7 December 2020

Why are omnivores so triggered by my vegetarianism?

| Zoya Patel
Join the conversation
Christmas carving. Photo: Claudio Schwarz.

Christmas means meat … unless you happen to be a vegetarian or vegan. Photo: Claudio Schwarz.

Christmas is around the corner, which means Christmas parties (albeit COVID-19-era versions) are in full swing. For a vegetarian like me, that means repeatedly relaying my dietary requirements to numerous event organisers.

In doing so, I’ve noticed the positive change in our cultural attitude to vegetarians and vegans since I first stopped eating meat and fish back in 2004. As a teenage vegetarian, I was the constant butt of jokes, including many renditions of The Simpsons’ ditty, “You don’t make friends with salad”, which Bart and Homer taunt Lisa with when she eschews meat. (My brother still sometimes wheels this out at family dinners.)

These days, there are so many more unique dietary preferences and conditions in the general public – from vegetarians and vegans to lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, Coeliacs, etc – that my garden-variety vegetarianism generally escapes any attention.

But when it does garner notice, it’s inevitably from someone who is so offended by my decision not to eat meat that they can’t help but hound me about it, to the point where I’m put off my plate of vegetables and carbs anyway. It’s got me thinking, what is it about my decision not to eat meat or fish that triggers a certain type of meat-eater?

READ ALSO Psst, Canberra, can I tell you something?

The first reaction to when I say I’m vegetarian is, “Is that for cultural reasons?” or “Is your whole family vegetarian?” It’s a reasonable question, given I’m Indian, and many Hindus choose vegetarianism as an extension of their religion’s preaching on causing as little harm to other living beings as possible. My family isn’t Hindu though, and they all eat meat with gusto.

When I reply with “No, I’m vegetarian for ethical reasons”, the reaction is often one of extreme affront. The implication, of course, is that eating meat isn’t ethical. And frankly, in my opinion, it isn’t. That doesn’t mean I think I’m morally superior to all meat-eaters on all things – just that my decision to not eat meat is more ethical and their decision to eat meat. Undoubtedly, I commit many unethical acts regularly, but eating meat isn’t one of them.

What then unfolds is commonly a series of aggressive questions/statements, like: “But you wear leather, so how is that any different?”

“You know, growing grains and vegetables can emit more carbon emissions than raising animals?”

“Unless you’re vegan, you’re barely doing anything for animal welfare.” (This last one, I concede.)

The line of attack is usually focussed on exposing me for the hypocrite I must be, but of course it fails to acknowledge the nugget of truth at the core of the debate – I don’t eat meat. They do.

On that basis alone, I have less of a negative impact on animals and the environment than they do. Me not eating meat makes my attackers very uncomfortable. The way they deal with this discomfort is by trying to either prove my ethical standpoint is invalid, or construct an ethical framework to justify why they eat meat. But I would argue that this is impossible – because most people who eat meat do it because they enjoy it, not for ethical reasons or as an extension of their political identity.

Meat is tasty. Humans need the nutrients found in meat, and even though we can access them through non-meat sources, eating meat is the most efficient, and arguably the most enjoyable way to get them. (Full disclosure – I loved meat when I ate it. I know it’s delicious. I just don’t consume it anymore.)

Vegan Rising Protest

Vegan Rising protest in Melbourne 14 April 2019. Photo: Facebook.

Last year, when animal rights activists blocked streets in Melbourne’s CBD to raise awareness of the plight of animals in factory farms, people were outraged at their audacity to interrupt the morning commutes of Melbournians. Diatribes about stupid vegan wet blankets and their detachment from reality hit screens everywhere.

Protests and demonstrations that cause genuine inconvenience are so effective because they trigger a reaction, so you have to hand it to the vegans who lay down on tram tracks and waited for police to try and remove them. I’m sure many of the objections to those protests were purely on the basis that the actions showed a lack of respect for fellow citizens who expected to be able to access their public transport and continue on their morning commutes like normal.

But another strand of reaction ran through the anti-vegan commentary, and it was similar to the type of snideness I’ve dealt with since choosing vegetarianism at age 14. It’s a reaction built from the same defensiveness I’ve outlined here, that I believe comes from a nugget of insecurity about the decision to eat meat – because deep down, people know that it’s hard to justify the mass farming of sentient beings for slaughter and consumption.

