“You’re a vegetarian?”
“Do you ever want to eat meat?”
“How do you live like that?”
I’ve been hearing the same things every time I tell people about my diet since I was little. In elementary school, kids used to make fun of me for not eating the same food as them as them. My fellow third graders used to wave pieces of ham or salami in my face. It seemed as if they were trying to hypnotize me, hoping I would suddenly have an urge to eat meat.
Sometimes they would ask if I ate like a rabbit or what I would do in completely unrealistic situations, like if I was stuck on an abandoned island in the Pacific with nothing but trees and wild pigs.
I’m a vegetarian, and have been one since birth. The reason why is a combination of religious and ethical beliefs. Not all Hindus are vegetarian, but my family believes in not eating meat. We don’t own leather either.
Thankfully, things have changed since elementary school. People have mostly accepted that I will never have the same taste in food as them. However, I can sometimes feel how different my eating choices are. Whenever I turn on Food Network, it’s always steak sizzling in a pan or some poor bird being stuck in an oven. The few times they actually cook vegetables is when it’s a side dish for meat. I don’t even get that much representation on TV as a brown girl, the least they could do is make something vegetarian.
Even in restaurants, I have to scan the menu for something that is even remotely plant-based. Steakhouses and seafood restaurants are practically my worst nightmare. When I give the waiter the clear instructions to not include any sort of meat, two things can happen. Either they nod but still bring me my meal with meat in it, or they give me my order and charge the same price as the meal with meat on it.
Don’t get me started on those foods that have meat built into them. Some dishes are cooked with fish sauce or beef stock and there is no way to take out the meat. It’s frustrating to see how little choices I have when I go out to eat.
To be honest, however, my family is not super strict on vegetarianism. My brother and I survived on Jell-O with gelatin when we got our wisdom teeth out. We eat eggs almost every day. The only day we don’t is Saturday for religious reasons.
Truth be told, I have eaten meat before. Whether it was a fast food order mix up or my own mistake, I have had meat on accident, and no, I didn’t have a moment of enlightenment. Immediately after realizing I had digested meat, my stomach rebelled. The taste of meat was foreign and gross, the texture was slimy. I didn’t know how to feel anything else besides disgust in that moment.
Despite the fact that I live in a world catered to meat eaters, I’ve come to accept my vegetarian lifestyle as a part of who I am, along with the good and the bad. It’s annoying how I am limited to five choices in most restaurants. In the worst cases, I am stuck with a sorry excuse for a salad while my friends enjoy full meals. People say that’s part of what would make them avoid vegetarianism, but I can stick to the same veggie burger if it means animals aren’t killed for my consumption.
While it may seem like I dislike meat eaters, that’s not the case either. I’m fine when people eat meat in front of me. I’ve accepted that not everyone around me will eat the same way I do. The only time I have a problem is when people try to convince me to eat meat while ignoring the fact that I can’t and I won’t. I don’t force my diet on other people. If I can respect meat eaters’ diet, I hope that people can respect mine.