So, the other day, I read this post, which discusses the defensive and critical reaction people can have to vegetarians (and especially vegans).
The post is written by a vegan, who admits that he hates to admit that he’s vegan. And I totally get that; why would I offer it up, when it’s so often faced with a barrage of questioning, like you’re some sort of criminal.
It might happen when I turn down a bite of birthday cake for the third time or have trouble mustering interest in going to a restaurant whose sole vegan option is a deflated pile of aging lettuce, but eventually, it comes out. If I’m lucky, reactions are something like, “You’re missing out on so much!” or, “Good for you, but I could never give up bacon.” Other times, though, their face darkens and the inquisition begins: Why are you doing that? Aren’t you worried about getting enough protein? If I paid you twenty dollars, would you eat this burger? It’s not like you’re making a difference, you know that, right? It’s as if the words “vegan” and “vegetarian” are triggers that open up a store of pent-up opinions about food politics and morality.
The crime is this: the herbivorous perpetrator casts the previously-unchallenged omnivorous victim in a light of relatively questionable moral values. The victim feels threatened and judged in comparison, as the perpetrator eats his or her plant-based meal. A great response to this adds,
What makes the moral minority irritating is not that they hold exotic moral beliefs. Quite the opposite: most everyone feels the force of the arguments against eating meat or drinking alcohol. If our conscience were not pricked even a little, we would not feel implicitly judged.
But, you know, most of us don’t mean to come across that way; as morally superior. My choice is my choice and I respect your right to yours, too.
Though admittedly, there are some among us who feel obliged to do a little preaching now and then. And maybe it’s those guys who get your back up, keep you quick to draw. Them, with their cruelty-free clothing, as part of their Eco-hippy lifestyle, which reeks of holier than thou.
But all those things aside, after years of being expected to be the judgy, preachy vegan, I’m now struggling to not be a judgy, preachy meat-eater. Lord knows I never saw that coming.
Maybe it’s because it took so long for me to finally work my way out of being a vegetarian. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have enough maturity to have made this change, that I feel embarrassed at their lack of cultural sensitivity when I meet vegetarians who are travelling here, too.
I think it’s because veganism for me was never really a choice. It was something that just happened, as it was naturally supposed to do. I liked animals too much to eat them, so I didn’t; simple as that.
But then I challenged myself with all the arguments I made here, and slowly removed the v-word from my vocabulary. It wasn’t easy, and came with a lot of guilt, but I’ve finally made it to the point where I am comfortable eating pretty much anything, and have greatly slowed, if not stopped, the onslaught of self-directed criticism and shaming when I eat animal-based foods. And in its place, I’ve started a cascade of judgement directed towards those aforementioned travelling veggies.
I should mention here that the irony is doubled by the fact that I fully intend to make the switch back, as soon as I step off the plane. So in the western context, I still identify as vegan, but here, I’m judging them.
Because I am actually really happy with my decision. Not only does it make my life a whole lot easier (and cheaper), but it really did enrich my experience. I have the flexibility to eat where ever and whenever I want, meaning any roadside, bus station, or hole in the wall, sharing tables with all kinds of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet, because I’m not confined to tourist restaurants offering vegetarian options.
I never have to make myself or anyone else uncomfortable as I try to explain my morally superior dietary restrictions. Vegetarian here is like the gluten free of Canada. And don’t get me started on that…
Everyone asked me before I left, “Are you going to be able to be vegan? That must be really hard.” And I used to answer, “No, but I have done it on other trips. It’s possible, it just takes some work.” And I used to think of it as simply “challenging”, and that while the concept might be foreign, I never thought once that it might be potentially offensive or insulting. Which is what I finally realized, and what inspired this change in the first place.
So now, nobody has to cater to me (aside from the white-factor, which often elicits unnecessary chair-fetching and cutlery-producing reactions), but now I end up having to bite my tongue when I meet a vegetarian.
Because I now feel so strongly for the other side of the fence (in these circumstances) that I’m casting some sort of reverse-judgement. It makes me so much more aware of how I once looked, which is innocent enough, but certainly with an extra step added to the already great distance between us and them that already exists.
Though they remain blissfully unaware, in their perceived moral security.
So I guess there are two sides of the same moral fence. And once you feel strongly enough about your side of it, you’re going to be annoying either way.