On being vegetarian in a meat lovers’ society
By Elizabeth Sias
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
These are most often the reactions I get upon telling people I’m now a vegetarian.
And it’s not that I go around spontaneously informing strangers of my new lifestyle choice. It usually comes up with friends and family members at meals, when I don’t order my previously favorite filet mignon, or when they ask why I’m eating only salad instead of their main course, which invariably features a meat.
These reactions are sometimes followed by asking my reasoning.
Abstaining from consuming animal flesh has long been something I’ve considered. It’s only recently I finally decided to take the leap. I have a multitude of reasons — ranging from animal rights to health benefits to environmental concerns — but I’m not here to preach from a soapbox.
It was a personal decision and my reasons are my own. I thought the most difficult part of this transition would be never again eating chicken, steak, pork, a cheeseburger or even savory bacon. And I won’t lie; it has been a challenge. As a 24-year veteran of consuming meat, I admit I’ve had cravings. I’ve had to walk away from the meat section of the grocery store and the food court in the mall.
But the truth is, I’ve come to realize — with a bit of a shock — that the most difficult part isn’t, in fact, refraining from eating meat. It’s dealing with people and their compulsive need to judge and criticize. Maybe that sounds harsh, but I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I’ve been called “crazy.” Isn’t that in itself a bit harsh and extreme?
I’ve been trying not to make a big deal out of this choice, but that’s been difficult when I’m frequently forced into a position of having to defend and justify myself. The transition has been hard enough as it is, so it can be off-putting when people make it even more difficult. What they may think are innocent, teasing comments often come off instead as unnecessary criticisms of what was ultimately a personal choice.
A couple months ago when I was contemplating finally making the transition of becoming a vegetarian, I reached out to a close friend of mine who has been vegan for over a year. I knew she had experience with the challenges of the meat side of things, but when I looked back at her message for support and encouragement, it turns out she had the foresight in handling people, too.
“A lot of people will mock and tease or try to make you feel guilty,” she said, “but it’s important to stay strong knowing you’re doing what you can to be healthier and live more consciously.”