In my early teens, I started reading the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. The books were fun, kind of annoying, but something that had a serious impact on me was the fact that Mia, the series’ protagonist, was an ardent vegetarian.
I was jealous of the character for this. I loved animals more than anything in the world, yet I couldn’t go around virtuously flaunting it, because I ate meat, and the vegetables I could tolerate were limited.
When I was 14, I learned of a solution. I heard a friend refer to it as “selective vegetarianism,” though I realize that’s an inaccurate term. Selective vegetarians chose not to eat any meat from a mammal, she said, but did eat poultry and seafood. It seemed like the perfect compromise; I could have a little piece of the pride and peace of mind of vegetarianism without giving up all the food I loved. It was a significant sacrifice, because I ate ham, bacon, steak and cheeseburgers on a weekly basis at the time, but my beloved animals were worth it.
Then I got married. My husband, like a typical guy, loves his bacon cheeseburgers and steak. At the airport on our honeymoon, I asked for a bite of his burger, deciding I would eat whatever I wanted on my honeymoon. Let’s just say that, upon our return, remembering how it felt to eat what tasted good and with my husband constantly eating it in front of me, it was no longer so easy to stick to the diet I’d faithfully adhered to for eight years. I still tend to order chicken sandwiches instead of burgers or steaks out of habit, and I have vague plans to go back to the diet someday — perhaps after a last hurrah at a Vegas buffet — but for now, it’s just nice to know I can eat what sounds good without fear of being looked down on.
Lately, though, it’s hard to feel like I’m not being looked down on. The omnivore-shaming posters all over campus are enough to make you feel like a terrorist every time you eat a quesadilla, and it’s certainly true that slaughterhouse practices are horrific and inhuman. The worst part is not what people think, but that animals are the love of my life and I feel like I have no right to even say that when I apparently benefit from their suffering. Most vegans and vegetarians I know would never intentionally make me feel like that, yet somehow, ones like the vegan who said he was glad I didn’t date him after all when he saw me with Hawaiian pizza, and the vegetarian who said to me that she didn’t eat meat because “obviously, that’s just wrong,” seem to have more of an impact, whether that’s fair or not.
I will never tell anyone to be quiet about animal rights. What’s done to them on an hourly basis is disgusting and unforgivable. On the other hand, if I couldn’t eat anything with meat or dairy, I honestly don’t know that I would ever eat; the vegan imitations I’ve tried are the most unpleasant things I’ve tasted since I was in Freud’s oral fixation stage. And I don’t know that that makes me a terrible person.
If I could choose for meat to have never been made available to me so I could never have had the chance to become dependent on it as a food source, I’d take that option in a second (just not for seafood). But eating meat in and of itself is not wrong; living things eat other living things. The cruelty in the meat industry is what is wrong, and maybe someday we’ll find a way to regulate them and make more use of private, humane farms. I have nothing but respect for the people fighting for that goal, but please, don’t mistake the rest of us for apathetic monsters. Eating what we like and what’s available to us doesn’t make us barbaric animal-haters any more than shopping at Walmart means you hate laborers and small businesses.