Living a vegetarian lifestyle is very recognizable as a fantastic option that’s healthier, easier, and all around better for people…assuming you’re already a vegetarian. It’s become somewhat fashionable in the vegetarian and vegan communities to put down anyone who doesn’t adhere to the same lifestyle by assuming that all those “others” must just be stupid, evil, or a combination of the two. And before you say, “Oh I’ve never done this,” take a moment and perform some basic introspection. Here’s why you should be careful about assigning blame as a vegetarian.
To be a vegetarian, you need to follow one simple guideline: Don’t eat meat. That’s it, no meat. Veganism is more complicated and dictates no eggs or dairy as well, but still, relatively simple. It’s in this simplicity that people forget the other aspect: The reasons for becoming vegetarian/vegan are incredibly complex. On the short list of broad generalizations, people typically change their diet based on the health benefits, the ethical treatment of animals, or a religious belief pertaining to diet. Because these reasons are so personal for the individual involved, assuming everyone understands and agrees with them is just inviting trouble where no trouble is needed.
Before we say any more, what’s being said here is not “Vegetarianism makes no sense and you shouldn’t try and encourage others to join in.” Rather, the point is to say, “Accusing someone of being stupid or hypocritical as a reason not to be a vegetarian is only ensuring that they never will change their viewpoint.” Simply put, you just can’t change someone’s mind by bullying.
Let’s take a simple example that I’ve seen a handful of times online, specifically the cartoon shown in this article’s header. In it, we see three healthy looking vegetarians on one side, and three comically obese meat eaters on the other side asking “Where do you get your protein?” The cartoon does a handful of things, starting with making a very clear divide between the intellect of vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This presents the vegetarians as those of intelligence, subtly looking on at a group being irrational, whereas the meat eaters are so confused that they have to be utterly aghast at the notion of protein coming from anything other than meat.
Furthermore, it sets up an “us vs. them” dichotomy that shows the vegetarians as being fit and attractive while the meat eaters are so fat that it’s impossible as well as being downright ugly. The man is bald, the son has wiry hair, and the woman is frumpy. Comics like this only function to do one thing: Solidify preexisting beliefs. As a vegetarian, you will look at this and laugh, saying, “Yes, it’s so true! Meat eaters are just like that!” as a non-vegetarian, you look at this and say, “So, vegetarians are self-righteous jerks, huh?” What did you accomplish with that? Do you think anyone converted to vegetarianism through shaming?
It’s very easy to fall into the “high and mighty” thought train regarding our diets since, to us, they’re fantastic. To anyone else they just don’t make sense, especially since in most cases their current diets seem to work just fine for their needs. They don’t see a need, for any reason, to change what isn’t working. They don’t see the health benefits because they haven’t experienced them like you have. They don’t see the ethical difference because that’s not a motivating factor. Blaming them for this puts them on eh defensive and results in absolutely none of your points to get through. No one will consider your side of things when you tell them they’re fat, stupid, and ugly.
Instead, lead through example. Show them that leading a vegetarian lifestyle is great and actually rather easy when one knows how to live a vegetarian life. Offer to cook for them once in a while and present them vegetarian dishes that they’ll enjoy. Have conversations about your beliefs rather than debates about what is and isn’t right. Again, if you lord some perceived superiority over them, they aren’t going to listen to you or other vegetarians. Blaming them, even inadvertently blaming them (such as implying that your life is so great because you don’t eat meat and that you don’t understand how anyone could choose to eat meat), ceases any positive effect you can have over them.
Just be careful with how you present yourself. You can’t possibly know the reasoning behind a non-vegetarian’s actions any more than they can truly understand your point of view without sharing it. Be kind, be smart, and don’t be a jerk. It can’t be more complicated than that.