it was – what is pleasant about that? Then it became harder to eat chicken. I still enjoyed the flavor of chicken, but it had become increasingly difficult for me to consume it without thinking about its deadness, and hence, its former state of being a living creature. This was upsetting to me. I would cut out veins, connective tissue, and any other evidence of my meat’s previous form, and leave them on the plate. Eventually I decided to stop eating meat altogether.
2. Because I think there’s something wrong with eating meat.
Have no fear, I’m not judging you. Here’s how I see it: my conscience prevents me from eating meat. It does not prevent me from having a cocktail. So I don’t eat meat, but I sometimes have a cocktail. Now. Say your conscience doesn’t prevent you from eating meat, but it does prevent you from having a cocktail. No matter how much we might like to, you cannot make my conscience keep me from having a dirty martini, and I cannot make yours stop you from having a cheeseburger. This philosophy could actually be applied to any number of issues, but I will stick with the current one. To summarize: I feel like it’s wrong to eat meat. I can’t make you feel like it’s wrong to eat meat, so I can’t make you stop, so I won’t try. This doesn’t mean I have to think it’s OK, it just means I have to accept that you get to decide what’s right for you, and you must do the same for me. Live and let live.
People love to ask me, “What if you were on a desert island and there were no vegetables, only wild animals? Would you starve?” I also frequently hear the statement, “Well, I just think it’s a natural human instinct to hunt and eat animals.”
Here is what I think about these things:
1. Would you rather starve than eat meat?
Of course I would eat meat to survive. By the same token, I take no issue with the consumption of meat in societies or situations where meat is a necessity for survival. I do not, however, believe, nor can you convince me, that meat is a survival necessity in American society. The quantity of flesh we consume in this country is shameful.
2. It’s human instinct to hunt and consume flesh.
Show me a person who personally hunts and cleans every piece of meat he or she consumes, and I’ll show you a person who has my respect. Unfortunately, most of the people making this argument are buying a large percentage of their flesh at the supermarket, already packaged in Styrofoam and cellophane, which makes them sort of hypocritical. Not cool.
In addition, I don’t have this instinct, this drive to hunt, this need to tear apart the flesh of another creature with my sharp, omnivore teeth. I have met a lot of other people who also lack this instinct. Many like to joke that this places vegetarians lower on the food chain, but humans don’t need to hunt other animals in order to maintain the position of dominant species. Therefore, if meat is unnecessary for sustenance, those who continue to hunt or consume meat are, in the broad scheme of things, wasting their time. I like to think that maybe vegetarianism is evidence of being more highly evolved, or that there’s a “vegetarian gene.” But that’s probably just me experiencing common human arrogance.
A couple of additional thoughts in closing:
1. Factory farming is bad.
I firmly believe that even people who eat meat, love to eat meat and will always eat meat should avoid meat produced by factory farming. No one can argue for the moral uprightness of mass production of animals. If nothing else, we should be demanding that we are provided with safer, cleaner, better-quality meat. Even if that means we have to hunt it ourselves. No, especially if we have to hunt it ourselves.
2. Vegetarianism is often much more than a dietary choice.
People love to poke fun at vegetarians. We are the butt of joke after joke. Perhaps you think it’s funny that I eat rabbit food. Alright, but I think it’s rude to make disparaging comments about my moral beliefs. I’m not saying that vegetarians can’t handle a little ribbing. Just understand that it’s likely that the vegetarian you’re mocking has heard your joke at least two dozen times already and it’s feeling a little old. Generally speaking, a moral vegetarian is much more serious about his diet than a meat eater is about hers. Don’t start that conversation unless you want it to be serious. And be prepared, because we read up on this stuff.