VegetarianFilter
June 25, 2008 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Can I call myself a vegetarian if I only eat meat 10% of the time (approximately 10% of total calories)?

I realize, AskMe and Metafilter being what they are, this question is possibly redundant and likely to summon forth the political vegans and the unrepentant, obligate carnivores.

Attending a work-related barbecue party, I was turned off by the huge amounts of grilled dead animals and had a vegeburger instead. When asked, by someone I don't know well, I said that I was a vegetarian. I did this because I didn't feel like explaining why I didn't want to eat an entire hamburger, a hot dog, and an entire half of a chicken, besides all the sides, that day.

I now feel morally put on the spot and obliged to convert the partial lie into truth by becoming a vegetarian. (I feel guilty over lying to this person. I do not fit in well at this workplace, and intend to leave in two years.)

Overall I would say that meat comprises no more than 10-15% of my total consumption. I already don't eat meat at my routine breakfasts and lunches. My breakfast is usually cereal, and for lunch I have nuts, cereal bars, fruit, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

However, I am currently living with and cooking dinners for people who do eat meat, and who would be quite unhappy were it taken off the menu, though many of our dinners use meat Asian fashion, more as a condiment in small amounts than a large staple. Once or twice a week we have steak, but I don't eat more than the recommended 4 ounces.

I don't think I could become a total vegetarian without causing disruption in this living situation and without feeling deprived and climbing the walls. Am I effectively a vegetarian by American standards and hence I don't have to eat my words?
posted by bad grammar to Food & Drink (70 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're a "mostly vegetarian".
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:09 PM on June 25, 2008


No. I eat the same amount of meat and unfortunately I think we have to tell people we eat mostly vegetarian meals -- a total vegetarian would think you were a poseur if you called yourself one.
posted by theredpen at 5:11 PM on June 25, 2008


that would be a cool bumper sticker: 90% vegetarian
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:12 PM on June 25, 2008


Am I effectively a vegetarian by American standards

No. You eat meat.

and hence I don't have to eat my words?

You also don't have to eat your words. Your dietary preferences and habits are none of your coworkers' business. Fuck 'em if they can't understand "I prefer not to eat that much meat.
posted by dersins at 5:13 PM on June 25, 2008


"
posted by dersins at 5:14 PM on June 25, 2008


You are a lexitarian. As in, you eat your words.

You're a vegetarian. For quite a while I was the exact same, perhaps even a bit less, and when asked I said "I'm limiting my meat intake" or something along those lines. Very few people would question that.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2008


I used to call myself vegetarian - I avoid farmed meat, though I make the occasional exception to keep the dam from bursting, and I do eat sustainable types of seafood - just as a handy catchall phrase, but there's such a long string of qualifications that only gins up more questions. Now I usually say "I avoid eating meat," which is easy to explain: it's ecologically unsound to eat meat frequently.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2008


Wha? So you're asking if you can do thing A, and also be a part of group X, where the ONLY DEFINITION OF GROUP X IS THAT THEY DO NOT DO THING A.
I mean, you can do it, there's not like a semantics police that will get you. The cognitive dissonance (and the behind-the-back-mocking that us actual vegetarians are doing whenever you leave the room) are yours to deal with, though.
posted by holyrood at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2008 [7 favorites]


It's just a word, and therefore meaningless in the end. It did a good job of getting a nosy coworker to fuck off and let you enjoy your boca burger, but don't go off the deep end and worry if your identity is properly confined within a bit of language.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2008


You can say that you're a macrobiotic raw-foods freegan, for all I care.

But the most commonly-used definition of 'vegetarian' seems to be 'someone who doesn't eat animal flesh.'
posted by box at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2008


Your meat consumption sounds firmly in the mainstream omnivore range to me. Sure there is the occasional guy who eats meat at every meal but that's not most people. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if you were significantly closer to the "eats only meat" side of the spectrum compared to most people than to the "never eats meat" side.

