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I am a vegetarian
|Opinion||Sat, 28 Apr 2012||Tweet|
Note: All articles in the Opinion section are the views of the individuals expressing them and do not represent The Stand's official stance on anything.
I am a vegetarian. Actually, because I eat seafood, I’m technically a ‘pescetarian’. Yet, when I go to people’s houses for dinner, eat at restaurants or go to the supermarket I become this new person – ‘the vegetarian’ – one who doesn’t eat meat.
Every day we make hundreds of little decisions without too much thought. We choose to get up in the morning, we choose one brand of conditioner over another; we choose which clothes to wear, which books to read, whom to be friends with, and we choose what to eat. What I ask myself is: why do some of our lifestyle choices come with a label and why do vegetarians make some people so angry?
What one eats has always been an essential part of one's human life. But why do only some of our food choices put us into certain categories? Vegetarian, pescetarian, vegan. Why is nobody called ‘cereal-over-toast’ or ‘hater-of-eggs’?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m technically a pescetarian. However, I can’t remember the last time I ate fish. My three flatmates and I have a budget for each dinner for each of us. This doesn’t usually stretch to let us buy fish. So, because I haven’t consumed fish or seafood in the near past, nor will I in the near future, does this mean I am now a vegetarian? Well no… What makes me a vegetarian, you might say, is not that I don’t eat meat, but that I won’t eat it.
We label people ‘vegetarians’ because they refuse to eat meat. But what I want to ask is: why does not eating meat have to mean the same as refusing to eat meat, while not eating brussel sprouts for example, is just not eating brussel sprouts. I eat brussel sprouts once a year: at Christmas dinner. However, they aren’t something I feel the urge to eat or prepare throughout the rest of the year. I don’t refuse to eat brussel sprouts, but because I also ate turkey at Christmas dinner, that means that in the last year I have eaten brussel sprouts exactly as often as I’ve eaten meat. So, as a pescetarian, why do I refuse to eat meat, but I choose not to eat brussel sprouts?
I don’t refuse to eat meat. I just don’t eat it. I think the reason ‘not eating meat’ has become synonymous with ‘refusing to eat meat’, and this is because meat has been such an important part of our eating habits since humankind discovered fire. Historically, eating meat has been the status quo and when someone has chosen no-meat over meat it has been a much bigger deal than choosing cabbage over brussel sprouts.
What I mean when I say “I don’t refuse to eat meat, I just choose not to eat it” is that if someone pointed a gun to my head and said “eat this lamb shank” I would bloody well eat the lamb shank. And enjoy it too. I do have a reason for not eating meat, but I won’t go into that here.
Here’s an analogy: if I were to forego eating bananas because yellow fruit puts me off my appetite, then if someone were to give me a blue banana I would eat it. In the same way, I don’t unconditionally refuse to eat meat, there are just some specific reasons why, when in the supermarket, I choose to buy some leeks and a butternut squash instead of a pound of ground beef. I don’t refuse to buy the beef.
After recently reading a very angry article in the Guardian, Why I Hate Vegetarians, I started to ponder this notion of labelling people according to what they choose to devour at meal times. While describing a meal at a vegetarian restaurant, the author said that “what was unpalatable were the customers and waiting staff, all of whom seemed to believe that what they were eating made them superior. They all looked smug and self-satisfied.” I’m not sure if this is a valid empirical generalisation of vegetarians or not, but I think I might know the source of the problem.
Not eating meat has become a thing. It’s been made that way by society and by people who label themselves and others “vegetarians”. Being a vegetarian is more than just not eating meat, it means something. And a lot of people are offended by their interpretation of this meaning.
So, why does being vegetarian have to mean something? Not eating meat means so many different things to different people. To some people it means not spending 80% of your food budget on 4 sausages, to others it means trying to decrease demand for meat and to others it just means: “I don’t like the taste of meat”. If we were to shed all this extra meaning and just take eating meat and not eating meat at face value, it would be less of a big deal and cause a lot less anger and argument. And perhaps more people would feel like they could just eat what they want, when they want, and not have to deal with the fall-out from taking on the identity of a ‘vegetarian’.
Photo © Anna Gudnason
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