On Judgmentalism and Vegetarianism

To be clear, I thought the host was wrong to say "oh well, I cooked with meat, but it's ok because he's an overweight vegetarian." And I think anyone has the right to eat (or not eat) whatever they choose. But, when you make a point of changing everyone else's meal to meet your wishes or needs, I think it's fair to assume you might open yourself up to their questions or concerns. And I think that it might be better to be open to answering questions that to have people make false assumptions about you or your motives.

I just thought it would have been more fair for the host to ask why the guest was vegetarian than to assume he was a hypocrite because of his weight. I thought she was wrong to assume he was a hypocrite. I don't see how that's judgmental of me.

Truly, I don't have any problem with anyone choosing to be a vegetarian. And I'll admit that I am bothered by the many vegetarians that I'm exposed to that are so preachy about their vegetarianism. Or, to be fair, maybe I only notice the preachy ones more because they are so outspoken. So, if there's a quiet go-with-the-flow vegetarian out there, good for you, eat what you want.

I guess it's hard for me to swallow (bad pun) because I was raised that if you are invited to someone's home for dinner, you do your best to eat what is put in front of you, short of maybe life-threatening allergies. I think asking your dinner host to change the entree to make it vegetarian (thereby effecting someone else and maybe many other people) is different from choosing a vegetarian entree in a restaurant or choosing not to buy meat at the supermarket (effecting only yourself). And I think it's different from asking that they leave the honey off the top of a dessert too. (Without knowing the recipe, I imagine that the honey could be left off only your dish and everyone else can enjoy their honey. If not, one could always skip dessert, it would be less awkward than sitting through the main course while everyone else eats.) I guess it's better to ask ahead than to show up for dinner and not eating anything but the salad (depending on what, if any, side dishes are offered), but maybe the way I raised has something to do with it. As a child, I politely swallowed many a brussel sprout, despite my wishes.

Which, I guess, vegetarians would argue, is different. I understand that, to some, there is a difference between my "dislike" of brussel sprouts and a vegetarian's "decision" not to eat meat. I don't know if I agree with the comparison of a vegetarian house guest to a Jew/Muslim who requests a Kosher/Halal meal. I guess, for me at least, that might I keep coming back to why the vegetarian is a vegetarian. I mean, in 7th grade I was a "vegetarian" but I certainly I don't think I was in any position to say "By the way, Mom, let grandma know she needs to cook a special vegetarian dinner for me." I could maybe eat an extra serving of salad and skipped the entree. But I certainly don't think my vegetarianism was the same as a Jew's request for a Kosher meal.

My post began because I was questioning the host's behavior, I thought she was wrong to be judgmental of the vegetarian. But I guess by admitting that I do sometimes wonder what is behind a vegetarian's decision, whether it's a fad for them like it was for me, or whether they have some commitment to it, I exposed myself as judgmental - if you think having questions is the same as being judgmental. Finally, then, I was judged by the vegetarians who left comments. So, I guess judgment is something that is going around.

18 comments:

  1. As a vegan Jew who speaks only for herself, of course, let me assure you that the comparison between kashrut (kosher laws) and vegetarianism is entirely apt. I won't get into the details, because I doubt you care.

    People were "judging" you for being close-minded and using poor logic because you advertised yourself as close-minded and poorly thought out! After the blog-post is hardly the time to get sensitive about it.

    Finally, my real problem with your statements on this subject is: what business is it of yours how someone else lives their life? in my experience, hosts who invite people with dietary restrictions, of whatever kind, are wonderful about providing for their guests, while the guests are basically never jerks about it. if they are, that's entirely a reflection on them, not on their dietary choice.

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  2. I don't have a problem with anyone thinking I was using poor logic - I don't claim to have this issue figured out, I'm trying to figure it out, which is why I'm writing the post.

    I don't think I was being close-minded though. I did write "let's assume, just for sake of argument those are the only 3 reasons for being a vegetarian." I'm open-minded to the fact that there may be many more reasons, but the post could have turned into a book.

