On Vegetarianism, Masculinity, and Language

Jun 25, 2017

Read time: 4 mins

I originally drafted this as a series of tweets, but then remembered I have a blog for long(er) form content

I am nearing 8 months into eating a vegetarian diet, and there are a few things on my mind.

I am without a doubt healthier. I have better blood work across the board, which was a driving factor in the decision to begin with. I've lost 40lbs, something that I've tried and failed to do many times in recent history. I am sleeping better, leaving me well rested and more energetic. My wife is sleeping better due to a decrease in my snoring attributed to my loss of weight and Airway Blocking Neckfat™.

These benefits are not solely related to my newfound vegetarianism — yet with how poor my previous diet was, it has had a more visibly drastic effect. I tell people all the time that my lack of eating meat has nothing to do with my weight loss, rather it is more to do with an increase in fruits/veggies and a closer watch and diligence in controlling portions.

I told myself at the beginning that I wasn't going to be a jerk about it. If I were at a function that provided food and there was no vegetarian option, I'd either eat what I could or just eat the meat if I were hungry enough to warrant it. As with most things in my life, the goal was to not be noticed. I would never say anything about it, but if people recognized and asked questions then I'd discuss it.

For the most part, everyone I've encountered is either profoundly encouraging or at the very least accepting. Many have been overly accommodating, ordering me special meals when food is provided, or even simply requesting my input when choosing a restaurant. Lots of general questions, but that seems like normal curiosity.

  • "What made you do it?"
  • "Is it difficult?"
  • "Do you ever crave meat?"

The only push back or awkwardness I've seen and felt has been subtle, most likely subconscious even.

Specific ways that people ask a question, or better yet the face they make when hearing my answer.

‪Early on I encountered a pastor who made a joke about it in a sermon. He shared that his wife threw a party with veggie hors d'oeuvres, cucumber kabobs and the like, and that such an act was, quote, "quintessentially feminine"‬.

I get that there is nuance and context to the joke. I get that it was most likely an innocent attempt to illustrate that he and his wife have different tastes in food. Yet, I felt the laughter from that joke deep in my bones. A room full of hundreds of my peers laughing along with a pastor who declared eating vegetables as a profoundly feminine thing. Something as basic as what I chose to eat was being mocked, and it didn't feel great. I was being told the decision I had weighed for months was wrong. That I was abnormal.

And let's not even get in to discussing how calling something feminine was used as the crux of a joke and what that means for the Church's and our society's view of women.

Again, I do not believe this was done with implicit harmful intent, but the point is that language is important.

Generally, I think this speaks to a deeper issue.

A person's choice of sustenance should not be inherently gendered. Meat is not masculine, even though our words and our language tend to imply its definition as such (at least in the particular region of America in which I live).

Language is a strange thing. It changes and evolves over time and weaves its way through entire nations, regions, groups, and down to individual relationships. The way we use language can impact more than those with which we are in direct contact. As vocabulary trends are formed and altered, our language can be powerful — for either the betterment or detriment of society as a whole.

This is not isolated to the discussion of vegetarianism being seen as inherently feminine.

The every day words we choose, the jokes we pitch for a cheap laugh, the laughter we emit ourselves that affirm harmful jokes, are all seen and heard by those around us. And we don't know what they are going through, how they live their life, or how those words might affect them.

This serves as a reminder for myself to act accordingly. Be deliberate about my choice of words. Be mindful and knowledgeable of different perspectives. And most of all listen when someone shares how something I did may have impacted them.

I am not perfect in this. I have a long way to go. I'm sure there is something even in this short passage that is insensitive to someone's perspective. However, I am choosing to be cognizant of my shortfalls and keenly attentive to correcting them.