Should vegetarians allow themselves to eat meat from the plates of others?

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When I first became a vegetarian, I decided it was more important to withhold financial support from the meat industry than to be a stickler about diet. I wasn’t ready then (or now) to become an activist against the meat sellers by holding protests or burning down slaughterhouses. I felt that a vegetarian is defined by  living primarily on a vegetarian diet and not by the absolute absence of meat.

I decided I didn’t have a problem eating meat that would otherwise go to waste. You know– the taste of shrimp linguine or other delicious-type entree offered by family members and close friends. The food that would otherwise be thrown away and doesn’t create another order in the kitchen.Why don’t more vegetarians think this way? Why do so many vegetarians avoid meat to the point of offending others by declining a specially made dish or letting delicious shrimp linguine go to waste? Here are a few reasons:

1. Exaggerated self-importance
Some vegetarians seem to view vegetarianism  like an arcade game. If they get a perfect score, they’ll get a prize and all the animals will stop suffering. These are the vegetarians that are militant about never eating meat, who brag about “how long it’s been since I had meat last”. There are legitimate reasons for never eating meat, but this isn’t one of them.

2. Unavoidable disgust
This is the feeling a vegetarian gets when the meat is on the fork. It’s similar to guilt, but different. Most vegetarians can reason past guilt if the meat will be thrown away (I certainly can), but they still might not eat because they know too much. It’s both revulsion to the meat’s composition and an ethical disgust for what they perceive as a societal wrong. Many vegetarians are extremely caring people who aren’t trying to be difficult, they just can’t help but react emotionally due to what they know.3. Reputation
While I consider being mindlessly militant about never eating meat a negative (see #1), maintaining a reputation as a vegetarian who takes their beliefs seriously is important. Though vegetarianism and related wholesome food movements are spreading, vegetarians are still a minority. This means a lot of people look to vegetarians as a different type of person– they’re tested. It’s a social reaction that happens whenever a minority group feels passionate about something. If someone calls himself a vegetarian but eats meat whenever he feels like it, people may dismiss him and other vegetarians.

There isn’t anything wrong with holding firm to your beliefs if it’s done in a healthy way. I’d like to think that anyone whose unwanted food is fair game knows me well enough to understand how seriously I take my own brand of vegetarianism and why.

4. Moral confusion
Some vegetarians confuse eating meat with creating meat. Having grown up in a culture that demonized consumption of many different types of substances, it’s easy to make the leap to meat. Yes, there are more healthy food choices, but some vices pay off. It’s not the act of putting meat in your mouth and chewing that causes harm to anyone, it’s the role one plays by paying the slaughterers and continuing the social norm.

5. Getting Sick
Despite my feelings that it should be acceptable to eat unwanted meat, I almost never do. The few times I have in the past year have been met with nausea and headaches. After avoiding meat for so long, many vegetarians experience something similar. It isn’t just an excuse to avoid your meal or make a scene, their bodies just aren’t jaded enough to deal with the additives and chemicals.

6. Taste Comparison
Taste is rarely a primary excuse, but it’s a real reason many vegetarians avoid meat when offered. There are certain meats that can’t be duplicated in a vegetarian diet like high-quality steak or fish. These meals bring out the flavor of an animal that is hard to duplicate without the animal. But most meat is just garbage that takes on the quality of what it’s paired or flavored with. If you’re used to a high-grade vegetarian diet that uses similar flavors but with fresh wholesome ingredients, many meat meals taste bland and undeveloped in comparison.

Conclusions personalized to the reader!

Carnivores: realize all vegetarians aren’t jerks who avoid meat just to be different, join a scene, or cause drama. When they turn down the casserole you brought to the work potluck, they may have a legitimate reason.

Vegetarians: Be realistic about the impact you’re having and support partial vegetarianism ideas, like Meatless Monday. Vegetarianism, after all, is only a step towards veganism. These attempts are movement in the right direction.

Everyone: The picture in the header of this article is vegan shrimp linguine. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks delicious!

Tyler Samien has a BA in English/creative writing from the University of Tennessee. He enjoys writing everything from scathing online reviews of companies that displease him to nostalgic memoirs of childhood experience. His blog, ReluctantChauffeur, is about to get interesting as he travels the United States with his wife and goofy-faced puppy.
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7 Responses to “Should vegetarians allow themselves to eat meat from the plates of others?”