    I also admitted that I have a passing thought that vegetarianism is "junior high." Only because it was for me. But it's just a passing thought. It's not my exact view on someone. For example, in junior high my friends and I also went through a phase where we very into Billy Joel. Now I'm over it. If someone tells me they're into Billy Joel, I have a quick thought of "Oh, I was too, in Junior High, and now I'm kind of sick of him," and I'm a little surprised that this person continues to be a big fan, but that's not the end of my thoughts on the person. Hey, enjoy whatever singer you like.

    I don't really have any business on how anyone else live their lives. And if your experience is that hosts are kind, that's great - but the point of my post was that this host was being judgmental.

    As far as whether or not the guest was a jerk - I might say he was a tad impolite, but I wouldn't say he was a jerk. And one question that I don't know the answer to is whether it's more polite to make a point out of your dietary needs and expect the host and fellow guests to accommodate them, or to just try to avoid the foods you can't eat on your own. I don't really know, and I suppose it depends on the situation. I noticed, for example, the host put out cheese and crackers while we were waiting for the meal. It had the label with it, so there was no question that it wasn't a vegan cheese. And he said, "This is cow cheese. I can't eat cow cheese, I'm vegan." And then he went on a little bit about how there are vegan cheeses. I'm not sure what his point was. Did he think the host should have bought special cheese for him? Did he think she should put away the cheese and no one else should eat it? I can't assume that's what he meant, perhaps he was he just making conversation? I think that perhaps it would be more polite to not say anything, you can just take crackers if you'd like, but that's not what he did. But I don't think that rose to the level of making him a "jerk."

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  3. I am so sorry that you had to be subjected to the previous comment. I am a vegetarian and what I do when I am invited to some-one's home and they serve meat is I don't make a federal case about it (no pun intended). Instead, I eat what I can. If someone asks why I am not partaking of any meat dishes, I just kindly tell them that I am a vegetarian. I don't go into any detail or feel the need to tell them why I am this way or why they should be this way.

    The problem I have with the previous comment instead of providing with informative information, this person seems to take personal offense, which does not help. Your post contains comments that I think many people share, but are too afraid to state because of people like the last commenter. I often hear things like "Oh why would you stop eating meat" or "You can't be serious, where are you going to get protein?". The idea is to answer the question with grace and dignity, rather than offense. Sure, there are those who will not agree with me or not get why I do what I do, but it is not my job to police the world.

    It is true that there are vegetarians who are overweight. Just like any eating habit, one can overindulge. Also, that are those who are vegetarians for religious reasons. But whatever reason, people need to be treated with dignity and respect for the choices they make, even if someone does not agree.

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  4. Seeking Solace:
    Aren't you sick of being asked?
    If you truly don't try to convert others, if you're a "live and let live veggie" and just get on with it without shoving it down anybody else's throat, then how can you not get cross when you're asked for the 1000th time, "so why are you veggie?"

    For my birthday once I asked my friends if they'd mind going to a vegetarian restaurant. (Of course I went to all the steak/chicken etc.. dinners for them)They all came. Two didn't like the food. One moaned the entire dinner about how awful the fake meat was. I could have strangled him! Its not like I was forcing him to eat it. The other ordered dessert early and had a good time with the rest of us.
    Live & let live!

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  5. Medically Brunette:

    I don't get cross when I get asked for the 100th time because it is not worth getting cross about it. Look, I could spend the rest of my life getting pissed off over stuff I can't control, or just deal with the fact that people are going to ask. I am biracial and I am asked constantly what my racial background. Some people are nasty about it; some are just curious. What I have learned is that not everyone is going to accept who I am, so I waste my time and energy being pissed because someone asked the same question again and again. It is just not worth it to me.

    My apologies to Blondie Justice for hijacking your space.

