Explaining yourself, even though you shouldn’t have to
As we’ve discussed, you’ll need a supply of quick, polite answers to handle the questions people will have about your diet. Don’t get cranky – sure, they’re nosy, but isn’t it nice that they want to know more about vegetarianism? If you already know what to say, it’ll be easy to give them an answer without turning the conversation into a lengthy debate. Some of the most common questions you’ll field are the same ones you had when you first started out – except now you know the answers:
Why are you a vegetarian?
If you don’t eat meat, how do you get enough protein?
Can you eat chicken? How about fish?
Is this some sort of a religious thing?
Is it hard to never eat meat?
Why do you wear leather shoes if you won’t eat animals?
Isn’t vegetarian food boring?
Can you eat at McDonald’s?
If you already know the answers, you won’t mind the questions so much!
Dining gracefully with meat-eaters
Dinner parties – both attending them and hosting them – can be problematic for people on special diets. If you’re the host, you can make sure that you have a tempting variety of delicious foods, dazzling your guests with such tasty choices that they’d be foolish to miss the meat. But what if you’re the guest?
Often, even if your hosts know that you’re vegetarian, they may not know how to feed you. They may think that by serving grilled salmon instead of meat loaf they’re offering a vegetarian-friendly entree. Or you may end up in a situation where your hosts simply have no idea of what your needs are.
In those cases, you need to make the best of things. Etiquette is, fundamentally, about behaving well under challenging circumstances. If all there is on the table that you can eat is bread and salad, do so – and, if you’re questioned, smile and say that they’re so delicious that you’re happy to enjoy them. Even if it’s disappointing, remember that’s it’s just for one meal – chat with your tablemates, enjoy the company and have a good time anyway!
If there’s absolutely nothing on the menu that you can eat, or your hostess sits a plate of animal food in front of you, do what children do – squish things around and mess up your plate. Hide the meat under some lettuce, and leave some empty space so it looks like you ate something. If the conversation is compelling, most people won’t notice how much you did, or didn’t, eat.
Whatever happens, don’t make an issue of your diet. To be blunt, no one is really interested in what you can’t eat, and it’s considered rude to draw all of the conversation to yourself in such a manner anyway. If someone asks, tell them you’re vegetarian and steer the conversation to something else.
If you’re headed to a big social event like a wedding or a family dinner, and you think there might be challenges finding something to eat, then eat a light meal before you leave the house. Even under the worst circumstances there will be something for you to snack on, but you won’t be suffering from hunger pangs throughout the evening.
Being a great, meat-free hostess
Part of being a terrific host is anticipating your guests’ needs. Think about how you’d like to be treated when you go to dinner at a friend’s home – how about offering the same courtesy to them? When you invite guests to dinner, ask them if they have special dietary needs, or if there’s anything they absolutely hate. You’ll be surprised at what people have to say – some are allergic to bell peppers, or peanuts, or dairy. If you accommodate their needs that same way you’d like yours accommodated in a similar situation, you can make them feel extra welcome in your home.
One sure way to make everyone happy is to serve a variety of different dishes buffet style, allowing guests to fill their plates only with what they want. It helps them to feel comfortable if they don’t want to eat something – no one will be looking at their plate and wondering why there’s still food there – and it’ll save you the effort of serving, so you have more time to enjoy your guests.
Only serve meat if you genuinely feel comfortable doing so. Some people will cook a chicken or fish dish for guests, but not partake of it themselves. If you’re happy doing this, then go ahead. But if you aren’t, then make them the best vegetarian meal they’ve ever tasted, and show them how delicious eating meat-free can be!
You now have a lot of valuable tools at your disposal – you know how to plan meals, you know what nutrients you need to keep your body healthy, and you know how to feed your vegetarian child. You even know how to answer questions from others and make sure you have plenty of healthful food to eat at home, at school, and at work.
Making your new lifestyle work at home and in the office requires a lot of flexibility, good humor, and planning. By this point, though, you should feel up to the task! You’ve made excellent choices for your health and your future, and how you integrate it into the rest of your life will not only affect your relationships, but also how others view vegetarianism.
Meat-eaters and meat-free – managing a mixed marriage
It’s understandable, when you’re single and dating, to believe that your ideal partner will share all of your values. But that’s unrealistic – no two individuals are exactly alike, and the day-to-day struggle of paying bills, doing laundry, getting to work and raising children can sometimes make even the smallest difference seem enormous. As the popularity of vegetarianism increases, so do the number of "mixed marriages" between meat-eaters and non-meat eaters. You and your spouse may agree on a lot of things, but still disagree on how to eat.
The key to making it work is acceptance of each other’s choices. If you judge your spouse harshly for not joining you in your vegetarian journey, you may be turning them off entirely, closing the door to them making that step themselves in the future. No one likes to be told that they’re "bad," particularly if they’re simply eating the same diet as most of the other people they see every day.
