Things vegetarians wish they could say when people ask them about food

When I turned 14, I turned vegetarian. I always had been compassionate towards animals, and I had even been known to weep when my parents disposed of a gopher plaguing the garden. I grew up in a rural area, and saw more than my fair share of animals being raised to die, which made me decide at a young age that I just wouldn’t eat meat anymore. My animal-loving heart couldn’t bear it. Later on, it also became something I do for my health. I’ve been a veggie for going on nine years now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t usually make a big deal out of my vegetarianism and have never once introduced myself with the phrase “Hi, I’m Becca, and I’m a vegetarian!” (Until today.) I’m not militant about it, and I don’t get preachy (unless someone intentionally asks me why I made this choice). But vegetarianism pops up in conversation much more often than you might think, and I’ve collected quite a few vegetarian-geared comments over the years that become increasingly perplexing each time I hear them. I try and respond politely, but sometimes I wish that people knew that there were lots of less offensive ways to ask their FAQs. There’s nothing wrong with being curious — being a vegetarian is an alternative choice for many. Sometimes the phrasing of the questions about vegetarianism just doesn’t quite work, but there are alternative ways to ask these same questions without offending. There are also lots of replies most vegetarians wish they could say, but never-ever would. Here are some frequently asked questions.

“But where do you get your protein?”

When I’m feeling especially cranky, I want to reply, “Who made you the protein police?” Honestly though, there are approximately twelve trillion (yes that is a totally scientifically accurate number) grains, legumes, plants, and vegetables that contain enough protein for any human being to thrive on. Not to mention that I’m not a vegan, so I still consume eggs and yogurt. That innocent question can feel loaded with the assumption that just because I don’t enjoy barbecued ribs, I must be protein deficient. A great way to ask this question, because it is a valid one, is to ask it with a tiny twist. Something along the lines of “How did you find good alternatives to meat protein?” is a much more educated and far less loaded way to phrase it. (We vegetarians will appreciate it and it will keep us from being snippy and replying, “I get my protein from ROCKS!”)

“I could never do that, I love meat too much.”

You’re totally within your rights to eat whatever you feel is best for you, no judgement here. But what I said was, “Actually, I’m a vegetarian.” This response is a little rude when I’m turning down an offer of a bite of meat. Would you say the same thing to someone who was, say, deathly allergic to dairy? “Sucks to be you, I freaking love cheese!” My lifestyle and diet choices are not an accusation against you, and I’m not asking if you would like to join me on my meat-less journey. The one time you should definitely feel free to say this to me is when I ask “Hey, wanna come to my vegetarians-only coven? We practice spells and stuff, it’s real cool, but you need to give up In-N-Out first.” Until then, a more polite way to state your reaction is to switch it with something more neutral instead, like “Oh, you’re a vegetarian? Cool!”

“Don’t you miss a bloody rare steak? Ha. Ha.”

This is one of the more annoying questions, though I do get that people view it as a harmless joke. The thing is, they’re not the first person to say it to me. I’ve heard this for almost a decade, and it’s wearing thin. I’ve often dreamed of answering with the following monologue: “Oh, man, now that you mention it . . . I’m just gonna grab a hunk of raw meat and start gnawing on it like a crazed animal after a long lean winter. And then maybe I could thank you for opening my eyes, and when I get married to a beef farmer I can invite you to the wedding and tearfully thank you in my vows. You never know, maybe I’ll even name my firstborn child after you. At the very least, the first prime beef cow my husband gifts me with after our honeymoon, spent dining in the finest steakhouses in Omaha, will bear your name.”

This, however, is not a very productive or helpful way to respond. What I really would like to say to people who make this quip upon discovering I’m a vegetarian is to ask if they would say this to someone who had another form of dietary restriction. I have friends who need to eat gluten-free or else they’d end up in the hospital, and it makes me shudder to think of anyone telling them, “But don’t you miss bagels and bread and pizza? Don’t you?” My best advice for when someone wants to joke about someone else’s dietary choices is that there are way better things in the world to joke about.

“Well, if it’s for health reasons, I guess it’s okay.”

Hearing this from people automatically puts me on the defensive. It’s also more complicated than it seems, because while I maintain my vegetarianism for health reasons, it began for moral ones that I still stand by today. Maybe this isn’t how you mean it when you say it, but the message it sends is one of negativity and judgement. If you’re truly curious about why someone is a vegetarian, a better way to talk about the health reasons behind someone’s diet choice is to just ask, if they don’t mind, how it helps them.

“You’re a vegetarian? . . . I work in a slaughterhouse. Here’s the difference between what chicken blood and pig blood smells like. Here’s a picture on my phone of a cow mid-way through the gutting process. Why are you walking away from me, I thought we were having a conversation here?”

Okay, this one only happened to me once at a party. I trust that the majority of the population would never do this and wouldn’t condone that line of questioning. But in case you’re feeling really mean, just don’t be that guy.

In conclusion, eat what you wanna eat, do what you wanna do, and we’ve all gotta support each other! Your choices are your own, just as mine are my own, and there’s enough room in this world for all types of people and food group consumers. And don’t forget: there’s nothing wrong with trying to be polite and courteous when confronted with someone whose choices look a little different than yours.

[Images via, via and Shutterstock]

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