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  6. Medically Brunette is echoing some of my feeling about this issue. the "offense" that i'm taking is simple--I don't appreciate people making assumptions about my choices without knowing anything about them. BJ's junior-high understanding of vegetarianism is best left in her head, and apologizing for being annoyed, as SS suggested, is totally inappropriate. Again, I'll make the comparison--would I need to apologize for being peeved if someone with a passing understanding of the kosher laws second-guessed my adherence to kashrut? No way.

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  7. SS - hijack away. =)

    L&A - I understand why you don't want "people making assumptions about [your] choices without knowing anything about them." But my point (again) was that the host should have asked the guest instead of assuming that he was a for-health-reasons vegetarian, and, therefore, a hypocrite for being overweight, since obviously that isn't very healthy. My point was AGAINST assumptions. So, I'm glad we're on the same page.

    MB - I could understand how it could be annoying to be asked all the time. But if people are curious, or aren't sure, isn't it better that they ask instead of assume the worst?

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  8. I'm not sure what you mean by 'assume the worst?'

    What is so bad about being vegetarian?! (If I'm not preaching at anybody then nobody can say I am out to convert)
    I understand that this is a blog and words can be ill chosen.. but that sentiment does seem to imply that because I'm a vegetarian I'm somehow less of a person? I deserve a little less respect than the person sat next to me? That my choices aren't as valid as those choices made for religious reasons?
    Can you imagine anyone saying "So, why are you a Muslim then?"

    Sometimes people just follow the way they were brought up without questioning it, they never evaluate the religious/cultural practice for themselves. (Note I said 'sometimes'). My decision to be a vegetarian was made because it is what I want, for me.
    I disagree I hate being asked.

    If a veggies being preachy, I feel one is justified to question them. But if they're talking about handbags etc.. and quietly munching on tofu while you're enjoying steak why ruin their lunch?!

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  9. Seeking Solace:
    you must have heard the old cliche, "people will treat you as you let yourself be treated"

    I refuse to let myself be treated badly and fight for acceptance.

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  10. MB - Maybe if you tried to read a post before you comment on it there wouldn't be the problem of "misunderstanding" each other.

    For the final time: (1) man is overweight, (2) said man is a vegetarian. (3) Dinner host says says that he is a hypocrite - he can't be both a vegetarian and overweight. The dinner host "assumed the worst" - that the vegetarian was a hypocrite, instead of simply politely asking.

    As I wrote this morning, "I could understand how it could be annoying to be asked all the time. But if people are curious, or aren't sure, isn't it better that they ask instead of assume the worst?"

    My point is that, yes, it may be annoying, as a vegetarian, to have people who host you in their home to ask you about your preferences. But I think it would be be worse for that same person to assume you're a hypocrite instead of just asking.

    People will treat you how you let them treat you. If you open yourself up to questions, people might understand you better. If you're above that, people will treat you like you're above that and make their own assumptions.

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  11. I disagree. It is not better to be asked.
    What is preferable that would be quesioners rid themselves of these stereotypes. Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all vegetarians are preachy eco-warriors.

    (Btw I never quibbled with the particulars of your post about the situation you described yourself in that evening, my comments concern the general tone of the original post. The way you re-explained to other commenters what you actually meant was not as offensive as it came across in first reading. Look, I realise you're not someone that hates vegetarians but some of the earlier things were quite upsetting upon first glance, without the extra explanation you provided in later comments).

    My comments about religious upbringing were in response to your comments about the way you were brought up to eat everything on the plate, and how you didn't see vegetarianism on equal terms to Muslim/Jewish dietary laws. My point was how some of these religious people have made an individual decision for themselves to take on the religion,its practises but also to illustrate how many are just doing 'what they were brought up to do' without making an informed decision.

    I am above being questioned, as we all deserve to be as human beings. You don't deserve to be grilled for choices you make that don't affect anyone else anymore than I do. If people get to know me as a friend then they can make their own judgements then.

