On Hating Vegetarians

Many of my friends are vegetarian. To clear up the terminology, I am talking about people who do not eat meat of any kind (not fish or chicken either, folks), but may use other animal products, e.g., eggs or honey.

Non-vegetarian friends rarely handle this well. If the subject comes up, at least one person will immediately and vociferously attack it in one of these ways:

  1. I don’t get it! Boy, I sure do love a big steak. And my mom’s meatloaf. So great! What is with this vegetarian shit? I love lamb chops, and fried clams, and lobster! You know, one favorite place of mine is Kelly’s down on the beach. Boy, they sure do make a great hamburger. Another thing I like…
  2. What is their problem? I’m so tired of all this preaching. Everyone’s telling people what to eat, what to smoke, what to say. Why can’t they just enjoy a normal life like anyone else? Let me tell you, my sister-in-law is one of those vegetarian types and I can’t eat at her house. Just broccoli and shit. Tofu! It’s not food! Who’d eat that shit?
  3. So what do you mean, like, I’m a bad person? Who are you to judge! I bet you do bad things, and you’re telling me I’m a jerk just for doing what everyone does! People like you are all hiding something.
  4. Wow, that’s really unhealthy. Be sure to get enough protein. I mean, you have to make up for it. Be sure to eat huge amounts of [food with high protein content] in it or you’ll get really sick. OMG you make your KID eat vegetarian? That’s like CHILD ABUSE!!!
  5. It’s ridiculously unnatural. Humans are hunters, we eat meat. I mean, c’mon, ancient cave paintings are about hunting. We aren’t meant to survive with out it. How else would we continue to be large, dominant creatures with upper arm strength and a killer instinct? People who don’t eat meat are girly and possibly homosexual. It’s a betrayal of our natural healthy state.

None of these make sense. Let’s learn!

  1. Other people don’t necessarily like your food, and you know it. Why should others like a whole class of foods you enjoy? For that matter, if you learned that a food you enjoyed was made from babies or profited al Qaeda, would you continue to eat it? Your taste has nothing to do with other people!
  2. Did anyone just tell you what to do, or what not to do? Other people not eating something doesn’t constitute restrictions on your habits. It’s their choice. If your sister-in-law can’t cook, either tell her so or push the food around on your plate until it’s time to go. And tofu is just another food, not some condensed symbol of Berkeleyite pseudo-meat hypocrisy. Like it or don’t, but leave the poor curdled soy alone.
  3. Wait, who said that? The person across the table from you just said she doesn’t eat meat. Did she go on to say that people who eat meat are psychopathic murderers without empathy? Did she just start with a lecture about where your burger comes from, or what some religious figure said about eating animals? Did she tip your plate over? If not, she’s just choosing to eat differently from you, and the implication of wickedness is all yours. Not everyone with principles is either a Tartuffe or an inquisitor. Drop it.
  4. You’re just wrong. People who eat a reasonable mix of foods don’t get malnutrition. And that reasonable mix does not have to include meat. When you hear people talk about getting enough “protein,” they are talking out their ears. “Protein” in U.S. culture is just a word for meat. Actual proteins come from many foods, and nobody is getting beri-beri or pellagra from lack of burger. Go look it up!
  5. If you hear an argument for modern behavior based on “instinct,” or “evolution,” or “basic human nature,” stop and investigate, or just dump it. Any human behavior can be justified or condemned based on unexamined assumptions about our nature. These arguments have been used to justify rape, celebrate war, demonize men, excuse cannibalism, and attack pantaloons. Humans have survived with and without meat just as we have survived in the Antarctic and the Sahara, survived genuinely destructive malnutrition, survived Pop-Tarts, and survived living in rivers of raw sewage without antibiotics. All evolutionary biology means is that someone lived long enough to fuck and someone else lived long enough to squirt out some babies of which some survived. It does not imply burgers.

