Talking to the Vegetarian “Sceptics”

As more and more people become vegetarian, for moral, spiritual, environmental and health reasons, their friends and acquaintances still quiz them about why they don’t eat meat. While vegetarians shouldn’t have to justify their diet any more than anyone else, many people still want them to “defend” themselves. Here are some of the ways that vegetarians can reply to common questions and comments from the “sceptics”.

“It must be boring being a vegetarian.”

The idea that vegetarians only eat salad and nuts can easily be debunked by the number of vegetarian restaurants in any major Western city, not to mention the number of lofty vegetarian cookbooks that are available. In fact, for many vegetarians (having to find an alternative to the famous “meat and three vegetables” meals), food has an endlessly exciting sense of discovery.

“Don’t you think plants scream when you pull them out of the ground?”

It’s tempting to say something smart-alecky (“Why, no. Do you hear them scream?”), but perhaps it’s better to simply point out that livestock is fed on grains. According to some estimates, it takes 10 kilos of grain to feed one kilo of beef. If you’re worried about plant cruelty, you should avoid eating animals.

“You need meat to survive!”

Literally billions of people survive without meat. Meat is only one possible source of protein. A vegetarian diet needs to be balanced, of course – but then, as many people forget, so does any other diet. If people suggest that vegetarians are weak and scrawny, you can reel out a list of famous athletes who are vegetarian, including Bill Pearl (former Mr Universe), swimmer Murray Rose, wrestler Killer Kowalski, and Sri Chinmoy, who has broken several weight-lifting records.

“If you were in the middle of a desert, and there was nothing there except a rabbit, wouldn’t you kill it and eat it?”

Someone actually used that argument with me (and quite heatedly, as well). It seems to show that, when people feel passionate enough about something (like, umm, food), they resort to very strange debates. The obvious answer is that, if I ever found myself in that terrible situation, I would possibly eat the rabbit… especially if someone was kind enough to provide me with cooking facilities. Fortunately, I’ve never been in that situation. (But thanks for asking.)

“Why are you vegetarian?”

Of course, most vegetarians can answer this one for themselves! There are many benefits to vegetarianism, but perhaps the most common is spirituality. “The vegetarian diet does play a role in the spiritual life,” says Sri Chinmoy. “When we eat meat, the aggressive animal consciousness enters into us. Our nerves become agitated and restless, and this can interfere with our meditation… The mild qualities of fruits and vegetables help us to establish, in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity. If we are vegetarians, this helps our inner being to strengthen its own existence.”