Your question asks whether you "can" call yourself a vegetarian. Of course you can. You can call yourself whatever you want to call yourself; it's not like there are food police who will write you up for doing so. But if your question is asking whether it is reasonable to refer to yourself as a vegetarian the answer is not only no but HELL NO.
posted by Justinian at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2008


Non-selective omni-vore with tendencies towards vegetarian caloric-intake.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2008


No, not at all. You can call yourself a "meat-avoider" if you'd like. (used to be a vegetarian, not any more).
posted by Craig at 5:17 PM on June 25, 2008


You have two separate questions here:

Can I call myself a vegetarian

You sure can! Go for it!

Am I effectively a vegetarian


You sure aren't! So long as animals are getting their throats cut to become "condiments" for your mostly-veg diet, you're lying to anyone if you tell 'em you're a vegetarian.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:19 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I drift back and forth between eating zero meat and about 10% meat (almost always fish. Or bacon [damn bacon for smelling so good]), cook primarily from vegetarian or Asian recipies and do not consider myself vegetarian. Saying otherwise would be, to me, like saying I'm a little bit pregnant.

The real issue here is your need to keep up a false front for the next two years with a group of people you don't care that much about. Really, there's no need to perpetuate an elaborate facade or change your diet. The next time the topic comes up (possibly while you are cramming your piehole with a cheesesteak) and you feel compelled to offer an explanation (and really, that's the part you should be working on), just say you fell off the wagon and leave it at that.
posted by jamaro at 5:20 PM on June 25, 2008


You aren't a vegetarian, but who cares? You can't really be this worried about whether or not you have to "eat your words", that you're considering crossing over to vegetarianism just to justify a white lie.

Who the hell cares what your coworkers think of your eating habits and how you justify them? Go on and keep lying to them if that's what's going to make it easiest on you, and feel free to keep living your life the way you were.

But I think you should've just had the confidence in yourself to have said, "no thanks" when you were offered these piles of meat. No explanations required. If they'd asked for an explanation, you could have given them a nonexplanation such as, "I just don't want any", "I'm in the mood for this other stuff", or whatever. You aren't obligated to people who'd try to make you feel uncomfortable about your eating habits. Fuck such people. (Would they have reacted badly, though, or are you only worried they would have?)

(Me: Former vegetarian of ten years, current pescetarian.)
posted by Coatlicue at 5:21 PM on June 25, 2008


If you want to be a 90% vegetarian, I think that's great and you should do it. Do what you want to do because you want to do it, not because of the word.

I have a couple friends who call themselves "vegetarian" even though each of them will eat meat about once a month. I think that diet makes a lot of sense, and I go along with that use of "vegetarian." But that's a lot less than 10%. If 10% of your meals have meat, I don't think you can say you abstain from meat.

If 10% of your meals contained fruit, would you say you abstain from fruit?

There's no way around it: if you eat meat every few days and go around calling yourself a vegetarian, people will be weirded out. Just be honest and say you're close to a vegetarian but eat meat occasionally. I don't understand the fixation on the word "vegetarian." (I've been a vegetarian since I was a kid, BTW.)

You'd probably be a "flexitarian" according to Michael Pollan. See point 6 in the list at the end of this article. There's also a Wikipedia entry.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:23 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Am I effectively a vegetarian by American standards and hence I don't have to eat my words?

This totally depends on the person you're talking to. Some will think less of you, some more, some won't care. Since you can't please everyone with your lifestyle, it's probably best just to make yourself ok with the choices you've made and the hell with those who think less of your for them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 PM on June 25, 2008


no, you're not a vegetarian.

don't worry about what you said at one office party. eat what you want to eat, and don't worry about what other people think about it (or the words you use to describe it). don't waste another moment worrying about this.

if people want to judge you, they are going to judge you. there's nothing you can do about that. you can wonder and ponder and think on this 'do i have to eat my words' thing, and resolve it to your own satisfaction....just to find out that some people will find something else to judge you about.

the faster you can get away from worrying about whether/how people judge you, the quicker you'll see that life is too short for this kind of question. be happy in who you are. if there's something *you're* not happy about, work to change it. that's all that should matter.

i do understand that i've just written a comment that's about not worrying about judgment, using all kinds of judgmental language. i'm sorry about that -- i'm short on time, but your question really struck me. i'm an imperfect practitioner of my own advice. i don't mean to be snarky or bitchy. good luck with this.
posted by CitizenD at 5:27 PM on June 25, 2008


No.
posted by loiseau at 5:30 PM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, you could have said you're a Hindu.

