On The Rampage: Beware Omnivorous Dismay!
There’s nothing wrong with being a vegetarian.
That might seem like quite the snapshot of self-evidence, but it actually doesn’t go without saying. Many omnivores still get quite angsty over the existence of vegetarians. The idea that someone might decide to go without dead animal seems rather an affront to civilisation, even to the hard-won battles of evolution. We’re top of the food chain; are we not to enjoy it? To be a vegetarian is to attract consternation like the shoulders of a black winter coat attracts dandruff. Vegans? Forget it. Vegans are naught but lunatics, shells of souls driven to the depths of madness by their own self-perpetuating abstinence. If vegetarians upset people, vegans infuriate them.
I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat because I don’t really fancy it; I find the whole farmed-for-slaughter thing literally difficult to stomach. For the same reason, I avoid traditional rennet, gelatine and leather, where I can help it. It’s pretty much impossible to live in a modern world without getting use out of animal products, and I totally accept that. There’s no way I’m entirely in the clear, despite my clumsy ethics. There’s none of us gets anywhere without standing on the shoulders, legs, hocks and gizzards of a million dead things. Fair enough. I just don’t want to eat or wear any of them. I don’t care if you do. Eat those spare ribs whilst wearing your leather boots with pride, girlfriend. Simple, really.
Questions are fine, and I get plenty directed at me, as do many other vegetarians. Why don’t you eat meat? Why can’t you accept that we’ve got dominion over the animals? How can you not eat bacon? What difference does it make? Why do you think we have canine teeth? GOD DAMMIT WE’VE ALWAYS EATEN MEAT AND DOES YOUR ETHICAL CODE EVEN ALLOW FOR MY CALLING YOU A FLASH-IN-THE-PAN? And so on and so forth. It tends not to stop with answers, though, no matter how clear or simple one’s reasons for forgoing the fleshy stuff. In fact, is it possible that there’s a single vegetarian in Ireland who hasn’t been hauled over the coals on the pretext of defending their personal eating habits?
There are so many possible reasons for Omnivorous Dismay. Specific to Ireland, it’s likely that our post-Famine food culture has placed so much emphasis on hospitality and generosity that self-denial comes across as priggish and rude. Maybe it looks like vegetarians are letting the side down by not indulging in hang sangwichs and sausies. Then there’s the mistaken belief that anyone who chooses to go down the path of dietary restraint must by nature be a bit smug. No meat? Why, the only possible explanation is a terrible dose of the la-di-das! Those who don’t partake of the feast must consider themselves above the common man. Following a higher calling. A higher calling with lower protein. The superior bastards.
Smug vegetarians do, of course, exist. PETA is full of them and they all seem to be as atrocious as each other, employing shock tactics and crass imagery to guilt the zeal right out of your veal. Morrissey’s a right so-and-so too, as is anyone who equates eating meat with human atrocities – slaughterhouses are unpleasant, but no, it’s not the same as what happened in Rwanda.
Smug omnivores also exist. Smug everythings exist, really. One could quite easily find smug communists, smug libertines and smug coeliacs if one were so inclined. That there are smug vegetarians does not mean that one should assume every vegetarian is smug, or zealous, or otherwise a threat to one’s enjoyment of Big Macs. Likewise, that there are smug omnivores shouldn’t put vegetarians off their hummus. And can you imagine it: a vegetarian, staring into his lunch of halloumi and rocket, unable to choke a single leaf past his throat with the knowledge that somewhere out there, someone is eating chicken.
It’s ludicrous, isn’t it? The idea that someone else’s diet would enrage or distress you so? And yet this is the preposterous existence that Omnivorous Dismay can grow into, if left unchecked. One minute you’re sneering at your mate for declining Worcestershire sauce, and the next you’re unable to enjoy your suckling pig because there might be someone within a hundred yards of you who’d rather eat a bell pepper.
See, the thing is, I don’t care what anyone else eats (so long as it’s not an apocalypse scenario where they’re eyeing up my succulent rump). Likewise, is it too much to ask that no one else cares what I eat? If vegetarians want to graze their way through a lifetime supply of kidney beans, let them at it (though maybe keep a safe distance from their rear ends). If, God forbid, you end up making the acquaintance of someone who doesn’t eat any animal product, including eggs or honey or dairy or trotters, is it beyond the realms of possibility that you don’t demand of them why they have forsaken biological privilege? Same goes for fruitarians or pescetarians or raw foodists or people who wish to subsist on nothing more than toffee popcorn. Provided they’re not your spouse, kid or elderly parent, it’s probably none of your business what they eat.