Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Not Everyone Is "Meatless Like Me"

When I first read Taylor Clark’s explanation of vegetarianism on’s infrequently updated “Travel and Food” section, my reaction was:  Is this necessary?  Do Americans really still need someone to tell them that vegetarians are people that don’t eat anything that once had eyes?

Clark apparently thinks so:

Those of us who want to avoid the social nightmare have to hide our vegetarianism like an Oxycontin addiction, because admit it, omnivores:  You know nothing about us.  Do we eat fish?  Will we panic if confronted with a hamburger?  Are we dying of malnutrition?  You have no clue.

I like to give omnivores a little more credit, and not just because I’m temping as one.  I can’t remember the last time an American mocked, harassed, or looked askance at me for being a vegetarian.  Maybe I’m detached from the reality of Middle America—New York, where I lived before I came to Paris, boasts 85 vegetarian restaurants—but vegetarianism isn’t exactly a new trend anywhere in the country. 

Yes, I recognize that Clark is trying to be funny (though forgive me if I don’t think “And hot dogs … I mean, hot dogs?  You do know what that is, right?” is much of a punch line).  And yes, I happen to agree personally with much of what he says:  PETA is obnoxious, bacon smells delicious, tofu and Gardenburgers can be kind of unappetizing.

But I take issue with the first-person plural, us-versus-them, “Let me tell you what we’re really like” shtick.  Vegetarians aren’t really like anything -  they're a diverse group.  Some of them regularly liberate lab animals, are disgusted by the scent of meat, and keep their freezers stocked with Gardenburgers.  And some of them don’t think that authors who make sweeping generalizations based on their own experiences are all that relevant.