For Shakespeare: Why the Beef with Vegetarians?

>> Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shakespeare asked: I am upset by the bad press vegans and vegetarians get. I can't seem to find a fictional account (film, book, tv show) that doesn't include negative stereotypes of vegetarians. Why is that? Why do meat eaters hold so much antipathy towards those who choose not to eat meat?

I don't have a simple answer. There are several aspects to the problem.

One, as the mother said, is that people concern themselves with things that don't have anything to do with them. People love to judge. Look how many have their knickers in a twist over gay marriage - and that affects everyone else how? For people who feel like sticking their nose into your business is their business, all I can say is: dummies!

Also, the real life examples that get publicity are probably part of the problem:

  1. Wanting to go all vegetarian or vegan is more challenging than an omnivorous diet to ensure nutritional health. That doesn't mean it can't be done, but, if not planned well, nutritional deficiencies can result. Deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids can result unless efforts are taken to ensure the right foods are eaten (wherein dairy and meat products provide these readily). Animal proteins also provide complete proteins (with all essential amino acids), plants are generally not as complete, requiring more efforts to ensure the right proteins are included. Again, it can be done, but to just stop eating meat and dairy does not assure a healthy diet. And, if parents don't know what they're doing, children can be affected adversely. These bad examples are the ones that make the news rather than the untold thousands (if not millions) who conscientiously manage their diets effectively (and those of their children).
  2. PETA and other fanatics commonly associated with vegetarianism give the whole concept a bad name. Many people who might be live and let live on the vegetarian topic are confronted with extremists who are not satisfied with tolerance and require conversion. PETA adds to the confusion with their other ridiculous antics ("sea kittens" instead of fish, wanting breast milk in ice cream, sexually abusing vegetables in commercials) that have nothing to do with thoughtfully choosing to go meat- and/or dairyless. But their flamboyance is more easily remembered than those that go quietly vegetarian. Ditto for other vegetarian crusaders who won't settle for acceptance.
An all meat diet unlikely to be healthy, but both omnivorous and vegetarian diets can be healthy (and both require a measure of thought in order to be so). There's no reason why everyone has to be one or the other.

Also, I've seen several vegetarian protagonists, like the groom from My Big Fat Greek Wedding of the lead in Avatar. The thing is, a positively portrayed vegetarian is just like a regular person - they look just like the rest of us and the only ones we notice in the movies are the ones that conform with the stereotypes.

It should be noted that I am definitely an omnivore, but I don't see any reason why there isn't room for all of us.


  • The Mother

    Don't forget jealousy!

    Being a vegetarian requires commitment, dedication and an excellent understanding of nutrition (as you pointed out, the risks for malnutritions of various types are outstanding).

    Most people don't have that fortitude. SO, antipathy is their only defense.

    All I can say is, I'm glad it's them and not me. I'll give up my rare, rare steaks when they pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

  • flit

    Good point about PETA - they do tend to go over the top (and then some!).

    I had a WONDERFUL rare steak just today for lunch ... they were on clearance CHEAP at our grocery store .... snagged 'em, brought them home and threw them on the BBQ.

  • Phyl

    Also, you've got what seems to be a historical association of power (and manliness) with meat. So I suspect people actually feel threatened, quite literally, by vegetarianism, as though somehow this could sap their potency.

    It may be a coincidence that you mentioned gay marriage as an example of "why should this concern us," Stephanie, but I actually think the underlying antipathy might stem from the same place: fear of being made powerless somehow. It's not rational, but it seems to me that might be lurking under there somewhere.

  • Shakespeare

    I think there is a human need to feel as if everyone agrees with you. If someone doesn't, whether it be with regards to diet, morality, religion, etc., that somehow lessens your own sense that you are right--or threatens it.

    I find it interesting that someone can be opinionated, and when they find I disagree, they do everything they can to convince me they are right, even if it means changing their opinion a little. When I still remain unconvinced, they call me defensive... but I'm not defensive. I just don't agree. And I'm not at all threatened that they don't agree with me. I don't even need to argue with them. I'm perfectly happy going along thinking what I thought before, despite knowing someone else doesn't feel the same way.

    I've been vegetarian for more than ten years now, but I have no need to convert the world. Maybe some omnivores fear I judge them, or want to convert them, or with they would all eat like I do. But I don't have enough hours in the day to boss the rest of the world around. I don't have enough time to get my own stuff done, let alone tell anyone else how to live his life.

    Thanks for addressing the question! Very interesting discussion!

  • Aron Sora

    I've vegan I've meet hated PETA. For example, PETA complained about the president killing a fly.Where as the Vegan society is more accepting of this sort of thing because of our definition.

    "[T]he word "veganism" denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose"

    If we follow the definition, we are more relax about flies dieing. Every vegan knows that some animals died when the planets were harvests. But, we try to minimize the death.

    I find that the Evangelical vegans and vegetarians are the ones who have veganism as their sole personality trait. That's why they are so uptight, a challenge to their eating style is a challenge to their soul.

  • Stephanie B

    Well, and there you have it. What one eats is really no one else's opinion. If children get the nutrition they need, the source of that nutrition is really not important.

    There are far too many busybodies and, in my opinion, the hallmark of someone truly comfortable with a life choice is the lack of drive to make everyone else conform with that choice. If you're comfortable with your choices, you just have better things to do with your life rather than getting the discount of making more converts.

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