Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I am a vegetarian. My parents have been vegetarians since before I was born, so I my brother and I were raised vegetarian. My parents told my brother and I that if we want to eat meat it’s totally our choice, and while he is experimenting I don't care to. I have never eaten meat in my life, and as I am healthy I just don't really care to start now, but that's not the problem. The problem is nearly ever carnivore that I have ever met. Everyone whom I have mentioned my vegetarianism to responds in one of four ways:
1. Being insulted and feeling the need to defend themselves to me. ”I like meat and it's super healthy for you! Do you have a problem with that!” Which is confusing because my parents made a point in teaching me when I was little to not judge or lecture anyone over something as stupid as dietary choices, and I never have.
2. Insulting and lecturing me. “Did you know tofu is really bad for you?” “Humans are supposed to eat meat, that's why we have canine teeth!” “ Veggie burgers are gross!” Even when the stupidest, most untrue crap comes out of their mouths I try to be quiet, but really? Tofu is bad for you? If that were true all of Asia would have died out centuries ago!
3.”How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried?” Well I have never read Mein Kampf either but I know I disagree with Hitler's politics!
4.”BACOOOOOOOOON!!!” Yeah, yeah, I know.
Contrary to the hipster vegetarian stereotype, I DO NOT CARE if you eat meat. I never judge, lecture, inconvenience, or even notice when someone eats meat. I just wish people would extend the same courtesies to me, but even my closest friends can't seem to do that! I am going to college in the Fall and I need a way to stick up for my beliefs, or ya know, at least a clever way to get people to shut up. Any ideas?
Just one, Sparkler—and I'm afraid you're not going to love it. Because based on your letter, it appears that one of two things is happening here. Either:
a) You're unluckily surrounded by zealous—obnoxious, jerkfaced carnivores with weirdo hair-trigger defenses about their eating habits, or
b) Something about your behavior, even if it's a completely unconscious and unintentional something, is making people feel that they're being judged.
Which is where things get tricky. Because on one hand, it's entirely possible that you just happen to live in a community made up exclusively of Total Jerk Carnivores who are made breathtakingly insecure by the mere existence of a person whose diet is different from theirs. But on the other hand... well, maybe it's just the frustration talking, but you did just bring up Hitler as a point of comparison.
Which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, it's a little bit of both.
So, rather than seeking a clever way to put people in their place, here's my advice: get a trusted friend to give your attitude an honest once-over—i.e. "It seems like people get really defensive when they find out I don't eat meat, and I don't understand why. Am I doing something that comes off as judgey when I mention being a vegetarian?"
And then, listen with an open mind to whatever that person says. Maybe you're unconsciously making a face or using a tone that gets people's hackles up, or maybe they're sensing your own defensiveness and responding in kind. Or hey, maybe they're just awful, and it isn't about you at all! But you owe it to yourself to make sure, especially when you're getting blowback from everyone, including your closest friends—because that suggests that there's something happening on your end to exacerbate the situation (even if it's just that you need to stop making Nazi references in conversations about your respective diets.)
But once you've done that, and confirmed that you're not unknowingly giving stink-eye at every mention of meat, you can head off to college with the confidence that if anyone gets prickly about your vegetarianism, it's definitely all about them (along with the comfort of knowing that the older you get, the less anyone gives a tiny damn about what you eat and why). And if it comes up? Use the opportunity to keep the peace and avoid provocation—by telling whoever it is that despite all the pernicious stereotypes about vegetarians, you're completely uninterested in debating the superiority of bean curd versus bacon.
And then steer the conversation toward a more interesting topic. Like cat dancing, or butts.
Are you a villainized vegetarian? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.