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Updated 08 July 2013

How to annoy a vegetarian

Meat-eaters have a perverse need to antagonise non meat-eaters. Olivia Rose-Innes has her say.

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The next time you get the urge to antagonise a vegetarian – and if you're a meat-eater you probably suffer from a perverse need to do so – lean towards them over the dinner table and deliver one of the following immortal lines:

1. Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian?
2. But you’re wearing leather shoes.
3. So what made you give up meat – was it for religious reasons?
4. Moo/Baa/Oink (in accordance with whichever meat dish you’ve just ordered).

This will elicit a reaction, but not, as you may like to think, because you’ve ruffled fragile vegetarian sensibilities with your rogueish wit. The real reason they’re peeved is that they’ve heard all of these facetious remarks (not to mention the barnyard impressions) many, many, many times before. The prospect of getting into an argument with you also bores them to death, so more often than not they’ll just give you a pained smile and return to their tofu.

But there are lots of important things they could say to you on the topic, so, to save them the bother and tedium, I’ve listed the appropriate responses to the above comments for you here (except for number 4, which is too puerile to waste another second on).

Vegetarians, please feel free to print out and distribute as needed:

Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian?

Actually, although it seems he wasn't keen on meat, many historians don't believe he was totally vegetarian. And even if he was, so what? There are enough overwhelmingly virtuous famous vegheads - Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, St Francis of Assisi - to cancel him out.

But you’re wearing leather shoes

This is quite a tricky one in fact… OK, here goes:

The world is a complicated place, rendered in shades of grey. Deciding not to care about an issue just because it gets a little confusing and morally murky is sheer intellectual laziness. It’s not great to wear an animal’s hide on your feet, true, but it’s considerably better than wearing one animal’s hide and also partaking of the flesh of several others.

So what made you give up meat – was it for religious reasons?

The irritating implication of this question is that if you can demonstrate you’re a vegetarian for religious-cultural reasons, then you’ll have the right to be taken seriously, whereas any other reason is somehow flakey and light-weight. Here are some of those ‘light-weight’ reasons:

Because it eases the burden on the health system

Buddha aside, how many obese vegetarians can you bring to mind?

Studies suggest that a vegetarian diet reduces risk for some of the biggest killers stalking the modern world:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer, especially of the colon and reproductive organs
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gallstones and diverticular disease

In addition to these ills, feeding on other animal species, especially when they’re kept en masse for convenient culling for the dinner table, is not a great idea if you consider the communicable diseases that have arisen from the practice - bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow) and avian influenza (bird flu), to name just a couple. And let's not forget that HIV/Aids is thought to have had its origins in the human consumption of other primates i.e. bushmeat hunting.

Because it eases the burden on the planet

Billions of flatulent cows and, to a rather lesser extent, sheep, produce an awful lot of methane, one of the most potent of the greenhouse gasses. This, plus the vast amounts of fossil fuel required to accommodate, slaughter, aesthetically package and transport all that tasty meat makes livestock farming one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

It also takes up huge tracts of land and gallons upon gallons of water. Growing crops uses resources too, but nothing like as much as livestock farming and meat production. Besides which, most of those crops are used, not to feed the world's growing human population, but to feed livestock destined for meat-eaters’ plates: about two thirds of grain produced is fed to animals farmed for meat and milk.

Because underdogs rule

Despite a slight increase in visibility and status in recent years, vegetarians remain an often derided and unappreciated minority. But it’s always been cooler to be an underdog than a top dog, to buck the system than to slavishly follow the status quo.

Vegetarians' cool rating is further elevated by some of the Names they have in their midst: J.M. Coetzee, Alice Walker, Steve Jobs, Annie Lennox and, for some unfathomable reason, a large number of pro skateboarders, BMXers and other extreme athletes. OK, there’s also Larry Hagman and Pamela Anderson, but that just serves to show there is no such thing as a vegetarian ‘type’.

But mostly they’re cool because they’ve put some pretty deep concerns before the craven appeasing of their own appetites. As freestyle BMX vet and all-round ultra-cool extreme vegan dude Taj Mihelich succinctly puts it: “I don’t think that I’m so important that an animal has to die every time I want to eat.”

The author would like to confess that she hasn’t quite made it into the vegetarian inner circle: she still eats a modest amount of fish. But apart from an unfortunate encounter with some Argentinian beef in 1996, no mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian has had any reason to fear her for nearly two decades.

 
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