The holidays are a challenging time for dietary restrictions. If you don’t eat meat, fish, gluten, dairy or fatty foods, it’s often difficult to avoid eating what you can’t or don’t what to eat. Whether it’s your tightly-budgeted, all-pizza holiday office party or your grandmother calling “veggematarians” “stupid idiots” while cooking a ham hock for the family Christmas dinner, sometimes you just don’t have a choice in what you eat this time of year.
Having stayed in Austin (a town full of health-conscious and animal welfare-conscious
hippies open thinkers) for the holidays and attending several Christmas dinners and parties, the question, “Do you eat meat?” came up frequently. For years now, I’ve felt that the long-winded and convoluted answer I gave people sounded like a crock of horseshit, but I discovered last month that many people have similar diets. I also discovered from my friend Jerm what the name for our kind is:
Moochetarian [moo-cha-tair-ee-un]–a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat unless someone gives them free food that may contain meat, then they’ll gnaw on an entire pig’s face like a rabid dog.
I’ve never been a vegetarian and I’ve never deluded myself into thinking I’m a vegetarian. However, I rarely eat meat when left up to my own devices. At home you will find no beef, pork, chicken or fish in the refrigerator. At restaurants, I will frequently order a salad or the tofu option. My favorite restaurants in town are Mother’s (all vegetarian/vegan diner), Mr. Natural (vegetarian Mexican) and Titaya’s (Thai food). Even though I live in the Land o’ BBQ, I rarely crave brisket. However, if you make me food or pay for my food, I will eat whatever the hell you want me to. Maybe it’s because I’m poor, or maybe it’s because I was raised to respect what others do for me. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to look like the asshole urbanite who shows up at a dinner party and rattles off a long list of “can’ts and won’ts” while picking at a boring-looking plate as others enjoy their limitless life. Either way, I CAN’T TURN DOWN FREE FOOD.
Now, to morally justify this behavior, I’ve come up with an argument that I feel is strong, but mostly because when I climb up on my soap box about this, I’m preaching to other poor artists who would corner a cow with machetes if it was presented to them. People who don’t eat meat (vegetarians and vegans) typically choose this path because of their moral obligation to the well-being of animals. People who don’t eat meat unless it is given to them (moochetarians) choose this path out of a.) survival and b.) respect to the person giving the food. For example, a friend of mine who typically doesn’t eat meat found herself in Brazil for over a year. As she hiked the countryside alongside two other Americans she ran into along the way, they came upon several elderly women selling meat and vegetables from their farms. The Brazilian women were thrilled to offer food to the Americans. Much to my friend’s horror, she listened as the two other Americans asked the women in their broken Portuguese if the vegetables they’re offering were cooked on the same stove as the meat, which mind you, was probably as humanely-raised and organic as you can get (though I know that’s not always the point).
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine going to another country, hiking the countryside, happening upon a bunch of South America’s equivalent of babushkas, them happily offering you meat and you’re all like “F YOU, OLD WOMAN! GIMME MY VEGETABLES SANITIZED!”
What moral question is more important? Not eating meat or not disrespecting fellow humans?
OR more importantly: not eating meat or not surviving?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Looking at that picture of the cow above causes a small piece of me to die when I think of nibbling on his innards, but at this point in my life, I choose respecting those who pay for my meals and surviving.
What about you?
I’ve been a vegetarian for 21 years (cripes!) because of an enzyme deficiency (have major trouble digesting meat). My husband is not a vegetarian and I have no problem purchasing or cooking meat.
The holier-than-thou vegetarians/vegans really irk me.
Traveling has posted some issues, but there’s only so much you can control.
I packed boxes of protein bars when I went to Albania, knowing I would be in a tiny village. However, all foods were served on their own plates and everyone ate family style, so I was pleasantly surprised and had my fill of fresh cheese, pickles and veggies.
In Southeast Asia, almost everything was made with fish sauce, but I tried to eat a lot of street food, where the dishes were made in front of you and you could shake your head “no” for certain ingredients.
Thankfully, most of my travel has been with my husband, so if meat does end up on my plate, I can discretely pass it over to him.
21 years! Wow! Good for you! How was Albania? What brought you there?
Albania was incredible; I really didn’t know what to expect. My friend was in the Peace Corps and assigned to Rubik for two years and we visited him (because when the hell am I going to a tiny, remote village in the Balkans?)
Photos, if you’re interested: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157624350944236/
This is exactly me! But it didn’t used to be. I used to be pretty strictly vegetarian. After a few years of being poor, unhealthy, and humbled, I realized that I had better things to do than question what other people were putting into the food that I was fortunate enough to be eating just for the sake of an idea.
I was actually raised as a pescatarian by my parents, and stopped eating fish (going full vegetarian) at 15. I did that for about ten years. I stopped because, at the age of 25, it hit me that I was living below the poverty line and deserved a break when it came to free food. Then I realized that meat was cheaper than most vegetarian options, and that the $3 for a chicken pizza seemed to go farther than the $2 for a plain pizza. Then I thought of how I was living in a consumer society and I had so little control over this kind of stuff and said to myself, “Why the HELL should this be my priority?”
