Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Be Kind to the Meat Eaters

There are some meat eaters, and I'm happy to say that the majority of my meat-eating friends fall into this category, who give me faith in humanity.  They are the meat eaters who would never dream of challenging the ethics of vegetarians, who never demand that their spinach-munching friends defend themselves, who are completely capable of happily eating a meatless meal when necessary, and who always thoughtfully ensure that vegetarian options are available for any social occasion they host.  These lovely creatures fill me with the hope that one day, all omnivores and herbivores will eat together peacefully, then link arms and go skipping down tree-lined paths singing maritime folk songs and collecting daisies to braid into wreaths.

This blog is not about those meat eaters.

This blog is about the other kind of meat eaters.  Long term vegetarians, you know exactly what kind of meat eater I mean.  The kind  who is completely incapable of treating a vegetarian with respect and acceptance, who froths from the mouth with venom in between bites of a bloody hamburger, which they think is oh-so-hilarious to offer you.

I know, I know.  They're jerks.  They're such jerks.  No, not just because they eat meat.  Contrary to popular belief, very few vegetarians actually think meat eaters are jerks, just because they eat meat.  They make stupid counter-points to arguments about vegetarianism that you didn't even start.  They pester you with inane, asinine questions like, "would you eat a piece of meat if somebody put a gun to your head?"  Some of them badger you so much that you start to fearfully wonder if they possibly are going to put a gun to your head.  One very well-known meat eater and professional bully even threatened to electrocute his children if they became vegetarian.

So why on earth should we be kind to them? 

Well, to get to the bottom of the problem, lets look at the different reasons WHY some meat eaters throw their manners out the door when confronted with vegetarianism.  To do so, we should examine the typical interaction between vegetarians and meat eaters.  Here is a normal interaction between a vegetarian and one of the first kind of friendlier, gentler meat eaters:

Friendly Meat Eater:  Hey, do you want a bite of my hamburger?
Vegetarian:  No thanks, I'm vegetarian.
Friendly Meat Eater: Oh, ok. I've thought about being vegetarian before, but I don't think I could give up chicken.
Vegetarian:  Ah.  I understand. (Conversation moves on to other subjects).

What a pleasant exchange!  And here is a normal interaction between a vegetarian and one of the second kind of surly meat eaters:

Grumpypants Meat Eater:  Hey, do you want a bit of my hamburger?
Vegetarian:  No thanks, I'm vegetarian.
Grumpypants Meat Eater:  YOU'RE ONE OF THOSE?! (Head explodes).

See?  Just not a normal reaction.  I think we can assume that there is something going on behind the scenes here.  I think there are a couple of different types of these meat eaters, and a couple of different reasons why they act they way they do.  Here are the categories I have noticed:

The Deeply Concerned for Your Health Meat Eaters:  These meat eaters aren't really jerks, but they can be very frustrating to deal with politely.  These are the meat eaters who think that they they are doing you a favour by pointing out to that their sister's high school basketball coach assured them that you absolutely must have animal protein to participate in sports, and that all vegetarians are certainly going to die by Tuesday.  Their motivations can generally be divided into two categories: those who use the mis-perceptions about vegetarian diets to justify their own meat eating, and those who are genuinely under the impression that vegetarianism is not good for you.  How to be kind to them?  Treat them all with the benefit of the doubt. Smile and non-confrontationally assure them that you are very well informed regarding nutrition and that you are perfectly healthy, and let the discussion end there.  If they decide to press the issue, and you're feeling up for a debate, refer them the writings and studies of prolific vegetarian doctors such as Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John A McDougall, and Dr. Dean Ornish.  Since this discussion usually centers around protein, refer them to this blog.  Be well-informed, and stay calm and friendly.  Even if they don't.

