T’is the season of goodwill, apparently – though the grimacing countenances of those circling the car parks looking for an available space would have you believe otherwise. It’s also the season of turkey and as a vegetarian I’ve grown used to comments such as ‘what do you eat then?’ which multiply exponentially at Christmas time.
I don’t make a big deal out of being a vegetarian. It’s been a lifestyle choice for over 20 years and one that I’m completely happy with. My reasons for choosing vegetarianism are many and they are my own. I don’t seek to ‘convert’ anyone to this way of living, but I do take exception to a ‘them and us’ attitude which often prevails, as well as those who try to ‘convert’ me back to eating meat.
A couple of recent (American) stories about vegetarians provoked some consternation though.
The first story concerns the humble US postage stamp. Back in September the US postal service announced that living people would be featured on postage stamps. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has campaigned for and succeeded in the US Post featuring 20 vegetarians on the stamps. These will include famous vegetarians Paul McCartney and Woody Harrelson as well as late luminaries, including Pythagoras and Leonardo da Vinci.
I probably would have said little more than ‘great!’ – except that the blogger posting the story felt that PETA had ‘conned’ the US postal service into featuring vegetarians – in other words using the stamps as propaganda. The blogger is of course entitled to his opinion, but it seemed a little excessive. What would the reaction have been if the postal service had announced that ‘famous meat eaters’ would feature on their stamps? Would it have provoked comment? I very much doubt it – it’s them and us again.
The second story asked the question ‘Can vegetarians and meat eaters co-exist?’ Umm, yes they can. It’s happened in my own family and plenty of others that I know.
Isn’t it a matter of respect for the views of others and consideration for the holders of those views? I would no more have banned my family from eating meat because of my choice, any more than they would have insisted that I eat it. I’ve known people who have laid down the law in this way and then been surprised at the fallout.
Isn’t it about freedom of choice, not being judgemental, exercising tolerance and a degree of compromise? In an ideal world those are features of good relationships anyway – whether between life partners, parents and children, colleagues and a whole host of other relationships.
So let’s have a bit of tolerance and understanding to stir into the Christmas (or preferably anytime) goodwill mix.
This feature was published in The Sussex Newspaper on December 13th 2011