READ ALSO Are Millennial ‘snowflakes’ so aggravating because they’re pretentious, or because they’re right?

To some degree, I understand where this defensiveness comes from because I feel the same way when my vegan friends point out that the egg and dairy industries have some of the most grievous impacts on animal welfare out of any animal industries and that I’m still supporting those industries through my obsession with cheese. But I don’t try to contradict them. I just accept that I am lacking in the moral fibre and fortitude required to resist dairy and eggs in the food I enjoy consuming. They’re right, I’m wrong.

Why can’t omnivores concede the same? Why do vegetarians and vegans have reputations as being whiny, self-righteous lunatics, when their decisions don’t negatively impact anyone else, and indeed could have a positive impact on animal welfare if there was a critical mass of them? Why are omnivores so triggered by vegetarians and vegans, and is it because deep down, they know we have the moral high ground?

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

After too many public service lunches that included interminable discussion about vegetarianism, whenever people asked me, “Why are you a vegetarian?” I simply began to answer with a straight face, “I don’t like to talk about it.” This was both true and avoided all of the predictable and boring talk on this topic. Try it and see!

Capital Retro6:23 pm 09 Dec 20

Tell us more about the many public service lunches. I am sure that is more interesting than talking about virtue signaling vegans.

rationalobserver7:19 am 04 Dec 20

So many urban assumptions.
I source my meat by hunting it and preparing it myself. I take personal responsibility for what I consume and I do not waste it. It is the ultimate in free range organic food. It has the least food miles. Hunting contributes environmentally by addressing over populations. It provides me with exercise.
Vegetarian diets rely on land clearing and mono-cultures. This land clearing is bad for the environment as it displaces native animals and insects. It reduces biodiversity. It requires a higher energy input to transport it from arable areas for consumption.
Morally and ethically hunting is superior to veganism. If you are truly a vegetarian for ethical reasons, any reputable hunting club will be able to help you on your journey to true enlightenment.

Capital Retro3:41 pm 04 Dec 20

When Armageddon (climate catastrophe to the warmists) happens and all plant life is dead, the difference between being a vegan and staying alive is about 30 minutes.

Nobody cares what you eat. We care that you feel the need to tell everybody about it, and why you believe your food cult makes you morally superior.

I have to admire Zoya though. Articles/op eds are almost always utter trash but they are excellent at bringing in the comments and clicks. Which I guess is the metric we have to judge writers by now.

Philip Armour11:00 am 03 Dec 20

Look at me, look at me… I’m an omnivore! Best but about it is it isn’t something that demonstrates a pathological desire to control my diet.

Firstly, the idea that in general it’s omnivores being triggered by vegetarians/vegans and not the other way round is so laughable that I don’t believe it needs a response. But I will anyway.

The author writes subjectively from her anecdotal experience as a vegetarian. Many others could do the exact same from the other way around.

But if you want a wider societal view, how often do you see meat eating organisations attacking vegetarians or vegans for their choices? It simply doesn’t happen. Because most meat eaters don’t care what you do.

The real problem is highlighted perfectly in the article.

Vegetarians/Vegans, simply think their choice is more moral and ethical than other people and so whether consciously or subconsciously, they have to let everyone know about it.

When the subjective and illogical nature of their “ethical” decision is pointed out to vego’s, they can’t handle it.

They can’t understand that other people’s moral and ethical frameworks are not the same as their own, which leads to an inability to engage in any form of rational debate on the issue.

You think that not eating meat at all is ethical? It’s not a given, you have to support it with evidence.

Capital Retro9:10 am 03 Dec 20

How long does a carrot live when it is torn out of the ground, diced and steamed? What pain does it endure?

Capital Retro9:05 am 03 Dec 20

Re the comments about cows’ farts killing the world.

This is is incorrect as it’s mainly the cows’ belching that contributes to greenhouse gasses. Some does come from farting however.

It’s similar to the belief that ACT’s electricity is 100% renewable when it’s actually not.

I’m a level 5 vegan. I don’t eat anything that casts it’s own shadow.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.