For anyone that’s been openly vegetarian or vegan/plant-based for any length of time, you’ll know that there are often occasions where conversations can get a little… unruly. Whether it’s from concerned parents, curious friends, coworkers that are projecting, or internet trolls, everyone seems to have an opinion on it. Some of it is incredibly well-intentioned if poorly delivered, and some of it is just flat out antagonistic for some horrible reason.
If these have been said to you and you’ve been annoyed AF, I feel ya. If you’ve said these, maybe reconsider. These are mostly unnecessary, and are easily avoidable. Some of them even can be reworded to be interesting conversation starters! Others, however, are a little less salvageable.
Grab a coffee and buckle up, buckaroo, it’s gonna be messy.
“Plants are living things too! Does that mean it’s wrong to eat them?”
Here’s the thing. Yes, lots of veg folks say “animals are living beings” as justification for not eating them, it’s a shorthand alternative to having to explain the sentience thing. So, semantically, the phrase can be picked apart. But contextually and logically, it’s pretty freaking clear. We know plants are “alive”. But they’re not sentient. Stop comparing nervous systems to cell wall surrounded vacuoles to try and criticize someones dietary and lifestyle choices that don’t affect you. This is simply a tactic to derail the conversation.
Alternative: “I don’t understand the distinction between eating living plants and animals, can you explain it?”
“Oh you don’t eat meat? I’m going to enjoy this nice juicy steak/fried chicken/etc then!”
There is literally no reason for this statement, other than to get a rise out of the other person and make them upset. Which, by the way, is shitty. It reflects really poorly on your character if your response to a decision steeped in compassion and ethics is to glorify something that’s probably really upsetting to them. There’s no reason for this. At all.
And if you smack someone for saying this to you, I don’t blame you. And if you get in trouble for it, well I got bail money.
Alternative: Shut the fuck up.
“Why do you always bring it up?”
Because you asked, Susan. You offered me a hot dog and because of my diet and lifestyle, I have to check if it’s vegetarian. Or, I may have just declined and “no” wasn’t enough for you.
If I mention something offhanded or contextually relevant about not eating meat, and you ask, I’m going to talk about it. You don’t get to instigate and then be upset when you don’t like the thing you instigated. I don’t care which bullshit you want to be on, I just need you to pick one.
We’re bringing it up a lot probably because you’re necessitating that we do.
Alternative: “You mention this a lot, is there a reason? Is it something you’re really passionate about?”
“I thought you were vegetarian, why are you eating x?”
Here’s the fucking thing, Karen: there are substitutions for meat and many animal products. So this burger I’m chowing down on? It’s a black bean patty. The “turkey” and cheese sandwich I had for lunch? Veggie meat and vegan cheese and vegan mayo. Substitutions exist. And if we’re going to get into a competition of weird shit we eat, I’ve seen you at enough work luncheons to know that your house is made outta glass on this one. People seem to try and police what vegetarians and vegans eat in very strange ways. I don’t really know where it came from but dammit here we are.
This is also related to item 3 on my list. I bring it up a lot because y’all can’t keep your nose out of my lunch.
Alternative: “What kind of burger is that?”
“But what are you going to eat?”
I almost understand this one. Our idea, culturally, of what makes up a balanced meal is married to the idea that meat is part of the equation. We don’t look at our plates as nutrition sources in the ways that they actually are. The food pyramid is ingrained in our minds in a way and by saying “I don’t eat meat”, a whole category of food has just… vanished. “Meat” is the main part of a meal, right?
Facts are, I’m gonna eat a whole lot of different things still! Most whole food is completely vegetarian and often vegan. Take Thanksgiving. I ate almost everything. on the table, just no turkey, and vegetarian stuffing and gravy instead of the regular. My plate kinda looked like a bunch of sides, which I think is what throws people off. The “main” part of the meal is gone.
Overall, the answer is, “Uh, well, vegetables. Gasp. Grains. Beans. Fruit. Probably vodka. Just nothing dead.”
Alternative: “What recipe ideas do you have in mind?”
“What about your nutrition?”
Again this is one I almost understand. And yet it still irks the shit out of me. Most people, I think, categorize foods as carbs, fats, proteins, and that’s it. And the micronutrients just aren’t even in the picture. So “protein”=”meat”. But here’s the thing: nutrition isn’t that easy to categorize all the time. So we don’t realize the awesome nutritional value there is in a bunch of natural, whole foods.
But here’s where it starts to get annoying. I’m often asked this by people who have never mentioned their nutrition, or nutrition in general, to me. I love talking nutrition, I love talking science. Yet that’s only ever brought up when they’re worried about what I’m doing? This is where it looks less like sincere interest and more like food policing and even projection.
