Recently, I have found myself thinking about the coexistence of vegetarians and omnivores in our society and how problems can arise from this in individual cases. Let me begin with the reaction vegetarians and vegans get from their friends upon telling them that they don’t eat meat. Some people respond that it’s quite healthy and maybe that they have thought about going vegetarian too. Others might look up to you for obviously caring about animals, but declare that they could not do the same. While the latter reaction may very well challenge one vegan or another to start a more or less furious debate about how they very well could do that, it’s still one of the better reactions.
But then, there are these slightly more annoying reactions when people start almost stereotypical conversations on vegetarianism, frequently including the famous thought experiment of you suddenly being alone on some island where killing animals is the only survival option. It’s often accompanied with unprompted self-defense along the lines of ‘but it tastes so good’ and ‘how could you give that up’ or even worse an unqualified ‘that can’t be healthy!’
After one presentation I gave about veganism at school, presenting ethical, environmental and health reasons to consider a vegetarian/vegan diet, an audience member even told me that he feels like I was declaring omnivores bad people. But I did no such thing. I simply talked about the reasons why I think eating meat is not a good choice which caused him to express self-defensive behavior. While this may be understandable from a psychological perspective, I think such reactions should be reduced. We’re tired of the stranded-on-an-island scenario and we might not want to hear that you find meat absolutely tasty and impossible to give up over and over again.
Now let’s change perspective. It is note rare that vegetarians and vegans mumble something about animal corpses when there’s someone sitting at the same table eating a huge steak. This might be annoying on a long-term basis, but as long as it’s more of a joke and if no lecture on the ethical reasons to seriously consider a vegetarian diet follows – all while the other person keeps eating the steak – no harm is done.
I understand that some vegetarians tend to have the wish to talk to omnivores about eating meat and why they think it’s bad. After all it’s an important part of their lives and they have spent quite some time looking into reasons not to eat animals. But these conversations should only happen if the hopefully-soon-to-be-a-vegan in front of you agrees to have this conversation. Furthermore it should not be repeated over and over again without making any progress. I suggest that the more extreme vegetarians/vegans become aware of the fact that we will always – at least in the foreseeable future – live together with omnivores and interact with them all the time. It is therefore not a good idea to vigorously shout at strangers who dare to eat meat in public transport.
To sum up, we can identify negative, unhealthy reactions coming from both sides. Talking about stranded islands and entering a state of self-defense is about as bad as unaskedly lecturing people on veganism when everybody just tries to enjoy their lunch. If we try to reduce these, coexistence becomes a lot easier and is much more fun for both sides. After all, we are not isolated groups of people but human beings interacting with each other all the time. So why not make these interactions better for everybody?
What do you think? Did you ever experience extreme reactions upon telling people that you are a vegetarian or did you ever see a vegan giving people an overly-enthusiastic and annoying lecture during lunch time?