Saturday, June 03, 2006

Just say yes


Twice now I have publicly identified myself as a vegetarian.

The first announcement came at a business meeting a few weeks ago. The meeting was held from 10 AM to 2 PM in the client’s office. Gail, the client’s project manager, had ordered food from a nearby kosher deli. Along with potato salad, cole slaw, dill pickles, chips, cookies and assorted drinks were sandwiches -- corned beef, pastrami, and turkey -- containing at least a pound of meat each. I ate everything except the sandwiches. When Gail asked me if I was a vegetarian, I said yes. In a business setting it didn’t seem appropriate to explain my concerns over the healthiness of meat due to today's industrialized farming methods or my hope that eating a low-fat vegetarian diet will result in weight loss. I just answered the question with a simple "yes", and voila! Like magic, I was a vegetarian. The only conversation on the subject focused on whether I had enough to eat. It wasn’t a difficult conversation because Gail, who is Jewish but not kosher, had ordered “regular” food at the last lunch meeting, leaving our salesman, who is Jewish and kosher, with nothing to eat except chips and Girl Scout cookies. Gail made some joke about not being able to please all of the people all of the time and then promptly changed the subject, but not before I felt everyone’s vague discomfort at my "yes" to the vegetarian question and their pity if they looked at my plate.

The second vegetarian proclamation also occurred at a business lunch, this time with co-workers. We all went to Chinatown to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant. As we were selecting dishes that we would share family-style, Lou said, “Linda, you’re a vegetarian now, right?” And in front of six people whom I see every weekday, I answered yes. I didn’t feel any more comfortable than a few weeks ago at that business lunch where some people were total strangers. This time the concern was slightly different. They wanted me to be able to sample as many of the family-style selections as possible. Since I eat fish, I was able to sample everything except two dishes. And in good family-style tradition, they all tried my spicy tofu with vegetables. Everyone said it was perhaps the best tofu they had ever tasted. Considering that several people were meat-eating men who seemed uncomfortable even saying the word tofu, I took this as a meaningful gesture of friendship!

Both situations made me aware that I’ve assumed a label -- and in some situations, a stigma. If you have a food allergy, people know you have no choice but to avoid certain foods. If you are overweight and dieting, people assume you have positive motivations: good health and good looks. But if you’re a vegetarian, whatever the reason, you are just plain weird. I didn’t actually realize how uncomfortable the vegetarian label, regardless of its definition, can make some people. They are uncomfortable even if I'm not.

While I might see becoming a vegetarian as a process, others obviously see it differently. If you answer "yes" to the vegetarian question, you are a vegetarian. End of story. Wouldn’t it be great if all major life changes were that simple!


© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
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2 comments:

amy said...

very cool post -- i've been there, too... we should get dinner after MMF one of these days!

mbg said...

Congrats for saying yes and officially joining the meat-free club. I haven't experienced weird comments or looks for being a veggie for many years, but when I first became a vegetarian, I was a teenager, so of course everyone assumed I was just being difficult and picky. One summer,when I was 17, the cook in the program I worked for refused to make me any food special without meat in it (including spaghetti sauce, omlettes, etc.) because she thought I was being a spoiled brat. I ate a lot of plain pasta that summer. Luckily it's more acceptable today. Hopefully you'll start to get positive comments on your decision once people are used to you being a vegetarian.