Look, it was a white lie in a social situation to avoid having to reject lump o'meat from the grill. Likewise, you are not obliged to lose your sense of taste when your mother asks whether her outfit suits her. But you're not actually a vegetarian.
posted by holgate at 5:32 PM on June 25, 2008


Meat makes up about 15% of the energy in an average American diet (PDF, Table 4).
posted by ssg at 5:36 PM on June 25, 2008


I'm "vegetarian except for fish", and you're "mostly vegetarian."
posted by theiconoclast31 at 5:38 PM on June 25, 2008


Sure. I've known a bunch of "vegetarians" who actually eat meat. Sometimes it's meat in certain social settings, eg "not to be rude." Sometimes it's organic sustainable happy animal meat. Sometimes they are "vegetarians" except that they eat chickens and bacon and cheeseburgers, and so on.

It's just a word, and can mean both the pure version (no meat at all, ever) and the flexible version (not much meat most of the time). People use it in all kinds of ways, and hear it in at least as many ways.

So while I wouldn't consider anyone a vegetarian who ate steak more than once in a great while, many other people certainly would. But whatever definition you use, people are going to get on your case about it because food and vegetarianism is a contentious topic about which people feel strongly.

Personally I'd just say something like "naw, I'm cutting back on the red meat these days," or "no, I eat meat, but this vegie burger just looked good for some reason" -- you know, basically just saying what's going on. No reason to pigeon-hole yourself when there are perfectly good phrases that capture the nuance of your situation.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 PM on June 25, 2008


No, the OP is "roughly or even slightly less vegetarian as the average american".
posted by Justinian at 5:41 PM on June 25, 2008


I think "largely vegetarian" or "almost vegetarian" or something along those lines.

What you said was in response to a question you weren't expecting, and I can't find fault with saying "vegetarian" as a quick response. Do I think you need to become an actual vegetarian to make this not a lie? No, of course not. (My morality allows me to tell a lie only when the truth would be more harmful than a small lie, or oversimplification. This was an oversimplification.)

Just pick something slightly more accurate in reserve for the next time this comes up in conversation, and get on with life. You are not a Bad Person, you just needed something quick as an an answer to a question you were caught off-guard by.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:42 PM on June 25, 2008


Overall I would say that meat comprises no more than 10-15% of my total consumption.

Sorry, I missed this point -- I was thinking you eat meat in 10% of your meals. If it's 15% of your total consumption, then how many of your meals contain some meat -- like, 40-50%? That's not even "almost" or "mostly" vegetarian, as some people have suggested. That's being a meat-eater, period.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:45 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


No. Next time say, "Oh, I just feel like a veggieburger today!"
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:51 PM on June 25, 2008


You can call yourself whatever you are comfortable with.

I have known strict vegetarians who had one meat food that they would occasionally eat ("clam chowder is a vegetable!"), so I think vegetarian applies if you only occasionally lapse.

10% seems more like the meat intake of a meat eater to me, though. I'd say "mostly vegetarian".
posted by zippy at 5:52 PM on June 25, 2008


If you're getting 10% of your daily calories from meat, then that's about 200-250 calories per day — which is about a "recommended serving" of most lean or medium-fat meats, every day. So that puts you well into meat-eater territory.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:56 PM on June 25, 2008


I now feel morally put on the spot and obliged to convert the partial lie into truth

Step 1: Recognize that this is all happening only inside your head.

Step 2: Realize that if it's happening only inside your head, you get to control how you deal with it, however you want to.