What have we learned? We have learned that meat eaters like meat. We have learned that people who feel criticized morally become upset and defensive. We have learned that in U.S. culture, not eating something can get a person in big social trouble. And we’ve learned that the reasons for this are not reasonable. And finally, we have learned that reactions to food choices are visceral (ha).

It’s true that vegetarianism in the U.S. is almost always a moral choice rather than a tradition or a practical dietary one. Choosing not to eat meat implies a judgment on the act of meat eating parallel to the message of celibacy, sobriety, or boycotts. Vegetarianism also goes against deeply rooted (ha) beliefs about wealth, health, pleasure, and choice. It’s not neutral.

What I take from this is that many people are threatened by the idea of conscious morality. Of any kind. Someone who makes a moral choice and gives up some pleasure, adding some complexity and trouble to life, is a psychological threat. The immediate response is that the person making that choice is a stereotyped hypocrite from a Hollywood movie, an unhappy person who wishes others to be unhappy, an obsessed idiot. I’ve noticed a linguistic shift during my life that perfectly evokes this: I hear people using “righteous” to mean “self-righteous,” as if the very idea of moral choice implies hypocrisy and the need to control others.

I myself am not a vegetarian. I have no meat days twice a week. I am not a believer in “animal rights,” nor do I consider killing animals and eating them to be immoral. My reasons are humanist. Meat takes a lot of grain to make, and eating meat has an environmental and economic impact on others. I’ve been impressed by some calculations of how much better one can do just by eating less meat, and so far I’m doing so. I have no authority or desire to tell anyone else to do the same, or to say that I’m “more moral” because of this. It just feels right to me, and I enjoy my food more.

if you’re not a vegetarian, and vegetarians make you grumpy, consider why. Are there good reasons why someone else’s personal moral choice makes you upset? Are people who make a moral choice necessarily hypocrites, nannies, deluded utopians? Or have you avoided and denied ethical and empathetic impulses so much in your own life that anyone making the effort has you terrified?

Hating others for harmlessly doing what they believe to be right does not reflect well on us as individuals or as a society. Eschew that.

23 thoughts on “On Hating Vegetarians

    1. I’ve found people get remarkably offended when you tell them you don’t watch television. My husband went so far as to suggest I don’t tell people that because it makes them uncomfortable and angry. WTF?


  1. Well-said! Personally, I could do with never hearing “even vegetarians make an exception for bacon!” again.


      1. me too please
        I got the reverse end of this the other day at the doctor – she did not think my claims of mostly vegetariam could be right, I think based on my girth. Lady, Ican eat poorly in lots of styles.
        I think it’s very cool that she came out front about what i assume her choice is, and it should be interesting to talk more about it.
        I can’t wait for my kitchen stuff!
        edit: forgive ipad spelling


      2. Re: me too please
        Lol, I was my fattest as a vegetarian – primarily because I didn’t know that either. I totally thought that I could live off of muffins and cheese.


  2. I think there has to be a line between proselytizing and informing. I feel like it’s so hard in this culture sometimes to communicate your ethical or moral impulses without it being construed as you taking a side. And food is so tangible and such a routine part of life that it’s hard for people not to see it as something partisan.
    My position is a little bit stronger than yours, and sometimes I wish that my vegetarian friends had been more forthright about explaining things to me so that I could have become a vegetarian earlier. Aside from the environmental impact, which is a super-valid point, for me what tips the scales is the way that animals in the U.S. especially are so incorporated into industrial processes that they function as equivalent to inanimate objects, not unlike car parts or stereo components. And I just find that utterly unacceptable. And I’m willing to point out to meat-eaters who speak out against dehumanizing capitalist processes that there’s a discrepancy between that political position and their decision to eat meat, and that it’s something worth considering.
    Having said this, I’ll be in the Philippines this summer and I’ve told myself that I will only be vegetarian if I’m not inconveniencing others. Meat production processes are much less industrialized there anyway, and transporting my values to that context also necessarily entails compromises. It’s a lot less convincing to be choosy about what you’re going to eat when so many people in your immediate proximity don’t even have the choice about whether to eat or go hungry.


