Ed note: I wrote this mostly for myself, to reflect upon the why’s of being a vegetarian or not. It’s not a formal, edited piece with a purpose other than examining this personal issue from multiple sides.
Come June, I’ll have been a vegetarian for 16 years – over half my life. Wow. I’ve been a vegetarian so long, I’ve never self identified on a social media site as anything but meat-free.
I’m thinking of changing my “food preference” status to omnivore, though.
There are a lot of reasons.
I’m not an animal lover. It sounds kind of horrible to say, doesn’t it? Don’t misinterpret me, I like animals. I enjoy spending time with pets, I get excited when I hear an owl. But I’ve never self identified as an animal lover, nor would anyone who knows me classify me as such. The most animaly I’ve gotten in recent memory is as follows:
1) Thinking about getting a hamster
2) Thinking about getting a bird watching book and identifying birds
I say all this because most people are vegetarians because they feel badly for the animals. And man, I mean this in the best way possible (if there is such a thing): but the treatment has never really bothered me.
It’s not right. It’s not humane. But the way we treat plants isn’t humane, either. The way we treat diseases (and the way they treat us) isn’t humane. The point I’m circling delicately is that whole “circle of life” Lion King thing. There’s no denying we’re part of a rhyme and reason that was decided before anyone reading this was born. And there’s no denying we get to choose what to do with that information – we can go veg, or we can not.
I became vegetarian for two reasons. The first is that all my friends were doing it. In high school, my “clique” would have been labeled the band geek hippies. The name pretty much says it all – and of course, at some point, one person went vegetarian, and everyone followed suit. Two went vegan. Of the initial five or so of us, who were some variation of meat-free, only two still are; myself, and one of the vegan girls.
The second reason is because my grandmother told me it would help me lose weight.
Being vegetarian is part of how I self-identify. It’s a touchstone for what I perceive to be me. And yet, I’m a vegetarian because of someone else’s opinion of me. Which seems, frankly, wrong. Which is sad. If I let this part of go of me, it’s going to feel like a loss – good reasoning or not, it really is part of who I am.
But there is something wildly liberating about the idea of eating meat. Of making a choice that is my own that was not suggested to me based on an extreme desire to be liked (both by being thinner and doing what my friends thought was cool). I’m a people pleaser to a relatively unhealthy degree, and vegetarianism is one interesting way I chose at a younger age to please, even though it was never asked of me.
When I watch people eat meat, I often joke about being excited for them. It’s not a joke. I remember liking meat: the chewiness of clams in chowder, the saltiness of tuna, the primal feeling that came from gnawing on a chicken leg, and sucking marrow out the bone from pork ribs. I also often joke about wanting to try exotic meats. Also not a joke.
I want to eat meat because I want the ability to make the choice as an adult. I also want to one day be able to give blood, and I am always turned away for lack of iron. I’m also a lot more tired that I used to be, and can’t help but wonder if meat would help in me just having more energy. I want to eat meat because I think it might be more true to my authentic self, and because it’s ridiculous to continue to not eat it because I have so closely tied my identity to food preference.
That said, I don’t want to eat meat because I am really good at not doing it, and at this point, it’s a source of differentiation and sure, a little pride.