“Oh, you’re a vegetarian? That’s cool. Why did you decide to become vegetarian?”
“Oh, you’re a vegetarian? I didn’t know that. Are you sure you don’t want a slice of pepperoni pizza?”
One of these responses is appropriate to finding out a friend chooses not to include meat in their diet. The other is definitely not.
There are over 7 million vegetarians in the United States, and that trend has been steadily increasing over the past decade. The chances are that if you don’t already know someone who chooses not to eat meat, you will encounter a person with this perspective in the near future. Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice where someone decides not to eat meat for any number of personal reasons.
People decide not to eat meat the same way I choose not to eat tomatoes, although I have never received any haughty or intrusive comments on my aversion to certain vegetables. (Everyone’s picky about something, right?) In the same way, it’s important to show some respect to the veggie lovers out there. If you do come across someone who has made this decision, it is perfectly acceptable to inquire about their decision to maintain a meatless diet.
According to my vegetarian friends and co-workers, they receive some inconsiderate comments on their personal lives when people learn about their diet. In order to prevent any discomfort for you and your vegetarian friends or family, here are some common responses to vegetarianism that you should avoid:
1. “But don’t you feel weak? Aren’t you iron deficient?”
Any comment on the nutrients they are missing out on by not eating meat is not okay. Unless you are a certified nutritionist, I highly advise not launching into any description of how necessary protein and iron are. The decision to become a vegetarian is a serious switch, so there is a pretty high chance that your veggie-loving friend has already done their research on their dietary needs. Acting like their mom or doctor and checking up on their personal health could be a tad offensive or uncomfortable in certain settings. Switch to asking about some of their favorite veggie recipes or supplements instead!
2. “Every vegetarian I have met has ended up eating meat.”
Well…that’s…nice… People change! That’s no reason to discourage someone who has made such a huge commitment. It can be difficult to sustain a meatless diet when transitioning to new jobs or environments, or if there are other health issues involved. And that’s ok! Always do what is best for your own body–but don’t assume it happens to everyone or put down people who can’t keep the commitment. Also, try to be supportive of people who are making the effort to make a lifestyle change. Instead of bringing up negative topics, ask about their motivation for the diet, or how long they have been “meatless.”
3. “Come on, just one bite!”
Seriously, why do people do this? Especially in a culture which preaches “No means no” in any other circumstance. Surprise! You’re not going to change their mind on the spot, and it is a little bit rude to try, even if you are trying to be polite by offering them a sample of your world-famous cocktail weenies.
4. “Even if you don’t eat meat, it won’t make any difference.”
Slow your roll. Here are the facts: The meat industry produces 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If everyone living in the United States substituted meat for one vegetarian meal every week, the carbon dioxide savings would be equal to the effects of taking half a million cars off U.S. roads. Statistics demonstrates an increase in people following vegetarian diets and more restaurants introducing vegetarian-friendly menu items, which in itself is helping out the environment. And as Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” Even if the change is as small-scale as switching up your diet to raise awareness of the issues around you. Try talking instead about new veggie-friendly eateries in your town. Who knows, you might find your next favorite restaurant.
And for all the vegetarians… How to handle when someone comes at you about your diet: Since vegetarianism seems extreme to some people, not everyone is going to be understanding of your decision. Don’t take it personally or doubt yourself. The best way to handle these situations is calmly and patiently. On your own, think of a go-to explanation to help others understand why you eat (or don’t eat) what you do. Make sure you think of thorough and factual summaries of your reasons as well. Then, if you are ever caught off-guard or caught up in a conversation about your diet, you can help others to better understand your point of view without feeling uncomfortable or unprepared.
Image Courtesy of Kelly Marcelo