For some 48 years, I’ve endured the interrogation of well-meaning(?) relatives and friends about my vegetarian lifestyle. The questions ranged from the politely curious to outright hostile: How do you get your protein? Don’t you ever crave a nice juicy steak? How can you stand to eat rabbit food? Don’t you think plants have feelings, too? Did you know Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian?
I’ll tackle the most insulting question, first. The querent has either never heard of Godwin’s Law or hopes that I haven’t. In a nutshell, Godwin’s Law states that a discussion is lost by the first person who makes a reference to Adolf Hitler or Nazis. To raise the ugly specter of Nazism is considered very poor form.
The Hitler insult has come my way ever since I was 14-years-old, so I’ve done the homework. Hitler was not a vegetarian. He loved to eat sausages and relished game hens. He considered Wiener-schnitzel (Vienna cutlets) to be a special treat. Hitler later did have to somewhat curtail his meat intake due to overwhelming flatulence due to his meat consumption. This condition must have been problematic down in the cramped quarters of his bunker.
Do plants have feelings too? Anyone who dares to ask this question risks ridicule. Everybody consumes plants, especially the critters that meat-eaters eat. First off, plants do not have a central nervous system, like animals. Even if plants can sense harm, ethical vegetarians have given the question a lot of thought. We must eat something in order to survive. We choose the lesser of the evils.
No, I don’t mind eating “rabbit food”. What’s wrong with eating the same food that cute bunny rabbits eat? But actually, rabbits eat a lot of grass, weeds, and tree seedlings. I don’t eat those things.
No, I don’t crave a nice juicy steak. My body’s apparent aversion to beef is what triggered my first experiments with vegetarian living, in the first place. For whatever reason, I’d come down with pounding headaches and stomach cramps after eating grilled steak. When I quit eating meat, the pain went away. So I’ve been physically conditioned not to desire meat.
How do I get my protein? That’s easy, from what I do eat. If I want an infusion of protein, I can enjoy legumes or tree nuts. Vegetarians enjoy a wide array of wholesome, tasty foods. It’s actually quite simple to put together a variety of nutritious meals without resorting to meat.
One insult we often hear is that vegetarians are preachy. That might be true in a minority of instances, but the reverse is actually the case. We find ourselves having to defend our lifestyles from those who are “concerned” about us. Most of the preachy vegetarians are new “converts” who behave the same way that new converts to any way of life do. Much of the preachiness of a newbie goes away after living vegetarian becomes second nature.
From time to time, other annoying questions are thrown our way. “You eat fish and chicken, don’t you?” No, fish and birds are animals. “Do you only eat salad?” No, we enjoy a variety of dishes. “Don’t you wear leather?” Actually, no. I wear plant-based or petro-based artificial leather shoes or non-leather sneakers. My clothing and outerwear is all plant and synthetics derived.
Do you eat animal crackers? Well, yes we do, as long as they don’t contain lard. Most of us do have a sense of ironic humor. Once in awhile we see an obnoxious bumper sticker or tee-shirt that says “PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals”. Insults reflect poorly on the insulter not the insultee. Besides that, the actual organization’s name is more famously shown as “PeTA”. Not all of us belong to “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”.
Once someone attempted to insult me by saying that “It’s a sin to be a vegetarian.” It took a lot of inner strength to suppress a hearty belly laugh. But a snicker, leaked through, anyway. The insulter became the insulted and stormed away.
Ethics are one of the main reasons many of us choose to remain vegetarian. This is certainly the case for me. I’m not vegetarian because I’m some sort of “health nut”. I love animals and don’t like to see them harmed in any way. By the way, I am happy to receive clean bills of health after medical check-ups. My physician gives much of the credit to the vegetarian lifestyle.
A few zealots tried to trip me up with one last rejoinder. “Vegetarian men are gay.” Well, some of us are both, but most of us are one or the other. Being vegetarian didn’t cause homosexuality and being queer didn’t cause vegetarianism, at least in my case. Anyhow, I don’t believe the word “gay” is insulting.
Despite the snarky questions, being vegetarian is a normal and happy way of living. I could list the many benefits of vegetarianism, but then I’d risk becoming preachy. Besides, as time has passed, the number of obnoxious questions aimed towards me has diminished greatly. More often, people ask me how to get started and how to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle. There’s an easy answer to this. “Just do it.”
Happy Vegetarian Month!