“Oh, God, don’t be one of those vegetarians.”
The vegetarian I’m being right now. God forbid, I’m talking about my diet!
My parents were vegetarians, so, naturally, they raised me on a vegetarian diet. My mum got an earful about this before she even gave birth; didn’t she know she was putting me at risk by having a meat and fish-free diet during her pregnancy? Didn’t she know the nutrients gained from meat and fish were essential for my health? My mum had a fantastic diet and exercised a lot during her pregnancy, and, voila, I popped out healthy and almost muscular. I wasn’t in the slightest weaker than other babies. And nor did I develop some kind of animal instinct for meat, since many people believe we’re supposed to be eating meat. I liked my meat-free diet. When I was old enough, my parents sat me down, explained vegetarianism, and told me I was allowed to eat meat if I so wished, but they wouldn’t cook it. Of course I didn’t want to!
Once, in nursery, a trainee staff member was handing out sandwiches at lunch. They were ham.
“I don’t eat meat,” I told her.
She laughed and told her colleague I wasn’t eating my sandwich. Her colleague told her to just give me it and I’d stop being so fussy. So the trainee put the ham sandwich on my plate, and I sat through lunch with nothing to eat. When it was time to play again, she scolded me for not eating my food. What a fussy little girl I was. Why wouldn’t I eat meat like everyone else in the room?
At primary school, it wasn’t long before other kids noticed I didn’t eat meat. I was the only vegetarian in my year group, so I ended up getting my own personal Quorn sausage roll at lunchtime. I’d refuse sweets that I knew had gelatine in them – this made me an ultra-freak.
“Why can’t you eat meat? Are you allergic?” a boy asked at lunch.
“No, I’m vegetarian.”
“Why are you eating chocolate, then?”
“It doesn’t have any meat in it.”
“Doesn’t it have milk in it?”
“I drink milk!”
(I don’t anymore.)
One lunchtime, I was eating my dinners at a table when a boy flung a piece of ham into my sandwich. I couldn’t eat it. They found it hilarious; it became their new game. They would try and slip pieces of fish into my meals or throw meat into my lunchbox and my bag and my hair. Another lunchtime, they threw slices of ham into a bin and tried to force my head inside so I’d eat it.
I almost had a discussion once – my friend was asking me about vegetarianism in ICT and I pulled up a video of animal slaughter to show them my reasons. The teacher promptly shut my computer off and said I wasn’t to click on such things again. Another time, my friend was asking what his sausages were made of. I said they were made of pigs. He didn’t understand how that could be. I said they killed the pigs and ground them up to make the sausage – then his mother swooped in and told me not to tell such horrid stories. Rather than telling their children what went into their food, parents and teachers were trying to protect them from the truth. To children, chicken burgers are and have always been in a box, never a farm.
In high school there were maybe two other vegetarians in my year group, and people were typically less judgemental. But it didn’t go away. Once, I took a brownie a classmate made for the class but after learning it had marshmallows in it I gave it back – I explained marshmallows were made from gelatine, and I was a vegetarian. Just so I didn’t hurt her feelings. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to eat it, it was that I couldn’t. And then:
“You always known when there’s a vegetarian in the room,” muttered a boy at the back.
Never once have I watched someone eat a beef burger and then start preaching like a Jehovah’s Witness. If someone wants to discuss vegetarianism with me, I’ll discuss it. Yet vegetarians are still treated like criminals. I do wonder if it’s insecurity these people who say, “Vegetarians were the villagers who couldn’t hunt” etc feel, or even guilt. Do you want my opinion? I assume so as you’re reading this – they should feel guilty. It’s reasonable to feel guilty. But I don’t go around telling people this.
Vegetarianism is something I’m passionate about, though. I still make general posts about sparing chickens and turkeys around Christmas times. I still repost vegetarian recipes and diet plans around January to inspire people to make a change. But I certainly don’t attack anyone. It wouldn’t work, anyway. Telling people eating meat is bad always receives the response, “I’m going to eat a hamburger because you said that,” or, “But bacon!”. I can appreciate this – telling anyone what to do often makes them want to do the opposite – but what I don’t appreciate is unwarranted abuse.
In my hometown, the community is quite narrow-minded. Right-wing, Leave voters, yada yada. Also, we are well known for pies, and these often contain meat. A group of vegan activists stood in the town centre with a few stalls offering information about veganism and a sign that said, “Ask about veganism today!”. That was it. They didn’t approach anyone. They didn’t say, “Go vegan now or we’ll gut you!”. They offered a discussion. Naturally, on the local newspaper comment section, the locals screamed bloody murder – vegans were coming here to radicalise us, to shove their ideas down our throats! I love my bacon and black pudding! It was absolutely ludicrous.
I can talk about vegetarianism all day. I’ll make a post soon explaining my reasons. But I’m not telling anyone what to do. If you truly believe someone expressing an opinion is trying to control you, you have a lot of insecurities to work through. A lifestyle shouldn’t be a threat. I can empathise with meat eaters. I don’t think they’re all murderers and idiots. But saying vegans and vegetarians never shut up about their diets is the norm.