Justifying Vegetarianism

How giving up meat has put on me on the defensive.

A few years ago, I started to drastically reduce the amount of meat in my diet. I had been reading about factory farming, and it convinced me to cut back for moral reasons — both environmental and animal-welfare related.

The truth is that I felt even at the time that I should go completely vegetarian, but I just couldn’t quite bring myself to.

I was going through a turbulent time in my life, and I didn’t feel like I could handle what seemed like such a drastic change to my diet.

Instead, I compromised with myself: I stopped buying meat as part of my regular grocery shopping but continued to eat it at restaurants and on holidays.

A couple of months ago, I decided to finally try cutting out meat entirely. I have to admit that it’s mostly been easier than I expected, and I regret not making the leap sooner. (Although, having a few years of greatly reduced meat also probably helped to ease the transition).

Before giving up meat, my main concerns were how a meatless diet would affect my health, and whether I would be plagued by cravings.

It turns out, my concerns were misplaced. In reality, both of those issues were fairly minor. Instead, the biggest challenge so far has simply been dealing with the reaction of friends and family.

Defending a Vegetarian Diet

Since I spent the past couple of years still eating meat at restaurants, nobody had really noticed my reduced meat consumption. I never brought it up, and nobody ever had a reason to ask.

Now that I’ve stopped eating meat entirely, almost everyone has seemed to notice, even though I don’t try to make a point of it.

During literally my first meat-free meal at a restaurant, my best-friend immediately asked, “What are you, some kind of vegetarian?”

I was honestly shocked and confused that he even noticed that I was ordering something without meat.

When I explained to him and others that I really was giving up meat, I’ve been surprised by how strongly people have objected to my decision.

Most people who have found out that I’m cutting out meat react as if my personal diet decision is a direct attack on them.

I’ve been asked to justify my reasons for not eating meat, and from there it seems as if everyone wants to debate me on every point.

Maybe I was just naive, but I didn’t think anyone would care at all what I was eating. I’d heard the stereotype of a preachy vegetarian, but over the past two months, I’ve learned that meat-eaters can be just as proselytizing.

I Never Had to Justify Giving Up Alcohol

It’s interesting to me to contrast the reactions I’ve experienced with giving up meat with the reactions I experienced when I gave up alcohol.

I got sober nearly three years ago, after many years of struggling with addiction.

When I quit drinking, I was incredibly self-conscious about abstaining at restaurants and parties. I thought that everyone was judging me and that I would constantly have to justify myself.

Instead, nobody seemed to notice or care.

Over the past three years, only a handful of people have ever had a negative reaction to me abstaining from alcohol (and most of them were people I’ve never met responding to me online).

In sharp contrast, over the past two months, I’ve already had more people object to my decision to give up meat.

It’s especially surprising to me because it never even occurred to me to be self-conscious about vegetarianism.

Justifying Vegetarianism

So how do I justify my decision?

For now, I’ve tried to keep things short. I explain that it’s a moral decision, but I cut things off there.

The truth is that I do think heavy meat eaters should at least reduce their meat consumption, but for now I don’t bring that up. I don’t engage in debate over it, because I just don’t want every meal that I have with friends to turn into a debate.

Maybe down the road, I’ll change my mind about how much to engage, but for now, I’d rather just focus on my own diet and let everyone else worry about theirs.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store