Meating expectations

On Dec. 31, columnist Leah McLaren published a piece in the Globe and Mail titled, “My New Year’s Resolution? No more red meat.” Underneath the headline the kicker read, “But don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in becoming a vegetarian.”

McLaren spent most of the column defending her decision to reduce her meat consumption while simultaneously denying she should now be considered a vegetarian. McLaren used an anecdote about a cruel boss to make the assertion that vegetarians are, by nature, cold-hearted, humanity-hating hypocrites. Vegetarianism, she said, is a “seriously unattractive character trait.”

McLaren’s column sums up most people’s reaction to vegetarianism: that is, it’s not the act of refraining from meat that is repulsive, but the label itself.

Having shied away from red meat for most of my life and given up meat entirely about five years ago, I’ve had to deal with my fair share of shocked reactions, strange questions and full outrage about my diet.

When I was 15, a teacher yelled at me for spitting out a bite of pizza that I realized all too late had a hidden layer of pepperoni under the cheese. “Stop being so sensitive,” he told me. “Meat won’t kill you!”

From questions like “But don’t you miss it?” to incredulous cries of, “Well that can’t be healthy! You must have a protein deficiency!” I’ve heard it all. There’s a definite stigma attached to vegetarianism, a stigma full of misguided stereotypes and false assumptions.

In my case, my dietary decision was determined simply by my dislike for meat. For many people, this seems to be a very difficult concept to grasp. There appears to be a popular belief that all vegetarians secretly love meat but uphold their vegetarianism simply as a political statement.

While this may be true for some, for me and many others I know the decision to stay away from meat has less to do with ethics and more to do with personal preference. Believe it or not, some people just don’t like the taste of flesh.

It’s not that I don’t love animals or recognize the often horrendous conditions of commercial farms, but I think the true sentiments of animal rights activism often get tainted by radical groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the image of vegetarianism they present in the media. PETA frequently objectifies women in their advertisements and has been known to compare human tragedies and deaths to the meat industry.

In 2008, after the Greyhound bus murder, PETA created an ad that compared the stabbing and beheading of Tim McLean and the alleged cannibalism of his murderer to the slaughter of animals for meat.

This kind of gross insensitivity shouldn’t be associated with all vegetarians or vegans, but because of widespread ignorance, it is.

As long as people continue to buy into false media portrayals of vegetarianism, misguided stereotypes like McLaren’s will continue to be the norm.

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