Vegetarianism, Veganism and Snobbery

Precisely 7 months and 9 days ago – on the same day I started this blog, in fact – I made the decision to stop eating meat.  I’ve already discussed this on here before and won’t bore you with the details again but there is one thing I’ve discovered that’s worth mentioning: the strange snobbery which seems to exist between vegans and vegetarians – and also, to an extent, between vegetarians and meat-eaters.

I’m perfectly happy as a vegetarian.  To my parents’ relief I have no plans to become a vegan, largely because I know I’d struggle with the diet but also because I don’t see an ethical need to do so (though I am becoming increasingly concerned with dodgy elements of the dairy industry).  My general rule is that I avoid if possible all products which require animals to be slaughtered to eat – so I avoid leather and marshmallows but don’t mind eggs and milk.  I therefore find it quite bizarre that some vegans would criticise me for this decision.  I’ve never encountered it personally, but even the most limited foray into the vegetarian society shows this to be the case.  Just read any comments on the various vegetarian groups which exist on Facebook or elsewhere and you’ll find such condescension and negativity between vegans and vegetarians.  Vegans accuse vegetarians of taking ‘the easy option’ and only making a superficial effort whereas vegetarians accuse vegans of being excessive and impractical.

What irks me about this is that we all have the same aims: we all believe that a limited consumption of meat is better for society from both a moral and environmental point of view.  Sure, vegans would extend this definition to all animal products but essentially we’re on the same side.  This in-fighting presents such an unwelcoming and intimidating message to outsiders who may be considering becoming a vegetarian and therefore does nothing for the cause.  It’s like certain elements are trying to achieve this Stalinist purity of the vegetarian/vegan ideology, opposing all other versions even if they’re similar in most respects.  It’s senseless.

Another interesting thing I’ve experienced is that people tend to mention meat a lot when I’m around – often in a joky fashion like, “look at this yummy murder!”.  This is probably largely because I have an irritating habit of being rather frank about my beliefs so people might get the impression that I judge them for being different (which I definitely don’t!  I was eating meat myself only just over 200 days ago so I can hardly pass judgement).  It’s harmless but does raises interesting questions about potential snobbery between meat-eaters and vegetarians.  It’s all too easy for vegetarians to look at meat-eaters as immoral, selfish collaborators with an evil industry, while meat-eaters may look as vegetarians as wishy-washy tree-huggers (not a description I’d disagree with but, you know, it’s not very constructive!).  Whether or not an individual eats meat should be seen as a private lifestyle choice.  We can promote our own ideas through visibility and reasoned argument but, ultimately, nobody should feel compelled to make one particular choice.  Snobbery from any direction – vegan, vegetarian or other – should be opposed.

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Two Months Without Meat (But Not Gelatine)

Today I have been celebrating two months of vegetarianism!  I’m mostly comfortable with calling it that now, rather than ‘trying to go without meat for a while’ back when I was scared I’d fall off the quorn wagon.  But now I’ve assured myself that my will is strong enough to continue.  There are two sides to my psyche: the intellectual, moral (and thankfully dominant) side, then the more instinctive  ‘go with the flow’ side, which wonders why I am avoiding meat, since everyone eats it.  The rational me responds that alcohol, tobacco and capitalism are also accepted by society, yet are what I would consider Bad Things.  Resistance usually stops by that point.

Gosh, I really am an all-round abstinent person, thinking about it.

I still believe I’ll eat meat again one day, though I want this lifestyle to be looked back upon as more than just ‘a phase’.  My Geography teacher, who’s a slightly obsessive ecologically-minded person, found out recently about my vegetarianism.  He seemed to approve, and after making fun of me for destroying the Amazon rainforest with the growth of soya beans admitted that he once was one as well.  Which got me thinking: if someone like him tried vegetarianism and eventually decided against it, chances are I probably will too.  Then again, I have an uncle who has been a vegetarian for over 30 years now, and is still going strong.  It will be interesting to see how I do.

The prospect of eating meat is particularly tempting when faced with a school menu like I had today: ‘reestit mutton’, chicken curry, salad boxes (with added chicken and bacon!) or cheese sandwiches.  I’m not the best fan of cheese but was forced to take that option.  Would it really be that difficult to include the occasional ‘veggie’ sausage, or quorn chicken, rather than always token vegetarian options like stuffed peppers or, in cases like today, nothing?

Other than these grievances, I’ve gone pretty successfully.  I do still eye up meat – bacon’s the worst of all – whenever someone eats it, and sometimes take a sniff as if to test myself, though I’m never seriously tempted.  Christmas Dinner was tough; roast quorn didn’t quite cut it.  The recent story about horsemeat being an unrecorded ingredient in some beef burgers has strengthened my resolve however, not because eating horse is any worse than eating cow but because it’s highlighted the furtive, shady nature of many cheap meat products.  Yes, all is well.  Except one small blip…

I discovered that the margarine I’ve been eating, ‘benecol light’, contains gelatine.  I’m not sure whose idea it was to put in boiled hoof, skin and hide into something you spread over bread, but there you go.  I did some research and it appears that gelatine is often used in various ‘light’ foods as a replacement for certain fats to bond it all together.  Gelatine can also appear in some jams, and even yogurts.  Most people don’t know that it’s in marshmallows, either – as well as jelly and most chewy sweets like Haribos.  I’m now checking the ingredients of many commodities with quite a fervour.

I’m not very bothered by this, because I was unaware of what I was eating, but it’s irritating to have my diet decisions undermined in such a way.  I can’t imagine the trouble vegans must go through; though I do think veganism is going a bit too far.  Animals could theoretically lead perfect lives in a vegetarian society; chickens will always lay eggs and cows will always produce milk – in fact, it can cause pain for cows not to be milked.

Here’s hoping I can post a similar update in two months’ time!