By Simon Isham–
When people ask me why I am a vegetarian, I tell them that it is because I do not like the taste of meat. You might be surprised at the limited number of reactions that I receive in response. Many people are not sure what vegetarians eat. Let me clear the air by enumerating the things that vegetarians do not eat: meat. That is all. Simple enough, right?
There are a few other categories of which you should be aware. Vegetarians who drink milk are called lacto vegetarians. Vegetarians who eat eggs are called ovo vegetarians. Vegetarians who eat both are called lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegetarians who eat neither are called vegans. People who eat fish but no other type of meat are called pescetarians. People who tell you that vegetarians eat fish are called stupid.
One thing that people like to do is tell me that they, themselves have at some point tried vegetarianism. The statement usually goes: “I was a vegetarian once for three weeks!” As an eleven-year veteran of the practice, I am not impressed. Nearly everyone has given up meat for some length of time just to try it. Katy Perry tried kissing a girl. That doesn’t make her a lesbian.
Then there are the other types of would-be, experimental vegetarians: those who do it, as journalist Colman McCarthy put it, “between meals.” This is the type who like the sound of the hype and the alleged health benefits, but who cannot bring themselves to go one meal — breakfast, lunch or dinner — without the stringy muscle protein. In terms of conversational partners, I much prefer these hardcore meat enthusiasts to the quitters.
Another common response I get is that of the ever-curious amateur biologist.
“What would happen if you ate a piece of meat?” they ask.
I stare at them incredulously.
“If someone dared you to eat dirt, you could, couldn’t you?” I retort, shamelessly swiping the only good line in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.”
They stare blankly back at me.
“Oh all right,” I concede, and fork a piece of their chicken parmigiana from their plate into my mouth. Once I’ve swallowed, something to the effect of the following is usually said.
“Ohhhh! You’re not a vegetarian anymore!” They say this as if I were just publicly deflowered and they are reveling in it. I do not understand why this brings them pleasure, but I am happy to have made them happy and am somewhat disappointed at how little effort it took.
Of course, I usually regret this decision later. After eating meat, especially if it was fried, I am often physically ill for hours afterwards. There is no scientific basis for why that happens, but I can promise that it does. The Humane Society of the United States’ director for public health, Michael Greger, believes that this reaction is psychosomatic–in other words: “What’s really happening is they’re thinking of some poor animal somewhere, and this may actually cause them to throw up.” I’m sorry, Mr. Greger, but you are wrong.
You see, Greger is a lumper: a person who likes to believe that all people who behave a certain way must also look, dress and believe in the same fashion as all other people who behave that way. We’re talking about free love-dispensing hippie people. The kind who wear socks with Birkenstocks. The kind who grow huge beards, play Joni Mitchell songs badly on the sitar, shower less frequently than most people and live on communes on the West Coast. While there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, I don’t fit that model. Most days, I don’t remember if I ate at all. Like most Americans, I do not dwell on former meals, nor on what had to die to make them possible.
One of the newest additions to the proud omnivore’s arsenal has been the idea of using bacon as an argument. I am unsure of how to respond to this, especially since I have never once tried to make my personal dietary preferences into an argument. Not to mention the fact that, no matter whether topping off a doughnut at Nord’s Bakery, stuffing tomatoes at the Kentucky Derby or being a key component in bacon-brittle ice cream at the Louisville Visual Art Association’s annual Bacon Ball, “bacon” as a rationalization just won’t hold up in court.
For all intents and purposes, coming out vegetarian is hard.