I realize that most people aren’t vegetarian. And I realize that most people don’t seem comfortable engaging in self-reflection and questioning their own beliefs and figuring out if their actions are consistent with their beliefs, etc. That said, it still surprises me a little bit when I hear people say why they aren’t vegetarian. Wait — “surprise” isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it bugs me. Why? Welcome to the subject of this post.
Well, first of all, many people do feel compelled to say “I could never be vegetarian because _____”. To me this implies that on some level they either want to be vegetarian or feel that it’s the “right” thing to do or that they should do it or whatever. I mean, I’m not talking about people who say this in response to someone asking them “Why aren’t you vegetarian?”. I mean, for example, people often write those sentences in their OKCupid profiles in the “What are your favorite foods” section. Nobody mentioned vegetarianism specifically until they brought it up. In the “what am I doing with my life” section I don’t write things like “I could never be a pedophile because those clumsy kids always drop their candy bars on the upholstery in my car.” People do write things like “I can’t go to the gym as much as I’d like because I’m just so busy.” The implication being that of course we all should go to the gym regularly and it’s the right thing to do, so one feels compelled to explain why they do not. So it’s weird to me that a lot of people (at least as far as I can see) look at vegetarianism the same way. Like they need to give an excuse for why they aren’t one. And that brings me to the bulk of my post…
They are almost always giving excuses. I can’t remember anyone ever writing “I am not vegetarian because I feel my desires are more important than the lives, emotions, and pain of animals.” Or “I am not vegetarian because I believe I am higher on the food chain — if I am able to make you my prey, then I don’t think it’s wrong to do so.” Instead they make the same kind of excuses as the dude who doesn’t go to the gym. Sure, we’re all busy, but if it’s important enough to me, then I’ll make time to go to the gym. I’ll figure something out. The reason I don’t go is because there are other things that are more important to me. Plus I’m lazy.
One excuse I hear a lot is “I could never be vegetarian because I love bacon too much.” To me that implies that the person thus eats no meat other than bacon, since obviously that’s the one thing stopping them. However, that never turns out to be the case. They just eat meat indiscriminately, using bacon as their excuse. It’s like saying “I could never be a law-abiding citizen because I like to speed” and then using that as a justification to commit arson. Obviously there’s more going on here than just a love of bacon.
That last one is really a more specific version of the most common excuse I see, which is “I could never be vegetarian because I like meat.” Oh really? I’ve got news for this person. I *love* the taste of most meat (and seafood) (and cheese) (and eggs) (and cream). It’s true there are vegetarians and vegans who give these things up because they don’t like them, or they give them up for ethical reasons but never liked them that much anyway. But there are plenty of us for whom that’s not the case. Liking meat (even really loving the taste, as is the case with me) does not compel one to eat it. I really love having sex with women. This does not make me decide to rape them. Or even just have sex indiscriminately with any woman who is willing. Human beings are able to make choices, even when those choices may conflict with their desires. People who make these excuses (both this one and the bacon one) are essentially saying that their enjoyment of the taste of meat is so important to them that they don’t mind the fact that animals are tortured, live lives of pain and terror and sadness and fear, and are ultimately killed in order to provide them with this taste experience. Although I don’t think most folks actually think that through. Otherwise they could just write that down (or perhaps a version which is sanitized and lets them feel better about it) rather than the excuse that liking meat somehow renders them unable to be vegetarian.
Another common excuse: “I want to be vegetarian but it’s just too hard.” Jesus Christ, seriously? First, since I most often run into this stuff on OKCupid, and since I tend to browse folks who live near me, then much of the time the people writing this live in Austin. And I cannot imagine a place on earth where it is easier to be vegetarian than Austin. Every grocery story has tons of vegetarian options, and almost every restaurant does as well. There are plenty of vegetarian-only restaurants. There are numerous social groups of fellow vegetarians who meet to try restaurants, share recipes, have potlucks, or just socialize. Anyone who actually wants to be vegetarian in Austin and finds it too difficult…well, I have a very hard time believing it. That to me sounds like they don’t want to be vegetarian very badly. Easier just to ignore the pain, suffering, and killing of the animals. And even if you don’t have the fortune of living in Austin, it’s still pretty easy in most of America. My mom lives in rural east Texas, and even her grocery store has enough vegan and vegetarian options that I can eat a good variety while I am there. The restaurants have sufficient vegetarian options, but being vegan would be a bit more challenging out there when it comes to restaurants. But if we’re just talking about being vegetarian, I fail to see how anyone in the first world who wants to do it would be unable to do it.
I think I’ve covered the excuses I run into the most. I know there are others. And they all bug me. If you are going to decide to eat meat, then own the decision. Don’t act like you’re doing it because you have to, because you *couldn’t* be vegetarian. Yes, you could, and you are choosing not to. Ask yourself why you are making that choice, find out if it conflicts with your beliefs. If you think it’s wrong to kill a pet dog, then why is that wrong but not what the meat industry does? If you think it’s wrong to hunt for sport (or wrong to hunt at all), then why is that wrong but not the meat industry? Or, for that matter, forget the meat industry. Why is it wrong to kill a pet dog but not wrong for a farmer to kill a pig — a pig which is more intelligent than that dog, and is capable of the same pain and range of emotions? Everyone will (and should) make their own choices about how they will live their lives. But they should be deliberate choices, not unthinking ones or ones justified by feeble excuses.