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?
Pari Gilmour Pari Gilmour 9:18 am 03 Dec 20

I’ve been vego for more than 50 years. I don’t care what others eat. And don’t comment other than to ask for my barbecue veggies not be cooked in sausage fat. But it is only in the last few years that the omnis have started to reign it in. And if they choose not to ... 👹

Glenn Thomson Glenn Thomson 9:17 am 03 Dec 20

I eat beef because it lowers the risk of eating vegans food.

You’re welcome.

Glenn Thomson Glenn Thomson 9:14 am 03 Dec 20

Being vegan/vegetarian is such a big missed steak....

Bill McIntyre Bill McIntyre 8:58 am 03 Dec 20

The evidence is out there regardless of people’s eating preferences or opinion. Eating animal products is cruel on the animals, bad for our environment and the cause of all lifestyle diseases. We have the digestive system of the great apes but we eat like dogs. As a result we suffer from coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes etc that our great ape ancestors never have. If we were driven by evidence rather than personal eating preferences, everyone would be vegan. Having said that, I respect the omnivore’s right to eat what they like.

    Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 9:04 am 03 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre nah, you’re wrong

    Bill McIntyre Bill McIntyre 10:16 am 03 Dec 20

    What, respecting an omnivore’s right to eat what they like Malcolm?

    Tijana Ružić Tijana Ružić 11:13 am 03 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre it's interesting to do how it's the vegans doing all the baiting. Shaking my head.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 12:36 pm 03 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre actually we have the digestive system of our closest relative the Chimpanzee, who also will eat meat. they are omnivores.

    Bill McIntyre Bill McIntyre 11:47 am 05 Dec 20

    Marc Edwards chimpanzees eat plant based but do eat the occasional bug and very rarely they might eat a rodent if there is nothing else to eat.

    Bill McIntyre Bill McIntyre 11:48 am 05 Dec 20

    Michael Cameron I think that is an argument that wouldn’t fly with an anthropologist.

    Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 11:50 am 05 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre just poking 😀

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 11:51 am 05 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre sorry Bill but your factually incorrect, All wild chimpanzees eat fruits and nuts, but research confirms that adult chimps regularly eat meat, particularly Columbus monkeys.

    Bill McIntyre Bill McIntyre 11:57 am 05 Dec 20

    Malcolm Campbell, the interesting thing for me is that we are very happy to accept the science on virtually anything until it means we might have to change what we are doing. The science on veganism and climate change has been settled for a long time but changing our ways just seems to be far too hard. It is such a shame that the science is ignored (unfortunately also by doctors who can’t make money out of recommending lifestyle changes) and people who talk about veganism are ridiculed as being nut jobs. I went vegan for my health and now watch my contemporaries health decline.

    Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 3:09 pm 05 Dec 20

    Marc Edwards they do eat the occasional face as well

    Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 3:15 pm 05 Dec 20

    Bill McIntyre the science of climate change is not settled or there would be no debate. The climate is changing as it has and will continue to do so. The debate is mans impact, Australia’s impact, the ability to change any impact if any and the alternatives. Unfortunately nothing in the press or pushed by politicians can be believed.

    As for Vegans, I have no issue with people choosing to be Vegans but I do have issue with the judgement that comes with it. That’s why they have a bad name.

Steve Hosking Steve Hosking 8:51 am 03 Dec 20

Author thinks we are all desperately interested in her diet. Author is desperately mistaken.

Mike Bailey Mike Bailey 8:50 am 03 Dec 20

Who Cares?

Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 8:47 am 03 Dec 20

Option A. But of course, it’s not al vegans. We are meant to be omnivorous. I have no moral issue with eating the diet that was intended for a human. And I have no problem with those that choose to alter their natural diet to vegan. But don’t preach to me with religious fervor.

I think we need to start talking about a middle ground. Eating less meat would also make a huge difference to the environment.

Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 8:44 am 03 Dec 20

“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.”

No. We don’t “have to hand” anything to them.

If people want to be vegans, that’s their business. If people want to eat meat and other animal products, that’s their business.

No one is forcing vegans to eat meat. No one is forcing them into restaurants and saying, “scoff down that t-bone!”.

The same as no one forces vegans to go to farms and businesses and disrupt strangers lives and incomes, because of THEIR personal beliefs.

