Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Responsible Vegetarianism

I am a vegetarian. Have been for I guess about 6-7 years I guess. Much to the chagrin of my family, but that's another thing.

I am neither proud nor ashamed of this fact. It is just part of who I am. I have slipped into the occasional meat eating at times, particularly during a sushi craze a couple of years ago. Whatever.

One thing that bothers me about vegetarians is the level of self-righteousness that surrounds their lifestyle choice. Recent converts are exactly that, converts. Too often they remind me of newly converted fundamentalist Christians with all the annoyance that they cause. Even worse though is how long-time vegetarians lord it over you. If you say something like, "I've been a vegetarian for 2 years," you may well get the response with a condescending tone, "Well I haven't even meat in 4 years." Who cares? Why do we so often resort to such condescension? Who does it help?

While this kind of thing is pretty annoying between vegetarians, it's a lot worse when projected upon non-vegetarians. Too often vegetarianism takes on significant class overtones. How many working-class people are vegetarian? A few, but really not that many. Many working-class people, both in America and overseas, simply don't understand such a strange life choice. Yet too many vegetarians can be rather belligerent about it, offending people offering them food. I once knew someone who went to Cuba. She was a vegan, who are often the worst perpetrators of this attitude. She basically refused to eat in Cuba, something that I understand perplexed her Cuban hosts.

Now I understand that eating meat is something that vegetarians often find repugnant. Nonetheless, isn't it equally repugnant when people offer you food that they can't eat everyday? I think part of this problem comes from the idea of food as a consumer item. We have so many food choices that we can afford to be picky about what we eat. We have the choice to eat or not eat meat. Working-class people in the United States and the developing world don't often have that choice. When they offer you meat, they are making a sacrifice for you and to refuse that can be quite an insult.

Of course, each person has the choice of what they eat or do not eat. Nonetheless, I would like to make a call for a respectable and responsible vegetarianism. One that respects the sacrifices that people sometimes make to serve you meat. One that does not lord your values over others. One that does not place value on the time or the commitment of your life choice.