Vegetarianism: Should vegetarians allow themselves to eat meat from the plates of others?

When I first became a vegetarian, I decided it was more important to withhold financial support from the meat industry than be a stickler about the diet. I wasn't ready then (or now) to become an activist against the meat sellers by holding protests or burning down slaughterhouses. I felt that a vegetarian is defined by primarily living on a vegetarian diet and not by the absolute absence of meat.

I decided I didn't have a problem eating meat that would otherwise go to waste. You know-- the taste of shrimp linguini or other delicious-type entree offered by family members and close friends. The food that would otherwise be thrown away and doesn't create another order in the kitchen.

Why don't more vegetarians think this way? Why do so many vegetarians avoid meat to the point of offending others by declining a specially made dish or letting delicious shrimp linguini go to waste? Here are a few reasons:

1. Exaggerated self-importance
Some vegetarians seem to view vegetarianism  like an arcade game. If they get a perfect score, they'll get a prize and all the animals will stop suffering. These are the vegetarians that are militant about never eating meat, who brag about "how long it's been since I had meat last". There are more legitimate reasons for never eating meat (below), but to take it this seriously without one is silly.

2. Unavoidable disgust
This is the feeling a vegetarian gets when the meat is on the fork. It's similar to guilt, but different. Most vegetarians can reason past the guilt if the meat will be thrown away (I certainly can), but they still might not eat because they know too much. It's both a physical revulsion at the meat's composition and an ethical disgust for what they perceive as a societal wrong. Many vegetarians are extremely caring people who aren't trying to be difficult, they just can't help but react emotionally because of what they know and who they are.

3. Reputation
While I consider being mindlessly militant about never eating meat a negative (see #1), maintaining a reputation as a vegetarian who takes their beliefs seriously is important. Though vegetarianism and related wholesome food movements are spreading, vegetarians are still a minority. This means a lot of people look to vegetarians as a different type of person-- they're tested. It's a social reaction that happens whenever a minority group feels passionate about something. If someone calls himself a vegetarian but eats meat whenever he feels like it, people may dismiss him and
other vegetarians. There isn't anything wrong with holding firm to your beliefs if it's done in a healthy way. I'd like to think that anyone whose unwanted food is fair game knows me well enough to understand how seriously I take my own brand of vegetarianism and why.

4. Moral confusion
Some vegetarians confuse eating meat with creating meat. Having grown up in a culture that demonized consumption of many different types of substances, it's easy to make the leap to meat. Yes, there are more healthy food choices, but some vices pay off. It's not the act of putting meat in your mouth and chewing that causes harm to anyone, it's the role one plays by paying the slaughterers and continuing the social norm.

5. Getting Sick

Despite my feelings that it should be acceptable to eat unwanted meat, I almost never do. The few times I have in the past year have been met with nausea and headaches. After avoiding meat for so long, many vegetarians experience similar. It isn't just an excuse to avoid your meal or make a scene, their bodies aren't jaded enough to deal with the additives and chemicals.

6. Taste Comparison
Taste is rarely a primary excuse, but it's a real reason many vegetarians avoid meat when offered. There are certain meats that can't be duplicated in a vegetarian diet like high-quality steak or fish. These meals bring out the flavor of an animal that is hard to duplicate without the animal. But most meat is just garbage that takes on the quality of what it's paired or flavored with. If you're used to a high-grade vegetarian diet that uses similar flavors but with fresh wholesome ingredients, many meat meals taste bland and undeveloped in comparison.

Conclusions personalized to the reader!

Carnivores: realize all vegetarians aren't jerks who avoid meat just to be different or join a scene. When they turn down the casserole you brought to the work potluck, they may have a legitimate reason.

Vegetarians: Be realistic about the impact you're having and support partial vegetarianism ideas, like Meatless Monday. Vegetarianism, after all, is only a step towards veganism. These attempts are a step in the right direction.

Everyone: The picture in the header of this article is vegan shrimp linguine. I haven't tried it yet, but the picture looks delicious!

**This post is the first in a series on Vegetarianism in which I'll try to avoid the cliche topics of the lifestyle. New posts on Thursdays**