Meat, Manners, and Mayhem: Vegetarian-Carnivore Communication
If you've watched The June the Homemaker Show, you've heard me mention once or twice that I'm a vegetarian. Over the course of my restricted diet eating, I've noticed that vegetarianism is a touchy subject among vegetarians and carnivores alike, particularly in meal-type situations. Here are some things for omnivores and, uh, not-omnivores to keep in mind when talking to each other about food preferences.
1.) "Vegetarian" means different things to different people. As a term, vegetarian means "people who just eat plants," but you'll find that term doesn't accurately describe most people who refer to themselves as vegetarian. Most of the time, when someone refers to themselves as vegetarian, they mean one of three things: a) they don't eat meat, but do eat milk and eggs (technically lacto/ovotarian), b) they don't eat animal meat, but they do eat fish (pescatarian), or c) they don't eat red meat (poultritarian?). The point is, when someone says "I'm vegetarian," and doesn't explain exactly what that means, you should ask, particularly if you're going to make them dinner!
2.) Most vegetarians are pretty nice! When people find out I'm vegetarian, they usually say "Oh wow! I never would've known!" like it's a compliment. I grew up eating meat, so I don't know if I'm lacking the veggie-glo that seems to surround lifelong vegetarians, but I suspect this is a compliment because of the really angry vegetarians that give the rest of us a bad name. If you ask the average vegetarian about their lifestyle, they'll be pretty happy to talk to you about it. Not being able to eat meat, vegetarians get pretty creative about where they get their protein from, so chatting about meal options may expand your recipe box in new, creative ways!
3.) Politeness is key. Here are some inappropriate things to say to a vegetarian (which have all been said to me): "There's no pleasure in eating like that." "You'll grow out of it." "What are you, stupid?" Judging will get you nowhere - stay positive, and you may learn something! And vegetarians: if you find yourself confronted with someone who doesn't get it and has no interest in having a productive discussion, just change the subject to something like monster trucks or Mortal Kombat and you should be fine.
4.) Be careful what you ask for. When carnivores find out I'm vegetarian, their first question is, "Why did you become vegetarian?" I personally became vegetarian because of a lifelong internal intellectual struggle - I felt that I should either be okay with eating all animals or no animals, so I had to decide it was okay to eat my cat or that it was not okay for me to eat a burger. Since Cat the Homemaker is kind of awesome, I tossed the burger. My personal story is pretty harmless - it has a lot to do with how strange I am, and is okay to talk about at dinner. Not all vegetarian stories end this way. I caution all carnivores: DO NOT ASK UNLESS YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW. You may find yourself confronted with a story about chicken beheadings, or a tour of a factory farm filled with animal feces and animal blobs that would later become chicken nuggets, or other things like that. For the vegetarians - if you're asked this question and you're at a meal at which the person who's asked is eating meat, and your story is not appropriate meal-time conversation (you are adult enough to know) then defer the discussion to another time. Some vegetarians take great delight in reminding carnivores that their dinner was once a bleeding animal carcass but this is not polite conversation, so take the high road and skip the violent anecdotes.
5.) Remember: different strokes for different folks! The most important advice I can give is to respect the point of view of the person you're talking to. A carnivore will not convince a vegetarian to eat meat, nor will a vegetarian be able to gross a carnivore into going veggie. I'm vegetarian because it's right for me - that doesn't mean I think it's also right for you! Explaining your own point of view without demanding a lifestyle change from your conversation partner can create some pretty interesting discussions!
What's your experience been communicating across the great meat divide? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below!
-June the Homemaker