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Vegan Survival Guide

Living Among Meat Eaters

It can be hard living in a world of meat-eaters as a vegetarian or vegan.

It’s clear that our world (the Western world specifically) is designed with meat eating in mind. We don’t have the luxury of going to a restaurant and eating anything off the menu and manufactures slip animal derived products into otherwise vegetarian food with little though for those who don’t eat meat.

On top of this, there are many untrue stereotypes associated with not eating meat; that the food is unappetizing, that vegetarians are unhealthy or overly emotional. Non-meat eaters can feel a great deal of responsibility to constantly challenge these stereotypes and this can lead to aggravation and exhaustion.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of living in a world of meat eaters is the surprising amount of anger with which non meat eaters are greeted. Meat eaters can interrogate vegetarians, try to sabotage them, constantly try to bring them into arguments, and even relay tales of animal cruelty in a bid to show you how very 'unvegetarian' they are. The strength of this reaction can seem strange to vegetarians. Where does all that anger come from and why is it directed at me?

Carol J Adams the author of 'Living Among Meat Eaters' suggests that this anger comes from the moral challenge that every vegetarian inspires in meat eaters. We live in a society where certain animals are loved as family members while others are tortured and killed for meat. This is an unstable dichotomy, which research shows creates an 'inner discomfort' (also known as 'cognitive dissonance').

Meat eaters are aware that their diet inflicts pain and suffering on sentient creatures but they don’t want to think about it. They are used to eating meat, they have grown up with it, they like the taste of it, their family eats it, and they are scared to give it up. Deciding not to eat meat would not just prove that it was cruel all along, but also leave them vulnerable to ridicule. There’s no doubt it’s hard to be different; even harder when the mass media perpetuates negative stereotypes of vegetarians at very step and turn.

Thus meat eaters turn to what Melanie Joy refers to as 'psychic numbing'(essentially a numbing of moral consciousness). Joy states:

“This psychic numbing was expressed through a variety of defense mechanisms. Among the most notable are:

  • denial ("animals don't really suffer when being raised and killed for meat")
  • justification ("it's acceptable to eat certain animals because they're bred for that purpose")
  • avoidance ("don't tell me that; you'll ruin my meal")
  • dichotomization ("I think of some animals as companions and some as food")
  • dissociation ("when I look at meat, I don't connect it with an animal-if I did, I would be disgusted and unable to eat it").”

When a meat eater is then confronted with a vegetarian this 'psychic numbing' is challenged. Adams writes:

“People generally want a self-image that tells them they are good, worthy, moral individuals. We vegetarians, threaten this self image. The vegetarian is experienced as judging the meat eater simply because she is vegetarian. This dynamic actually has nothing to do with the vegetarian in question but everything to do with what she represents – someone who integrated awareness with action. Our acting – becoming vegetarian – provokes defensiveness on the part of the meat eater who has failed to act.” (Adams, 2003; p58-59)

These analogous theories make good sense. After all, the response of the meat eater to someone who doesn’t eat meat because they don’t like the taste generally isn’t as strong as to someone who doesn’t for animal cruelty issues. However, while these theories may explain the cause of the anger, unfortunately it doesn’t make it go away and vegetarians have to develop ways to cope with this anger.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember as a vegetarian is not to take any anger directed towards you personally. The anger in meat eaters isn’t caused by you doing something wrong, quite the opposite in fact; it is not personal so try not to take it as such. Don’t allow others' defensiveness make you feel guilty or become petty.

Secondly, don’t feel like you have to be a representative for vegetarianism. It can be pretty exhausting to always feel like you have to show the world how great vegetarianism is. Don’t feel the need to overcompensate by always have the most delicious lunch at work, always appearing the most active (never looking tired) and always having the wittiest response to criticism. Your vegetarianism is your own personal decision and you don’t have to answer to or represent anyone.

Adam’s states that it is important to “be at peace with your vegetarianism and help others see that you are at peace with you diet” (Adams, 2003; p15). As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean always appearing to be perfect, it just means enjoy your diet and who you are. This is, after all, the best defence against any criticism. One of the best things about being vegetarian is the freedom from guilt; we have the ability to truly enjoy our food without any hang ups. Let this shine through.

Rules to Live By

Adams provides us with the following rules of thumb for living among meat eaters:

  • “Assume your needs will not be met in any meat-eating context –airplanes, foreign countries, private homes, restaurants. Always have a backup plan when eating out.
  • Don’t let any rudeness spoil your experiences. Respond to offensive behaviour courteously, according to the rules of etiquette, and move on
  • You have the right not to answer questions you are asked and to stop a conversation that makes you feel uneasy
  • Don’t talk about vegetarianism at a meal if people are eating meat. Learn the art of deflecting attention.
  • Volunteer to bring something whenever you are invited somewhere.
  • Channel the negative energy into the positive. The constellation of negative emotions associated with blocked meat eaters – denial, guilt, defensiveness – can dissolve in the presence of positive energy. As one vegetarian explains, “I love hearing the word ‘vegetarian’ from the lips of those who are not! They are rehearsing it for the future.
  • Remember that following a vegetarian diet is always an affirmation of wholeness. Bring that sense of wholeness to your interactions with meat eaters.” (Adams, 2003; pp16-17)

Adams admits that by suggesting the above she is asking vegetarians to “exhibit a moral, emotional and spiritual maturity that is quite demanding” and, as we know, nobody’s perfect. But following the guidelines above can make interactions and relationships with meat eaters much more enjoyable and our world a lot easier to live in.

This article originally appeared on the Animal Rights Advocates website. Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (ARA) is a volunteer-run not for profit animal rights organisation based in Perth, Western Australia that campaigns for the abolition of animal exploitation.


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