Step 3: Deal with it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:56 PM on June 25, 2008


As others have said, who cares? You are what you are. If you want to tell people you're a vegetarian for convenience, so what? You're just getting hung up on semantics. Anybody who would go into a tizzy over the definition you're using is a douchebag you'd do best to avoid anyways.
posted by mattholomew at 5:59 PM on June 25, 2008


You most certainly are not vegetarian. Not by american or any other standards. But that's ok, because you agree that you are mostly vegetarian, and that sounds like a truthful statement. You don't need to eat your words or convert to anything. If questioned again, just say "I'm mostly vegetarian, and I didn't feel like going into the whole explanation that day"
posted by necessitas at 6:03 PM on June 25, 2008


The problem with you calling yourself a vegetarian and then eating meat is that if people hear you using this language and then see you eating meat, it reinforces the fact that the term means someone-who-doesn't-eat-meat-all-that-often, which would be fine in and of itself if it didn't lead to those same people offering me meat at every barbecue, or asking me questions like: but you do eat chicken, right? Because after all, lots of vegetarians eat some meat.

So call yourself a flexitarian, call yourself a mostly-vegetarian, say you're working towards vegetarianism but it's hard, or just tell your co-workers that the veggie burgers looked really tasty.

One time isn't a huge deal, no. But you're definitely not a vegetarian, and I'm tired of being asked if I eat chicken, because "most vegetarians I know do."

End-of-rant admission: I'm a vegetarian who eats fish. But every time someone asks, I tell them that I'm a vegetarian who eats fish. I have learned over the years not to just say "I'm a vegetarian," because eventually I'll eat fish in front of most people, and it's easier to just explain it the first time around than deal with talking about it later, and because I'd like to avoid contributing to the perceived change in the word's meaning.
posted by dizziest at 6:15 PM on June 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not a veg. Easiest thing to say if anyone asks is, "I don't eat much meat" or "I stick mostly to vegetables." Doesn't have to go any farther than that.
posted by Askr at 6:26 PM on June 25, 2008


Well first of all you don't have to become a vegetarian just because you said you were one. If you don't want to be one, don't. You can truthfully tell yourself, and others if they ask, that you were vegetarian when you said it but now you're not. Although the idea of living up to one's lies could lead to some interesting plot twists . . .

Second, sorry, but eating meat ≠ being a vegetarian. It sounds to me like you think of yourself as "mostly vegetarian," and that's probably a good way to describe yourself. Someone else might disagree with you but then there are lots of "Catholics" who never set foot in church *cough*. It's up to you how you want to describe yourself.
posted by HotToddy at 6:34 PM on June 25, 2008


You were a vegetarian that day. Don't sweat it. People change their dietary habits all the time.

If asked, tell them "I was a vegetarian then; right now, I'm not. I'm not rigid about it. Sometimes I don't want to eat meat."
posted by reflecked at 6:36 PM on June 25, 2008


you eat meat, so no, you're not a vegetarian.

next time you're asked, why don't you just say, "i don't feel like having any meat right now" or "no, i just felt like having the veggie burger"?
posted by violetk at 6:50 PM on June 25, 2008


Um. That's sort of like being a pacifist except when you're actually punching people in the face, I guess. I don't think the OP should worry for one second about what she or he told a bunch of co-workers, but if someone came out with "I was a vegetarian yesterday but today I'm not; sometimes I just don't want to eat meat" I'd think they were deeply weird. Not for not wanting to eat meat on a given day but for coming up with such a ridiculous rationale.

OP: just eat what you feel like eating and tell people that's why you are eating it.
posted by Justinian at 6:53 PM on June 25, 2008


You know, I actually told the "I'm a vegetarian" lie to avoid eating some gross-looking chicken once...and it really made me think, and then I stopped eating red meat pretty much that day, and poultry about three months later. This was when I was 9 years old.

It's a dangerous lie to tell, because it might change your life. Anyway.

Frankly, I think people who hold you to "But I thought you said you were a vegetarian" thing with any kind of persistence are probably assholes, so that's out of the way. Right now I'm a vegetarian who eats fish about twice a month. It's not as big a deal as a lot of vegetarians claim to gently correct people's assumptions about your eating habits. In this day and age, saying "I'm a vegetarian" tells people you almost certainly won't eat a hamburger, probably won't eat chicken, and might not eat fish - despite how much real, literal vegetarians want it to mean that you don't eat any of those things, full stop. Let's be realistic about how the word is used these days, guys.

