It’s no secret people are judgmental about what you eat, but I didn’t realize just how judgmental people can be until six years ago, or when I stopped eating meat.
I’m not alone, but there aren’t many of us. According to a study from the Vegetarian Times, there are 7.3 million vegetarians, or about 2.3% of the population. Of course, the vast majority of people are cool about my meatless ways, but every once and a while, there’s someone who has an issue with how I stuff my face.
1. “Why’d you become a vegetarian, anyway?”
This is the natural opener and I don’t blame people for asking it. However, I want to bring up that some dietary restrictions -– both self-imposed like mine and disease-related like celiac disease -– can be a deeply personal choice. I avert the real reason all the time, saying, “I wanted to see if I could do it,” or “I love all the animals!”
Both are partly true, but the secret is that I stopped eating meat because I have some sort of intolerance to it. I used to eat burgers and steaks, but I’d have to rush to the bathroom an hour after I ate. Every. Single. Time. Eventually, I decided In-n-Out wasn’t worth it. I don’t want to talk about how filet mignon gives me the runs, and I’m sure you don’t want to hear, either.
2. "Oh, you wanted a cheese pizza? Can't you just pick off the pepperoni?"
No, sorry, can't do it, awesome server dude and/or random acquaintance who accidentally ordered the wrong pizza. It kind of defeats the purpose of not eating meat thanks to all the juicy remnants of pepperoni cooked inside. Also, I want what I want and shouldn't be forced to eat something I don't. Isn't that the same for you?
2. “You must REALLY miss meat, right?”
Nah, I don’t miss it. For me, the smell of burgers on the grill was always better than the burger itself, and I feel a lot better since quitting my McDonald’s habit. Once I cut out meat, my taste buds got more sensitive and I liked veggies I never did before, including eggplant and mushrooms (though carrots are still the worst).
When you eliminate meat, a lot of unhealthy foods go out with it, including bacon, creamy soups (they use chicken or beef broth), pinto beans at Chipotle and a thousand other things. I know I’ve never involuntarily eaten horse meat, and I haven’t had pink sludge in 6 years. Whenever something disgusting comes out in the news about the horror of the food industry, it’s almost always related to animal farming.
3. “How do you get protein?”
If I said all I ate were Pop-tarts and banana milkshakes, someone might confess, “I ate four Snickers today.” But the minute I tell someone unfamiliar with vegetarianism that I don’t eat meat, they’re concerned with my nutrition intake. Protein, how can you possibly get it!?
For the uninitiated, protein is in nearly everything. I get it in spinach, black beans, tofu, soymilk, nuts, and seeds. Humans in general eat twice the necessary amount of protein anyway, so a “lack of protein” isn’t my problem.
However, I might be lacking in vitamin B-12, which is only found in animal protein. You can get pills for it, shots, or occasionally eat seafood to get what you need. Which brings me to my next point…
4. “You occasionally eat fish/yogurt/full-fat lattes? You’re not a real vegetarian! GET OUT OF THE CLUB!”
When I first switched to vegetarianism, I got into a heated debate with a vegan who insisted that because I ate any animal products at all, I wasn’t a “real” vegetarian. I felt so guilty. I was a fraud! How dare I call myself a vegetarian because I ate sushi! That rice had chicken broth and I didn’t know and everything’s ruined!
I get more judgment from fellow vegetarians than I do from meat-eaters. There’s all this pressure to be the better vegetarian and it took me a long time to realize it was total bullshit. Most people can’t do everything 100%, so I think it should be an “A for Effort” kind of scenario.
If you can go vegan and never break or slip, ever, not once, forever, then more power to you. But I’m over here cheering every time a friend gives up red meat for Lent. For some people, this shit is hard. Myself included. Give me a break for my bite of shrimp and I won’t roll my eyes every time you mention how you were a vegan before it was cool.
5. “Are you in PETA?”
This is usually accompanied with a judgmental stare. No, I’m not in PETA, and no, I don’t condone the crazier tactics to get their message across. Vegetarians get a bad rap, like we’re all preachy. If you ask me about going vegetarian, I’ll talk about the health and environmental benefits. But it’s not my life’s mission to convert everyone into a vegetarian lifestyle. It’s what works for me, not you.
If converting IS your end game, I’d lay the facts out straight when it’s appropriate and make your case without getting mean about it. People have such disdain for vegans because of this stereotype. I read an article that implied that Anne Hathaway is unlikable because she’s vegan. PLEASE.
6. “Can I eat this steak in front of you?"
I appreciate your concern, but go ahead! Food is such a big part of friendship and I don’t want to miss out on time with you because of our different diets. When you invited me to dinner, I knew (or assumed) you’d be a meat eater. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t let you eat what you wanted while ordering whatever I’d like. Plus, I’m not an addict recovering from a dangerous bacon habit; being around meat doesn’t exacerbate the need to eat it.
In a related thank-you-for-your-concern moment, if we go to a restaurant, I’ll find something to eat, or I’ll eat beforehand. Invite me! Don’t say, “Oh, we’re going to a steakhouse, otherwise we’d invite you!” It makes me feel sad. And if that’s just you’re excuse to not invite me, that’s SO RUDE I CAN’T EVEN.
7. “You know, people are evolutionarily meant to eat meat, so you’re doing it wrong.”
Some point to what our ancestors ate to survive. But they also often died young of Syphilis, or Typhoid, or a renegade dinosaur (hm… yes, I’m sure that’s correct). Our lifespan is considerably longer now, and there’s evidence excess red meat can actually shorten it.
Besides, if we’re going to play tit-for-tat on what humans are meant to eat, then we are definitely not supposed to be eating this delicious garbage we call prepackaged food. Canthaxanthin, 1-methylcyclopropene, butylated hydroxyanisole, what the hell are these things? I’m mad guilty of consuming it all. That doesn’t mean I’m meant to eat it, evolutionarily speaking. I just do anyway.
8. “Funny, you don’t look like a vegetarian.”
I’m not sure what a vegetarian is supposed to look like. Maybe you expected Phoebe from "Friends," maybe someone thinner, or possibly more henna tattoos? Sure, my eating habits are a part of me, but they don’t define me.
We are not our stereotypes -– just like anyone, we’re so much more than that.