Over at Salon, David Sirota has a good post on how vegetarians should talk to meat-eaters. Full disclosure: I’m not a vegetarian. I was a vegetarian for Lent, for the most part, having meat only once a day on Sundays and having fish occasionally simply because I needed to do something, while I was learning how to do this new thing I’d never done before. While I’m not strictly vegetarian now that Lent is over, I have significantly cut back on the amount of meat I eat, sometimes going for a few days without eating any. I’m working at it, practicing it, one day maybe I’ll get there.
It’s been a challenge. I actually don’t tend to like a lot of vegetables unless they’re prepared just so. I cannot stand raw or only slightly cooked onions, no matter how small. They need to be sauteed forever or stewed to mushy oblivion before I can eat them without retching. Same goes for peppers. I don’t particularly like cucumbers, eggplant, or squash, and have only recently developed a fondness for tomatoes — but they have to be good tomatoes. This makes restaurant vegetarianism very difficult, as the chances that a vegetarian option will contain something that my tastebuds literally cannot stand either on the basis of taste or texture is very high. It has its positive points, too — having to plan my next few meals well in advance and take time to prepare food myself cuts my food budget considerably, and builds a level of intentionality into my consumption that helps me take care of myself better than if I was just inhaling hot pockets.
But to go back to my point, I think David Sirota misses something very important about the psychological state of a meat-eater. He describes the aggression that sometimes arises in conversation with meat-eaters quite well. I know he does a good job, because I have been that carnivore before.
There was a time when even being around vegetarians got me a bit aggressive, a bit willing to spar over it, a bit more willing to even flaunt my meat-eating and dare them to say something. While I wouldn’t say I was ever as gung-ho about it as the carnivores Sirota describes, that’s still how I felt.
Why was I this way? Quite simply, because I judged myself for eating meat. I knew I was doing it for no reason other than personal gratification, to the detriment of the world, and I projected all my self-judgment on them. My aggression wasn’t really aggression — it was defensiveness. It was classic projection.