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  12. MB: Yes, I am familiar with that statement. But, I think you are missing my point. If I spent my entire life fighting to be accepted by society because of my racial background, vegetarianism or whatever, I would be a very angry, unhappy person. Life is too short to be that way.

    Ask yourself if it is better to be right all the time? Why do you automatically assume some sort of malicious intent if a person asks you why you are a vegetarian? And if that person did have some sort of agenda that is contrary to yours, WHY IN THE HELL WOULD YOU EVEN DIGNIFIY IT WITH ANY RESPONSE????

    Look, you can't change the world. And no matter how hard you try to push, those who don't agree with you will push even harder with their own agenda.

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  13. BJ's junior-high understanding of vegetarianism is best left in her head, and apologizing for being annoyed, as SS suggested, is totally inappropriate.
    If you don't want to know what's inside someone's head, why would you read their blog?

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  14. I have been veggie for eight years, and vegan for the last two. I never insult others for their dietary choices, but I am happy to answer questions about mine. You never know, you might get someone to consider going veggie! My friends and family have gone out of their way to accommodate my diet, not bc I in any way pressure them to. I never expect anyone to do so; I am always prepared for the chance that I will not have any choices. But for the most part, anyone who would invite you to dinner likes you and wants you to be able to eat. If the host at this dinner knew the man was veggie and used chicken broth without telling him, that is truly horrible. She didn't have to make something just for him, but she should at least let him know what his options are.

    Btw, if the man at this dinner is truly vegan but also morbidly obese, then he may have a medical problem. I have never in my life known a vegan who had any kind of significant weight problem.

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  15. I dated a guy who is vegetarian for about two years. Before that, I didn't get why it was such a big deal if there was "a little" meat in a dish. But there were a couple of instances where he accidentally ate meat, and it made him physically ill. And, on another note, I have seen people who are vegetarian and overweight - perhaps not morbidly, but yes overweight. When I'm hosting, I try to ask if my guests have any dietary restrictions and plan accordingly - and I've seen many people do the same. It's not that hard. But when I've forgotten to ask, or (when I was with that boyfriend) we were invited, if it was a friend or relative of mine I would call ahead to give them a "head's up". Most of them were very appreciative to know - who would want to have someone over for dinner and then serve food that they can't even eat?

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  16. Vegetarianism is on par with following kosher laws (etc) because both are moral decisions.

    Just as a Jew who follows kosher believes it is immoral to eat something non-kosher, many vegetarians believe it is immoral to eat meat.

    It's not up to you to decide whose morals deserve legitimacy and whose do not.

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  17. Sorry, Kelsey, but I disagree.

    You're assuming that every vegetarian makes that decision for moral reasons. I'm questioning whether or not that's true.

    If I wake up one morning and say, "I don't think I feel like eating meat today," or even "I don't think I feel like eating at all today," is that based on morals? Is that the same as a Jew who has made a lifelong commitment? But I could still call myself a vegetarian? Should it matter that I've only been a vegetarian for one day (so far)?

    Finally, you write, "It's not up to you to decide whose morals deserve legitimacy and whose do not." But haven't you just decided that all vegetarian's morals deserve legitimacy? But I can't make a similar decision? Or question anyone else's decision?

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  18. I am vegetarian - have been for 25 years - and we were invited to someon's house for dinner. It was not appropriate to ask them to change a meal they had planned. They served meat. I ate it.

    Later, my son asked why I ate the main dish (he and my husband are not vegetarian). I told him, "When we are invited to someone else's home, we are polite and do not impose our choices on them."

    I do not mind being asked, "Why?" I enjoy sharing my "whys" - but only do so if asked. My "whys" are for both moral and environmental reasons (I would argue, too, that makes them both moral reasons).

    This is different, to me, than my BIL who observes Halal. Vegetariansim is not akin to a person's belief in G*d's law with all of the consequences a person believes they will have for violating them.

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