Soon after one of my friends posted a picture of her veggie bacon on Facebook, a handful of people assailed her with comments about how disgusting they imagined it to be. When I saw her later that day, several of her friends, on a mission to convince her of the superiority of real bacon, were mercilessly teasing her about being vegetarian.
They weren’t trying to be obnoxious or mean, but I felt my guard go up. I haven’t eaten meat since fifth grade, and for several years I was a strict vegan. Though I haven’t heard many disparaging comments lately, there was a time (at my elementary school) when lunch was a daily torture session.
If I ate tofu, someone would inform me that it was repulsive. If I ate strawberries, someone would demand to know how I dared to murder a helpless fruit. If I tried to defend myself by saying that I disapproved of factory farms, someone argued that one person couldn’t change anything, so I shouldn’t bother avoiding meat.
And, of course, everyone was very concerned about whether I was getting enough protein.
For ages I couldn’t figure out how to handle the jibes. It came as quite a surprise to me that anyone would be particularly interested in what I ate.
My diet isn’t anyone else’s concern, and I don’t care what other people eat. It seems to me that that should go without saying. I don’t blame people for being annoyed with vegetarians who throw fake blood on people. And I can’t say I’m thrilled with the numerous PETA advertisements that use naked ladies to attempt to convince people to go vegetarian.
I’ve read enough arguments in favor of vegetarianism that I feel pretty good about my choice (look up factory farms if you want to feel sad). I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t be happy if more people cut down on meat, but I’m not trying to convert anyone. Since I’ve never meant my decision to be a commentary on someone else’s habits, I’ve always had trouble wrapping my head around the vehement opposition some people have to vegetarianism.
Luckily, the people I’m friends with now tend to be slightly more mature than those I socialized with in fifth and sixth grade. Unlike my fake-bacon loving friend, who is two years younger than I am, I don’t have to deal with people dangling chicken drumsticks in front of my face. If people do poke fun at me occasionally, it’s generally in a friendly way.
Still, I’m sure I’ll never hear the end of the comments about my need for protein—I’m sure everyone who brings that up is far more knowledgeable than the nutritionist I met with. And although in recent years I’ve met very few people who have actually managed to upset me, even adults sometimes feel the need to inform me that humans are carnivores or that God made animals for us to eat.
Last week, when my friend was bombarded with criticism for the crime of liking vegetarian bacon, I remembered how easy it is for me to start feeling defensive. It’s a small thing, but I probably would have been a happier person in fifth and sixth grade if a few people would have minded their own business.