Close Menu

steak-house

Why I am no longer a Vegetarian

I remember the first time I decided to be a vegetarian; I was about ten years old.  I had read some book in the library and from that moment eating meat was absolutely and intrinsically wrong.  My Mum (bless her) went along with it and let buy all the tofu I wanted.  My first stint into animal activism failed thanks to a burger king cheese burger and a boy I had a crush on, end of story.  The second time was when I was twenty years old, eating bacon and thinking about how smart pigs were. Why would I eat an animal that was so intelligent?  From that moment I was vegetarian once more.

vegetarian-healthy-eating-tips

After living in Japan for a while I had lost the “strictness” that I had before with my vegetarian diet. At a work party I knew that it would be better to eat what is in front of me rather than waste it.  Japan has a culture of “mottainai” which means you shouldn’t waste things, especially food. So, if I ordered something accidentally that had meat I wouldn’t complain, I just ate it even though I knew I was ethically in the wrong.  I knew vegetarians and vegans in Japan who managed to follow their diet properly, why couldn’t I?

 

Slowly, my thinking began to change.

 

I began to feel that imposing your diet on other people at social events or in people’s houses was quite rude, this was totally the opposite of what I thought when I was in NZ. When ordering at a restaurant and discovering your dish had meat in it then refusing to eat was ridiculously wasteful in my eyes, even though I had done this in NZ as well.

 

The final straw was when I started weight lifting seriously. For weeks and weeks I kept craving steak, beef, chicken; my hunger and dissatisfaction with my current diet lead me to break down one evening and buy mince.  I cooked it by standing as far away from the fry pan as possible, wrinkling my nose in disgust.  After finishing my meal I finally felt … full.  Completely and totally satiated. My morals were screaming at me to stay away from the flesh but my stomach was telling me otherwise.

 

So, I joined the carnivores.

 

My dissatisfaction with my vegetarian diet didn’t start with weight training, it had been slowly building over time.

 

At first, I began to wonder why the majority of people who I knew that were vegetarian and vegan came from privileged backgrounds (me included). We didn’t know what hunger, real hunger felt or looked like.  The majority of us had plenty of choice about what we ate.  The difference was pretty apparent when I changed from a high school in a poorer area to one in the capital city. Plenty of students at my new school were vegetarian which surprised me quite a bit as I think I had only known one vegetarian at my previous school.

 

People sometimes joke that vegetarian and veganism is white people’s thing, I think they might be half right.  It’s a privileged person’s game.

tumblr_nwwwe3Kerc1uqcp0xo1_1280

Young, Pakeha (white) and full of social-justice-warrior zest, I poured that energy into animal rights. I volunteered at a shelter, at an op-shop, I would argue with people about why it was wrong to eat meat, I even happily lived in a vegetarian flat. However, I don’t remember thinking very much about the people in my city; the poor, the homeless, the refugees, there were plenty of human problems that were happening right under my nose but I chose not to notice.

 

In retrospect, I was, in a way, disconnected from my own community.

 

The ability chose what issues to focus on and what to ignore is something that I believe is connected to being part of the dominant group.

 

The dominant group of any culture doesn’t have to work hard to defend itself; in the case of Pakeha (white) people don’t have to worry so much about discrimination or being racially profiled.  You add that to a stable, middle to upper-class upbringing and you’ve got a world open with choice and opportunity.  I chose animal rights because it gave me a chance to stand up for something I believe in.

 

The ability to choose makes all the difference.  Many people don’t choose their fight, the fight comes to them.

 

The privilege that many vegetarians and vegans have is unknown to them; it was to me at least.  It unfurled itself in the religiously dogmatic way that I would behave around food. Meat was “bad” and if I ate it I was somehow tarnished. I would throw away food when I realized it had meat in it, preferring to waste it than to eat it.

 

I would lecture people around me about not eating meat; every dinner time was an opportunity to bring up factory farming.  In my mind when I did this I believed that I was doing the right thing and trying to make people think more about these issues.  Only someone with as much privilege as me could think it was perfectly alright that my beliefs were the most important, even if it meant being an asshole.