I guess I see the people on here who are saying "No, you are not a vegetarian, stop saying you are a vegetarian, this is a crime against true vegetarians" as being the same sort of people who will correct the usage of any other very commonly misused word. Basically, prescriptivists. Stop worrying about it. Correcting people on it just reinforces the notion that all vegetarians are anal-retentive jerks who will make retching noises as you try to enjoy your delicious prime rib. We are not all that jerk. There are some people who call themselves vegetarians who will want a bite, even. However, growing the ranks of people who call themselves vegetarian generally means more true vegetarian options for everyone, and that's really what the goal ought to be, not some kind of exclusive club where you only get the membership card if you can pass some sort of moral test. I mean, the fact that you ate a Boca burger and said "Yeah, I'm vegetarian" means the next time your work homies have a party they'll say "Oh yeah, isn't bad grammar a vegetarian?" and they'll buy a few extra Boca burgers, and then some other people who didn't really want to eat meat last time will see there are plenty of Boca burgers, and you start a cycle where more people have more choices to eat the cuisine they want, which also happens to be better for the earth and all that.

Woo, run-on sentence. Obviously this is something I feel strongly about. As I see it, the more people who claim a meat-free diet, the more meat-free diets are enabled as awareness grows that non-meat-eaters are among us at all times.
posted by crinklebat at 6:57 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't feel the need to call yourself a vegetarian. Just eat what you feel like eating. If it includes meat 10% of the time, so what? Seriously, life is too short to put labels on everything. Eat mostly vegetables, and meat when you feel like it. And...don't worry about what other people think.
posted by wv kay in ga at 7:15 PM on June 25, 2008


You said you were a vegetarian because some wanker was trying to engage you in conversation. I'd say stick with that plan, it worked and so far so good. If it comes up in conversation with someone you actually respect - you can explain it. If they look at you funny you can say "Why do you ask?" And then just smile and explain that - Well although it is 90% accurate (No don't say that part, I'm just poking fun at you :)) you were eating at the time and that was fairly self explanatory and much simpler. "So *insert smile* I'm almost a vegetarian but not quite."

(Should it ever come up again "No, I just like veges," seems to satisfy most nosey types.)

If you were cooking for me I would retort with "Good, so you can just put your steak on my plate ok?" You becoming a vegetarian because you lied and now feel you must actually live that lie... would not go over well with me. I feel more lies are absolutely in order here. If I actually gave a rats ass about what people may or may not be saying about what I do or do not eat and felt I needed to make adjustments that would disrupt lives of all those around me, I would go with... health concerns!

Then it's not about the meat anymore. It's now about them showing a selfish disregard for your well-being. If you play your cards right they'll want to stop eating meat just because they feel so terrible for wanting to rub it in your face when you can't even eat it. Too easy. The people at work will never find out and then technically it will only have been a lie for X amount of time.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:19 PM on June 25, 2008


Are you asking if you're a vegetarian or if you can tell people you're a vegetarian? You're not a vegetarian, so the answer to the first question is no. As for the second, you can tell people whatever you like: if you feel like you need to tell a small lie sometimes, then that's what you do. It seems just as easy to say "I don't eat much meat" or "I'm mostly vegetarian" or "I wanted the veggie burger," though.

I now feel morally put on the spot and obliged to convert the partial lie into truth by becoming a vegetarian.

Aside from your guilt over lying (which I don't think is necessary) it sounds like you want to become a vegetarian anyway. Why not try it for a week and see how you feel? You could cook meals for your household that can include meat or not, and put the meat on the side for those who want to add it to theirs.
posted by lemuria at 7:23 PM on June 25, 2008


Would it help to realize that there's a 99% chance that your co-worker neither gives a shit nor remembers even having that conversation? That's about 9% more not giving a shit than you are a vegetarian, so it's a pretty high percentage.