Disrupting traffic is the same. People have lives to live, that have NOTHING to do with what complete strangers do or don’t eat. People that need to get to work, to doctors and specialist appointments, drop kids off to school, hundreds of people going about their own lives, subjected to a group of people that intentionally are pushing THEIR ideals on to people that don’t know them and will more than likely never meet them. They CHOOSE to do it, and THAT is why people get angry at their protests.

Extreme vegans are becoming the new religious zealots. It’s annoying, and unwelcome. You want to be vegan, that’s great. Good on you, I’ll respect your choice. But you also need to respect mine.

Summer Edwards Summer Edwards 8:34 am 03 Dec 20

My lifelong vegetarianism had nothing but acceptance by my friends (as an adult, but not as a kid in the 80s- it was a different world!). What I get harassed about was the decision to start eating meat at 35 years old. Vegans are regularly telling me that there is no health reason to eat meat, and that my decision is wrong. These vegans have usually had only a couple of year experience of a meat-free diet, while I have 35 years. The problem with the loudest in the vegan community is that they try to claim the moral highground and alienate those who choose a more ethical system of animal agriculture. There will never be a world in which everyone can be plant based. So it's time for vegans and vegetarians to see allies in meat eaters who want an ethical system. If not, the cruel factory farming practices will remain. When I was a lifelong vegetarian I never once believed that this was the right choice for everyone, but gosh there are lot of new vegan recruits that think their way is the only way

    Angela Thomas Angela Thomas 10:08 am 03 Dec 20

    Summer Edwards same for us, more flak going paleo after 28 years of vegetarianism. Never proselytised our vego-ness, don’t spruik the paleo either.

Jim Roy Jim Roy 8:33 am 03 Dec 20

A vegan told me eating meat was wrong.

I said fruit & vegetables are grocer!


    John Cotterell John Cotterell 9:44 am 03 Dec 20

    Jim Roy your humour is on the pulse as always, and you rarely miss a beet

    Jim Roy Jim Roy 9:59 am 03 Dec 20

    John Cotterell lettuce not forget you’ve always bean good

    John Cotterell John Cotterell 10:00 am 03 Dec 20

    Jim Roy always save the corny remarks and cheesy comments for you though

Jay Kay Jay Kay 8:25 am 03 Dec 20

Pretty hard to try and claim the moral highground when humans are omnivores.

Lauren Andrea Lauren Andrea 8:24 am 03 Dec 20

You’re writing an article to complain people pay too much attention to it. That might be one reason.

Craig Alpen Craig Alpen 7:49 am 03 Dec 20

How do you know there's a vegan in the room? They'll tell you

Natalee Gersbach Natalee Gersbach 7:44 am 03 Dec 20

If you respond with 'for ethical reasons' when someone asks you why you don't do something then there's a pretty good chance that's going to be heard as 'I'm morally superior to you, and you're being unethical'.

If you chose something because you feel it's right for you then fine, but you might want to rethink how you frame that so it doesn't come across in an unintended way. Unless it is intended....

Dan Backhouse Dan Backhouse 7:43 am 03 Dec 20

Triggered? I love meat and couldn't care less what anyone else ate. The article is divisive, Incendiary at best....

    Frances Jane Frances Jane 5:44 am 04 Dec 20

    Dan Backhouse I'm virtually vegetarian, and have been vegan at times, but found the article to be outdated. Perhaps it's the people I mix with, but I haven't come across such views in years, just like mother-in-law jokes, old hack.

Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 7:35 am 03 Dec 20

Now listen here vegetarians/vegans: if cows don’t get eaten, they will take over the world and kill us with their farts - this is serious

Amanda Caldwell Amanda Caldwell 7:34 am 03 Dec 20

People who react to a vegetarian’s choice FEEL rejected and as if they are being judged for their choice, or non-choice in most cases, to eat all food groups. It’s about them and their insecurity rather than anything the vegetarian is doing.

Martin Budden Martin Budden 7:33 am 03 Dec 20

I'm pretty much identical to the author. The triggering can sometimes be intense: why?

    Tijana Ružić Tijana Ružić 8:04 am 03 Dec 20

    Martin Budden because just like the article title, there's a level of "I'm better than you because I have morals". It's insulting. No one likes to be attacked like that. It doesn't matter what the subject matter is.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 9:20 am 03 Dec 20

    Tijana Ružić so if I ask "excuse me, do you have any vegetarian options please?" how is that insulting or attacking? Because that simple question can trigger an angry response.