  3. I read what you wrote above with interest, and wonder just how much the culture of vegetarians out there on the west coast is different than the east.
    I agree with you, most non-veg’s should just let it go and not be so defensive. Many don’t handle it well, but you seem to paint it such that meat-eaters behave worse than vegetarians. I would disagree and say it’s just about even. While meat-eaters should be less defensive, It is a two-way street and militant veg’s need to realize their personal morals are not the morals of the hive-mind. It’s one thing to say “I don’t eat meat” and it’s another to say “*I* don’t eat meat.” Maybe this is less common out there on the west coast, but it sure happens here on the east coast.
    I’m sure that nearly all of them would object fervently if someone spent time telling them that they need to convert to scientology, socialism, or join the Juggalos.
    Maybe where i’m from is partly to blame. I do get a little defensive about it, because I grew up in a county where people were always telling you how to live, what to believe in, and all that religious horseshit they push on kids to scare them into not drinking, drugs, and fucking the horses.
    Then you have the typical southern passive-aggressive behavior. Add these two together, and you get some pretty unruly people on both sides of the fence. I have definitely gotten the look for ordering chicken wings, shish kebabs, and hamburgers at lunch with co-workers. 3 of my 8 coworkers are vegetarians for moral or religious reasons. A summer BBQ was planned and one of them said the whole thing would have to be vegetarian or they wouldn’t come. How is this a rational response?


    1. I have the opposite problem, I’m a vegan and I want to be invited to all the parties and bbqs but I frequently get left out because no one wants to “offend me!” ahah


  4. Thanks for writing this!
    I am SUPER guilty of having “new vegan syndrome” and I’m still working on toning it down A LOT. I appreciate your point of view, and I’m glad you are eating less meat. šŸ™‚


    1. i’m sure i’m experiencing some of that too. but it’s so annoying sometimes how you can’t express a non-mainstream opinion in certain contexts without being construed as preachy…


  5. In general, I don’t care what people decide to eat. If you’re wealthy enough to choose a restricted diet of any kind, go you. Poor people don’t get food choices; it’s a luxury.
    I can tell you what I do hate about it though. I get really irritated when a American middle class people with voluntarily restricted diets bitch about how crazy hungry they are all the time. Or how they can’t possibly shovel down as much tofu or peanut butter as they need. Generally, that sounds like it’s either from martyrdom or anorexic cattiness, neither of which I have patience for.
    Veggies do get a lot of shit, particularly in SoCal – but then so does anyone who eats an unconventional diet anywhere. Every few years I go on a no sugar, no white flour diet. I feel immensely better while this diet – and you’d think it wouldn’t be a big deal, but people have utter shit fits when I won’t eat dessert or white bread. Next time, I’m just lying and saying I’m diabetic [which if I don’t lay off the sugar will be true].


  6. Thanks for this. I was a vegetarian for more than a decade, and I still don’t eat red meat or poultry. I’ve always tried to be as low-key as possible about discussing it. The reaction that always irritated me most: “But this is REALLY GOOD tri-tip/bacon/whatthefuckever! You should make an exception!” It’s hard to wriggle out of that one without at least implying that you just might be valuing some abstract ethical concern over sheer tastiness, and for the reasons you’ve explained here, that tends not to go over well.


  7. Basically, people should just calm the fuck down and not assume everything is about them. I think this applies both to the people the above refers to as well as, for instance, militant vegetarians.
    To make a long story short, even if you think a particular thing is the right thing to do, in the final analysis, you don’t make those decisions for other people.
    Also, I, I “attack pantaloons” and “It does not imply burgers”.


  8. Thanks for mentioning the “vegetarianism is child abuse” fallacy. We’ve had this one thrown in our face and it really boggles the mind.
    Your reason for going vegetarian twice a week is precisely my reason for being a vegetarian. I wrote an article about it once, and many readers were surprised. They thought all vegetarians were of the “meat is murder” variety.
    Finally, as for surviving Pop Tarts, I would argue that the jury is still out on that one.


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