I can understand your general feelings, but seriously, no one cares that much about what other people eat. They'd really rather you didn't talk about it all. If it somehow comes up again just explain that you only occasionally eat meat and find it easier to just go with 'vegetarian' than bore people with details -- they'll appreciate your sensitivity to their not giving a shit.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:30 PM on June 25, 2008


Beyond what I think you should call yourself, this question has a pretty simple answer.

Can I call myself a vegetarian if I only eat meat 10% of the time (approximately 10% of total calories)?

You can call yourself whatever you want.

Am I effectively a vegetarian by American standards?

No.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:39 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


You are not a vegetarian by American standards, no. America is full of practicing vegetarians and vegans who never eat meat. You do. Doesn't mean it's wrong to say that you are, though. At least, not in that context.

Personally, I'm only eating very occasional fish and am avoiding all other animal meat, fat, dairy, etc. (it's a cholesterol thing) except for egg whites, which are used as binders in lots of things. I have no problem telling people that I'm vegan, however, since it quite concisely explains that vegetarian-with-cheese is right out (and jesus h, but there's an awful lot of vegetarian food that relies on cheese)... so maybe I miss out on something made with honey, no biggie. It's a lot easier than explaining everything that I will and won't eat, which doesn't conveniently pack itself down into a label (other than "no cholesterol," but that's strangely un-meaningful to most people, I find). No waiter wants to hear all that if s/he doesn't have to, and neither does anyone else who isn't your good friend. Random company bbq person certainly doesn't want the details.

So... in short, I'm saying that in the context of the exchange you describe, in which you are casually chatting with an acquaintance-from-work, no worries that you fibbed a bit. If they call you on it later, explain that you meant it as verbal shorthand and didn't want to go into the peculiarities of your diet. Honestly, there are all sorts of reasons for not eating meat -- religious, political, philosophical, moral, healthy, economic, gastro-intestinal -- if you had irritable bowel syndrome, say, and were avoiding meats, I'm sure they'd rather not get into talking about that with you.

Whether you should become a vegetarian is entirely up to you. Don't do it because of what you said, though. Do it because you want to do it for yourself. You'll be surprised at the delicious things you can cook without meat that your meat-eating housemates will enjoy, particularly if you start off with dishes you're already comfortable cooking, but substitute Quorn or Veat or whatever in lieu of the flesh. Some vegetarians will hate on you for using faux meat, but fuck that. Do what you need to do, you know?
posted by mumkin at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2008


When asked, by someone I don't know well, I said that I was a vegetarian. I did this because I didn't feel like explaining why I didn't want to eat an entire hamburger, a hot dog, and an entire half of a chicken, besides all the sides, that day.

I now feel morally put on the spot and obliged to convert the partial lie into truth by becoming a vegetarian. (I feel guilty over lying to this person. I do not fit in well at this workplace, and intend to leave in two years.)


1. You're so totally not a vegetarian.

2. In the future, "I'm trying to reduce my cholesterol level" is a much easier lie to shoulder than "I'm a vegetarian."

3. If there was someone I worked with, who really didn't fit in, and I found out that this person felt obligated to convert to a vegetarian lifestyle simply because they told a little white lie, I would think that they were very weird, and they'd probably fit in even less.

4. If there was someone I worked with, who told me he was a vegetarian, but then I saw them eating steak, I would probably say something like "Wait, I thought you were a vegetarian?" And then my coworker could say something like, "Oh, I was trying that on the advice of my doctor, but I just couldn't hack it. I decided to just cut back on meat instead of giving it up completely."

5. Get out of this lie now. It will be waaaay too hard to keep up.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:08 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


No one can stop you from calling yourself a vegetarian and you can't stop anyone from calling you a liar.
posted by dobbs at 8:24 PM on June 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


btw, this is such a weird thing to lie about and then wondering if you should keep lying about.
posted by violetk at 8:30 PM on June 25, 2008


no, no, no. hypocritical and false. just like the people who say they're "vegetarians who eat fish", you are NOT a vegetarian if you eat any animal flesh, fish included. i don't eat a lot of meat but it would NEVER occur to me to call myself a vegetarian.
posted by FlyByDay at 8:35 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I now feel morally put on the spot and obliged to convert the partial lie into truth by becoming a vegetarian. (I feel guilty over lying to this person. I do not fit in well at this workplace, and intend to leave in two years.)"

