At a recent campus barbecue, I witnessed a student being bullied into a corner to the point of no escape. He was not a typical victim; he was a huge football player capable of snapping in half any of the people taunting him. The bullies were girls who usually are friendly.
The reason for their attacks: The guy wouldn’t eat a hamburger due to moral reasons.
I became a vegetarian about eight months ago for many reasons. I had been considering it for awhile and I infrequently ate meat, so it seemed logical. I spoke to other vegetarians I knew and they told me to be prepared for struggles.
It would be tempting to eat turkey on Thanksgiving and difficult to find an option on restaurant menus. But there was one aspect of the vegetarian lifestyle for which I was not at all prepared: The hostility I received by family, friends and strangers.
Everyone, ranging from my older brother and my roommate to my restaurant waitress, looked at me as if I was growing an extraneous limb when I told them I was a vegetarian. The aversion didn’t end with the initial shock – it continued.
At every family meal at home I was asked if this time I would eat meat. When cooking meals in my apartment, my roommate would roll her eyes when I broke out the tofu. But the reactions didn’t end with snide remarks and disgusted facial expressions. I’ve often been asked to state my reasons for my diet (not in an ‘I’m just curious’ manner, but in anger) and then had my reasoning viciously attacked.
I would like to state the following: I am not mentally challenged (legally, anyway). I do not need someone to pick out my food for me. I would like to think that, as a college student, I am fully capable of feeding myself. So carnivores, please get off my case!
I do not understand why people feel the need to attack my decision to give up meat. People should be glad I’m actually making a conscious effort to eat nutritionally, unlike most other college students. What I choose to put into my body does not affect anyone but me, and I’m certainly not hurting anyone. I do not evangelize.
In fact, I hate evangelization, so I don’t expect anyone else to become a vegetarian because of me.
Many Jews lead practically vegetarian lives because they follow the kosher laws. They believe it is immoral to include meat and milk in the same dish, but since their reasoning is religious, no one gives them any trouble.
My reasoning leans more toward ethical concerns, but aren’t ethics tied to religion? So why is it all right for Jewish people to base their diet on their moral beliefs and not me?
At a recent family dinner, my father sighed heavily because he was disgusted that my mother made a vegetarian dish – linguini with vegetables – in honor of my being home. My father does not like vegetables; he likes steak. My presence prevented him from having it. “Aren’t you done with this yet?” he asked.
My answer was, and is, that no, I’m not done with this. I am a vegetarian and I will be a vegetarian if I choose. I was raised to do what I think is right, particularly by my father, and I will continue to practice that.
Nothing anyone says to me and no sort of hostile treatment will convince me to cave. So please, live and let live (no pun intended). Leave us vegetarians alone. We promise to do the same for you.
Emilie Haertsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.