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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why the Word "Vegetarian" Matters

While at a wedding I was introduced to a couple whom I was told are "social vegetarians." Confused, I asked what that meant and learned that, unlike social drinkers who only consume alcohol when they go out, this couple abstains from meat at home and eats animal flesh only when they dine out. How convenient for them. Obviously, they are not vegetarians, social or otherwise.

My point in bringing up this anecdote is to discuss the continual problem of the dumbing down of the wordVegetarian.

A vegetarian is someone who forgoes eating all animal flesh. This includesbut is not limited tocows, chickens, ducks, pigs, and yesfish. Period. No exceptions, not for holidays, birthdays, weddings, nights out with the girls, school days, bad hair days, etc.

I'm cognizant that individuals prefer to identify with a group that is considered trendy and attach that group's name to themselves. That's all well and good as long as one actually adheres to the tenets held by that group. For example, because I no longer attend church and adhere to its rules, I cannot rightly call myself a Catholic. I can say that I was raised Catholic, that I am a lapsed Catholic, but not a practicing Catholic. The same goes for vegetarians. A nonpracticing, lapsed vegetarian is a meat eater, plain and simple.

To be called a vegetarian is special because it requires discipline and makes a powerful statement about the importance of viewing animals as autonomous, feeling beingsnot food. It is this association that gives the word power and meaning, and is no doubt why some people want to identify themselves as such. However, those who call themselves vegetarians (or vegans) but make exclusions, diminish its legitimacy both in word and in deed. Their lack of understanding and/or discipline also inhibits less knowledgeable future vegetarians who may be tempted to disengage from the true meaning and message of forsaking animal products. As a result of all these deviations, confusion over the word, vegetarian, has become so prevalent that most people think it's entirely acceptable to eat chickens and fish and still call themselves vegetarians. This is offensive and very frustrating for those who value what it means to be a vegetarian as it does a great injustice to the animals whom vegetarians are trying to help and to the animal rights movement as a whole.

Some may think I'm being nit picky or ostracizing those who should be lauded for reducing their consumption of meat regardless of the lapses in judgment they may make, but I have a point and it is this: the more people who call themselves vegetarians who make exceptions for eating meat, the less impact the word itself has, the less powerful the act becomes, the more excuses people will make to keep on consuming the bodies of animals, and the more animals will continue to suffer needlessly.

A variety of names have popped up to lure people into the continued consumption of animals. Misnomers like flexitarian and pescetarian are simply watered down versions of "meat eater." So, let's settle this once and for all. There's no such thing as a "social vegetarian," a "Sunday vegetarian," or even a "second Tuesday of the month during a new moon vegetarian." Either you are a vegetarian or you aren't; you eat animals or you don't.

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