It’s been almost half a year since I wrote a piece about how people, meat-eaters in particular, try to resolve dissonance brought on by vegetarians, by externalizing guilt, or feelings of insecurity, in typical passive aggressive fashion.*
Things haven’t changed. Indeed it seems more the case in the festive season than any other time, you’re the bringer of bad yule-tidings for not joining the meat-eating collective.
If you’re the vegetarian, it’s you who’s being the aggressive trouble maker.
It doesn’t matter that you avoid didacticism on the grounds of it being a poor means for the proliferation of an ethic. Never mind that you only discuss it where it’s raised as relevant; in public discussion, or where (surprise, surprise) you’ll be eating.
Never mind that you aren’t trying to force any given eating practice on any given person.
“There’s chicken in the fridge! Help yourself!”
“I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat.”
“Not even chicken?!?”
Forget for a moment the obvious taxonomic error that sees chicken as a vegetable, the worst part is this could be the squillionth time this kind of thing will happen with any given problematic person.
“What? Not even fish fingers?”
Not that it isn’t relevant (or funny) but the problem isn’t taxonomy. The problem isn’t memory either, even if the path is well trod.
The response is always obsessive, self-pitying and defensive; the interest is too deeply riven to be something that just arrived in their mind on a whim. They aren’t so stupid so as to not be able to tell that a rabbit isn’t a fruit either.
The problem, their problem, is that your vegetarianism, your choice (not theirs), reflects upon their character and they aren’t comfortable with that. It’s not about memory.
Yet, you’re told when they are caught for the umpteenth time…
“Oh I forgot! You can’t expect me to consider these things if I forget.”
Just like they can’t expect you to believe that they forget such things, what with the great big deal they make out of you refusing meat. Every. Damn. Time!
Perhaps you think I’m over-reacting in my response to their supposed forgetfulness. Consider then that not only do they make a big deal out of it again and again, more than one of them has kicked up a stink about the last time I wrote here about them kicking up a stink about my vegetarianism.
Surely if it matters as much as they make out, my criticism of their carnivore-dissonance, if it matters so much they write to make editorial demands upon my blogging, they can’t also plausibly claim they forget I’m vegetarian.
Of course “forgetting” comes in convenient when giving “apologies” for offering meat for the 100th time, not realising that I don’t eat “vegetables” like chicken and fish fingers. It also comes in handy during those circumstances when my meal is “accidentally” contaminated.
“These chips have chicken salt on them”.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t think…”
“I asked you less than half an hour ago to get plain salt because I’m vegetarian.”
“I must have forgotten, I usually remember…”
“Yes, you usually do. You worked three years in a job selling hot chips to people who ordered them without chicken salt.”
It also seems more likely to occur when you’re more vulnerable as well; like when you haven’t eaten in a while, and are too worn out to prepair something. When you have less fight in you it’s easier to make you an honorary meat eater by slipping something into your food.
Of course food contamination isn’t the only “forgetful” passive-aggressive trick in the book the insecure meat-eater uses. Oh no.
You’re at a family occasion hosted by a family member you haven’t seen in a while, one who probably doesn’t know you are a vegetarian yet. It’s okay, or it should be okay because you’ve brought your own food.
If it inadvertently becomes an issue, if your host in perfectly good faith offers you some food with meat in it, you’ve done the necessary preparation to manage things without awkwardness. Problem solved, right?
Along comes one of those people who “forget” you’re vegetarian. They search the food prepared by your host for something with meat, then doing their best impersonation of a bad actor in-character as a thoughtful host, proffer the carcass in front of your host.
The moment you refuse, no matter what you say, they’re instantly offended on behalf of your host. They highlight how you’re insulting such fin cooking. And of course they give no hint of knowing you’re vegetarian, no matter how many times they’ve been told.
The opportunity to explain yourself, your choices, on your terms and with those who actually have any standing in the matter has been stolen by someone with an axe to grind.
Yet despite this, it’s usually you who’s created the awkward situation, allegedly. And not acknowledging they knew you’re vegetarian goes a long way in your antagonist not having to admit they set things up; that they’ve attempted to recruit your host and family member into their pathetic little ego struggle.
