What it Means to be a Vegetarian

I am a vegetarian.  Often that statement is met with confusion and disbelief.  People ask; “Do you eat fish or chicken?”  No.  If a person is a vegetarian, it means that he or she does not eat any animal flesh product.  Do vegetarians consume milk and eggs?  In most cases, yes.  There are also people who are vegans.  They do not consume any animal products or by-products including eggs, honey and dairy.

I used to feel annoyed when people kept questioning me about what it means to be a vegetarian.  Then I realized that people genuinely do not understand it.  There are people who call themselves vegans or vegetarians but still eat meat from time to time.  Onlookers are confused because just the other day they saw a person claiming to be vegetarian have a piece of steak.  These people may be working toward vegetarianism but if they still eat any form of meat, they are not true vegetarians. 

I don’t know why being a vegetarian is met with so much disapproval.  Would it be different if someone said they’re allergic to meat?  Vegetarians are made to feel like they are breaking some invisible social code.  Some people go out of their way to be disgusting.  If I have chosen not to eat meat, I’m not interested in how tasty your beef burger is.  I don’t want to see videos of blood and guts.  That may be the reason I’m vegetarian in the first place.

People become vegetarian for various reasons.  This includes religious reasons (Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and Seventh Day Adventists) and ethical considerations such as the ill-treatment of animals.  People who accept that animals too have a right to dignity and life choose not to eat meat.  There are also sustainability and economic factors.  There is enough food on Earth to feed our entire population.  Half of our people are starving because most of the grains produced are used to feed animals and fuel the unsustainable meat industry.

Others choose to be vegetarian due to health reasons.  This is probably the most controversial reason.  People seldom argue with beliefs and it’s easy enough to say that you don’t care about the environment and treatment of animals, but meat-eaters are quick to claim that vegetarianism is unhealthy and that a vegetarian diet lacks iron and protein.  That is untrue.  I have friends who have been vegetarians all their lives.  Do they look chronically anaemic and ill?  Certainly not!   They are perfectly healthy people.  People need to do their research before they make false claims based on myths or ancient science.  Some of the longest-living and healthiest people on Earth are vegetarians.

If someone is a vegetarian, based on their reasons for the diet, it is simple to get an idea of some of their values.  It is ignorant to try and make them feel inferior because they value their health, animals, good ethics, their religion and/or the environment.  Most vegetarians won’t try to force their beliefs on you.  They will state their reasons.  If you agree with their values, you may choose to go that route yourself.  If not, respect them.  People who refuse to eat meat are not misinformed.  They have learnt new information or realised a truth which is in accordance to their principles.  That is how some vegetarians try to convert meat-eaters – by informing and creating awareness.  Most of us don’t go around with a can of red paint to throw at anyone wearing fur or people in steakhouses.  We’re simply living our lives in accordance with our values, just like everybody else.  Understanding each other is the key to getting along better.

Vegetarianism is not merely a choice of diet.  It is a lifestyle.  For meat-eaters, the transition to vegetarianism is not easy.  People insulting and mocking them doesn’t make it any simpler.  Due to social tension and a lack of will power, many people fail to stick to a vegetarian diet.  It is understandable when a person fails because of their own habits but it causes needless guilt if they feel they can no longer fit into society if they choose to stop eating meat.  I am a vegetarian.  You, the reader, may be a meat-eater.  Neither of us deserves more or less respect because of it.
Maja Dezulovic

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