It has gotten to the point that I visibly cringe when asked this question. I can't help it, it is one of those 'if I had a nickle for every time I heard that.....' sentiments that vegetarians everywhere can't help but feel. Now, the reason for this visible distaste is two-fold. When this question inevitably is asked as the subject arises, I first feel angry and indignant. Did I just ask you why you eat meat? Am I analyzing your lifestyle choices? Are you going to halfheartedly listen to my answer and then immediately begin a tirade about how I'm not 'American' because I choose not to eat meat or a 'hippie' because I enjoy tofu and vegetables? This initial reaction lasts for roughly seventeen seconds until I realize that most people are just curious. I still find it fascinating that I am sometime the first vegetarian that people meet in their lives, or many of my mid-western friend's 'token vegetarian'.
As this realization sinks in and I realize there is a table full of expectant faces waiting for my answer, a second feeling begins to arise, panic.
Why am I a vegetarian.......how much time do you have? Can I reasonably explain myself without going on what can easily turn into a pretentious tirade?
I don't believe that any of us has one single reason for our choice, or a simple answer as to how we made this decision. For me, the answer is a forever evolving one, as I am someone who naturally craves information and am in constant search for more of it. I read book after book dealing with the sociological, economical, ecological, and ethical aspects of meat production and preparation. I scour research websites during my lunch hour so that when challenged, I can back up my claims with facts and truth, not merely my opinions.
However, when I begin my now automatic response to this question, what my decision comes down to is a matter of my opinion. I do not believe everyone should choose to live the way I do. I do not judge others who eat differently than I, nor do I think I am healthier or happier or in any way different from my meat eating peers (ok, a little different). Eating meat is simply not for me. It matters deeply to me to understand and make conscious decisions about what I am putting into my body and how it is affecting the world around me. For many reasons, I feel that my body functions better without meat and that in some small way I am doing my part to enhance the environment.
I have found that these few sentences are usually enough to satisfy initial curiosity and perhaps spark the interest of someone who really does want to know more about a vegetarian lifestyle. Of course, I also encounter the quintessential 'meat heads' who laugh at my response and want to argue about my decision in attempt to convince me that it is unjustified. These are the times when I simply remind myself that they are lucky that this 'hippie' is also well versed in the calming techniques of yoga and realizes that it is just not worth the fight.