Saturday, December 5, 2009

Understanding Vegetarianism and Veganism

"Okay, so we'll get a Supreme Pizza for everyone to share... and you can pick all of the meat off."

"Why won't you eat marshmallows?"

"Do you eat fish? Can you wear leather and fur? What about plants, aren't you concerned about them? If you were on a deserted island, and there was nothing there but you and a cow, what would you eat?"

If you aren't a vegetarian or a vegan yourself, chances are you don't understand why gelatin is a big fat no or why 'eating around the meat' isn't the solution. A little over a year ago, I went vegetarian and found myself answering all kinds of questions that every veggie lover is bound to hear. Even after all of thse questions are answered, there are still so many more than reamin unasked. Vegetarianism is a strange and fascinating world to anyone who munches on burgers on a regular basis--of course there are questions! I'm sure frustrated vegheads and meat lovers agree that it's time to get to the bottom of this confusion.

Vegetarian versus Vegan

The first step to understanding vegetarianism and veganism is knowing what the heck those words mean! Luckily, it's easy enough to remember.

Vegetarians won't eat any part of a dead animal--no meat, poultry or fish (chicken and fish are both animals, people!) or ingredients like gelatin (which is made out of crushed up animal bones) are consumed. These vegetarians are called lacto-ovo vegetarians.

Some vegetarians don't consume dairy products but eat eggs (ovo-vegetarians), and some eat eggs but not dairy products (lacto-vegetarians). Vegetarianism is often considered to be a way to convert to veganism.

Vegans won't eat dead animals or anything that comes from an animal (eggs, honey, and dairy products). Vegans also avoid animal products in their cosmetics, clothing, and other household products and don't use products that are tested on animals. There are also many vegetarians who avoid products like leather in their lifestyle.

Why can't you just take the meat out/eat around it/eat something that touched meat/etc.?

This is one of the things that isn't a 'rule' of vegetarianism or veganism. Everything is crystal clear: no leather, no meat, no dairy. While eating a fry that just touched a big steak on a plate or taking the pepperoni off of a pizza is technically not eating meat, many vegetarians have problems with this. I can't tell you everyone's opinion on this, because it varies from not caring at all to requesting using a different fryer for their food at a resaturant, but for me it is a matter of annoyance and discomfort.

When I'm at a restaurant, I want to be able to enjoy my food just like everyone else. I don't want to have to share a meaty meal with you and and have to make sure every bit off meat is off of my share. When I was first thinking about becoming a vegetarian, my family ordered a supreme pizza, and since I was determined to not eat any meat that day, I made sure I took every bit of sausage was off of my plate. It worked for the moment when I wasn't an official vegetarian, but it's not something I am willing to do now. It's a pain. So, no, I'm not going to order a chicken salad and eat around it (because that would be defeating the purpose of being a vegetarian, first of all), I'm going to request it without chicken. I'm not going to share your beefy nachos with you, either--I can get my own animal-free food that I don't have to pick at for an hour and a half.

My problem with meat touching food is that it's uncomfortable. I'm not going to freak out if it happens at a restaurant (some things you can't help, and ordering a vegetarian meal is still saving an animal whether it touches meat or not), but if I'm at my house, I'm going to use a different spoon to get my bowl of vegetarian chili. It's just weird for me; if there was a food you didn't like or didn't want to eat, you wouldn't want it touching your food either. Like I said earlier, people's opinions vary on this subject, but if you kindly ask for an explanation I'm sure they'd be more than happy to answer.

Sneaky Ingredients

There are many foods that are 'vegetarian'--that is, they contain no meat--but use ingredients like gelatin, chicken stock, or rennet. I hate to break it to you, but these foods are not vegetarian (or vegan). Gelatin is made out of crushed up animal bones and tendons, rennet is taken from cows' stomachs, and chicken stock is made out of dead chickens. These ingredients are all taken from animals and are not vegetarian. Nobody is trying to hurt your feelings if they refuse to roast a marshmallow (gleatin) or eat vegetable soup you made with chicken stock. Vegans also hav little ingredients they have to avoid. Vegans avoid any animal product in their diet. For example, any snack containing honey or whey is off limits. It may seem minor to you, but these ingredients are not part of the vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. It's not so we can be rude or act like we're better than you--we just want to make sure no animals or animal products are consumed.

Hypothetical Questions and The Plant Issue

For the love of all that is holy, do not ask a vegan or a vegetarian if they would eat a burger for a million dollars, if they would eat a cow if they were on a deserted island, or if they would be okay if everyone became a cannibal, thus making animals and people equal (I HAVE been asked that before, and it does not make any sense whatsoever). It's annoying, and demanding answers for hypothetical questions is not proving anything about vegetarianism or eating meat.

No, I would NOT eat a burger for a million dollars. First of all, that would never happen. Secondly, it's against my beliefs. I went vegetarian for ethica reasons. I believe the way animals are treated before they reach someone's plate is terrible, and I wouldn't eat that bruger, nor would I do anything else against my beleifs for a million dollars. Would you murder a person for a million dollars?

I didn't think so.

As for the deserted island thing?

When asked what he would do if stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a cow in sight; "I would find out what the cow was eating and join him."

(If anyone knows who said this, PLEASE let me know! I can't find it anywhere.)

There you go.

Don't you miss meat and dairy?

The only person who has ever asked me this was my father, and he said it very carefully. "I'm not saying this to be mean, it's an actual question that I've been you ever miss eating a cheeseburger or anything?"

He's the only one who has ever asked me this, but I feel like this is the question everyone wants to know.

Here is my answer: No. I don't.

I don't miss cheeseburgers or chicken wings or bacon because I don't want them anymore. After I learned about the horrors of factory farming (which is the main reason I went vegetarian and may go vegan in the future), eating meat made me uncomfortable. You can't miss what you don't want anymore.

Vegetarianism and veganism may still seem like an overwhelming and confusing world to any omnivore--and it was for any vegetarian at one point, too. With an open mind and kind, positive attitudes (from both vegetarians and meat eaters), vegetarians might not seem like the infuriating, annoying hippies you thought they all were. =)

1 comment:

  1. i could seriously write an entire book refuting arguments that people constantly throw at me about why me being a vegetarian is stupid/pointless. maybe someday i will.

    nice blog, by the way :)