Becoming a vegetarian isn’t always simple. I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way of going about it, whether you want to cut down a step at a time, or instantly go cold-turkey. For example, I knew I might get cravings and struggle to decide what to eat, and I also knew I couldn’t give up everything at once, which is why I went pescatarian first.
What I didn’t fully know when I stopped eating meat two years ago, however, was that suddenly everyone has an opinion about your eating habits.
It’s not like food had never been a topic of conversation before—I’d previously heard comments about my ‘healthy appetite’ when I was a teenager—and I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape our society’s diet culture, particularly when you’re female. But vegetarianism (and to an even greater extent, veganism) elicit a strong reaction from many. And it can be frustrating.
From people who insist you’re just going through a phase, to those who are determined to prove your choice is the wrong one, everyone has their opinion about what you should—or shouldn’t—be doing. And that’s okay, to an extent, since we’re all entitled to them. Sharing them, on the other hand? Well, that’s not always necessary.
‘I could never do it, but good for you.’
Giving up animal products isn’t an option for them, for whatever reason, and food doesn’t really feature in your conversations. They don’t show any interest in your diet, but neither do they criticize you for it, which you’re grateful for.
You want to come across as calm and reasonable, but the defender makes it so. damn. hard. But have you ever seen a pig go to slaughter and actually be distressed? WITH YOUR OWN EYES? (I’ve seen video footage, yes, and it was horrific.) What about soy crops? They’re bad for the environment, you know. (Most soy crops are grown for animal agriculture.)
You know if you show any sign of anger or impatience then you’ll be labelled as aggressive or preachy, so you try your best to respond with logical answers. Sometimes the defender takes a step back and the two of you are able to have a thoughtful, respectful conversation. Sometimes all they want to do is back you into a corner and make you say you’re wrong. Either way, the fact your choices differ from the norm makes them uncomfortable.
Live and let live is their motto… except, it seems, when your lifestyle is concerned. I use the term ‘joker’ loosely, because while they believe their quips are the height of hilarity, you’ve lost count of the amount of times you’ve heard comments about bacon, burgers, and vegans eating plants straight out of the ground.
If they’re a heterosexual man on a dating app, expect the joker to make an enquiry about whether or not you still eat sausage. I’d suggest either ignoring it or replying with a gif of Ramsay Bolton.
They’ve seen you make and enjoy good food. They’ve expressed genuine interest in whatever’s on your plate when you’ve gone out to eat. And now they’re asking you for recipes.
This just shows how much of an effect being an example of a happy, healthy vegetarian can have. Often, people don’t realise how varied and flavoursome veggie food really is (I didn’t myself until I stopped eating meat and fish) and seeing someone try different food encourages them to do the same.
I love sharing vegan and veggie recipes with friends and family, and I love it even more when they come back to me saying how delicious they were.
The former sceptic
They start by questioning everything—often out of fear of the unknown and concern for your wellbeing. Gradually, as you begin to settle into the vegetarian lifestyle and figure out what works for you, they come around to the idea and happily visit cafes with you, or share your food. My mum, for example, enjoys Linda McCartney’s scampi bites with vegan lemon mayonnaise, and we often cook vegetarian Mexican dishes when I visit my parents’ house.
The dream. The convert takes the plunge and goes vegetarian themselves. They share tips you’ve never thought of before, news stories they’ve been reading, and are great fun to share a meal with, whether you’ve gone out to eat or made it yourselves.
I don’t believe every single omnivore falls into one of these categories—they’re just examples of behaviour I’ve noticed in the past two years. Even with vegan and veggie lifestyles becoming more mainstream (one only has to visit the free from aisle, yes, aisle, in your local supermarket to see the effect), they still prompt all kinds of reactions. I believe being a positive advocate is always the best way to respond: setting a good example, encouraging changes if they’re already being made, and understanding that one solution won’t suit everyone.
Do you recognise any of these people? Let me know in the comments.
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Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin. Always thinking about my next meal.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!