“I respect animals; I don’t harm other sentient beings; Vegetarians care for the planet. I’m a vegetarian!”
Wow, doesn’t that sound fantastic? It was my mantra for many years.
My vegetarianism began after being served brains inside of a goat’s head when I was a guest in a Pakistani village. I remember vividly walking home alone on a lonely mountain dirt path during that moonless evening feeling morally corrupt after eating the soul of the goat — its brains. I swore I would not eat any animal products again. And after that evening I remained a vehement vegetarian for many years.
|Before reading further, please consider taking this poll to share how you see your diet now. Chose the description that closest fits your thoughts — don’t be too picky — this is just for fun. If you want to see a more elaborate classification of diets, see my post here.Back to the story: Eventually, my vegetarian obsession faded. But even though I was transitioning out of being a vegetarian, I kept calling myself a “vegetarian” because the label had become an identity with many benefits I was not excited about giving up. Yet as I added foods that would clearly disqualify me as a “real vegetarian”, I had to eventual re-label myself.Below is a chart to share how my self-labeling ridiculously persisted while I slowly re-entered carnivore land. Each row is separated by months or years. Check out my questions at the end of the post.|
|My Rationales||Foods Gradually Added|
|I think I can eat yogurt — I miss its creamy flavor. Besides, I’m not killing an animals to eat this. Heck, the most religious of Hindu vegetarians eat it too. I can give up the Vegan label — I am still vegetarian. Besides, yogurt offers “probiotics” — that sounds good.|
|If yogurt is OK, other dairy products should be fine too. Yeah, I can add cheese and milk. Yum, boy I missed cheese. And I will be careful to buy these from places where animals are well treated.||
|Eggs are also an animal product that don’t involve harming an animal. Eggs are like the fruit of trees. So, if no chickens are hurt in producing the eggs, I will eat them. But I will have to be sure the eggs are not fertilized and the chickens are free-range.||
|I can’t live in Japan if I don’t eat some seafood. Shrimp are barely animals. The are mindless twitching things in the ocean. I can handle eating them. That way I can eat sushi with people. Besides, it is not a mammal or a bird — shrimps can’t really count as ‘sentient’.|
|Shrimp wasn’t bad. I don’t feel guilty. Wheew, I wasn’t sure how that would go. Fish aren’t mammals either. Besides, they certainly don’t look like us warmblooded creatures. They have no expressions, so how can they have a soul? Even Japanese Buddhists eat fish. My life here is Japan will improve greatly if I eat fish — I can eat with everyone. Besides, fish are just swimming vegetables, I am still a “vegetarian”. These are not warm blooded animals.||
|I will only eat chicken occasionally. I am tired of embarrassing my hosts by refusing food. I am still essentially a vegetarian. I won’t eat any mammals. Chickens don’t have lips. I don’t eat things with lips — that has got to be a kind of vegetarian. Besides, I remember Hindus who felt it was OK to eat chicken.||
|Heck, I am eating chicken. Pork is white meat too. At least I will still be eating a health, partial-Vegetarian diet. I am “vegetarian-friendly”. Besides, I won’t eat pork often and I will eat it with thankfulness.||
|Pigs weren’t bad and they were mammals. The impotence of the rationales generated by my mind naturally dissipated. And when I was offered grass-fed cow meat which I felt was also healthy meat, beef entered my life again after more than 25 years of purity.Once I accepted the Holy Cow back into my diet, I was forced to give up any qualifing adjectives to describe the vegetarianism in my life. Instead, I had to confess: “OK, so I admit, I am no longer a vegetarian!”||
|Oh what the hell, I’ve come this far.
(all things I have eaten after my fall from vegetarian purity — all while in China)
Well, it was a nice long vegetarian run. I felt pretty good about calling myself a vegetarian while it lasted. In light of my past self-righteous fanaticism, I can see several options my mind could use to handle the tension of my cognitive dissonance:
- I am a compromising loser - I gave up beautiful ideals of animal kindness and/or sustainability.
- Vegetarians are stupid, I am smarter than them. I saw through all that idiocy.
- Vegetarians come from a good place, but they just don’t have enough information.
- Vegetarian diet is better than the SAD (Standard American Diet), but a healthy carnivore diet is better yet.
- We are all silly and make imperfect decisions. Though I am committed to my present preferences, I am willing to change again if the evidence is clear. Meanwhile, I smile.
Here are some questions to inspire comments:
- Do you see the parallels to changing religion?
- Do you agree that we are silly in everything we do. Or is it just me? Have you ever done anything like this?
- Can you think of other framing concepts I could embrace to package my contradictions?
- See my other Confession Tales
- See this article by Jill Dubisch’s: “Religious Aspects of the Health Food Movement”. It is my hope that this post and Dubsiche’s article (found 1 year after writing this) may help some Atheists see that though they may feel so superior to believers, they may be blind to how they do the same sort of religion-building in secular arenas of their life: like diet, politics, sex … Likewise, believers may understand this phenomena and then see how their religion is doing something very similar.