Try to keep in mind that your choice to become vegetarian was a personal one, and it has to be for them, too. You can’t control what your spouse eats – but you can control how you behave towards them.
Cherish the issues in your marriage that you agree on. There are probably far more of those than there are issues on which you don’t see eye-to-eye.
Acknowledge that your spouse’s diet isn’t meant to hurt you. If your partner eats meat, it isn’t a choice designed to make your life unhappy or more complicated. Try to respect their decision, whether it is based on ethical principles, on convenience or on habit.
Try to get your partner to compromise on certain foods. See if you can get them to eat soy hot dogs, veggie burgers and non-dairy cheese at home.
Never attack your spouse’s point of view, especially in public. Belittling your partner will only cause them to be resentful and more resistant to vegetarianism.
Try to find restaurants where you can eat together. Choose venues that offer both meat dishes and vegetarian options, so that you can enjoy a fine meal together.
Play an active role in shopping and preparing meals. Cook a variety of tasty, appealing meals so that your partner can see that the diet isn’t boring. Buy a few cookbooks and try new recipes to keep things interesting.
Be a positive role model. Allow your cheerful attitude and good health serve as an example of how great vegetarianism can be.
Don’t talk endlessly about your diet. If your partner is interested, the subject will come up naturally – but don’t lecture.
If you’ve agreed not to eat meat at home, accept that your spouse may eat meat sometimes when they’re not with you. Again, you can’t control what they eat, and nagging doesn’t help.
Eating together is one of the great pleasures of any relationship. Negotiate a menu plan that’s acceptable to both of you, and then enjoy your meals together!
Being vegetarian at work
As a vegetarian this can pose a unique challenge. If everyone around you is ordering steak or chicken Caesar salads and you’re not eating much, it can call undue attention to your eating habits. Suddenly, no one’s talking about the deal – they’re talking about why you aren’t eating your lunch!
More and more people are choosing meatless lifestyles, but that doesn’t mean that being a vegetarian at work is easy. You’ve made a lifestyle choice dictated by your health and your ethics, but you have to walk the fine line of also fitting in with your colleagues. After all, if you’re too independent of a thinker, they might not believe that you’re still a team player. When you’re at work you want the focus to be on your work – not on what you eat. The same grace, good humor and tact that you use to deal with family and friends is even more important in the workplace.
By now you’ve learned pretty much everything you need to know about becoming a vegetarian, from ethics to nutrition to meal planning. Just don’t forget one of the biggest reasons that living a vegetarian lifestyle is a wonderful choice – what you eat affects the rest of the world.
Consider the effect of a meat-eating society on the planet:
Water and soil damage. 260 million acres of U.S. forest have disappeared, to make room for cropland to farm meat. To produce a one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water. The manufacture of a single hamburger patty takes enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 25 miles. It takes less water to produce a year’s worth of food for a vegetarian than to produce one month’s food for a meat-eater. Factory farms damage the environment in addition to the horrors they commit on the animals that they raise and slaughter. They use large quantities of fossil fuels and fresh water, and pollute the earth in return.
85 percent American topsoil – over 5 billion tons – is lost annually due to the raising of livestock. 26 billion tons of topsoil is lost annually on agricultural land worldwide. In the United States, one-third of the cropland has been permanently destroyed due to excessive soil erosion. By switching to a vegetarian diet, you alone spare an acre of trees every year.
Millions of acres of forests and wetlands have been leveled and drained to create pastures to feed the animals butchered for meat, destroying habitats for wildlife and disrupting the ecological balance. Irrigation of these pastures and croplands uses vast quantities of water, our most precious resource, and the water that runs off these lands takes with it irreplaceable topsoil, turning millions of acres of lush cropland into desert. Along with waste products from factory farming and slaughterhouses, runoff from agribusiness contributes more pollution than all other human activities combined.
Depletion of rainforests. Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 40 percent of all Central American rain forests were destroyed to create pasture for beef cattle. As the primary source of oxygen for the entire planet, the survival of the rainforests is inextricably linked with the survival of mankind. The unique flora and fauna found in the rain forests provide ingredients for many medicines used to treat and cure human illnesses, and scientists are continuing to find new medicines as they discover new plants available only in these regions – yet approximately 1,000 species go extinct every year due to destruction of tropical rainforests. By destroying the rain forests, we may be destroying the chance to cure AIDS, cancer or influenza.
Poison in the atmosphere. Two-thirds of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide are created by the burning of fossil fuels, and 200 gallons of fossil fuel are burned to produce the beef currently eaten by the average American family of four each year. Burning 200 gallons of fossil fuel releases two tonsof carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – by switching to a vegetarian diet, you’re cutting back on the amount of pollution in the air.