Oh dear Lord. This is your problem. (I am reminded of that staple of the middle school/ junior high English class's introduction to dramatic irony, de Maupassant's "The Necklace".) You're going to change your lifestyle because you made an off-hand remark imprecisely condensing "I prefer to avoid eating too much meat" to "I'm a vegetarian"?

For what it's worth, my Indian colleague (thoroughly conversant in English, so it's no translation problem) regularly informs people he's vegetarian, often while tucking into a chicken sandwich. (He doesn't eat beef or pork.)

In part because of their importance as part of religious law, in part because of burgeoning ethnic diversity in America, and in part because of increasing visibility of vegetarians and vegans, diet is lately considered one of those personal choices (like religion, ideology, or racial self-identification) which is granted increased social space and tolerance, fewer prying questions, and more room for weirdness/idiosyncratic definitions, especially in politically-correct lawsuit avoiding white-collar work situations.

If you run into this guy again, and you're eating together, just explain (if you're tucking into flesh) that you misspoke, you're mostly vegetarian but occasionally "stumble" or "make exceptions" or are just a "healthful diet (not ideological) vegetarian" and leave it at that.
posted by orthogonality at 9:08 PM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I realize, AskMe and Metafilter being what they are, this question is possibly redundant and likely to summon forth the political vegans and the unrepentant, obligate carnivores.

Not to mention the prescriptivists, the descriptivists, and the lexical nihilists*.

You are not a vegetarian by any standards.
posted by gentilknight at 9:11 PM on June 25, 2008


You're not vegetarian. You might also want to figure out why you feel such social pressure to change your dietary definition in order to conform to an arbitrary description - but that's between you and your shrink.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:44 PM on June 25, 2008


No.
posted by gnutron at 10:07 PM on June 25, 2008


Vegetarians eat vegetables, not animals. You are not a vegetarian. You are eating about the amount of meat all meat-eating people should be eating -- just a little.

If the truth is impossible to tell -- I don't see why it is, but if you insist -- then say "I'm an ex-vegetarian. I started eating a little meat recently." Your story is that you were a vegetarian at the time of the company do but now you aren't, no big deal. And have some answers prepared for the inevitable questions about how long you were a vegetarian and why you went back to eating a little meat. Make your story as truthful as you can so it doesn't fall apart during a later conversation. If you have to offer details, mention the home situation and how it was nearly impossible to be a vegetarian in that situation, so you eat a little meat at home, but that doesn't mean you want to go to McDonald's with the gang at lunch, thank you.
posted by pracowity at 11:19 PM on June 25, 2008


Technically no, you're not - but I wouldn't worry too much about telling people that you are a vegetarian. Especially in the situation you described. Vegetarians get rightly fussy about the meat eaters snarfing all the delicious veggie food at BBQs, so you need a one word answer that says "Yes I am eating this veggie burger because I don't like meat; not because I am trying to deprive vegetarians of food before moving on to the dead animal products."

That answer is "Yes I am a vegetarian." If anyone calls you on it, you can go into a bit more detail. FYI, I too try to keep my meat consumption down. It's a good thing to do & there should be a word for it.
posted by seanyboy at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2008


I don't think there are separate "American standards" for vegetarianism. It's an abuse of the term to label yourself with it if you choose to embrace your omnivorousness. And, what's the point? Why not say "I eat very little meat." Or, "I don't much care for meat." Or, "I find eating large quantities of meat [unhealthy | unethical | unaesthetic | unhip | unsustainable]; therefore, I eat very little of it."

