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The Vegetarian Ethos 11/08/10

The value system behind vegetarianism; what does your food say about you?

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When you decide to become a vegetarian, it is predictably going to result in people reacting to you in ways you may not expect. You lose some of your anonymity through the process. By stating your position on food, you are inevitably going to attract attention to yourself, even if it’s only from one or two people.

Anyone who is slightly “non-conformist” (dare I say it, wolves among the sheep) has experienced it. The charmingly enthusiastic reactions, the slightly suspicious ones, the downright opinionated ones, the uneducated guesses or the indifferent shrugs; yes, you will encounter them all, and more to boot. Occasionally their reactions can start to take on a less benign quality. Sometimes, they can become so banal that they hardly warrant your attention, while other reactions can spark lively debate.

The question is, why do people react in the first place?

The answer is that, by stating that you are vegetarian, you are saying something about yourself; unwittingly opening yourself up to categorisation, judgement and occasionally condemnation.

When one explores the principles and value systems that underpin vegetarianism, you end up in muddy waters. Just like all stereotypes, when you are faced with an individual from a group, they show characteristics that both reinforce and/or dispute your preconceived ideas of the group. These individual encounters are also likely to either leave you feeling alienated from the group, or more inclined to identify with their ideals.

When I started writing for Veggie Buntch, I did not consider that I would be taking blows from other vegetarians. It only took one opinion piece to change my mind about that. But, like all good optimists, I decided that it warranted a positive outlook. So I decided to write about it because I am genuinely interested in what the commentators had to say. More so, I am interested in what the comments had to say about the people who wrote them.

After the comments received I started to feel alienated from the vegetarian community. Not because I cannot justify my own actions, but because I, naively, had my own ideas about vegetarians. After receiving the comments, I was forced to reassess all that I thought I knew.

No matter their reasoning for being one in the first place, I have always equated vegetarians with the ability for caring which goes beyond the norm, doing something which is not expected of them, or even asked of them. Up against a really, really big meat-eating majority, I believed “united we could stand”. Like the hippies of the ’60s, I also consider vegetarians to be enlightened, selfless and compassionate. They may even be an example of a group who are able to be truly altruistic; a very controversial statement I am sure. That is not to say that people who eat meat cannot show the same qualities, but I believe that vegetarians may have a different quality, an ethos, which separates them from other groups.

I am not trying to be self-righteous, or believe that we are better than other people; I would just like to explore the beliefs that make us different. Quite obviously, on the surface, we care about animals, but I would like to know from you, the readers, whether this argument can be taken further. I would like to know what you consider to be the vegetarian ethos.

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2 Responses to this article

Andrew November 9, 2010 Reply

It is impossible to live (especially in a Western society) without using products or information where the suffering or death of an animal or animals was/were involved. Our very life-style, the cars we drive, buildings we occupy, products we consume all have helped impact the environment in a negative way. We should do our best, and attempt to engage with people, and lead by example, rather than judge them.

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editor November 18, 2010 Reply

I have been meaning to respond for some time.

I grew up surrounded by vegetarian families and essentially a vegetarian world. While I think that in general, people who have chosen to follow vegetarian lifestyles tend to be slightly more aware of the world around them, it certainly does not make you a better person.

In addition, there are so many different reasons for becoming a vegetarian.

I don’t think that all vegetarians are necessarily animal lovers. Neither are all vegetarians active recyclers and eco-conscious. Neither are all vegetarians particularly health conscious or thrifty.

I have met terribly unhealthy vegetarians, terribly rich and consumerism driven vegetarians. Vegetarians who defraud, are judgmental, who lack compassion and who are just generally not very nice people.

While I think that there is something appealing about the idea that by subscribing to a belief or cause, you are going to find like-minded people committed to the same big ideal, the reality is far more disappointing.

And so, I don’t think that there is a single vegetarian ethos that binds this group together. There may be some vegetarians who you naturally relate to due to common interests, but on the whole, you’re unfortunately probably going to be let down by discovering that, like anywhere else, people are often not what they appear.

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