These days, I don’t pretend to be a vegetarian. I just warn people that I’m not a big meat eater. It gets them thinking and asking me about how easy it is to get by without meat, and often leads to them considering eating less meat. When I was a real vegetarian, I didn’t get a single person to eat less meat.
You hit the nail on the head! Sometimes it’s just about surviving and eating well-balanced.
This seems legit. I did a similar thing but with carbs, dairy and processed sugar instead of meat last year. There was a dinner party I went to, and while I knew that the meat was most likely cured with sugar, I really wasn’t going to avoid them just because of my own dietary restrictions. I mean, hell, it was nice enough for them to invite me and feed me!
Lauren, yeah, this could be applicable to any diet really, not just vegetarianism. Especially around the holidays, it’s difficult to say no!
I think your argument is a fine one. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ll eat anything free. Mostly because I’m poor. Seriously… feed me pig eyes for free and I’m all over that.
Ha! Let’s start a moochetarian club!
On a related note:
While most Buddhists today are vegetarians, the Buddha himself had no problem with eating meat that was offered to him — as long as it was not slaughtered specifically for his benefit. The same applied for his monks. If it had been previously slaughtered (and not specifically for him or his monks), it was considered rude and disrespectful to refuse an offering of meat from a host. From a Buddhist perspective, the hikers in your story did indeed give offense.
Here is one online source for this information:
Of course, there are many other reasons for not eating meat that have nothing to do with Buddhism. I just thought it was an interesting parallel to what you’re calling “moochetarianism.”
Thank for that, Bard! Two friends mentioned Buddha on my FB page. I had no idea! Shows how little I know. Very interesting though! I’m agnostic, but I knew I always liked those Buddhists… 😉
I’ve always like Buddhism, too. At the roots, it’s really a philosophy and not a religion… and it has a lot of wisdom to offer no matter what you believe.
For example: I’m an unrepentant omnivore, but I really like the advice in that link about being mindful of the suffering and sacrifice that goes into providing the meat (and all food) that I eat, and learning to moderate my consumption and not give in to gluttony and craving. Good advice for anybody!
Ha! This topic is too funny.
I don’t eat meat, hate the taste of it now. But when my new wife’s father offered me “sausage balls” over Christmas I wasn’t about to stick my nose in the air.
I think that in situations where I can control, it’s easy to not eat meat. But there’s no reason for me to be a Nazi about it.
Happy new year!
How were the sausage balls?
(Ummmmm… how do I say this without sounding like a douchey vegetarian…)
The cheesy/bread parts were great! 🙂
Ah! I relate to this topic so much. I am so with Benny — I typically just say that I’m not a big meat eater when folks ask, though I definitely don’t identify as a vegetarian.
Ross and I don’t really buy beef/chicken/pork for ourselves, a) because it’s expensive and b) I at least am not sure what to do with it. 🙂 But when we do buy meat — Ross likes to make meatloaf every once in a while — you can get more unusual meats like elk, ostrich & bison at Natural Grocer. I feel a bit better about eating that stuff, because they are less likely to support a larger, more industrialized animal-raising complex that makes me sad (like the one for cows or pigs).
Look at me, I sound like a bleeding heart vegetarian, don’t I! That’s what I get for living in Austin. ANYWAY, I’m with you Lauren– I don’t refuse meat when it’s served to me, because I don’t want to make anyone feel bad and hey, it’s often delicious. I wonder if my hesitation to have it in the house will change if we ever have a kid.
I just had elk for the first time last night (given to me to try). Very interesting meat- gamey, but tasty. I imagine (or hope) that the specialty meats at the independent grocers are more humanely raised too.
This sounds like my fridg. No meat in there, but if it’s put in front of me ( friend’s house, or something like that ), I’ll go with the flow and do enjoy the taste.
I live alone, so that is a big reason for no meat – it’s not worth cooking it for 1 person.
Cooking for one person sucks in general! I hate it. So much food goes to waste!
This is so my life. I very rarely choose to eat land creatures and recently decided to go full pescatarian. This, it turns out, was a very unfortunate resolution to make during the holidays. My mom cooked up chicken and beef casseroles. My boss took us out to lunch at a BBQ place. An old high school friend brought hand-made kolaches. You better believe I ate all those poor little cows, piggies, and chicks with a smile. I am not in a position in my family, nor my job to ask anyone if there is a “Non-meat option.” Also, I just don’t like making other people feel bad for not magically knowing about my self-imposed dietary restrictions.
So, yes. Moochetarian it is!
Funny, I’ve never really thought about it this way, but yeah, I could possible classify myself like this. I was a vegetarian for three years, a long time ago. But I eventually started eating meat again. I don’t buy very much meat at home and often eat the vegetarian option at restaurants. I never even think about cooking steak or burgers on my own stove. But if someone offers up a big side of beef, I’m all over it!
What a great post–especially that end story! I am not a moochitarian, but have a somewhat similar philosophy in that if someone offers you food, you graciously accept.
I love meat. But I made myself believe I’m a vegetarian in the past – for 2 years!:D Now I just avoid steaks and whatnot when I can out of respect for animals but never in situations you described – out of respect for humans.