Full disclosure: I'm not a vegetarian, though I dated one for several years (and took a stab at being one for about a month once).
posted by wheat at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2008


No.
posted by serazin at 1:23 AM on June 26, 2008


Who cares about the dietary past? Try "mostly vegetarian" like TPAA said. Just as long as your not in some denial to yourself.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:44 AM on June 26, 2008


Thank you (the overwhelming answer is "No, you are not a vegetarian, and you don't have to become one"). I might say that I am a semi-vegetarian. Ideally it would be better to avoid the word altogether, but I didn't feel like a long explanation of why I wanted to avoid the carnivorous barbecue.
posted by bad grammar at 3:33 AM on June 26, 2008


There is an easy solution to this. If you're 90% Vegetarian then you should just call yourself "egetarian," or "Vege-arian." See also: picky eater. Not that you should have to defend your eating habits to anyone.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:16 AM on June 26, 2008


In this day and age, saying "I'm a vegetarian" tells people you almost certainly won't eat a hamburger, probably won't eat chicken, and might not eat fish - despite how much real, literal vegetarians want it to mean that you don't eat any of those things, full stop. Let's be realistic about how the word is used these days, guys.

Fine. If you must, all of you meat-eaters can call yourself vegetarians. Whatever. But still, as wheat says, "It's an abuse of the term." And the overuse of the term by every fish-eating, chicken-nugget-nibbling, wipe my chin I'm drooling over that t-bone steak hypocrite pisses me the fuck off. I've had to start using herbivore to describe myself now because of how many times I've been asked, after explaining that I'm a vegetarian, "But you eat fish right?" No. I'm a vegetarian, a fucking herbivore.

No, bad grammar. You're not a vegetarian. You're an omnivore.
posted by trueluk at 7:02 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


No, you're not a vegetarian.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:26 AM on June 26, 2008


that would be a cool bumper sticker: 90% vegetarian

I would be mightily tempted to key that car.

Just eat what you want and don't eat what you don't want. The term "vegetarian" is useful to us folks who never eat meat because it's shorthand for friends, family, and restaurant owners to know what they might or might not cook for us (you know, like kosher or halal). It's not a free trip to the moral high ground. I don't care what other people eat, but I care when someone dumps fish on my plate because "so-and-so is a vegetarian and HE eats fish!"
posted by methylsalicylate at 7:37 AM on June 26, 2008


To the OP and other posters who have posted about being "sorta vegetarian", please stop. It's not that hard to say, "I don't feel like eating much meat", or "I'm not really in a meat mood today."

It's not any sort of elitism that causes me consternation, but rather that you soften up the word and make it harder for real vegetarians to express their dietary choices. You open us up to all sorts of ignorance and arguments such as "Well, I knew a vegetarian who ate chicken, he just didn't eat a lot of it!" or "Vegetarians eat fish, right?"

I'd really like to be able to express my desire to avoid meat without having to wonder if the salad dressing contains sardines or the vegetable noodle soup contains chicken.

And while I'm ranting a bit, why do people think that fish doesn't count as meat? It's an animal! It is flesh! But more importantly, why eat fish? It's far and away nastier than red meat; the best compliment that can be paid to fish is that it doesn't taste "fishy!"
posted by explosion at 8:09 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're not a vegetarian. Even in America, "vegetarian" means, "eats no animals". It's a word with a definition, not some abstract concept.
posted by booknerd at 8:58 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why do you have to call yourself a vegetarian? Why can't you just say, "I don't eat a lot of meat."
posted by wabbittwax at 11:26 AM on June 26, 2008


You're not a vegetarian - you eat meat. Sure, you don't eat it a lot of it, but you still eat it. That means you are not vegetarian.

Personally, I would think it ridiculous to become vegetarian merely because you told a white lie at work, and please don't feel obligated to disclose the truth to the person you talked to at the party. If the topic comes up later, perhaps you could say you felt like going light on the meat at the party. There's no shame in that.
posted by meggan at 2:28 PM on June 26, 2008


I always used to say I was a flexitarian until someone pointed out that I'm just a vegetarian who cheats. In truth, I'm probably an Ethicurean, but that sounds too snobby. Usually if I encounter crappy meat I just say I have a sensitive stomach.

My sister drives me crazy because she says she is a vegetarian, but she is really just a pescatarian.
posted by melissam at 6:28 PM on June 26, 2008


You could say that you are a recent vegetarian and that you still have relapses from time to time.
posted by dhruva at 9:44 PM on June 26, 2008


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