A couple of months ago, my father visited me at school with his good friend from college. His friend is very conservative and religious, which I respect whole-heartedly until it impedes on other people's viewpoints. We went blueberry picking and talked about how we were both vegetarians. He asked me why I was a vegetarian.
I am a vegetarian for several reasons, and I don't always like talking about it because I feel like there's a certain "oh so you think you're better than me?" attitude surrounding vegetarianism. Sophomore year of high school I saw a pig get slaughtered in Vietnam and I haven't eaten meat since. That was the emotional stimuli that drove my beliefs on eating meat over the edge. But long before that, I always felt weird eating meat but didn't cut it out because it was easier to both me and the people around me if I didn't. I have ethical issues eating meat, particularly in the way that most of the industry raises and slaughters it. I'd feel weird swallowing it, and would think about it a lot after eating. I also care a lot about the earth, and like to think that abstaining from meat cuts my carbon footprint. I told all of this to him, in more detail and with more personal history.
He told me his reason for being a vegetarian. His sister-in-law had breast cancer and approached it homeopathically, and through a diet and lifestyle change, rather than undergoing chemotherapy. She became vegetarian, so her whole family pledged to be vegetarian in solidarity with her while she battled breast cancer. He didn't do it because he wanted to, per se, but because he needed to be in support of her, and because God wanted him to show his solidarity with her. God wants men to eat meat, he said, but in this case his family is morally obliged to not eating meat while his sister-in-law overcomes cancer. He looked at me and said something like, "Your beliefs will change over your life, your diet will change over your life, you're still young. You really have to go through something life changing, like a family member with cancer, that gives you a really good reason to stick to your dietary constraints, or else there's no reason to." He brought up how I had blue hair and a nose ring, and categorized my vegetarianism as fleeting as those trends. I was bothered that he felt more entitled to vegetarianism than me.
Are our food choices our own, or are they society's, or God's? Who do we make these decisions for? Is one person's food choices more worthy of respect than another's? With this last question, I suppose I thought some diets were harder and hence more noteworthy than others. But with a similar diet--vegetarianism--I never thought someone else's decision was more qualified than mine. I saw it as a choice, and we both made the same choice. This conversation acted as a reminder to me that food is so fundamentally tied into greater ethical, religious, and spiritual beliefs.