It’s only when it starts to become obvious to others that they’ve been dragged into something pre-existing, something that’s become more acrimonious than it ever needed to be, that the old excuse comes out of the deck.
“He’s been pretending to forget I’m vegetarian, and trying to start arguments between me and family members for some time now, because he doesn’t have the cajones to confront me directly, by himself.”
“I did forget! It was an honest misunderstanding! It’s you who’s upsetting people!”
The crux of all of this, the reason why I bother writing about it, is because being vegetarian isn’t easy.
I don’t avoid eating meat because I don’t like the taste of it. I don’t do it for health reasons; the research doesn’t pan out.
I’m a vegetarian because I’m not okay with the suffering of those that can suffer; non-human animals included.
Meat is still tempting. Walking past Mc Donalds is more tempting now than it’s ever been.
Being offered meat, even innocently, is stressful. It’s worse when deliberate and repetative.
Then there’s the “self-denying” crap.
“If you want to eat it, then just eat it!”
Consider for the sake of argument, that I told you I had an urge to punch in the face, those people who laid unnecessary temptations in front of me. That this urge is just, if not more tempting, than eating the meat.
Would you have me, to avoid being self-denying, eating the meat and kicking their arse? (At least you’d be being consistent).
I mean, if the suffering of animals doesn’t matter, if it’s all about pure self-affirmation, then you can’t complain about me slicing off someone’s face and throwing it on the barbecue to make crackling, can you? Especially if they tempted me to do so.
I was first taken hunting at two years old. I’ve worked a shitty job in a meat factory. I’ve had attempts on my life. I’ve survived amongst some of the nastiest people in Australia. I’ll be screwed if I’m going to tolerate the gastronomic directives of human herd animals!
In light of this, the step from non-human to human in matters of survival and eating is probably less a graduation than you imagine. My vegetarianism not withstanding, there’s more of the predator inculcated into me than you’ll ever learn from browsing pre-slaughtered, plastic-wrapped, corpse-cuttings at market.
(And technically, I’ve already eaten human flesh – fun story).
I think the emphasis on the logical implications of harm-as-immoral could afford to be reversed for once. Reframed if you will.
Vegetarians often talk of extending the rights of persons to all beings capable of experiencing harm. I adopt the same logic, more or less. But rhetorically turned-on-its-head, morally, the criteria stopping me from eating non-human animals, is the same one stopping me from eating you.
It probably wouldn’t hurt for a few people to learn a thing or two about empathy for animals, and I dare say that if I put them through the experience of being hunted, they’d have such a learning experience. Or taste good trying and frying. Nom nom nom.
This is of course quasi-hypothetical, and I’m having a bit of a laugh. Honest. I’m not about to actually start slaughtering people; I believe I’ve explained why I’m a vegetarian.
But the moral absurdity from this half-reality-half-thought-experiment remains in the real world as well. It persists. It’s annoying and I believe I’ve conveyed adequately why.
Yet it goes on and on, because some people, quite unnecessarily, seeing someone else doing something different, are urged by their frail egos to defend their choice to remain amongst the herd, using disingenuous and universally cowardly means to do so. Nietzsche didn’t cast his net wide enough; you don’t have to be a predator to be an object of ressentiment.
If someone wants to take a shot at my vegetarianism, they should be direct in articulating something logically coherent, factually sound, argued in good faith and at an appropriate juncture. If someone wants to raise the matter, especially when they demand I don’t discuss their antics elsewhere, they should at least endeavour to provide a climate conducive to honest discussion.
It’s telling that instead they resort to stupid mind-games, lame high-school sophistry, pubescent politics, back-handed jabs, egocentric posturing, puerile food-tainting, mock politeness, victim-feigning and infallible fight-starting while I’m just trying to eat!
But hey, I’m the one who started it, right? I didn’t have to start a fight just by being vegetarian.
* I use the psychology terms more as literary device, than as actual, technical psychology.
(Photo source: Davide Vizzini)