Why are omnivores so triggered by my vegetarianism?

Zoya Patel 7 December 2020 103
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?

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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.

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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?

What's Your Opinion?

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103 Responses to Why are omnivores so triggered by my vegetarianism?
Alf Alf 8:50 pm 08 Dec 20

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 Retro Capital Retro 6:23 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.

Gareth Davies Gareth Davies 6:33 pm 08 Dec 20

Acceptance is the key. Oh, and that means omnivores (like me) have to accept that stumbling upon the odd dead mammoth is NOT the same as trashing the planet so I can eat meat whenever I like. :)

Stuart Mawbey Stuart Mawbey 7:36 pm 06 Dec 20

I dont mind vegetarians or vegans eating what they like and living to their moral code. It isn't my moral code. I hunt, i kill and butcher animals myself on occasions. Vegan and vegetarian food is often delicious, and I applaud people who choose to live that way. Just dont try to convert me, and that's fine.

Heather Dunks Heather Dunks 1:40 pm 06 Dec 20

It’s funny how all the meat eaters are getting so triggered in the comments and proving the article right imao

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:43 pm 05 Dec 20

I have heard vegetarianism described as a diet, and Veganism described as a religion.

Religions like to be proselytising.

Kim Dacey Kim Dacey 1:32 pm 05 Dec 20

Because you preach it at us. Do your own thing abs let us do ours.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 7:19 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 Retro Capital Retro 3:41 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.

Jannah Fahiz Jannah Fahiz 12:44 am 04 Dec 20

Oh my god. These comments are wild! Thank you for a good read RiotACT :)

Valerie Foster Valerie Foster 7:15 pm 03 Dec 20

Because they just can’t mind their own business as we don’t try to force them to eat meat.

Kev Renfrew Kev Renfrew 4:06 pm 03 Dec 20

How do you know if someone is vegan ?

Just wait, they'll tell you !

Kev Renfrew Kev Renfrew 3:35 pm 03 Dec 20

Why did the vegan cross the road ?

To come and tell you they are vegan !

James Furze James Furze 1:17 pm 03 Dec 20

Stop giving me a hard time AJ SmithDominic Szrakity

ssek ssek 12:42 pm 03 Dec 20

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.

Paul Leins Paul Leins 11:55 am 03 Dec 20

Protip: no one cares about your eating habits.

Heavs Heavs 11:25 am 03 Dec 20

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.

Ben Jones Ben Jones 11:00 am 03 Dec 20

How do you know if someone is Vegan.

Because they will tell you within a minute or speaking with them.

I don’t care what they eat, so don’t tell me what I should eat.

    Ben Jones Ben Jones 12:07 pm 03 Dec 20

    Geoff Langridge see and thanks for proving my point.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 12:08 pm 03 Dec 20

    and look you didnt answer the question cus you cant.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 12:10 pm 03 Dec 20

    and i didnt prove your point at all lol you just inferred i was vegan because i called you out on your opinion lol jeeze what a reach.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 1:36 pm 03 Dec 20

    its good that you realised it was silly and deleted your response :)

Philip Armour Philip Armour 11:00 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.

Dean Newman Dean Newman 10:06 am 03 Dec 20

How do you tell if someone is vegan? You don't have to worry, they will always tell you. Don't want you to cut down a tree, ok to pull plants out by the roots, boil, drown and eat live seeds, blend up fruit and drink its life blood. Grow plants in overcrowded conditions with no access to natural light. Totally double standards. Plants have feelings too. It is the cycle of life and its your choice how you do it. It is not Ok to be discrimitory, yet these people are the worst. They promote hatred, manipulation and isolation and threaten people living their lives and making livelyhoods the way they choose. Be a vegan if you choose, just shut up about it.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 12:07 pm 03 Dec 20

    Dean Newman due to our understanding of neuroscience we can come to the conclusion that animals not just intelligent but sentient, big distiction. we can visibly see that these animals feel pain in the same way our pets do, so why not extend them the same moral consideration?

    culture ?? taste pleasure ?? not exactly a sound argument.

