When I stopped eating meat, I was passionate about it. I watched documentaries and went out of my way to talk about it. I was thirteen, and it was the first major decision I ever really made for myself, and it felt like a Big Deal.
Five years later, I know that simply avoiding meat is actually not all that complicated. There’s one step: don’t eat meat. I’ve never felt cravings for it, never felt deprived, contrary to what people insist I must feel. It’s opened me up to trying foods I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. (Quinoa, eggplant pizza, hideaway vegan restaurants, and countless other things.) And oddly enough, I don’t have any particular strong feelings about it anymore. I’ve got my explanations down to the bare minimum for the benefit of the gun-toting carnivorous dad crowd. (Middle aged republican men seem to take personal offense to vegetarians, in my experience, like I’m unpatriotic or something. I am unpatriotic, but that’s besides the point.) When somebody makes an illogical joke about my diet, I shoot back something witty, but I don’t take it farther.
Basically, my diet just is. I used to be stricter with it: I didn’t eat gelatin, I tried to minimize my dairy intake. A recent exercise kick prompted me to add the occasional fish into my diet, which I would have scoffed at two years ago. Obviously, my enthusiasm has waned a bit. Which brings up the question, “If I don’t care about this anymore, why even bother?”
So I briefly entertained the idea of eating meat again, but it took me a while to figure out why I was resistant to it. It felt almost sacrilegious, which is an odd thing to experience as someone who also abstains from religion. It was even stranger because abandoning the mighty American cheeseburger is what prompted me to leave Christianity — at some point somebody tried to convince me to eat meat by saying it was “in the Bible” and that combined with some feelings I already had to push me over the edge from “guilty teen agnostic (?)” into “cute teen atheist.”
And let me tell you, a year or so later when I was realizing that I’m queer, being nonreligious really helped in the self-acceptance department. Looking back, I can’t help but look at the decision to take up tofu as the start of a chain reaction, although it’s not like being a vegetarian made me like girls. (But wouldn’t that make for an interesting PETA ad-campaign, as opposed to their usual sexist, hypocritical trash.)
So, I guess the reason I don’t want to give up vegetarianism is a sentimental one. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it would be first in a series of major shifts in my life. At five years and counting, it’s thoroughly embedded into my identity, and more importantly, it was what taught me how to get comfortable standing out. (Even though all the ways that I “stand out” are invisible.) It feels more like an expression of my personal agency, a way to respect myself (and show compassion towards other living things) than anything political. I still have these wishy-washy feelings about not wanting to cause unnecessary harm to other living things, but I don’t know if that alone would keep me veggie forever.
Basically, I’m a vegetarian because it has a lot of sentimental significance to me.
Which is kinda hard to explain the the republican dad crowd, but it seems like just about everything is.