I’m a vegetarian in Newmarket. It doesn’t have the same mass resonance as the song about the Englishman in New York who felt like an alien, does it? And it certainly doesn’t conjure up feelings of sympathy. Vegetarians? Tree-hugging, hypocritical weirdos – the lot of ‘em. That tends to be the general consensus.
I never intended to make an identity out of vegetarianism, and I certainly never thought I’d have to make a case outlining why I think it might be a nice idea for people to be kinder to vegetarians. But here I am, four years down the line, feeling a little, well, emotional.
When I made the decision to snub meat, I never imagined that every dinner party or occasion revolving around food (which is all of them) would result in me playing out the part of annoying, awkward, do-gooder who enjoys making life difficult for chefs, hosts and amateur cooks. I have no idea why such foresight escaped me, but it truly did. I never thought I’d have to share personal information to strangers about the reasons why I choose not to eat meat. I didn’t anticipate the spotlights or the inquisitions, or the eyes-to-heaven looks that follow my admission that I don’t eat meat.
Some people are offended when I spill the beans, which makes little sense to me. Maybe it’s because they feel I judge them for eating meat because it’s clear to them that I hold the belief that to eat it is intrinsically wrong. I can understand that. But here’s the thing: I’m not judging. It’s OK to share a table with people who don’t share your opinions – we all do it every day of our lives. Why is the vegetarian issue such a hot one, then? People don’t get impassioned when an individual presents to a group admitting they don’t eat, say, oat bran muffins. Why? Because nobody really gives a toss about oat bran muffins.
So I have to ask: what sensitive nerves are vegetarians sitting on? If carnivores are truly guilt-free about their decision to eat meat, and I suspect most are, why do they feel the need to be aggressive towards vegetarians? Why all the put downs and jibes and disrespectful comments?
People often haughtily say to me: “You don’t really thing meat is murder, do you?” All I can say in response is that it is not suicide. We all know animals don’t go to slaughterhouses because they’re so fed up with life they just want to die. Our rational brains know this. So when you ask me if meat is murder, and murder is described as the taking of a life without the consent of the being whose life is being taken, how can I not answer in the affirmative? It’s a logical answer that has nothing whatsoever to do with opinion.
I don’t eat meat because I have seen what happens in slaughterhouses. I have read compelling research about the emotional lives of farm animals. I have looked into the eyes of a cow and seen fear. I am aware that it’s a carcass on a plate, even though it’s garnished in herbs and wrapped in breadcrumbs. Those are my reasons. I am not on a mission to convert the masses. I am one person doing what I feel is right for me.
Is that so annoying?