Humanimal – Obviously Not One Of Us


Daily life of the vegetarian #4

Vegetarianism – a religion?

SOMETIMES THE SADNESS is overwhelming, but not for the animals. No, this time I’m being selfish.
The thing is, being vegetarian really does have a downside: the huge impact on your social life.
If, like me, you choose to live amongst those with a taste for the flesh of animals, you’re constantly reminded of your vegetarianism, when you really just want to forget about it and enjoy the company of your friends.
I know I don’t get invited to dinner parties with certain dear friends, because one of them had the guts to tell me. She actually said: “I just wouldn’t know what to cook.” This friend edits a glossy food magazine.
There’s nothing better than “breaking bread” with friends (and of course, drinking wine), and if I think about this too much, it makes me melancholy.
It’s all because of my decision to eschew meat from my diet, and I’m sure that this kind of social schism is the very reason many would-be vegetarians lapse.
After all, nobody wants to be an outcast.
Luckily, most of my friends know that I’m not religious about my vegetarianism, but over the years, I’ve met so many people who, on discovering that my diet is meatless, recoil as if they’ve just discovered I was one of the original Manson family.
That’s the stigma of any minority who choose to live their lives differently, even if it is something that doesn’t impact on their job performance, or ability to be a good friend.
Generally, I’ve found New Zealanders to be surprisingly lenient (not lean meat!) about my dietary decision. Mostly, while they choose to continue to eat meat, they respect the fact that I have chosen not to.
But like any sheltered society, we are prone to outward signs of individuality (like, choosing between surfing, sky diving or rugby) that masks a deeper fear of anyone who does something that would seem to contradict their lifestyle.
And that’s the rub, really. Non-vegetarians know that vegetarians think everybody should be, so they put “plant-eaters” in the same category as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it’s based on a misconception, really. I always thought of my vegetarianism as a personal decision, and I still have no interest in preaching about it. I believe in planting seeds and see what grows, not in force-feeding. But mostly, I want to do what’s right for me. And while I do think the world would be a better place if we gave up eating meat, I’ve never lectured anyone about that. Why would I?
I learnt that lesson early on, at high school. Everyone was listening to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep and Peter Frampton, but my favourite was Frank Zappa. We used to have record-playing sessions after school. Nobody liked Frank Zappa. I didn’t meet other Zappa fans until I hit my forties. But it never worried me. I liked what I liked. Sure, it was lonely being a Frank Zappa fan and not knowing anyone else who felt the same way. So what?
And that’s the way I feel about vegetarianism.
That’s why I’m still surprised when people react vehemently to my decision.
But while it’s irritating to meet strangers who feel threatened by it, it’s the social thing that really gets me every time.
I don’t want to cut myself off from having a diverse range of friends with an equally diverse range of opinions about life and the universe. Some of my best friends are rabid meat eaters, and that’s just the way it is. Like I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve met my share of stupid vegetarians over the years, and the simple fact of a diet choice doesn’t mean we have anything else in common. Why would it? GARY STEEL

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