Monday, June 20, 2005

Where's The Beef?


Mikhail, over at Dirt and Soundwaves, brought the ludicrous quote below to my attention.
"I was sitting eating lunch the other day with a coworker, and all of a sudden she goes, 'Ug, why do you only have lettuce and tomato on your sandwich.' I replied quickly that I was a vegetarian. She breaks into a huge smile and loudly declares, 'Me too!' ... while eating a roast beef sandwich. I was too awestruck to speak again."
Well, okay then.

Admittedly, my own dietary restrictions are unusual – no meat unless I kill (and preferably butcher) the fish, fowl, or mammal myself – but I'm still surprised every time someone assumes that I'll eat purchased fish or shellfish. "Are you vegan or something?," they'll ask when they learn that I do not.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by their assumption. A few months ago, I read in the British scientific journal, Nature, that an astounding 20% of the United Kingdom’s population claims to be vegetarian. I was impressed and encouraged, but a poll that I read more recently explains Nature's high figure. Apparently, nearly 75% of "vegetarians" in the UK eat fish, 50% eat chicken, and 25% eat red meat once a week or more. Evidently the roast beef sandwich girl's imbecilic take on vegetarianism is a common one!

Simply put, a vegetarian diet is that of an herbivore. An herbivore doesn’t eat fish or chicken and certainly doesn’t opt for the occasional sirloin. I realize that some people, especially teens, become vegetarian to be “part of something” while forging an identity, but why must the word be bastardized in the process? If you desire to distinguish yourself in this way, simply say you eat red meat less often than most people do, but don’t claim to be a vegetarian. When I traced my genealogy back three generations, I come across a Hungarian Jewish great-grandfather. Technically, then, I'm 1/8 Jewish (genetically), but I can't claim to be a good Jewish boy! How, then, can part-time meat eaters label themselves vegetarian, especially on a census?

I suppose I need to ask myself that question before I direct it at others. My own dietary rules are somewhat paradoxical, so in conversation or prose I take great care NOT to label myself a true vegetarian. I always write or say, “I’m a strict vegetarian unless I catch or kill the creature myself.” (By the way, I’d love suggestions for a descriptive term I could use, as the above statement is a mouthful.) On a census, though, there is no such category. What should I mark down? In my case, I think I would check the vegetarian box, especially considering I eat meat once in a blue moon (only once or twice a year). Obviously, I’m one of the guilty group here, but I do think that my case is something of an exception. I will never buy flesh again; if I eat it, I’ve killed it. I doubt that more than 1% of UK respondents, if that, checked the box for the same reasons I would.

In any event, my frustration boils down to my being a stickler for language evolution. I think it fantastic that 20% of the UK population is eating less meat, but I can't forgive their abuse of the word "vegetarian."

15 comments:

mog said...

I'm a flexetarian. I feel better when I eat vegetarian but meat enters my diet 2-3 days per week. Which is cool by me because it's not an ethical choice. I just think the human body doesn't digest meat - especially processed meats - very well.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Mog,

Actually, I respect your choice. Prior to adopting the diet I follow now, I suppose I was a flexetarian, too.

As for your concerns about meat digestion, you are correct. The body digests it well enough, but the "side effects" can be very corrosive in the long term, as I'm sure you already know.

Plus, when I murder a deer and later relish a venison steak, I become exhausted; my body is put through a physical trial no different than it was whenever I ate meat in the past, but my diet allows me to notice it more now. That whole "tired after you eat" thing really doesn't happen on a vegetarian diet...unless you pig out.

Admittedly, I would prefer if all folks concerned about conservation and sustainability became vegetarian or something approaching it - the negative environmental impact of our species would decline precipitously as a result - but every little bit helps.

OGeorge said...

At least we're thinking about our choices HH. I have relatives (folks in my own gene pool - Aurghhhh!) who thought that being a vegetarian meant eating something green a couple times a week in addition to the steaks and chops and "wings". I'm NOT kidding! They couldn't imagine it when I explained that vegetarians eat NO meat.

Hungry Hyaena said...

In a most discouraging way, that's hilarious, O'George.

My parents are horrified by my diet, actually, and believe it responsible for "unacceptable weight loss" and my current illness. While there is a need to get vitamin B-12 from other sources, I don't think the diet is making me "waste away."

I am sometimes baffled by their prejudice against vegetarianism, but I also realize it has much to do with the relatively slow nature of social evolution. I know both of my parents care about the outdoors a great deal and imagine that had they not eaten meat their whole life without connecting to it the environment, they might feel differently today.

Each generation is becoming more thoughtful about such matters - not because they are more thoughtful people, but because the meme is among us - and I am encouraged by this fact. In the meantime, we can each only do what we are comfortable with.

Devo said...

Heh, I'm a vagetarian.

Mikhail Capone said...

*raises hand*

I'm a vegetarian too.

A great source of "weird thing people who call themselves vegetarians do" can be found on the veggieboards.com

There's actually a thread that must have over 1000 replies about "stupid thinsg omnivores say".

Some of them are... Unbelievable.

Jewbacca said...

Vegetarians are homos

Hungry Hyaena said...

Yep, that's us...just a bunch of ho-mo-sexuals looking to steal your sons and bugger 'em but good while we share tofu and chick peas.

Thanks for stopping by, Jewbacca. I always appreciate thoughtful input.

Updog said...

While travelling in the north of Argentina a few years back, I was struck by the additional linguistic barriers faced by vegetarians there. 'Ella no come carne' means she doesn't eat meat AND she doesn't eat beef. Perhaps there is a more streamlined way of saying things, but my companions had a helluva time. The result was usually a litany of things that the person didn't eat, usualy resulting in a plate of fried potatoes or an obscure cut of meat that had been left off the list. The overarching concept seemed to be lost on our hosts.

Hungry Hyaena said...

I'm a little lost. Since the direct translation would be "She doesn't eat meat," why do they differeniate between meat and beef?

When I worked in Costa Rica, I had no dietary restrictions, but it wouldn't have mattered. We ate absolutely no meats with the exception of fish, often small bull sharks which I would hand-line for just off the beach at the mouth of a descending tropical river.

It was eerie to haul in a shark and butcher it, then swim/stumble through the same waters to get back to camp. That was also the only place where I've been "hit" by a shark (while body surfing one afternoon), and that kept me out of the water for days. Anyway, I digress...fond memories of a time when I didn't work a fu*king desk job.

Anonymous said...

"no meat unless I kill (and preferably butcher) the fish, fowl or mammal myself"

What's the difference who kills it?
dumbass

Hungry Hyaena said...

Anonymous:

For starters, you might try reading the post before labelling me a "dumbass," or, better yet, checking out some of the links I provide in the sidebar. The rational you mock is explained - in no uncertain terms - in several earlier posts and, yes, there is a substantial difference, both in terms of the energy required (gas and other fossil fuels, for starters) to bring the butchered animal to your table (or neighborhood McDonald's) and the "moral price," if you will.

But, judging by your flaming me anonymously, I assume you're just bored off your gourd on a Sunday evening, and don't even care about the diet to begin with.

C said...

I believe it's wrong to kill an animal factory-style, which is a consequence of the sheer amount of meat produced and consumed. Eating less meat, or butchering your own, reduces consumer demand. It's not that difficult to understand, Mr. "Dumbass".

I sometimes call myself a vegetarian because most people aren't familiar with terms such as "flexitarian", "piscatoral", etc.

It's also useful at restaurants when I request a special order. "I'm a vegetarian" makes more sense than "I just had a piece of chicken a few days ago".

C said...

To clarify, that was directed at the Anonymous post, not the blog owner.

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