  1. I live a vegan lifestyle because I care about animals. However, when I’m out at a restaurant with my friends, I won’t turn down a mouth-watering piece of chicken that would have been thrown away anyway. What’s the point? I’m not creating additional demand by ordering, and it makes my non-vegan friends feel much more comfortable around me when I eat meat. I don’t want to be considered a radical vegan who never consumes animal products. I want to people to be comfortable with veganism and there is no better way to help animals than to show just how easy it is to be a vegan. Just the other night, my family was heading to the circus with all the kids. They had an extra ticket (already purchased), so rather than turn it down and make myself seem like an outcast, I joined. As I watched the elephants dancing and standing on their heads, for a moment I thought about the recent undercover video showing baby elephants tied up, electro-shocked, and stabbed with bullhooks as part of their usual training routine. I quickly came back to reality, though, remembering that I didn’t actually buy the ticket. Besides, my niece and nephew were singing along with the music and loving every minute of the display! I certainly didn’t want to seem like the grumpy vegan uncle, so when my nephew turned to me and asked if the animals like doing this, I smiled and said “of course they do!” After all, we were already there – why ruin the mood and upset a child? People just don’t realize that when they try to promote veganism and eschew animal products when around others, all they do is alienate people. Everyone is so much more comfortable around me and is able to enjoy their consumption and exploitation of animals when I go along with it. Just don’t pay for the animal carcass, the zoo ticket, or horse-drawn carriage ride, and everything works out perfectly! What a wonderfully written, logical blog post! Can’t wait for the next one.

  2. Agreed, Brandon. I can understand and support the underlying point of the blog post — that not buying meat is more important than not eating it — but I don’t at all support the blogger’s conclusions. He’s advocating for a weak, spineless life, based on doing what’s easy and popular, not what’s challenging and right. If vegetarians want to eat meat that they don’t buy, go for it, but in that case calling yourself a vegetarian is pointless and irresponsible. You’re a convenientarian: you make ethical, humane choices when convenient.

    And what’s wrong with eating meat you don’t buy? It starts a slippery slope: soon you’re accustomed to and seeking out ‘free’ meat, and then you become as irksome as the cigarette smoker who ‘quit’ but always wants to bum ‘just one.’

  3. Brandon, thanks for your comment. I’m glad to see that you care so much about your friends and family that you want to make them comfortable around you. I think you may have missed the point of my article, though.

    If you really “care about animals” as you say, you may want to adopt one of the other 5 legitimate reasons above (#1 being illegitimate), and never eat meat. As mentioned, I get sick. If I didn’t I would use #3.

    It’s completely honorable to never eat meat and stand up for what you believe, just don’t be stupid about it.

    So many vegetarians are militant idiots that forget why they stopped eating meat and focus on the religiosity of it. They appear stupid and out-of-touch to most people. They turn people away from the truth. They are to vegetarianism what militant Islamists are to Islam.

    The most good can be done by helping people to understand your perspective. This isn’t going to be done by furthering stereotypes of vegetarians as dumb bleeding-heart drama queens. It doesn’t involve jumping at every chance you get to eat meat from another’s plate (said NO ONE EVER in the article above). It’s about starting conversations like the one above in which we admit that a militant group never eating meat is less helpful than a large group eating less meat and also hurtful to a future of people that will even consider never eating meat.

    Also, you shouldn’t lie to your niece and nephew. They may hold it against you later.

  4. M Elias Keller, If someone knows him/herself well enough to think there is a chance of reverting to bad behavior, or just doesn’t want to risk it, the slippery slope argument makes sense. For those of us who trust ourselves and have developed to the point where we understand our motivations and keep a close check on our behavior, the slippery slope doesn’t apply.

    I think its time we progress as people and a society to more intelligent discussions without being brought down by the lowest common denominator. In this case individuals who avoid an acceptable behavior because they can’t control his/her own future behavior.

    Not a stab at you, just your argument.

  5. Um, Brandon is being sarcastic, no?

  6. Yes, indeed. Fortunately, both Brandon’s persona and real identity were similarly misunderstanding of the article allowing me some fun in addressing his persona while chiding the reality– The one “being stupid about it”. I understand the title of the article is misleading and could be changed, but a post about convenientariansim beneath an article that has a primary purpose of listing reasons for never eating meat makes little sense and takes away from the benefit this article could potentially have. Acknowledging the sarcasm was as necessary in addressing the underlying point of the comment as the comment was to begin with.

  7. I turn down meat that’s being offered to me even when it means it being thrown away. I would say no harm is done when I would eat this meat but I still won’t do it because i just KNOW people won’t take me seriously anymore as a vegetarian. Even when you explain when harm is done (by actually buying the meat and not eating it when it’s thrown away otherwise) most people just ignore it.

    Most meat eaters don’t want to hear it because they would rather say: “You’re a hypocrite” or “You’re a meat eater just like us” and so on. They want to justify their own meat eating habit in any. This is also something I have seen happen, not just something I think that would happen. So for that I just keep refusing it (it never happened to me though).

    I also live pretty fine without eating meat which is another thing I would want to prove to people: That eating meat isn’t necessary. By eating this meat, that would be thrown away, it becomes a bit weak.

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