why i am a vegetarian, and why my family freaked out when i first told them

I’m a vegetarian. And no, I don’t eat fish.

I read a New York Times article today on “Putting Meat Back in Its Place“, which gives meat-eaters pointers on cutting back their meat intake, and I reflected on how I turned to a life of vegetables, eggs and dairy. I first became vegetarian my freshman year at Stanford, when someone handed me a pamphlet about factory farming on Earth Day; I still can’t think of eating meat without thinking about it. It was pretty easy for me to turn veggie– one day I sat down in our dining hall with a meatless plate and announced that I was going to try the vegetarian thing. I don’t proselytize, but I do recount this story to people who ask.

My family is heavily ensconced in Filipino food, which relies on dishes that are heavy in fatty fish, meat, oil, bone marrow, and other things that will clog up your heart but are just so good. So when my grandparents found out that more than half of their culinary repertoire was now off-limits for me, they got really worried. “How are we going to feed her?” they wondered. (Actually, the first question they asked was, “But you eat fish, right?”)

My dad was really against it at the time. I don’t have the most resilient of bodies, and my freshman year was already taking its toll on my health, so I had to convince him that no, I wasn’t going to waste away, and yes, people can live a life without meat and still be normal.

But more importantly, rejecting Filipino food is like rejecting Filipino culture. It was the same thing as refusing to go to church or refusing to respect my parents. This really was like slapping my father in the face. As I’ve said before, vegetarianism to me is more like a belief than a food preference, but not everyone sees it that way.

Also, a lot of people view eating meat as a sign of wealth and abundance, of things that their parents and grandparents never had, so rejecting it can be an insult to their past as well. My housemate Ana, who was born in Romania during the Ceauşescu regime, recounted how her family was taken aback when she first declined meat at dinner. They were like, “We never had meat when we were your age, and now you’re refusing it?! This isn’t how we raised you!” Some of my friends who grew up in Soviet Union countries have similar stories.

What people need to realize is that meat is now so cheap that it’s no longer a sign of wealth. I really think that vegetarianism is going to become the diet of the new elite— an elite that is well-educated and concerned about their environment and their health, and is able to spend a few more dollars on organic food and boca burgers and soymilk and tempeh to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

That said, I have three exceptions to the no-meat rule. The first is sea urchin, and only if it’s unagi nigiri at a Japanese restaurant. The second is caviar (especially the tobiko nigiri at Sushi Tomo)– sometimes the fish is killed to extract it, and there’s pretty much no way to tell. The third is instant ramen (like Cup Noodles), but only in extenuating circumstances, like when I am stressed or hungover. As part of my 101 in 1001, I’m trying to see if I can spend three weeks as a vegan (maybe when I’m back at school, or else my parents might just kill me). But I love cheese. I looooove cheese. So wish me luck.


1 Response to “why i am a vegetarian, and why my family freaked out when i first told them”

  1. 1 how to go green without becoming a self-righteous douchebag « transitory residence Trackback on March 22, 2009 at 4:09 am

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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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