Monday, June 16, 2008

"Historical Vegetarian"

This summer I will be celebrating my 30th year as a vegetarian. Yippy for me. There are many ways to be a vegetarian and I'm often asked "what kind of vegetarian are you?". There are many ways of answering this question.

1) I could use one of the names that have emerged as labels for "dietary practices commonly associated with vegetarianism" (as this Wikipedia page explains ... it lists more than ten names).

2) I could list the things I eat, so I could say something like "I don't eat fish or meat. I'm not opposed to dairy, but it's a small part of my diet (mostly cheese). I'm not opposed to eggs, but I rarely eat them".

I rarely say either of the above. Instead, I typically say "I'm an historical vegetarian". I coined this term decades ago in order to sum up my answer, which has nothing to do with what I eat, but everything to do with when and why I became a vegetarian.

I chose to became a vegetarian in the late 1970s when I was seven years old for one reason and one reason only: My oldest brother Rob decided to become one. Rob was around 16 at the time, and if my understanding of the late 70s is accurate, every 16 year old was becoming a vegetarian. It was a fad. They all listened to disco, wore bell-bottoms (oh my, did Rob ever have the bell-bottoms!), and became vegetarians.

As a seven year old, I knew full well that Rob was the coolest person on the planet, so I followed him around and did whatever he did. He became a vegetarian, so I became a vegetarian and so did my brother Don. My mother didn't seem to mind (she probably rolled her eyes a few times, knowing the fad would pass, and decided to wait it out). I remember the first day remarkably well because my mother informed us that we were going to have hamburgers that night, and we all decided it would be wise to postpone our veggie inauguration by a day. But the next day, we stuck by our word and renounced meat (we allowed fish and fowl and dairy). My mother patiently cooked multiple dishes as was needed ... and waited.

Within a year, Rob was munching on hamburgers again. Within two years, Don fell off the wagon and dove into hotdogs with relish (frikkin sweeeeeeeet ambiguity! Both semantic AND syntactic. Parse THAT, LKB!).

And I was the last man standing. At ten years old, I renounced fish and fowl and dug in for the long haul. Somewhere along the line, my sister Lori became a vegetarian, but I think that was later. She held out for a good long while, but alas, she too has fallen off the wagon as well.

I've never quite understood my motivations for sticking it out, except perhaps the stubborness of a youngest child. But I have never been comfortable with any of the silly labels that people have concocted for cutting up the vegetarian space. I'm most happy with vegetarian. Nice and basic level. But I find other people are not happy when I call myself a vegetarian. They seem to feel I've misled them somehow when I re-tell the little story. So I coined historical vegetarian to label the tiny little space in veggie-land that I occupy. It may be the case that I alone am properly labeled by this term (god I love my syntax sometimes!).

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