The Playground Antics Meat Eaters:  These little rascals are a tiresome group indeed.  These are the meat eaters who demand to know why you don't care about the feelings of plants.  These are the meat eaters who apparently think they are being cute by asking vegetarians what's wrong with them (cute like a stomach virus).  These are the meat eaters who childishly taunt you with how difficult your life is compared to theirs because they "can" eat meat and you "can't."  This group is trying to offend you, yet when you are actually offended, they accuse you of not having a sense of humour.  However, should you ever, say, respond to their joke about rabbit food by pointing out that they are eating cat food, their faces fall as they sputter in dismay and confusion "Wha...that's just...what are you...that's just...stupid...and...MOMMY!"  So why on earth should you be kind to them?  Because just like when they used to pull little Janey's hair on the playground, something is behind their bratty behaviour.  These people are trying to deflect the seriousness of the subject of vegetarianism, not out of any desire for social ease, but because they feel threatened by it.  They may claim to not care about the animals, but they do.  They care a lot.  They wouldn't need to pull your hair if they didn't.  Your ability to look the meat industry in the eye and refuse to accept the omnivore status quo is threatening to them, and you don't have to do a damn thing to produce this reaction in them.  So to be kind to these frightened little bunnies, and don't do anything to increase their fear of threat.  Smile thinly and change the subject.  Should they continue to pester you, gently remind them that you have never questioned their eating habits, and that you aren't looking for a discussion (trust me, you will not get an intelligent one out of these people).

The Snarky Meat Eaters:  These are the people who make rude, cutting little comments to you like, "I made sure to eat something before I came to your dinner party, because I knew you'd only be serving vegetarian food, " or making comments to others in your hearing, that obviously too much meat is bad, but of course you need to eat a little, or responding, when you tell them that you are vegetarian, "what would you want to do that for?"  Snarkies tend to fall into two categories:  those who are just joking and have no idea that they are actually causing you offence, and those who just don't care that they are actually causing you offence.  The first category deserves your understanding, because even though they are being rude, they probably don't mean to be.  If they are not people you know well, look at them quizzically, and simply respond, "What a thing say," and change the subject.  If they are friends or family, privately speak to them to explain that although you know they are joking, their comments are upsetting to you.  If they continue to make these comments after this conversation, stop inviting them to your dinner parties, introducing them to your friends, and just stop returning their calls, because they aren't feeling insecure or oblivious, they're JUST JERKS.

The Hypocrisy Police Meat Eaters:  These are the people who really want to check your closet for leather products.  Ever had anyone point out to you that if you take Tylenol there's really no point in being vegetarian, because there may be animal products in the tablet?  That genius fell into this category.  They are desperately trying to catch you out, because they think that you think you're perfect.  They are feeling insecure because of your attempt to stay loyal to your ethics and they think you are judging them for not doing the same thing.  Therefore, they try to find a way to bring you down to their level by attempting to make you look hypocritical.  Assure them that you are not some higher, angelically moral being.  When they make comments like this, simply assure them that because vegetarianism isn't a perfect science, you aren't going to be perfect yourself, but you try your best because you care about the issue.  They will usually calm down pretty quickly when they realise that what they were asking you to do was be just that:  perfect. 

The Grand Poobahs of Crazy Meat Eaters:  So far we've talked about anti-vegetarianism behaviour that manifests itself in ignorant, irritating, or even rude ways, but now we've come to the bottom of the barrel, the really kind of scary meat eaters.  Every vegetarian has encountered them; the people who react with real hostility and anger when you speak the completely innocent words "No thanks, I'm a vegetarian."  You may not encounter these people so often in real life (although again, every vegetarian has experienced it), but the internet has spread these reactions like the clap, with comments such as " I hope that somebody grabs [vegetarians] and forces a nice big juicy hotdog down their throats," or "Vegetarians = pussys(sic), everyone knows this."  Classy.  Obviously, their reaction is not about you.  I think it's obvious from the very extremity of their reactions, that simply by being the vegetarian in the room, you have touched a sore spot.  Like the Playground Meat Eaters, these people do care about the animals, and they aren't able to deal with their own actions.  Like many meat eaters, they feel judged by you without you having to say anything Do not engage in a debate with these people.  They are not in their happy place.  When they try and provoke you, you can simply ask them why vegetarianism upsets them so much.  Point out to them that you have not tried to convince them of anything, and aren't looking to change their minds.  Tell them if they are really interested in having a debate about it, you can arrange to talk to them later, but you don't think right now is the time and place.

