Once, someone brought some pastries to work as it was her birthday. She told me she had brought fish ones as well so I wouldn’t have to miss out on the treat. On being told that fish is something I do not eat, she accused me of being fussy. I should have taken the opportunity to accuse her of being stupid, but I didn’t. I fail to recall why.
Many people, upon learning that I am a vegetarian by choice, have a burgeoning sense of curiosity as to why I chose this lifestyle. Cue a lengthy series of ridiculous questions. Then they promptly attempt to convince me that I am wrong to choose vegetarianism over eating meat.
I don’t understand this fascination with my diet and eating habits.
Why does it matter to everyone I meet that I am a vegetarian? And why is there so much ignorance surrounding vegetarianism and veganism? People always verbally present me with a list of food items and demand to know whether I include it in my diet or not. And then they try to argue with me that I am not a vegetarian because I eat eggs or cheese. The people who have and will probably pester me with questions about my choice may not be reading this, but I present to you definitions from the Oxford Dictionary of vegetarianism and veganism:
Vegetarianism is ‘The practice of not eating meat or fish, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.’
So a vegetarian is ‘A person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.’
A definition for ‘veganism’ is unavailable. However, one for ‘vegan’ does. A vegan is ‘A person who does not eat or use animal products.’ That would make veganism the practice of not eating or using animal products for moral, religious, or health reasons.
Vegetarians abstain from eating meat or fish, but they do eat eggs and dairy products. Vegans do not consume or use anything that causes cruelty or undue harm to any animal, however small.
I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat or fish (yes, not even fish and yes, that means no prawns), but I do eat eggs and use dairy products. I do not use nor purchase anything made of animals (so no leather products) or anything that has been tested on animals (such as some types of makeup).
This also means that I will not eat anything that has touched meat, so I will not eat rice that’s been sitting under a chicken leg or the gravy from a meat dish. I also refuse to pay for anything that includes leather products, so I will never buy the Kindle Oasis as it comes with a leather cover (no other options provided by Amazon), not even to use only the device and throw out the cover because I’m not paying for something that is made of animal.
So when I refuse to eat something, it is not because I am being fussy and want to be troublesome or any such thing; it is because I want to follow the principles that I have constructed for myself.
People then move on to the ‘Why?!’ question, by which I mean the “Why are you a vegetarian?” question. (I’ve also been asked “What’s wrong with you?” at least once or twice).
I am a vegetarian for moral reasons. Not religious and not health. I would love to be a vegan, however, in Sri Lanka, that is not a practical choice. It is ridiculously difficult to find something to eat when I go literally anywhere as the vegetarian that I am; it is very close to impossible as a vegan. Therefore, for now, I remain (reluctantly) a vegetarian and not a vegan.
I chose to be a vegetarian because once upon a time, some of the things I ate and used lived and felt, just like me. However, I’ve never been brave enough to say this to anyone. Simply because non-vegetarians and non-vegans fail to understand this (no judgement). Instead, I say that I’ve made this choice because I love animals. Then all animal lovers tell me, “We love animals too! But we eat meat!” and then stare questioningly at me. To which I can say nothing but smile idiotically, because how can I explain that I don’t find it at all pleasurable to eat something that used to be alive and was murdered to end up on my plate? So I end up offending animal lovers and giving most people unsatisfactory answers (unsatisfactory to both parties, them and me) because telling the truth makes me sound like a complete weirdo. But it’s what I feel. And I can’t change that. Neither is there anything wrong with me thinking that way.
I don’t support the harming of animals for our comfort, but I also will not act holier-than-thou and try to seem superior to those who are not vegetarians or vegans. I try to respect everyone’s choices and if I don’t, I try to make a pretense of it because sometimes, you can’t do any good by causing a lot of discord and disharmony between people. Although some may think this is asking too much, I wish some of these people would respect my wishes and my choices and not question me in such suspicious and accusatory tones because a choice is a choice. I firmly agree with what Phoebe Buffay from the TV show ‘Friends’ said on the show and it went something like this: ‘If I don’t have my principles, I have nothing.’ So this is me following my principles because this is something I am passionate about, and it is only decent that you respect my choices which are my own and will not impact you in any way. Just because you don’t agree with me doesn’t mean you have to convince me to join your side of the argument or try to prove me wrong; simply accept that people have different opinions, beliefs and world views and they don’t all have to fit yours.