Poison in the workplace. The air inside factory farms contains a dangerous combination of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, bacteria, and decomposing fecal matter. A joint study by the University of Iowa and the American Lung Association concluded that 70 percent of the workers in indoor facilities on factory pig farms experience symptoms of respiratory illness. Chronic bronchitis is suffered by over 50 percent of all "swine confinement workers," three times that of farmers who work in outdoor facilities. The turnover rate of workers in these conditions is understandably very high, and in some cases the owners of the factory farms have had to sell their businesses because they themselves were unable to work in their own farms.
Consider this, the next time you’re complaining about your job – the decomposing waste from pig pens is collected in pits below, causing a build-up of hydrogen sulfide. According to the American Lung Association report,"Animals have died and workers have become seriously ill in confinement buildings ... Several workers have died when entering a pit during or soon after the emptying process to repair pumping equipment. Persons attempting to rescue these workers have also died." The pigs living in these conditions breathe those toxic fumes every minute of their short lives. Animals living in these conditions regularly contract pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses – yet another reason why they’re pumped full of antibiotics.
Economics. Raising animals for food is,, to put it bluntly, a stupid way to feed a hungry world. Livestock in the United States consume enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the nation’s population. One acre of pasture produces an average of 165 pounds of beef – the same acre could produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes. If Americans reduced their consumption of meat by just 10 percent, it would save 12 million tonsof grain annually. That much grain could feed 60 million people each year. 60,000,000 !
Congratulations! If you’ve followed all the steps and taken the advice presented to you in this book – you’re a vegetarian! Now you have one more decision to make – whether you want to use your knowledge to reach out to other vegetarians and educate meat-eaters about the lifestyle. You don’t have to do this, of course. You can live your meat-free life quietly and on your own, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But now that you know what you do about vegetarianism’s value to individuals and the world, you may find you want to become a bit more active.
You don’t have to do it right this minute, of course. But many, many vegetarians find that it’s easier to maintain their lifestyle if they have the support of others who share the same values. As you now know, there are many reasons for becoming vegetarian, and people have all sorts of different reasons for going meat-free – and you may find that there’s a lot to learn by discovering the viewpoint of other vegetarians.
Even if you choose to travel this path alone, you’re an ambassador for vegetarianism. Your family, friends, co-workers and even strangers will see you as an example of meatless living, and as you meet more people and have more unique experiences of your own, your outlook, appearance and behavior will – for better or worse – be seen as that of a vegetarian person. So why not be the best vegetarian that you can be?
Whether we like it or not, our appearance and actions are judged by others. If you’re telling a co-worker about the barbaric treatment of cows in factory farms while eating a cheese sandwich or discussing karma while wearing leather shoes, your audience may see you as a hypocrite. That’s not to say that you can’t be a good vegetarian and eat cheese or wear leather – but you need to be aware of when your actions and your words aren’t in sync.
Always practice good hygiene and dress neatly. Don’t play into society’s prejudices by exemplifying the stereotype of the "dirty hippy." If you’re clean, neat and appropriately dressed, the people that you deal with will think, "Hey – you’re just like me!" They’ll hear your message because they relate to you, rather than being turned off due to their own preconceptions.
Making a connection
If you live in a small town, it may be difficult for you to find other vegetarians to talk to about the lifestyle. But don’t give up! If you have a college or university in your town, there’s probably a vegetarian group on campus – higher education and vegetarianism often go hand-in-hand. Watch for notices of vegetarian group meetings posted on bulletin boards at colleges schools and community centers, as well as libraries, supermarkets and other public places. Check out the ads in your local newspaper and look for natural food stores, bookstores or other shops that support alternative lifestyles. Visit them, and ask questions – in a small town, word of mouth is invaluable.
The Internet is also a great resources for vegetarians. There are hundreds of online groups, including message boards and recipe swap site, geared toward vegetarians. Not only are they a good source of discussion and community, they may be able to connect you with vegetarians in your own area.
If you still find yourself coming up short, take the initiative and start your own group! It’s highly unlikely that you’re the only vegetarian where you live, even in a rural area or a very small town. Take out a newspaper ad and throw a potluck at your home or local community center – you may be pleasantly surprised by how many people show up! Once you’ve got a group together, start a regular event where you all eat out at local restaurants. You’ll not only help your community by supporting restaurants that cater to meat-free diners, you may also encourage other local businesses to take vegetarians into consideration when planning their menus.
As a newcomer to vegetarianism, you’ll probably find it helpful to socialize with others who share your point of view. Even the most well-meaning friends can be less than supportive of a lifestyle change, because they think they already know who you are and what you like. But by making connections with others who feel the same way, you’ll not only broaden your own social network, you’ll have a valuable resource for asking questions, sharing ideas and learning about other approaches to meat-free eating.
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