Illustration by Trina Dalziel
It happened when I was a teenager: one day, quite suddenly, I could no longer stand the idea of eating meat.
At the time we had a severely obese yellow Labrador retriever named Penelope who we sang to and took on boat rides and who my little brother believed was his wife. I couldn't bear the hypocrisy that dogs were family members who sometimes wore sweaters, but chickens were assholes who deserved to be deep-fried. By and large, I've kept those thoughts to myself during my 20 years as a vegetarian. It's not my style to preach to meat-lovers. (Plus, awkward!) But, oh man, do they have a lot to say to me:
"I read an article that said you can die from being a vegetarian."
"See, but I'm an adventurous eater. I ate grasshoppers in Oaxaca. And ants. I was scraping grasshopper legs out of my teeth for hours. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want that experience."
"OK, but you eat chicken, right?"
"You can just pick the pork out."
"There's beef in it, but very little."
"That's why you're always cold."
"That's why your hair is thin."
"You're crying because you need protein. Vegetarianism causes depression."
"I don't trust anyone who doesn't eat bacon."
"That's cool. I would be vegetarian, but my body doesn't want me to give up meat. Listening to my body has totally changed my life. I tried vegetarianism once for a few days and my body was like, no. Just. No, Brenda."
"Do you believe that, like, plants have feelings?"
"Are you Buddhist?"
"Are you Hindu?"
"Are you Seventh-day Adventist?"
"I have a lot of respect for that. I wouldn't do it, but seriously: Right on."
"So, if the world's best chef made you, like, Kobe beef, you'd be like, 'No, thanks, I'll have a carrot'?"
"Humans are hunters."
"No, but humans are hunters."
"Do you know how bad deer over-population would be without hunting?"
"I love animals too. In my BELLY!"
"Can't you just eat around it?"
"Do you basically just eat lettuce?"
"But it's just mashed potatoes and gravy. I don't understand…"
"Do you fart constantly? I went vegan once for two weeks on a dare and my farts were epic."
"I've met people like you. Do you talk to crystals? I knew this chick who was vegetarian and she was always barefoot and talking to crystals. She went to Burning Man. Have you been to Burning Man? I heard it's pretty much a bunch of trust-fund kids on acid having sex and wearing goggles."
"See, I think it's totally natural to eat meat as long as the chicken is free-range and the beef is grass-fed and the method of slaughter is cruelty-free."
"It's not meat, though, it's chicken stock."
"It's not meat, though, it's lard."
"Gelatin isn't meat, though, it's gelatin."
"Did you hear about the couple that died from eating too much kale?"
"Vegetarians are so sanctimonious."
"Don't even talk to me."
So mostly, I don't talk back. Usually, I laugh, because the comedians are harmless. (I'm not so B12-deficient that I can't take a joke.) The omnivorous-and-oblivious are harmless too. And I don't even bother contradicting the preachers. They're just looking to squash that tiny suspicion that eating meat might be a tad inhumane, or a tad less healthy, or a tad environmentally reprehensible. I get it because, deep down, I'd like to quiet the inner voice telling me I'm inferior to vegans—that they're stronger than me, more hard-core than me, probably also younger and hipper and more shiny-haired than me. But if asked how I justify eating that piece of smoked provolone—or Taleggio or raclette or really any cheese that's not a "cheese food"—all I can say is:
"My body doesn't want me to give up dairy. I tried it once for a few days and my body was like, no. Just. No, Diana."