Last week F and I had a good conversation that clarified things for both of us about my meal choices. The inspiration was a pizza restaurant; the question, could I split a pizza with F if there were meat on his half. My automatic response was that I’d really prefer not to, so we got two separate pizzas and spent the meal talking it over. F thought that it’s a little extreme when vegetarians freak out over meat touching their food; your meal didn’t contribute to an animal’s death just by being near some meat. I explained that, for me, it’s not just about causing the animal’s death, it’s that I don’t want to take any part of that death into my body, so if prosciutto grease got on my side of the pizza, that would bother me. It was interesting to talk over the distinction between “I don’t want my choices to cause another creature’s suffering and death” and “I don’t want to consume any product created by a death”. F understands where I’m coming from a little better now and my choices make more sense to him, and I feel like I’ve clarified my views a little for myself.
We also talked about vegetarian behavior (for lack of a better word). F’s opinions had been formed after an experience he’d had at an Ethiopian restaurant with a group of friends. The server had placed several foods in the center of the table all on a big piece of bread for everyone to share, because that’s what they do at Ethiopian restaurants. It happened that some of the meat was touching some of the veggies, and two of his vegetarian friends got angry and stormed out of the restaurant. That’s a pretty extreme reaction, which explains why F had thought vegetarians were unreasonable on this topic – he had seen vegetarians acting in a pretty unreasonable way. I told him that in that situation I’d just take my scoop of cheese and chunk of bread from the side that wasn’t touching the meat, and moreover, I’d do so without saying anything about it. The different foods weren’t prepared together, so the whole meal isn’t contaminated just by the presence of the meat on the table, and I don’t see a reason to make a big deal of it (unless I specifically asked for separate dishes, or everything was all mixed up together).
Most of us know a “vegetarian saint” type of person: the guy who can’t get through a meal without mentioning his preferences 18 times, or the girl who acts all holier-than-thou about how your dinner killed a cow. Those people are really into being vegetarian, and that’s fine, but I just don’t see a need for all that. My diet choice is for myself; if my friends ask about it, I’m happy to share, but I go out for dinner with my friends to enjoy their company and have fun, not to proselytize. If you’re going to eat out in restaurants and share food with others, you have to kind of go with the flow, and that goes double for ethnic restaurants, where you’re dealing with someone else’s culture. I have the right to order and receive food I can eat, but I don’t need to talk about it all night or go overboard with expressing my needs.