no, actually I’m a pescetarian. I didn’t even know thats what I “was” until a few years ago when I was staying with a family in The Hague and their 10 year old son told me that because I eat sea food I’m a “pescetarian”. I have made many changes to my diet and lifestyle throughout my life, but it was only when I stopped eating meat that I started wearing this label. Now when I go to people’s houses for dinner, eat at restaurants or go to the supermarket I become this new person – “a vegetarian”. One who doesn’t eat meat. What I ask myself is: why do some of our lifestyle choices come with a label and why do vegetarians make some people so angry?
Every day we make hundreds of little decisions without even noticing. We choose to get up in the morning, we choose whitening toothpaste over ordinary; one brand of conditioner over another; we choose to wear clothes that we chose to buy, we choose which books to read, who to be friends with and who not. And we choose what to eat.
What we eat has always been an important, even essential part of human life. For those of you who are like me, making sure you have enough to eat is no longer a dominant aspect of our everyday lives. But what we do choose to eat remains very important to many of us. I love food. I love eating it, I love cooking it, I love watching other people cook it and most of all I love choosing what to eat. The internet is like an endless menu of delicious foods ready to be cooked and eaten. Some say I’m guilty of enjoying food porn (foodgawker.com). What I want to know is – why do some of our food choices put us into certain categories? “vegetarian”, “pescetarian”, “vegan”. Why is nobody called “cereal-over-toast”, “hater-of-eggs” or “I-choose-not-to-eat-fatty-foods”?
Calling yourself a vegtarian has many advantages. It is socially acceptable to let people know that you’re a vegetarian when you go to their house for dinner and bow out of eating the meat dishes. Rather than explaining that you refuse to eat a certain food stuff, the label “vegetarian” allows you to quickly and easily let people know what your eating habits are in a socially acceptable way. What I wonder is why not eating meat automatically gives you this label that carries a lot more baggage than simply indicating that you don’t consume animal flesh.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m technically a “pescetarian”. However, I can’t remember the last time I ate fish or sea food. I’m a student and my 3 flat mates and I have a 5 pound budget for each dinner for the four of us. This doesn’t usually stretch to let us buy fish. So because I haven’t in the recent past and won’t in the near future consume fish or seafood, does this mean I am now a “vegetarian”? Well no… you might say. Because there is something more to vegetarianism. What makes me a vegetarian, you might say, is not that I don’t eat meat, but that I won’t eat it.
We label people “vegetarians” because they refuse to eat meat. Some vegetarians refuse to eat meat on religious grounds, others refuse to eat meat because they think animals are cute, others refuse because they don’t want to be implicated in the factory-farming industry… the reasons people cough up when put on the spot about why they are vegetarians are endless.
But what I want to ask is why does not eating meat have to mean the same as refusing to eat meat, while not eating brussel sprouts for example, is just not eating brussel sprouts. I eat brussel sprouts once a year. At Christmas dinner. They taste quite nice, but aren’t something I feel the urge to eat or prepare during the rest of the year. I don’t refuse to eat brussel sprouts. But because I also ate turkey at Christmas dinner, during the last year I have eaten brussel sprouts exactly as often as I’ve eaten meat. So, as a pescetarian, why do I refuse to eat meat?
I don’t refuse to eat meat. I just don’t eat it. I think the reason ‘not eating meat’ has become synonymous with ‘refusing to eat meat’ is because meat has been such an important part of our food habits since humankind discovered fire. Historically, eating meat has been the status quo and when someone has chosen “no-meat” over “meat” it has been a much bigger deal than choosing “cabbage over brussel sprouts”.
What I mean when I say “I don’t refuse to eat meat, I just choose not to eat it” is that if someone pointed a gun to my head and said “eat this lamb shank” I would bloody well eat the lamb shank. And enjoy it too. I do have a reason for not eating meat, but I won’t go into that here. If someone were to offer me a meat dish that with regard to my special secret reason for not eating meat is equivalent to a veggie dish, I would eat it.
Here is an analogy: if I were to forego eating bananas because yellow fruit puts me off my appetite, then if someone were to give me a blue banana I would eat it. In the same way, I don’t unconditionally refuse to eat meat, there are just some specific reasons why when I’m in the supermarket I choose to buy some leeks and a butternut squash instead of a pound of ground beef. I don’t refuse to buy the beef.
I think this is the reason why vegetarianism inspires so much anger in people, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
I just read an article called Why I Hate Vegetarians in the guardian. It was filled with anger. The anger was almost seeping out from between the words on the screen. It was so anger-filled that I could picture the author sitting at her desk typing furiously at that article.
While describing a meal at a vegetarian restaurant, the author said that “What was unpalatable were the customers and waiting staff, all of whom seemed to believe that what they were eating made them superior. They all looked smug and self-satisfied.”
I’m not sure if this is a valid empirical generalization of vegetarians or not, but I do think I might know the source of the problem.
Because not eating meat is a thing. Its a refusing-to-eat-meat thing. Its been made that by society and by people who label themselves and others “vegetarians”. In our society, being a vegetarian is more than just not eating meat. It means something. And a lot of people are offended by their interpretation of this meaning.
So. Why does being a vegetarian have to mean something?
Not eating meat means so many different things to different people. To some people it means not spending 80% of your food budget on 4 sausages, to others it means trying to decrease demand for meat and to others it just means “I don’t like the taste of meat”. If we were to shed all this extra meaning and just take eating meat and not eating meat at face value, it would be less of a big deal and cause a lot less anger and argument. And perhaps more people would feel like they could just eat what they want, when they want and not have to deal with the fall-out from taking on the identity of “vegetarian”.