    Dean Newman Dean Newman 12:58 pm 03 Dec 20

    Geoff Langridge off cause animals feel pain so do plants and they respond to it. We all have mechanisms to cope with pain eg shock, the same way plants respond to damage, light, gravity etc.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 1:02 pm 03 Dec 20

    plants dont have central nervous systems. soooooooo yehhhhh

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 1:08 pm 03 Dec 20

    to compare animals to plants is just silly, yes plants respond to certain stimuli and can communicate to other plants but to say that they congnizant of pain in the same way that humans and animals are is just the biggest jump in logic. merly from examining and understanding an animals anatomy we can see the vast similarities between them and humans, let alone actually being at a slaughter and witnessing the horror first hand.

    Dean Newman Dean Newman 1:39 pm 03 Dec 20

    Geoff Langridge Just like how plants release stress chemicals in response to injury. They may not have a central nervous system. They are more highly advanced and have been around far longer than animals. Plants respond to stimuli there own way. Just because we don't understand how plants feel pain doesn't mean they cannot feel it. We should look at ways to ensure that when live seeds are boiled, crushed, roasted they don't feel it. How could someone put a living thing in an oven like a coffee bean, grow and crush grass shoots. The way our food plants are treated.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 1:47 pm 03 Dec 20

    your whole premise is assumptive, 1 to say they are more advanced is completly ridiculos and is based off ones own biases, aka whatever a person thinks is more complex, but its also pretty dam obvious why you would want to have these lines blurred.

    2 to assume that plants can feel pain in the same way as animals when there is no evidence leaves to door open to animals like a dog having the same moral consideration as a plant, and we both know thats ridiculos, if i chop a tree in half or stab a dog in the neck which one are you going to feel more distain for.

    Dean Newman Dean Newman 2:00 pm 03 Dec 20

    Geoff Langridge It is all relative. Put some fish in the blender or some oat grass. Same thing, both are living. A stab to a tree may not be as lethal. It will still respond in its own way to the damage. You still know you are hurting the tree. Everything has a mechanism to cope with trauma and has evolved to aid it to survive. We can look today, our food plants have been so genetically modified (by selective breeding) for us to torture them everyday for our satisfaction. We grow them without sunlight, no dirt between their roots, no room to grow to maturity and so many never get the chance to reproduce, let alone if they still can, we have to clone them. To say a plant has no sense of self is very nieve.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 2:15 pm 03 Dec 20

    lets go off science not some woo-woo idea that plants could be more sentient because we apparently "dont understand them". If the science comes out saying that plants consider more moral consideration than animals then i will adjust my position but atm we have to go off what we actually know, not just conjecture.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 3:58 pm 03 Dec 20

    why try muddy the waters with the an apparent potential of plant pain, when we know god dam well that animals suffer because of us.

    Dean Newman Dean Newman 6:02 pm 03 Dec 20

    Geoff Langridge so do plants, even more than animals. You won't believe science anyway. Plants, seeds can feel think about that when you boil them alive.

    Geoff Langridge Geoff Langridge 11:14 pm 03 Dec 20

    Dean Newman okay now youve just gone feelings over facts.

    Buddy Edwards Buddy Edwards 11:46 am 04 Dec 20

    Dean Newman you have given me a migraine reading your words.

    Liam Grimshaw Liam Grimshaw 12:50 pm 04 Dec 20

    I’m vegan

    Megz Bites Inglis Megz Bites Inglis 5:40 pm 04 Dec 20

    I think they are both a head ache, pretty much going round in circles. I think Dean has the weaker argument here.

Boo Bea Good-oloughlin Boo Bea Good-oloughlin 9:50 am 03 Dec 20

Vegans are causing the global crisis, they eat our trees and plants which provide oxygen. They're killing us

    Jean Davies Jean Davies 8:21 am 05 Dec 20

    Brooke Jane Good-oloughlin I’m guessing you are super healthy and a poster girl for meat consumption.

    Boo Bea Good-oloughlin Boo Bea Good-oloughlin 5:00 pm 05 Dec 20

    Jean Davies super healthy but my standards are to high to be a poster girl. Thanks though!

Wendy Kuhn Wendy Kuhn 9:44 am 03 Dec 20

I’m sure most people that are Vegan were not bought up that way it is your choice but please leave everyone else’s choice alone I have friends that do not eat meat and friends that eat meat no big deal and I have friends that do not drink alcohol but I bloody do

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