People love to talk about deficiencies in veggie diets, and fail to recognize the deficiencies and excess in the standard American diet first. Let’s just all focus on our own numbers.
Alternative: “I don’t really understand nutrition for vegetarians/vegans, could you explain it to me?”
“Animals are put on this earth to feed us!”
Are you sure about that, Stewart. Are you really sure on that one? There’s a lot to unpack with this statement, but mostly it comes off as very self-centered, at least to me. Part of the reason a lot of people go for a veggie lifestyle is because of the environmental concerns. When you put it in us vs. them terms, it shows a lack of consideration for the ecology behind this lifestyle.
The reason a lot of us follow these diets is because this isn’t how we see the world. Animals were not placed here with divine designation as particular food sources. Historically we have used animals, and in our own bid for self-evolution we manipulated balances and systems that we really had no place in. Telling us something like the above rings hollow, because it’s at direct odds with all available data and reasoning for these diets and lifestyles. This simply doesn’t hold water.
Alternative: “People have used animals for food for a long time. Why do you feel they shouldn’t be used as a food source?”
“Oh I’m vegetarian too! I had fish for dinner!” or “I’m vegan too! I had eggs at breakfast!”
This happens… too much. And it gets only more frustrating every time it happens.
If you’re trying to consume less animal products, that’s amazing! Every little bit counts. If you’re trying to transition to one of these diets or lifestyles, again, groovy. But please, for the sake of clarity do not tell people you are one of these things if you continue to consume products that are in direct opposition to them.
We have a hard enough time not getting shit from omnivores even when we are living in agreement with the shit we say we believe. Don’t deliberately misuse words to try and score some imaginary cool points. And if you think that fish isn’t meat or that eggs shouldn’t be considered an animal product, this may not be the movement for you or maybe you need to do more research. Some things are open to debate, but not basic definitions like this.
If you eat fish, but no other meat, you’re a pescatarian. No meat at all? Vegetarian. Consuming no animal products in your diet? Plant-based. No animal products at all? Vegan. Easy peasy. These distinctions are actually incredibly important, and I can totally make a post about why. (I use vegan in this blog post just to make things a little quicker.)
Alternative: (if cutting down) “I’m trying to eat less x! Any suggestions?” (If transitioning) “I’m trying to switch to x, can you help me out?”
“I could never give up -insert food here-!”
You could, Jonathon, you actually could. You don’t want to. Please stop insisting that desires are needs, and that the world will somehow come crashing down if you have cheese a little less often.
On a serious note, there are some people whose bodies don’t respond well to going veggie! However, this is not most people that say this. And it’s frustrating that people will say this thinking it’s hilarious when they don’t realize a couple things: a) there are substitutions, and b) just because you like it doesn’t mean you need to eat it. It’s a matter of priorities. It’s ok to say “I don’t want to go veggie”, it’s more honest and we get it. Don’t try and say you couldn’t when that’s not really the case. A lot of veggie people thought they would hate giving up some foods they used to love.
Alternative: “It’s really cool what you’re doing. I don’t want to, but it’s great you are!
And bonus: “That’s not how our ancestors ate!”
I’m giving my dad credit for this one, because he says it to me literally all the goddamn time.
First off, it’s debatable and unclear about what the diet actually was and its change over time. The diet of early humanity is not 100% certain. We were absolutely hunter gatherers at some point. But whether we evolved as hunter gatherers because that’s sincerely where our adaptations pushed us, or because we had to become that is a little fuzzy. There is also some question about how prevalent a vegan diet was, and to what extent our ancestors actually ate meat (how much, how often, etc). If you check information on our teeth and digestive system, there’s really interesting information!
Second, does it actually fucking matter? Seriously. “It’s how we’ve always done things!” isn’t the best argument for why we should continue to do them. Considering that there are many solid reasons to at least limit our dietary consumption of animal products, it’s starting to look like one of the things society should look at changing is diet.
Just because that’s how we did it a few millenia ago is simply not enough reason for us to keep doing it. Especially when we don’t have any concrete evidence as to what we were doing and now society is completely different.
And that’s it kiddos. Ten big things that people can stop saying to vegans and vegetarians! I know it was a lot, but this happens a lot! If you’re an omnivore that says these, this isn’t an attack on you, just stuff to think about. And most importantly, while conversations and questions are great, make sure you’re sincerely listening and trying to understand. If you aren’t trying, that’s all right, just don’t get into those conversations.
In the comments, either add to this list with your own experiences, or let me know which of these you’ve said!