Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Closet Vegetarians

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
During the latest Christmas party dinner at work, two colleagues told me the following:

"We didn't have vegetarian for dinner, even if we don't eat meat".
The closet vegetarians - Copyright: sasamihajlovic / 123RF Stock Photo
1 The Closet Vegetarians

They were closet-vegetarians.

And their reason was unsurprising. They didn't know if they could handle the questions about being a vegetarian, if they sat with meat-less plates in front of their colleagues. It was obvious that it was considered a hassle to get asked about vegetarianism. The why. The how.

Because with all the questions, they would feel like outsiders. The "only" bureaucrats who didn't eat meat among hundreds of carnivores. And frankly, they wanted a peaceful dinner and talk about normal stuff.
Veggie burger at Bun's Burger Bar in Oslo
What's with all the veggies? - Veggie burger at Bun's Burger Bar in Oslo

The first year of "vegetarianism" I allowed myself to eat meat when I ate at restaurants with colleagues and friends. Mostly because I wanted to avoid all the questions. I wasn't ready to tell them that I had gone vegetarian. As the sole vegetarian in my circle, I felt alone.

I don't know about you, but it's not the questions per se that bother me, but how people ask.

Most of the time, people are just curious which is excellent. My experience is that they're open to conversation about the vegetarian lifestyle and also the climate change and environmental problems we're facing.

During the Christmas dinner, when I talked to my colleagues who are closet vegetarians, the people I sat with asked questions about why I became a vegetarian. They had also read about the meat consumption in Norway and wanted to hear my opinion. They also asked what I thought about the salmon farming, which is not exactly popular these days.

Discussion around vegetarianism can lead to more consciousness about the subject, maybe stirring up questions.

On the other hand, interrogations about your choice of food might be the worst. Also people patronizing your choice, saying that they can't understand why someone would give up meat.

Non-vegetarians have called me a hypocrite to my face because I'm not a vegan. To put it mildly, I've lost my head a few times during these encounters. It was not pretty.

Read: What pollutes more - the cow or the car?

So, how to handle the transition and maybe come out of the vegetarian closet?

Have in mind that more people are becoming vegetarians. In the US alone, approx. 5% of the population is either vegan or vegetarian.1 PS: There are almost 319 million people living in the US (2014-numbers).

1. You're not alone. One thing that has helped me is to join online communities and groups on Facebook and read about other vegetarians' experiences.

How do they handle it? How did they "come out"?

For my part, I felt it was easier to come out when I knew that there were others out there going through the same process and emotions.

How do you find vegetarian communities online? Log in to Facebook and type "vegetarian [name of home country/place]" in the search field at the top. When you get the search results, choose the 'Pages' tab or the 'Groups' tab below the search field. Scroll and find the group you find interesting ;-)

Happy Cow has a well-established forum for vegetarians. The same goes for Veggies Boards.
The closet vegetarians - grocery in a basket
The closet vegetarians

2. Explaining to someone your food preferences and having to answer a great deal of questions, has prompted me to create some pre-rehearsed (standard) answers. 

This might sound unnecessary, but in my experience a conversation about your choice of food can go easier, if you already know what to answer. At least until you get a hang of it :-)

Typical questions you might get (a few that are provocative):

1. Do you eat enough? (translated to: 'Do you eat enough protein?' Or 'what do you eat instead of meat?')

My standard answer: Yes, variety is important to a vegetarian. In my diet I include meat substitutes made from myco or soy protein, quinoa, lentils, chick peas, beans and high protein vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli... Hey, do you wanna see some food photos? :-)

2. Do you eat fish?

My standard answer: No, fish is meat.

3.  What about eggs and dairy?

My standard answer: Yes. I'm a ovo-lacto vegetarian. This means that I still consume eggs and dairy products.

4. I thought that vegetarians didn't include eggs and dairy in their diet?

My standard answer: It depends on the type of vegetarian diet. Pescetarians still eat fish. Ovo-lacto vegetarians still consume eggs and dairy. Vegans don't consume or use any animal products.

Read: Types of vegetarian diets.

5. Why did you give up meat?

My standard answer: For two reasons: firstly my health. I feel light and healthy when I eat vegetarian food, and my stomach has less problems. And secondly, I want to try my best to stand against the conventional meat industry that represents intensive factory farming and animal cruelty.

6. Do you think you're saving the world? (another version: 'Have you saved any animals by being a vegetarian?')

My standard answer: No, I don't think I'm saving the world. Being a vegetarian is not about the numbers of animals saved.

As a consumer, I'm in a position to make ethical choices regarding the meat industry. Morally, by being a vegetarian, this is my way of taking a stand against this industrialized way of exploiting animals. To me, vegetarianism is essentially about looking at the meat industry with fresh eyes, ask critical questions and oppose it.

Does being vegetarian actually save any animals?

7. Then why aren't you a vegan?

My standard (honest) answer: I don't feel ready to become a vegan just yet.

Article continues below the picture.
Home-made vegetarian chickpea soup
Home-made vegetarian chickpea soup with coconut milk

As a side note: Explaining to people why you became a vegetarian is an art. If you spill out on how bad the meat production is, and that it's wrong to eat meat, I'm not sure how much understanding you'll receive.

It can be easy to get carried away because when you're a vegetarian, you've taken a stand. You have a clear idea of what you represent.

But the people you're talking to might get offended, as you would be if they had mocked vegetarianism. Whether you choose to eat meat or not is a choice, which should be respected either way.

If you praise vegetarianism like it was the new religion, you might be considered no more or less as the "missionary". Have you ever opened the door for the religious people trying to convert others to their religion...? (just saying)

If you think the above will help you, try to prepare answers to some of these questions. When you're ready to declare your vegetarianism, you'll hopefully feel more prepped :-)

Feeling more ready to come out of the vegetarian closet?

You might be thinking that you're not ready to come out as a vegetarian. I get that.

After a certain point though, we need to remind ourselves why we became vegetarians :-) We're not only doing it for the animals, the environment, the planet or to oppose the meat industry. We should also consider ourselves as an inspiration for a sustainable future, when less meat on the plate is the future.
How can we serve as an inspiration when we're eating and hiding in the shadows?
I won't lie to you. Some people will ask questions, sometimes tough questions. But after a while you'll get used to it and you'll feel more confident every day. Personally, I think you'll be alright ;-)

Continue to read:
When your better half eats meat and you don't.

Crash course to eco-labels.


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