We vegetarians (I should actually just speak for myself) undoubtedly get on your nerves at times. We bother you with our preaching, we are not always willing to eat the things that you serve us, we are quite difficult when visiting restaurants together, we slow down everything when we want to read labels, we may react socially inappropriate at times, and occasionally we even might make you feel guilty. Please know, dear omnivore, that being a vegetarian in a carnivorous world is not always easy, and allow me to give you a small glimpse inside the mind of at least one vegetarian.
When I say a vegetarian life is not always simple, I'm not talking about the thousands of times we have to answer the same questions (what do you actually eat? Where do you get your protein?). Nor am I talking about having to read labels, or about restaurants that do not know what we eat or not eat. No, these kind of things I consider to be the pleasures of being a vegetarian, so to speak.
I am talking about something completely different. It’s something I cannot easily express. It’s about a combination of helplessness and incomprehension. Helplessness in the face of so much animal suffering, and incomprehension and astonishment at the fact that it is not getting addressed and eradicated, or even perceived as such. These feelings, you may say, are not the privilege of vegetarians, and you may be right. But still, it is different in this area than others. For the problem of the endless suffering of animals in the world, there is a solution which is actually quite feasible: it would just mean that all of us start eating only delicious vegetarian food instead of dead animals. When you consider this on a global scale, at the level of all humanity, this solution seems to be (at least in short term) not quite realistic. But at individual level, it surely is possible, in theory, for everyone to join.
And then you, the vegetarian, starts thinking and chewing his thoughts, over and over again. You realize that even if the solution is simple, ultimately it is not happening, and people do not participate, they continue to eat meat. And you wonder why. You wonder if you may be seeing things that are not there. You ask yourself if you are hyper-sensitive or overly sentimental. You consider that you are maybe an alien, or just downright crazy. You tell yourself that it cannot be as bad as it looks, that there must be some justice behind it all. Karma perhaps. But that doesn’t convince you. And again you try to find out what it actually is that you hate so much and whether it is actually so awful as you think. And you keep on coming back to the same conclusion: yes, what happens *is* horrible. Sixty billion animals every year that need to lead a miserably short life, because we humans find their meat tasty. That’s actually all that is going on.
And you wonder why it does not stop and since it is not stopping you ask what you can or should do to make it stop. You try some things here and there, but it is never enough and you can see change but it is very slow. And above all: there seems to be no way to explain the people who don’t see it. You can not even show them any pictures or videos because they do not want to watch them. They tell you all the things you tell them are just exceptions and that in the end it is not all bad. And you’re considered to be adhering to a new religion, or you have simply made another choice than them. And you try to explain that it is *not* just a matter of taste or preference. That eating meat or not eating meat is not a matter of painting the living room in yellow or in green. Because by now you are convinced that not eating animals is not only a compassionate but also a very rational thing to do. How can it be so difficult, you think, to see that we should avoid inflicting pain and suffering and killing where we can easily avoid it? But they don’t understand, and so you try every possible way to explain. You appeal to moral philosophy, to arguments about the environment and health, you cook, you let people taste, and you hope that you have some effect, drop by drop.
And you can see that in almost everyone’s case, all that is needed to understand and feel, is already there. You can see that most people love their cat or their dog, you see that they really can not cope with animal cruelty. Similarly they are not convinced anymore that eating animals is required to be healthy. And yet all the time they tell you that what you are saying is not exactly right, or it is inconsistent, or not feasible, or naive, or not important compared to all the human suffering in the world.
And through all this thinking and talking and discussing, you constantly need to be careful not to seem arrogant. The deadly sin here is to appear as one who thinks he is better than the rest, a moralist who tells other people what to do. You must pay attention that you do not condemn others for what they eat - something which is very difficult because the other very often already feels condemned by your mere presence as a vegetarian. And you must be careful that you do not look like someone who hates because actually you do not hate (although at times you may become a bit more aggressive, intolerant or judgemental, like every human being). You just can not understand, even tough you try so hard.
And of course you must look healthy all the time and can never be sick, because that would be the fault of your diet.
Fortunately, dear omnivore, it is not all doom and gloom in our heads, and there are a few things that make it a little easier. Unlike what you may think, we do enjoy life and the food we eat - many of us discovered the joys of cooking and eating only after having said goodbye to meat and fish. And we definitely can see changes around us, faster and faster. And in our neighborhood and all over the world there are people who feel the same and fight the same fight. If we are crazy, surely we are not alone. We strive together for Something Completely Different.
Personally, what helps me the most is the realization, over and over again, that I myself was eating animals for a long time past the point that I realized I shouldn’t do it. In a way, I am grateful for that. And I am grateful for the fact that I can feel, no matter how inconvenient that may be at times, and that I am vulnerable.
This, dear omnivore, is - very simplified - what is happening daily in my mind. Perhaps in being clear to each other about our feelings, we can find things that unite us and stop talking in terms of me versus you, and may learn to understand each other better.
And to understand is to love, hey tsay.
Thank you for reading
PS: not all vegetarians are vegetarian because of animal suffering/animal rights reasons.