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Merriam Webster’s definition of a “Vegetarian” is:
1: A person who does not eat meat: Someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products,
2: An herbivore.
I fit those two descriptions. And yet, I’m not a Vegetarian.
Why don’t I eat meat?
There are a number of reasons, almost all of them related to the people I hold most dear:
- My daughter, Ali, became a vegetarian when she was eight years old and a vegan at 16. She worked with PETA and now works with Farm Sanctuary. Ali is firmly committed to respecting animals and is a very knowledgeable and convincing voice for animal rights.
- My son, Danny, is very concerned about climate change and the future of our planet. He works to promote clean energy and he has shown me how many of the practices of the agricultural industrial complex significantly damage the environment.
- My wife, Gloria, is a nurse practitioner who specializes in family health and elder care. She is convinced that a diet filled with animal fats and proteins contributes to many of our societal health woes. What’s more, Gloria is a devoted animal lover and can’t stomach the idea of killing animals for food.
- My mother was always socially conscious and nutritionally minded. I grew up in a household with free of soda and most few prepared foods, with more grains and vegetables than meats, and a family consciousness of healthy eating. While I wasn’t raised vegetarian, those habits are still hard to break.
So, I don’t eat meat and I hardly ever consume dairy. But I’m still not a Vegetarian. And even though I cheat every now and again, that’s not why I eschew the term. Instead, I resist the term Vegetarian for one reason: Baggage.
Simply put, I don’t want to be saddled with the baggage that comes with the descriptor Vegetarian. Because even though the dictionary definition accurately defines both the word and my practices, that definition is not necessarily how we use the word Vegetarian in everyday language.
For example, all of us in business know that sales is one of the most important parts of a successful enterprise. And we all know that great salespeople are the keys to that success. But is “oh he’s such a salesman…” a compliment that means someone’s really good at sales, or a pejorative that suggests he’s pushy and untrustworthy?
Likewise, even though the definition of the word Vegetarian means someone who doesn’t eat meat, we know that its common use implies other traits that may or may not be accurate.
Or, as I said before, Baggage.
I don’t want the fact that I don’t eat meat to suggest other unrelated things about me anymore than I want the clothes I wear, my age, the way I speak, or even my ethnicity to invite people to lump me into their pre-conceived silos.
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Of course, I know I benefit from a combination of ethnic and physical privileges that allow me to avoid the unfair ways people could judge me. While at the same time I benefit from similar privileges that enhance the way people see me and treat me.
How do I know that? I’ve never been followed by a salesperson unless they thought they were going to earn a big commission from my potential purchase. I’ve never felt uncomfortable when a policeman pulled me over, other than worrying about getting a ticket and seeing my insurance rates soar. And I’ve never been told I don’t belong here – whether “here” refers to the country or the boardroom – because of how I appear or sound. Instead, my eyes have been opened to all the ways I’ve benefitted by the way I look and speak and how unfair it is for others who don’t benefit from the very same privileges I do.
So, my disdain for the using the word Vegetarian stems from my desire not to add additional irrelevant clues to others’ understanding of who I am or what I believe in.
I’m not a Vegetarian. I just choose not to eat meat.