Whenever I meet a new vegan or vegetarian, I avoid asking them why they made that dietary choice because I know that it will have one of three outcomes: First and foremost, I might put my dining mate on the defensive, as they must reenact the multitude of times a meat eater has tried to interrogate them for their audacity to not wanting the fish.
Second, I might find myself at the mercy of a vegetarian or vegan who is too busy masturbating over being so good for the environment or animal rights or whatever legitimate cause they’ve decided to use in the name of suggesting their moral supremacy over me.
Finally, and most desirably, my dinner date will be open to having a constructive, educated, and open-minded conversation about food industry, ethics, and a whole bunch of other interesting subjects. I’ve found that this is the least likely to occur, unfortunately.
The odds are, if someone asks the “Why are you a v—-?” question, someone is coming out upset on the other end.
It’s not hard to see the ways in which we hold food or the act of eating to be a sacred matter. How and what we eat can be anything from a statement about culture to an indicator of class. The media is constantly telling us we’re eating too much or the wrong way. A lot of the conversation we have about our diets concentrates on what we’re not supposed to eat—carbs, fat, gluten, high fructose corn syrup.
And that’s where the conversation ends, where we end—our waistlines, our cholesterol levels, our blood sugar. If we’re privileged enough to have a steady source of food, we are made to constantly worry about how that food will make us feel and look. This is the weight that we already feel when we ask or are asked the vegan question.
Maybe it’s because our national narrative is so stuck on the diet/obesity/diabetes that we aren’t ready to have the conversation about how problematic our meat consumption is. Because when someone asks for a sandwich without mayo, or to have a side salad instead of fries, we know why they’re doing it. Maybe they’re trying to lose weight. Maybe they are actually just trying to be healthy. But either way, the gesture usually doesn’t warrant the same investigation as the vegan question does.
There are a lot of different diet choices, and just as many reasons for or against any single one. But as long as we remain so removed from where our food comes from, it is going to be something that we need to talk about. I don’t want to be scared of this question anymore, and I shouldn’t have to be. Food is an essential part of most of the daunting problems our nation faces, from healthcare to fossil fuel consumption.
So stop being dicks to your friends and have an open conversation about how fucked up our food system is.
But maybe don’t do it over dinner.