I’m a pretty defensive person. One time, I organised a trip to the USA for several weeks, and when asked, “Why?” by a coworker, I launched into a tirade of self justification: “Because I work hard and I deserve a break, because I haven’t taken a holiday in four years, because I want to see the world: is that so wrong?”, to which she replied, “I just wondered if you had family out there…”
So you can imagine how hard it is for me as an ex-vegetarian. Every now and then I’m out to dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in a few years and I’ll order a steak or a burger, which will act as a prompt cue for an onslaught of curiosity, and, sometimes: perverse enjoyment and satisfaction.
I tried, OK? For a really long time (roughly 10 years), I tried. It started with repulsion; one day it just clicked that a ‘rack of ribs’ came from a living, breathing animal. I always knew it did: but when you’re gnawing meat off of bones, it seems to become a bit more real. So began my dabbling with vegetarianism. It just made me feel guilty. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there really wasn’t any justification for it other than; “It tastes good.”. You don’t NEED it in your diet; it’s really just a luxury. A luxury paid for in blood: actual, literal, blood. Once I got to university and met more like-minded people, I realised that the environmental impact is pretty terrible too.
Of course, when asked about this particular life choice, I tended to pick my explanation based on who I was talking to. If I was at an Amnesty International meeting, I would be honest about it and tell my story. In more “normal” situations, where it was a bit harder to predict where my inquisitor was quite placed on the ‘vegetarian acceptance scale’ (try, 0 = Texan cattle farmer, 10 = Buddhist yoga instructor, and please forgive my stereotyping), I would just lie and say I didn’t like the taste of meat. Can’t argue with that, right?
See, people can get a bit intimidated by vegetarians. That particular life choice can be interpreted by some as a direct criticism of their dietary habits. They get defensive or apologetic. I suppose they think, “I’m a vegetarian,” can be translated as, “I don’t eat animals because it’s cruel, unnecessary, and farming animals is a major contributor to climate change. Therefore I think that you, as a filthy meat eater, are unnecessarily cruel and obviously don’t give a crap about our planet.”. They thought that I thought I was better than them.
Really, an ideal inhabitant of this wonderful place we call Earth would actually be a number of things. They would be thoughtful, generous, kind and supportive. In more specific terms: they would probably be a vegan, they wouldn’t own a car, they would never fly in a plane, they would grow all their own veggies, they would work for a non-profit organisation and give every spare penny away to a better cause or person. They would care more about their community, their environment, and everyone’s (including their own) long term happiness and health than their own short term satisfaction and gain.
So why aren’t we all allotment owning vegan cyclists who never go overseas? We all strive to be good people, and we all take pride in the good things we do. Things like exercise, volunteering, taking care of our family and friends, eating right, donating to charity…these are all great things: but why aren’t we doing them MORE? No matter how many of these things you donate your time to, you could probably be donating more.
The truth is, most conscientious people are already trying really hard to be the best version of themselves, but we have to draw the line somewhere. If you don’t draw the line, then you’ll just end up striving to be something you can’t be, or don’t want to be; which will result in guilt, stress and anxiety. We all experience barriers to how much we can really “give”, whether it be time, social expectations or income.
Being vegetarian became too much for me when i) the temptation became too overwhelming and ii) I got sick of being the annoying guy at a dinner party and iii) I just felt plain rude turning down food that someone had prepared for me out of love and appreciation. It really was the social aspect of my life choice which made it so difficult for me. I’ve compromised by restricting meat-eating to social occasions and special treats.
Some people might read this and think I’m flaking out. Indeed, some people I meet in the future and ask about why I’ve brought veggie sausages to a BBQ might think I’m flaking out. But before you judge me, or experience that perverted satisfaction that some vego has succumbed to the sweet temptation of meat like you knew they always would, ask yourself: couldn’t YOU be doing more to be a good person? How often do you think about what you could be doing to make the world a little nicer?