Fair or not, meat eaters tend to have the stereotype of the preaching, paint-throwing vegetarian in their heads when they talk to you.  I think vegetarians can ease the situation by never being this vegetarian.  Be kind to the meat eaters because:
1.  They may simply be ignorant: Not everyone has super-amazing bloggers to tell them everything they need to know about vegetarian lifestyle.  Politely correct their misperceptions and refrain from accusing them of not having cracked a book since the 1970's.
2.  They feel threatened by you:  People are afraid of other people who wear their morality on their sleeves.  Don't make any sudden noises and don't call their own habits into question.
3.  They don't realise they are being offensive:  I think it's hard for non-vegetarians to understand how deeply vegetarians feel about the subject, probably because we're restricted from talking about it freely.  Let them know they're upsetting you before you write them off completely.
4.  They're afraid you think you're better than them:  Obviously no one deals with holier-than-thou people very well.  Be humble, and let them know you don't think you're perfect (it helps if you genuinely don't think you're perfect).
5. They feel that their own actions are being called into question:  As abusive and downright mean as some meat-eaters can be, remember no one acts this way without having some issues of insecurity with their own lifestyle. 

Remember that most meat-eaters don't actually know very many vegetarians, so you are in a way expected to act as the Ambassador of the Vegetarians.  While your job is certainly not to convert anyone to the cause, a meat eater's impression of you will inevitably be linked to their impression of vegetarianism.  Therefore, who loses out when vegetarians rise to bratty meat eaters' bait?  Not the meat eaters, you'll simply have confirmed their suspicions.  The animals lose out.  So take a little bit of that compassion and kindness you feel towards victimised animals, and turn it towards your meat eating acquaintances.  And hug one of the friendlier meat eaters today.

Karing Kitchen!

Baby Squash and Sun-dried Pesto Linguine

One way to be kind to meat eaters is to feed them delicious vegetarian food!  Italian food is a great middle-ground between herbivores and omnivores because it's both comforting and familiar, and easily made animal-free.   This dish could also be made with courgettes/zucchini, but baby squash have the advantage of being one of the cutest foods ever.

Serves 3-4

3-4 baby squash, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil (you may need a little more later on)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (you may need a little more later on)
300g linguine noodles

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

You can either made the pesto from the recipe below, or use a store-bought variety.  You may not need all the pesto this recipe makes, so if you're not used to using pesto, start with a few spoonfuls, coat the pasta,  taste it, and add more as you like.  Note:  you will need either a food processor, hand held blender, or pestle and mortar to make this recipe, so if you don't have any of these things, don't feel lazy for buying a pre-made jar.

2/3 cup of oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of walnuts/pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tsp dried basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped
dash of cayenne
salt to taste

1.  Put a large pot of boiling water on to boil.  Add the pasta, stir, and cook until al dente, or your preferred texture.
2.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan on medium heat.  Add the vinegar, made the sure the pan is coated, then add the baby squash slices.  There must be no overlapping, so you will likely need to do more than one batch, which is why you may need more oil and vinegar.  Fry on each side until well-browned (even blackened if you like), about 5 minutes on each side, only move the slices to flip them. 
3.  While the squash is cooking, add the ingredients for the pesto into your food processor, minus the olive oil.  While you are blending, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a delicious paste.  Taste and season if necessary.  You can of course use a pestle and mortar if you're feeling medieval, or forgot to pay your electricity bill, but I've never made pesto with a such a device, so don't look to me for guidance.
4.  Coat the linguine with the pesto, and toss the squash into the pasta.
5.  Serve either by itself, or with some nice Italian crusty bread and a small green salad.

Makes great leftovers!  Any leftover pesto can be stored in a jar in your fridge for about a week.