In 1978 my father sat over the dinner table whilst my sister and I ate sausage casserole and told us how cows were killed. Whether or not this was what made me, at 5 years old, decide to become a vegetarian or not, I don’t know. Perhaps it was because I was in awe of my father, or perhaps it was that my mother didn’t give us a choice at home. She took herself off to a vegetarian cooking class and learnt how to cook us nutritious, balanced and tasty meals. To this day, my father still begs for those lentil rissoles she learnt to make back then. We’d sit at the table as she cooked and handed us red peppers and raw cabbage, telling us we needed it to absorb iron and other cooking tips that became part of my repertoire today. I never felt the need to eat growing up, and it was so normal for us (my best friend’s family were also vegetarian) that eating left over vegie sausage and beansprout sandwiches was a point of pride as we cringed over those we believed less privileged for having white bread and thick slabs of butter and jam, or salami and cheese. We lived on a surfing coast with a lot of health conscious people and hippies that knew about vegetarian food and didn’t have a problem with it.
Whilst my family turned vegetarian for health reasons in the ’70’s, reluctant to eat hormone stuffed chicken or deli meats full of chemicals, their reason for continuing for some 30 odd years are more ethical than that, knowing that their choice leads to a healthier planet and keeps their conscious clean. They might not know the term ‘ahimsa’, but ‘thou shall not harm’ was always an underlying premise, and one that we keep in the forefront of our mind too in our own meal choices.
They eat eggs, but never caged eggs, and they do eat fish, but only e
thically caught and sustainable (which is getting few and far between). I stopped being vegetarian in my early 30’s, although I rarely eat meat and only eat meat that’s been wild caught or ethically farmed with an awareness of our place in the ecosystem. I still go through a bit of an ethical dilemma about that, but I live with a man who can’t eat a lot of the foods necessary for protein such as legumes and nuts which make him seriously ill, so a compromise must be reached. Remember, ahimsa is driven by good intention – we can’t cause harm to ourselves either. I imagine some vegans reading this will be triggered by this, but I can’t do much about that. I have had a comment here saying: ‘You’re vegan, @riverflows? Then I like you even more.’, making me feel a little queasy – you mean, if I’m not, you’re going to hate on me? But I’m not really here for a debate on my food choices – more the – why the hate?
The number of vegetarians in Australia has risen from 1.7 million people in 2012 to 2.1 million today – a rise from 9.7 per cent to 11.2 per cent of Australians, according to a Ray Morgan survey in 2016. Whilst finding a vegetarian option at a pub or restaurant used to be underheard of (vegetarian lasagne was decidedly cheesey and full of overcooked vegetables, or you might be lucky to get a mushroom risotto), now you can find a middle eastern walnut pilaf with quinoa balls or an eggplant moussaka and many menu items may contain a sharp ‘V’, indicating a vegan option, next to the ‘GF’ (gluten free) if you’re really lucky. But then, I live within 1.5 hours of Melbourne, and that’s a foodies delight where vegetarian and vegan restaurants are nearly a dime a dozen. Being a vegetarian has never been easier, and if you’re a vegan, easier still – there are so many trendy vegan restaurants and cafes opening up.
My experience over the years of being vegetarian was never particularly awful – just the slight inconvenience of insisting that my food was cooked in foil on the barbie so as not to get meat juices or asking ‘what kind of stock is in the soup?’ at a cafe and hoping it was vegetable, or trying not to worry about it if it was. Of course, we’d get the usual jibes about how tasty bacon was or the lip smacking raves about pork ribs, but we’d just brush them off with good humour. Most people would make an effort if you were coming to dinner, having that one vegetarian dish up their sleeve that everyone would enjoy. This is much the same way I cater for my coeliac friend – no bother, I say, I can figure out something tasty for you!
Whilst it may have been fairly normal in my ‘hood, it’s not everywhere – people do seem to really, really hate vegans and vegetarians so much. I can imagine the Christmas party conversations right now – I’ve heard them alot of the years.
– Are you going on about animal cruelty again? Can’t I just eat my dinner in peace? Pass me the tomato sauce.
– Of course I love animals. This cow is delicious!
– Stop it with your holier than thou. I see your shoes are made of leather and there’s a dead fly in your champagne, which isn’t vegan either by the way!
– What do you call a vegan guy who likes to pleasure himself? A non-dairy creamer. What, you can’t take a joke?
– My grandpa never ate a vegetable his entire life and died at 103.
– I couldn’t give up bacon!
– Look at you, too skinny. You need a bit of meat to fatten you up!
Writer Richard Cornish, who wrote a book about giving up meat for a year, says of his experience, arguing that vegetarians and vegans are bullied and hated in Australia and our culture is caught in a cycle of overreliance on meat. If you want to see a quick snippet of what this might look like, check out [this lamb ad](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g81atCb7DDo) where a vegan’s apartment is flambéd under Operation Boomerang which recalled Australians from overseas in a military operation lest they miss out lamb on Australia Day. The ad drew considerable (and understandable) ire from the vegan population.
The lamb ads are always controversial, which of course helps sell their product. The star of the first add slammed vegetarians as ‘soap avoiding, pot smoking vegetarians may disagree with me, but they can stuffed. They know the way to the airport’, linking Australian masculinity and indeed Australian belonging to eating meat. And it’s not just here either – in England, the editor of Waitrose magazine stood down on suggesting a series called ‘Killing Vegans, One by One’. Although he said it was a joke, from the perspective of any group of people it’s unacceptable behaviour – jokes about indigenous people were funny at one point in history, and we cringe over that now. Race, diet, sexual choice, opinion, whatever – you don’t joke about killing people. Nor do you put meat in their food on the sly, as [this guy](https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/07/head-chef-fired-for-bragging-about-feeding-meat-to-vegans-on-ins/) bragged about on Instagram. That just makes you an utter twat.
I’d be just as critical of vegans who did similar things with the direct intent to cause harm and an express lack of understanding or willingness to embrace personal choice and diversity – except their intent is to cause no harm, and the moral imperative of this is of uttmost importance. Animal cruelty should *never* be tolerated, nor should environmental issues. And yet we’re so willing to turn a blind eye for that for the sake of personal convenience (please remember than it’s not personally convenient for me to eat meat – I do it because I believe I’m part of an ecosystem and as long as I make ethical choices, I am not causing harm)
Most people also struggle with *empathy* – they don’t stop to put themselves in other people’s shoes and wonder what it might be like for them. People can be quick to judge, believing vegans and vegetarians are ‘doing it for the attention’ or following a trend and are therefore plain annoying.
How simple it would be if people just did a bit of research with the desire to understand rather than pillory? How simple it would be if non-vegetarians/vegans could do their research to find out *why* people might choose this diet and see the intention behind it? How simple would it be for people to think more carefully about how they might impact the world with their food choices, let alone their own health?
But then, in this age of intolerance, what is the likelihood?
### **This was written in response to @ecotrain’s QOTW on Steemit, which you can read [here](https://steemit.com/ecotrain/@eco-alex/join-us-for-the-ecotrain-question-of-the-week-why-do-you-think-there-is-so-much-hate-and-anger-toward-vegans-and-why-are-those). Everyone is welcome to respond!**