I’m a Vegetarian Who Eats Meat, and That’s Okay
TL;DR: A while back I stopped eating meat. I don’t eat meat because I don’t like killing animals or causing suffering. But I eat leftover meat because throwing it away would require other vegetarian food to be prepared instead. I eat meat whenever it would create more suffering not to. And that’s okay.
What is vegetarian?
Part of the problem here is the label. I use the word vegetarian because it’s easy, but it’s not wholly accurate. Here’s the dictionary definition:
“A person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.”
Sometimes people feel sorry they asked me questions because I fail to predict that they weren’t bargaining for a long answer. It’s way easier to say I’m vegetarian than to explain all this, or even say a few sentences. And part of the reason I’m writing this is so I can send people here when they want to know more. But usually “vegetarian” is enough until they see me eat meat.
I grew up raising animals. Not on a farm or for a living, but my parents had a pet farm. I shared the duties with my brother of watering and feeding the animals every morning. Breaking the ice in the water barrels in the winter so they could drink, moving the grazing fences in the summer to longer grass so they could eat. I gathered eggs, scooped poop, made compost, and held the sheep still when sheep shearer came.
Sometimes a lamb would come of age, or 20 new chickens would get fat, or the piglets would grow up and became all…bacon-y. And my dad would shoot it, or we would hire someone to butcher it. I never killed anything bigger than a fish with my own hands, but I felt like I did.
One time I watched 3 men hung our chickens on a clothesline from their feet, then beheaded, plucked, and froze them. They sang a song. A Jamaican folk song. Their chicken-butchering song. The chickens who I broke the ice for every morning before school…their bodies thrashed, the clothesline swung. Each head laid on the ground, beaks and eyelids opening and closing for a few seconds.
The chicken meat was always tender and juicy, the uncured unsmoked bacon was to die for, and lamb chops with mint jelly…om nom nom. I knew I didn’t like helping to create suffering or watching animals die, but I had never thought of a life without meat.
When I was 20 I read the first few chapters of Eating Animals, and started meeting more vegetarians. I realized that abstaining from eating meat was a thing that some people did, and there were many different motivations for it. Up until now I had been largely told vegetarianism was a phase kids went through to spite their parents.
That fall I transferred to a new school, where the dining staff went to incredible efforts to cater to the food preferences and needs of the students. Not only was there a great variety of both meat and vegetarian and vegan food, but they would also hand-prepare custom meals for people with specific needs.
Vegetarianism was on my mind and now vegetarianism was an easy thing to try. So I tried it. And after forgetting about meat for a while, every time I looked at meat, I felt the same emotions that I felt looking at the chicken heads on the ground, and I don’t like feeling that way.
I still eat meat
I do, however, still eat meat. When I order a veggie burger and the waiter brings a beef burger instead. When someone doesn’t know I’m vegetarian and has already prepared and served me meat. When meat is left on the table and will go to waste if I don’t eat it. All of these are situations in which I’ll eat meat — and enjoy it!
This is because the reason I don’t eat meat is that I don’t like to kill animals or create suffering. If I send back the burger, deny the meat that has been served to me, or let the leftovers go to waste, I am in effect creating more suffering. I or someone else has to prepare other food, resources are spent to prepare it, and the meat that the animal has literally died to produce goes to waste.
One of my friends pointed out to me that this fits into my view of “Act based on the consequences of your actions rather than the action, ie, abstaining from meat, itself” (her words). I thought about the actual reason why I don’t want to eat meat, and didn’t worry about it not fitting into anyone’s established idea of what something can or should be.
To me, letting meat go to waste or refusing it when it has already been prepared is the largest insult to that animal. It’s saying “you died and that’s not good enough for me”. It adds insult to injury, and flies in the face of the entire reason I became vegetarian.
When I wasn’t “vegetarian enough”
One time, I went to a meetup for vegans and vegetarians in my area. We were discussing restaurants to go to as a group and planning a potluck. A lot of us were new to the group and someone suggested we all describe when we went veg and why. There were many stories, some people from birth, some for religious reasons, some just because they didn’t like the taste. But everyone was very solidly either vegetarian or vegan.
When we got to me, I fumbled through explaining that I had been doing it for a year, and how I used to raise animals, and that I still ate meat when it could create more suffering not to. Some people were appreciative, some ambivalent, someone even said they sometimes did the same.
But there was this one guy, a hardcore raw-food vegan (which means he doesn’t eat meat or dairy, and doesn’t cook his food). He made noises of disapproval and shook his head. One of the group leaders asked him why he seemed upset. He said “I mean that’s just not…So you eat meat, but you call yourself a vegetarian?”. I replied yes, and he scoffed, shook his head again and made noises of pain and agony.
Later one of the attendees gave me a ride home, and told me not to worry about him, because he’s a jerk. And he was a jerk. But seeing him have such a vehemently different view helped drive home how different everyone’s view could be, and how personal those views were.
Sometimes there can be serious consequences eating one way or another depending on cultural and social context. And many people don’t have the luxury to choose. But if you have the option to try something different, and are nervous about what others might think, just remember:
- Steve Jobs was vegetarian except for sushi.
- Lea Michelle from Glee is vegan except for cheese.
- The Buddha told his followers that they could, “…eat pork, chicken and fish if the monk was aware that the animal was not killed on their behalf.”
So if you want to try eating differently in any way, know that while some people will hate you, most won’t. And while I haven’t struggled or suffered because of my food preferences, many people have, and in my experience many of those people are supportive and happy to talk.
If you have a feeling or idea about food, try it out for a bit! No matter what the change is, you might be surprised how you feel about it after you actually try it. And if you want to change back to whatever you were eating before, no worries (I have tons of friends who were turned back into meat eaters after suffering through tofu-bacon 😷).
I don’t hate you
I love meat eaters. Most of my friends eat meat. The person I was dating when I wrote this loved meat. You respect who I am and I respect you.
This is a privilege
It’s an incredible privilege to afford the luxury of choosing what kinds of food to eat. This is how I feel about food now, maybe I’ll feel different later. And I’m lucky that I get to choose.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear anything you have to say in the comments. What are your experiences with food like?