A note on being a shitty vegetarian

Taking on a new diet that comes along with a morality that inherently seems to shame others into being hostile towards you is strange. You go to every family gathering, set your timer to fifteen minutes, and as that alarm rings in your pocket, undoubtedly a gran or uncle will chime in also: ‘Are you still not eating meat?’ or, ‘You’re not still veggie are you?’ Yep, still veggie, you reply. ‘As long as you’re not one of those vegans, they’re unbearable.’ a mantra announced every time without a lick of irony. I’ve never once sat down for a family meal as a vegetarian without my dietary choices being called into question, and then argued against, by my meat-eating relatives. The only excuse I’ve ever used for being vegetarian that has ever really worked consistently is, ‘I’m just doing it so that I can act like I’m better than everyone else.’ This often seems to satisfy the bias with which the initial question was delivered, but realistically it’s a self-deprecating plea to just be left alone. Let me eat my nut roast in peace (especially as it’s undoubtedly tastier than that dry, under-seasoned waste of meat you’re currently having to douse in gravy just to be able to choke it down).

Its a strange pressure to be burdened with. It might seem on the outside as something self-imposed, but really it’s a conclusion we either came to emotionally, intellectually, or a bit of both. Either way, it’s never meant as a form of masochistic self-chastisement,but simply something we feel we need to do, and yet you can often find yourself at the front line of a battle you never signed up for. We just saw a video online of animals getting killed and it made us sad, or read about the effects of the cattle industry on the environment and decided to make a change, we didn’t come to argue with you about the overwhelming guilt/empathy we feel that made us change some of the things we eat (although it does make a really delightful appetiser for the inevitable political debate main course).

But what happens if we “slip up”? The meat eaters lurk in the shadows, waiting to see us drunkenly inhale a double cheeseburger in the back of a cab at 4am, or, in a whirlwind of self-hatred, break your 3 years of vegetarianism to go to the local supermarket on your half-hour break from your minimum wage job to buy half a rotisserie chicken and burn your fingers as you hurriedly stuff the depressingly bland and unsatisfying poultry into your miserable gob as your bow your head and your eyes dart around frantically watching out for anyone who might recognise you during your act of betrayal… It’s a strange societal pressure that comes with this choice. It’s akin to recycling, and yet if you fail to recycle something that is recyclable, the people who don’t recycle won’t jump out of the bin, empty Ribena carton in hand, screeching with delight as they point out your flagrant hypocrisy. And yet, being a wavering vegetarian can come with the feeling that people are waiting for you to “fail” in order to pick you up on it. It’s an act that every vegetarian has either considered or done, and every time we think of breaking this dietary morality, we feel a swell a guilt, but also of fear. What if I get caught in this shameful act? They’ll delight in my failure. The problem with this is that it can play into struggles you may currently be going through – depression, anxiety, stress – and add to the self- destructive narrative of failure that your wounded psyche has decided to build up. With pressures you have put on yourself, as well as the added pressures from ignorant friends or family members, it can be easy to be made to feel like you have “failed” at something. One slip up and that’s it, you’re out of the club, you’ve betrayed your supposed morality. Except, that isn’t the case at all. Everyone has slipped up at some point, in everything, that doesn’t mean you should give up.Breaking your vegetarianism for one meal is like coughing during a presentation, it might not have been intended, but it doesn’t mean you have completely fucked up your presentation and need to run from the stage like Napolean Dynamite. Just keep going, it isn’t the end of the world and we’ve all been there.

Your own health, both physically and mentally, should take priority. So if at any time you feel like you are struggling to maintain vegetarianism or veganism, it’s okay to eat what works for you at that moment, that week or month. The point is that you have a belief, and you intend to work towards that belief in order to have a net positive impact. It’s just all about trying to do better, so don’t let the self-satisfied carnivores, or the righteous Instagram herbivores make you feel less-than, you’re doing more than most, and that’s got to count for something, right?

by Teddy Unstead

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