 

If someone belongs to a minority group the repercussions for speaking up about their cause could be incredibly dangerous.  But many (not all) vegetarians and vegans belong to the dominant group in some way, so they have nothing to fear.  They are used to being heard and they are used to feeling important (or at least included) so they speak up as often as they can.

slave-auction

This leads to issues when animal rights groups completely forget that other ethnicities  are still fighting for their human rights, or the history that exists between white people and other minorities.  Take for example using the words “genocide” or “slavery” to talk about factory farming. It gives the impression that animal rights are more important than human rights and it’s even more offensive because the people using these words probably have never experienced slavery or genocide.

 

All of this un-checked privilege can lead to vegans and vegetarians seeing things through blinders.  We don’t see how much of a luxury it is to choose what you want to fight for, and when we sometimes ignore the people who don’t have that choice.

 

Choosing what you eat is also something that not everybody in NZ gets to do either.

 

When John Key rejected the “Feed the Kids” bill I felt like there was this massive gap in thinking. Vegetarians and vegans (such as myself) were promoting a cruelty free diet when there were also kids who did not have enough to eat.

 

This is something I couldn’t really grasp.

 

The inflexibility of the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle doesn’t really work with poor people, period. You’re not going to throw away that bit of meat because it’s an abomination to eat animal flesh.   There’s this gap in thinking about what is important and I feel like at the core it’s a class issue.

 

The ability to choose is a precious thing; we can choose to buy environmentally friendly toilet paper, or cage-free eggs.  We can also choose to see how wealth and poverty makes our choices very different, especially about what we eat.

 

Because of my experiences overseas, my weight training, and my greater understanding of class and privilege I really feel that vegetarianism and veganism isn’t for me, maybe that makes me a bad person.  I’m ok with that, because I know that people are nuanced and the world is complex. Vegetarianism and veganism doesn’t let me see the world in terms of grey, it can only see in black and white. It doesn’t take into account class and privilege that runs through our society, influencing everyone and everything.

 

I hope that what I have written will make my vegetarian and vegan friends think a little more deeply about the animal rights movement.

 

Your thoughts and angry messages are always appreciated.

Pinterest Share Goggle+ Share

2 comments

  1. Mister Meaty Pie says:

    I feel you you’re in a culture which celebrates hurting animals https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Kobe_beef
    Kobe beef is one fucked up example of this magnificent culture.
    or maybe you should embrace japanese culture and go kill some whales?

    there’s no shame in giving into peer pressure really.
    I commend you on your BRAVERY in telling those awful vegetarians and vegans what is up.

    maybe if you need protein there’s an abundance of soya and maybe you can portion yourself to a meat meal every now and then I admit being veggie isn’t easy option but if you really wanted to you would be.
    maybe I’m being mean
    nobody ever forced you to choose anything , your own morals are your own morals, you must be struggling with this if you decided to make a blog post about it, there’s nothing worse than vegetarian shaming you do what you gotta do I mean it’s your life if you want to eat meat eat meat just be conscious of the environmental impact of that decision.
    your ‘white people’ meme though is a really weird choice if you want people to take your writing seriously, this concept of white people is such a bogus idea, really there’s lots of different white people of varying beliefs many of which have the same meaty culture the Japanese seem to
    correct me if I’m wrong but I feel like ‘white people’ is a weird shorthand for upperclass North Americans more than anything maybe?

    anyway rambling, I reckon you’ve had plenty of comments on this blog post already without my muddled thoughts.

    All the best!

    much love

    Captain Broccoli Yoghurt

    1. T says:

      I think I used the word Pakeha not white people because I was talking about my experiences in New Zealand in Wellington. Comments like this make me think I should have written about the cult-like nature of the movement rather than classism. Funny how you didn’t really talk about that either, just how you think the term “white people” is bogus term, or how Japanese culture is all about killing whales. Cool story bro.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*