Welcome to Vegetarianism!
Vegetarianism is one of the most popular and fast-growing dietary systems. People become vegetarians for many reasons, but the most common reasons include support for animal rights, belief that vegetarianism is a "greener" choice, worries about the sustainability of the global food supply, and desire for greater personal health.
Whatever your reasons, if you are considering becoming a vegetarian, you may have noticed that not everyone is supportive as you’d like. Responses range from mild confusion to outright hostility. Here’s some info about why people sometimes react badly to vegetarians, as well as how to avoid and deal with the social problems vegetarians sometimes face.
Why People Sometimes React Badly to Vegetarians
There seem to be four main reasons people sometimes react badly to vegetarians. The first (and often hardest to deal with) is religious belief. Though very few world religions require meat consumption, and meat eating is optional in the three great monotheistic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), you are still likely to hear "God wants us to eat meat."
Second, there are cultural concerns. Food is closely tied to culture, and some people feel that by rejecting traditional meat-based foods, you’re rejecting your heritage.
Third, some people (especially family members) are misinformed about human nutritional requirements, and are concerned that becoming a vegetarian will make you sick.
Lastly, some people are simply insecure, and react defensively to anyone who does things differently than they do.
The Vegetarian’s Responsiblity for the Reactions of Others
Because new vegetarians are facing a complex mix of religion, culture, mistaken health information, and the insecurities of others, they may be tempted to blame the world at large for the lack of support they experience. However, sometimes the zealous neophyte is to blame. It’s hard to react well to a person who goes around telling everyone she sees "I’m becoming a vegetarian and here’s why". New vegetarians are so committed to their causes, they can easily slip into superiority or self-righteousness.
No matter how committed you may be, it pays to remember that commitment to one virtue, such as compassion or ecology, is not an excuse to abandon other virtues, such as politeness and respect for the choices of others. After all, you don’t like to be lectured over dinner, so follow the Golden Rule, and don’t lecture others.
Dealing with Problems by Educating Yourself
Many people choose to avoid mentioning their vegetarianism, because nobody can criticize for what they don’t know about. In fact, Miss Manners herself recommends avoiding the topic of what foods one customarily eats and why (Martin, 2008).
If you do choose to talk about your vegetarianism, make sure to educate yourself and have (polite) answers ready for the objections that you tend to hear the most frequently. If you hear religious objections most often, speak to a vegetarian-friendly spiritual leader, or join an online community for vegetarians of your faith. This will help you learn how the teachings of your religion can support vegetarianism.
For cultural objections, such as "you are going to ruin thanksgiving!", you can offer to support culture in other ways, such as creating turkey-shaped place cards or making a great vegetarian stuffing. If you get nutritional objections, do your homework, and know some quick facts, such as the official position of the American Dietetic Association:
"Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." (American Dietetic Association, 2009).
Lastly, take care to assure others that you do not judge them for their choices. Say something like "what you eat is your business, and I just wanted you to know why I’m not eating the bacon, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life."
American Dietetic Association. (2009, July). Vegetarian Diets. Retrieved 8 May, 2010 from the Eatright.org website: https://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8357
Martin, J. (1998). Miss Manners’ Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. New York, NY: Crown Publishers Inc.