    Tijana Ružić Tijana Ružić 9:21 am 03 Dec 20

    Martin Budden that's not attacking. You're missing the point. Pretty sure no one would be upset with that comment.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 9:25 am 03 Dec 20

    Tijana Ružić yet some people *are* upset by things like that. This is what the article is about: why are people triggered by the simple fact that I'm vego even if I say nothing insulting?

    Tijana Ružić Tijana Ružić 9:27 am 03 Dec 20

    Martin Budden that's not the point of the article. It's pushing buttons and you're trying to get into a debate about it with me. I'm not interested.

    I'm glad you're choosing to eat a better diet than most people however I don't think it's the best one and that's my opinion.

    Have a lovely day.

Craig Sutton Craig Sutton 7:24 am 03 Dec 20

I’m a vegan and the main complaint I get is the problem with vegans is the attempts to push our ideology onto people that are just trying to go about their day. Like everything, it should a personal choice. You do your thing, I’ll do my thing. Ok?

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:38 am 03 Dec 20

    Craig Sutton My only gripe is with some vegans who respond with very black and white arguments on any posts related (sometimes only vaguely) to meat eating.

    Usually it doesn't actually bother me, but it does when the topic is related to trying to get stricter standards for animal welfare for farmed animals for example. Or articles that try persuade people to eat less meat. Or to eat less beef at least to reduce their carbon footprint. Responding with "just don't eat meat!" is not very helpful in that context, IMO.

    And of course some carnivores often do the same thing, though they usually do it because they think it's funny, which it never is...

    Social media has not made this conversation any easier. The vegans I meet in real life never lecture either. Nor do they get any negative comments from non vegans but that may just be my social circle, not sure.

    Tracy Robinson Tracy Robinson 7:43 am 03 Dec 20

    Craig Sutton

    Thank you. Exactly!

Tom Adam Tom Adam 7:19 am 03 Dec 20

Don’t mind Vegans or Vegos at all, just don’t ply on the moralistic stuff and there isn’t an issue.

I don’t care what your religion, creed, gender, orientation, vego-vege preferences are - and I hope you respect mine. ;)

    Steve Sass Steve Sass 7:39 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam well said!

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:46 am 03 Dec 20

    That is more of an omni issue in my experience. As soon as some omnis hear that a person is vego, they seem to need justification and often make claims about evolution, or protein requirements (despite the fact that they're neither anthropologists nor nutritionists). But then omnis seem to think questions about choices are only offensive if they come from vegans 🤷‍♂️).

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 7:49 am 03 Dec 20

    Jo, yeh weird that - might be a PTSD from a previous experience. If you’ve ever worked in Hospitality you would recall some people (particularly Vegans) having a verbal about the menu etc.

    I think it’s less of an issue now than it was 20yrs ago.

    I have cousins and relatives that are a whole list of vego, vegan, pescitarian (or however you spell it.

    Good luck to everyone, I’ll eat whatever is in front of me. Except Chickens feet - 😆

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:51 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam I've seen an incident when a waiter served a vegetarian a plate of fish when they asked for a vego option, and then engage in an argument with them, telling them that vegetarians eat fish and that they should have been clear that they're vegan, not vegetarian if they weren't going to eat the fish. And I have worked in hospitality.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 7:53 am 03 Dec 20

    Jo, yeh - see my comment, I didn’t assume you hadn’t. 😉

    We’ve all seen it all. Maybe some compassion is in order.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:55 am 03 Dec 20

    If vegans were so accepted, there wouldn't be so many jokes at their expense. But you're right - it's much better now than it was 20 years ago. Back then, vegans were assumed to be hiding horns or something.

    Jo Hann Jo Hann 7:57 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam compassion is certainly required. We need to stop dehumanising people for making different choices to us.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 7:58 am 03 Dec 20

    Jo, I run a Martial Arts & Fitness school - I’ve learned over the years that nothing is ever black and white, it’s infinite shades of grey.

    Victor Lee Victor Lee 8:34 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam You haven't lived until you try chickens feet. 😆

    Lucian Burca Lucian Burca 8:46 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam back in communism the chicken feet were more or less the only chicken meat one could find. So, yes, I ate chicken feet! 😁🤷‍♂️🤣🤣🤣

    Joan James Joan James 9:07 am 03 Dec 20

    Tom Adam good on you. I have tried to accept all walks of life and likes my whole life. It does get hard when other people try to force their beliefs on others.

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