Bacon Is Not a Vegetable

by on April 18, 2014 · 4 comments

in Culture, Environment, Health

You can’t encourage other people to eat a diet that’s better for them and the planet by getting all vegangelical on them

colored-bacon-plate_4c2223db6d963By Jill Richardson / Other Words

As a vegetarian, I have to walk a fine line.

Really, I’m not judging you. But I often find it necessary to establish myself as “not a threat” to meat eaters. I also occasionally bump up against militant vegans.

Consider this collision I had the other day with a devout vegangelical. While at a potluck among an omnivorous group that included a woman who raises and slaughters chickens and turkeys for meat, I tried to politely excuse myself for not partaking in most of the food.

“I’m vegetarian,” I said. “Well, mostly vegetarian.”

Then I tried to crack a bad joke. “I’m vegetarian except for when I eat bacon.”

Big mistake. Vegangelicals have no sense of humor.

“Then you’re not a vegetarian,” the vegan said, annoyed. “Bacon is not a vegetable.” I could tell from her tone that she was eager for a good fight — a fight I did not want to have.

The truth is that an awful lot of thought goes into my diet, as it does for much of my lifestyle. I care about the world around me and I care about my health. I don’t want to buy products that were produced via human or animal suffering, and I don’t want to consume or use anything that will harm my health or the planet.

There are, of course, limits to this way of life because nobody in modern society can be absolutely perfect. I’m sure there are clothes in my closet that were made in sweatshops. I can’t afford solar panels and I drive a car. While my Prius gets good mileage, like most cars it requires occasional trips to the pump.

But I try. Hard.

And I try to be a mindful consumer in a way that is manageable and affordable, not crazy-making. I make one change at a time and gradually adjust my lifestyle.

I gave up meat in 2005, and even went vegan for a year. Then I became friends with farmers and ranchers who raise animals for food on sustainable, organic farms. Last summer, I even spent a week on a farm, caring for pigs, chickens, cows, and lambs that were all heading for someone’s plate. It tempered my view of eating animal products.

These animals lived a good life. They grazed on grass, had plenty of room to roam around, and they were cared for by humans who loved them.

To a vegan, that’s still not good enough. To me, that’s pretty damn good. I ate meat from that farm while I was there. Then I went back to abstaining after I left.

But complicated explanations can’t be communicated quickly. And emotions can run high at mealtime. Meat eaters wonder if I think they are murderers while vegans get ticked because I fall short of their standards.

Even when meat isn’t the issue, something else can become a touchstone.

Why won’t I eat processed food? Why do I prefer to eat organic? And, do my choices imply that others around me are trashing the environment, torturing animals, or poisoning themselves and their kids every time they sit down to enjoy a meal? Here are my answers: no, no, and no.

I usually diffuse tensions by laughing at myself, excusing my strange diet by saying, “I’m weird.” Becoming a Californian helps. Everyone knows all Californians are weird.

I wish strident vegetarians and vegans would chill out too. This tension erects a barrier to discussion, learning, and changing. Would you want to learn anything from a vegetarian you think is judging you for eating a hamburger? And maybe a vegan can learn something from a rancher who raises animals for meat.

Everyone should become more open to honest conversations about our food without judging one another or becoming defensive about being judged.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

unwashedwalmartThong April 18, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Many moons ago I became a vegetarian. I gave up eating meat, and then I cut sugar & added alt from my diet. It was the healthiest stretch of my life. Very little sickness, a few colds here & there. It was difficult to eat out anywhere because of the processed foods in most restaurants. I maintained a healthy vegetarian diet for 22 years. When I read articles like this one, I long for those days when my diet was simple. Perhaps I can try it again. Resources are getting shorter on this planet, are they not?


D.A. Kolodenko April 19, 2014 at 6:21 am

I think the article unfairly perpetuates a myth, and it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. The author claims that so-called “vegangelicals” or “militant” vegans won’t change minds with judgement, and that may be true–but she slips quickly from criticizing these “strident” vegans that she meets “occasionally” to ascribing this judgmental attitude to vegans writ large: “to a vegan, this just isn’t good enough.” No doubt there are some vegans who do fit the stereotype she bemoans, but the vegans I’ve encountered have been overwhelmingly friendly, non-judgmental, and focused more on their own consumption choices than complaining about mine.

The author asks us to consider her potluck encounter. She claims that the vegan she met was humorless and itching for a fight about food choices, but based on the story, it seems the vegan simply took issue with a dishonest statement. When someone says they’re a vegetarian but that they do eat bacon, they’re saying essentially that they’re not really a vegetarian. It’s like saying you’re a Christian except for when it comes to fidelity to your spouse. Vegetarian either means something or it doesn’t.

The author states that last year she stayed on a farm and ate animals. She praises how the animals were raised, but doesn’t discuss how they were killed. She claims that after leaving the farm, she returned to being a vegetarian. What she doesn’t clarify is whether she would eat animals again if she returned to that farm, but it sounds very much like she would. But an actual vegetarian would absolutely not eat animals while staying on any type of farm ever.

In other words, the author claims that she is a vegetarian, but she really isn’t. She may be a person who eats a predominantly vegetarian diet, but if she eats animals sometimes, then she’s not a vegetarian.

To clarify my position: I’m not vegan. I would never claim to be. The author is not a vegetarian. Why does she want so badly to be thought of as one? Vegetarians don’t eat animals.

I’m not judging her for what she eats. That’s her deal. Everybody can make their own choices. But it would be nice if people in general would be more honest. If the author thinks it’s “pretty damn good” to kill animals and eat them, as long as they’re well cared for until the execution, then she kinda needs to stop calling herself a vegetarian. You can’t have your bacon and not eat it, too. As the villain vegan in the story said: “bacon is not a vegetable.”


Goatskull April 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

““I’m vegetarian except for when I eat bacon.””

To me that’s an obvious joke. No where did the author say she actually eats bacon.

Also holding the opinion that killing animals for food is ok as long as they’re treated well does not mean she should stop calling herself a vegetarian. How do you come up that? If she doesn’t eat meat (regardless of why) then she’s a vegetarian.


d.a. kolodenko April 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

It may be an attempt to be funny, but when anyone says, “I am a vegetarian except…” they’re not automatically saying something that isn’t true. In my experience, more often than not, they’re explaining their food choices. For example, I had a friend who used to say that she ate mostly vegetarian, but every now and then “a steak would smile at her in the grocery store.” Yes, she was being funny, but she was also telling the truth about what she ate (and also, I will add, about not falsely claiming to be a vegetarian).

The author says that last summer she “ate meat from that farm while I was there” and that it was “pretty damn good” for that farm to kill animals for food because of how they were raised beforehand. Again, an actual vegetarian would not eat dead animals, regardless of how they were raised. A vegetarian is a person who does not eat animals. Period. Not “I eat animals over here but not over there.” She may be currently abstaining from meat again because of an opposition to factory farming, but her having no problem with eating farmed animals in 2013 begs the question of whether she would eat animals again if she went back to that farm. Given that she thinks it was perfectly fine to eat animals last year strongly implies that she’d eat them again next time she visits that farm, and thus her claiming that she is a vegetarian is a dubious claim.


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