On Being Vegetarian

I’d much rather look at a bird, and think, “Look, there goes a bird” than “Look, there goes our dinner”.

food, or animal?

I had been more or less vegetarian for the past four years or so (abstaining from meat, but not dairy). When I tell people I am vegetarian, they almost always ask if it’s due to religion (almost invariably that of Buddhism). When I tell them that I’m catholic (at least that’s what my legal documents say), and that my being vegetarian has nothing to do with my religion, their first reaction is that of surprise, followed quickly by traces of admiration.

As for people who know me long enough though — when the novelty of having a vegetarian acquaintance has worn off — that admiration turns to an indifference at best, and annoyance at worst: common foods that we all can enjoy are hard to find.

My vegetarianism however, is far from strict. I still take dishes where meat is present; for example, I take chicken soup, though not the chicken. When meat is present in a dish, I simply take it out, and eat what’s left. When I explain this to people I meet, they often remark, “oh, so you’re not a true vegetarian then”.

As a side note, the “they” I mentioned earlier refer almost entirely to peers around my age. Those older than me are more of, “ah, okay, so you can take [meat] then”.

In Taiwan, I ate Chicken

I would first like to declare that I ate chicken during my trip to Taiwan. Next, I would like to declare that I enjoyed it. My eating chicken created quite a hooha among my bunk mates — they’ve never let me off since.

But the fuss it kicked up was quite unlike what I had expected. It’s difficult for me to imagine how hard it is to accept that a “vegetarian” is suddenly eating meat. From my perspective, it seemed to natural that I couldn’t quite care less what I had eaten. To others however, it was quite a big deal.

Comments like “you sinner!” or “how could you?!” were commonplace the following days, and though mostly said in jest, they annoyed me somewhat. Just because I abstained from meat for a few years or so, does it make me any less of a person that I eat meat now? They may not have meant it like that, but it sure felt like that.

Of course, after a while, I got used to the jibing, and their remarks were starting to get on my nerves not because I felt them true, but because they were so repetitive it felt like I was watching re-runs of Sesame Street.

Who am I?

I guess I should have had seen it coming when I decided to take on the identity of “vegetarian”. I actually do not quite see myself as vegetarian, but more of “a person who strongly prefers to have a vegetarian diet”.

The thing is, the term “vegetarian” is shorter and thus easier to introduce myself by, and that the latter description is not only long, but ambiguous. Hosts and hostesses might be left pondering my diet, and having to make wild guesses on the meat-eater to vegan spectrum.

It is time, I think, that I dropped “vegetarian” when describing myself; the term “vegetable-lover” might be better suited to my cause.

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