“You’re eating meat?? I thought you were vegetarian.”
Next month will be my fifth year as a practicing vegetarian. If I could transport back in time and tell my 19-year-old self that I have been vegetarian for this long, I would laugh in my own face.
Back then I subsisted on a diet of bread, meat, and cheese. I remember teasing my roommate in college about being vegetarian and reveled in calling her out on the occasion she would “slip up” and eat some meat. I threw a fit when I would have to go to a vegetarian restaurant because there was “nothing” for me to eat. I was (and am) a picky eater and vegetables really didn’t appeal to me back then.
Fast-forward to 2017 when I read about how bad meat consumption is for the environment. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize how bad. To be honest, I felt like it was something with impact that I could do and I could maybe even lose weight in the process at least, that was my full motivation at the time.
Changing this one aspect of my life was very hard at first. I had to figure out how I was going to make this lifestyle change stick and learn how to cook for myself (a much-needed lesson). Still, sometimes we would show up at a restaurant with friends and there would not be a vegetarian option. Was I supposed to just not eat in those circumstances? If my husband has leftover food on his plate from dinner, am I allowed to eat it if it has meat? What are the rules here?
I was still working events at this time and we would work events where there would be an excess of food leftover. I decided I would eat the leftover meatballs, salmon, etc. because I couldn’t stand watching them be thrown away. One day, a coworker said, “You’re eating meat?? I thought you were vegetarian.” It was one of those amazing moments of irony and clarity.
To piggyback off my questions from earlier, if a person eats meat less than a certain amount of times in a year, are they vegetarian? If a person eats meat because they respect the animal sacrifice too much to waste it, are they vegetarian?
Maybe you would say they were flexitarian. I have considered identifying as a flexitarian, but in my experience that often means people assume you can “suck it up and eat meat.” I am not writing this to say everyone is a jerk for calling people out for these “slip-ups” (I mean I used to do it all the time) but it has never made me laugh or feel good.
At the end of the day, most people eating vegetarian or vegan are going against a very difficult cultural norm and are doing it for a higher cause than themselves. It is especially hard starting out and failing, especially if people think that being vegetarian and vegan means never slipping up or never eating those products. Most of us are just doing our best.
I didn’t start out on a vegetarian diet because of animal cruelty, but once I stopped eating animals and distanced myself from “meat culture,” it deeply disturbed me. I cannot bring myself to benefit from animal sacrifice when I know that I can eat without that horrific component. To see how smart and personality-filled my 1-year-old nephew is, and know that pigs have an intelligence of a 3-year-old and live their lives in cages they can’t turn around in, is horrific.
Next time you want to call out your “cheating” vegetarian/vegan friend, give them the benefit of the doubt instead. Think about how you can make things easy for your vegetarian/vegan coworkers when you’re planning events by looking ahead at menus or providing a vegan option. I promise we’re not trying to convert you, we are just trying our best in a meat-centric culture.