It happens with unfailing and inevitable regularity. Every time a friend and I go out to lunch, after having pored over the menus of whatever restaurant in which we are currently sitting, the time will come when the waiter asks for our orders. My friend will look down at his menu, then to me, before saying, “I’m sorry,” and with hesitance, he will order whatever meat dish he was considering, leaving an awkward silence between us.
The whole routine is disheartening to me and my beliefs, for it shows that although I do not particularly care what my friends eat, I am perceived to continually emanate disapproval for their meat-eating ways.
The inherent problem with joining any group of people is that a single stereotype will likely dominate society’s image of that group. For instance, the image of Christians may be marred by the Westboro Baptist Church who stand firmly in its belief that “God Hates America.” The case is the very same with vegetarians. I myself became a vegetarian for moral reasons, and so I could protest farming techniques that cause global warming. But not all vegetarians are members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or cough disapprovingly when someone at his or her table orders a meat dish.
In acknowledging the fact that we are not all extremists, I must also acknowledge that the extremists do exist. For example, I was dining out with my parents and their friend recently and I decided to order a veggie burger. My parents’ friend, having arrived late, was not present to hear this order. Therefore, when the food came and I was preparing to take a large bite of what many consider an inferior substitute for real meat, my parents’ friend began to lecture me about the poor animal who gave its life for that burger, et cetera et cetera… I patiently waited until she was done with her rant, partially amused by the irony of the situation, then responded, “I completely agree with you, but I’m pretty sure that this tofu doesn’t mind that I’m eating him,” before digging in to my meal.
That might have been a slightly harsh way of dealing with one of the many militant vegetarians of the world, but it certainly worked; she was embarrassed enough to ignore me for the rest of the meal. However, she did prove an interesting point, for she showed that the extremism of her beliefs blinded her sufficiently that she did not bother to notice that my “burger” was a peculiar green color. Neither did she realize, as I inferred from her eagerness to show off her extreme beliefs, that a person eating a single meat product does not cause the end of the world.
Yet one unfortunate truth that must be noted is that the extremists, in the case of vegetarianism, are at least partially correct. This is not to say that people should stop eating meat, for they likely never will, but the extremists are correct in that our current models of factory farming are unsustainable and unhealthy, both for people and the earth.
Methane emissions from cattle and other livestock make up some of the single largest greenhouse gas emissions in our society, releasing about five and a half million metric tons of methane per year according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As well as contributing to global warming, factory farming also contaminates food with bacteria such as E. coli, which some view as reason enough to cut back on meat eating or to eat meat from farms that use safer and more sustainable practices.
However, the truth of the matter is that even the most extreme vegetarian must learn to live in a country where 97 percent of the population consumes meat on a regular basis, and even the most insanely stubborn vegetarian missionary cannot hope to convert every one of those hopeless people who do not know the righteous path to salvation. Personally, I am secure enough in my beliefs that I do not feel the need to complain or protest when others order meat-filled foods and would prefer not to be seen as a crazy lettuce-munching extremist, but instead as a person whose beliefs are slightly different than average.