Non-Vegetarian’s Helpful Tips for Veg College Students

Savvy Vegetarian’s email exchange with A., who started with a rant, and ended with some practical advice to make life easier for new vegetarian college students

A: “Respect goes both ways. I am not vegetarian but grew up in a veg-friendly environment and come from a family that eats meat but is not “meat addicted” (we don’t eat it often, we don’t miss it if it’s not there, and we know a diet can be perfectly healthy and balanced without it). I would not dream of mocking, questioning, or interfering with my veg friends’  lifestyles.”

“I don’t think of my veg friends as “closet anorexics”, dietary extremists, My Token Vegan Friend, or some other uninformed, dehumanizing, stereotype.”

“I would appreciate that they, in turn, do not describe me in terms that bring up images of a blood-slurping lion hovering over a carcass. Those of us who are not vegetarian/vegan are not carnivores: We are omnivores (or “non-veg”). I’ve yet to meet a person whose diet was primarily-to-exclusively meat, which is what “carnivore” means. Even “meat and potatoes” men eat potatoes. Dogs aren’t even true carnivores; they’re omnivores, too (mine’s favorite treat ever is frozen broccoli).”

“There ARE non-vegetarians out there who already think that vegetarians are normal, do not flee in terror at the prospect of tofu, and have no trouble serving tasty meatless meals. Apparently we are a silent group?”
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Savvy Veg: “I agree, respect goes both ways. It does seem that you’re a member of a silent group, and so are the vegetarians who respect freedom of choice. It’s the extremists who are most vocal – they feel threatened by anybody who’s different from them, or they have all the zeal of the recently converted.”

“Have you expressed these eloquent thoughts to the veg friends who characterize you as ‘a blood-slurping lion hovering over a carcass’ because you eat some meat? Maybe it’s time to get vocal, and roar at a few people.”

“New vegetarians in particular may have difficulty integrating, partly because their own attitudes and demands on other people may be unrealistic or extreme, and partly because they do encounter hostility or resistance.”

“This resistance takes many forms, and has some surprising sources – like your own parents, siblings, and friends, also public and semi-public events such as restaurants, parties and company gatherings. The degree of acceptance also depends a lot on where you live. Rural areas in general, and the midwest, tend to be less tolerant, and more meat oriented.”

“It takes some life experience as a vegetarian to learn to navigate socially without causing offense or generating hostile behavior. That’s true for non-veg as well. I hope that things have evolved, and that it’s getting easier for both sides. I’ll revisit my reports and revise with your thoughts and experiences in mind.”

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A: “I went to school in Iowa (pig country) but am from Southeast Texas (beef/seafood country). Even the vegetables here have bacon in them. Well, ours don’t, but just about everyone else’s do.

The irony is that I grew up in a liberal Quaker church environment, and there are lots of veg Quakers. It’s a semi-breach of etiquette to bring anything meat, especially red meat, to potlucks (if you do, it should have a little card with a warning on it).”

“Forgive me if you have already written this and I failed to find it on your website, but I’d like to suggest that college campuses are often very good places to network with other vegetarians, even in regions that are not particularly veg-friendly.

Lots of reasons: College is often where we’re on our own for the first time and have more control over our lives and eating habits. College is where many of us experiment with our identities. All kinds of people go to college: Even a sports-and-agriculture school like Texas A&M is going to have a lot of people who are there for reasons other than sports and agriculture.”

“I was lucky: I went to a reasonably vegetarian-friendly college. The dining hall food wasn’t fancy, and the menu was somewhat limited (for everyone, not just for vegetarians) but it tasted pretty good and always had substantial vegetarian and vegan options.”

“Some colleges allow their dorm lounges to be reserved for parties (or have rooms that kids can reserve; ours had rooms in the student union that could be reserved free), or if the vegetarian lives in off-campus housing and has a kitchen, s/he could host a potluck dinner.”

“College-age vegetarians ought to try putting up fliers or putting ads in the campus newspaper to try to bring some of those other closet vegetarians and “veg allies” out into the open so they know they’re not alone.”

“Some of the older students may also have been vegetarian longer and may have food advice, veg cookbooks or recipes, and other helpful suggestions. They may also meet other vegetarian viewpoints in an environment that is less antagonistic than in the “general population,” and get pointers on how to communicate with non-veg family/friends in ways that are less likely to raise hackles.”

Savvy Veg: “I haven’t really covered the issue of college vegetarians networking, but it’s an excellent idea. I think that students who are ‘different’ tend to be more isolated and lonely in high school, but find more like minds at college.”

A: “That was certainly me, although not for food reasons.”

Savvy Veg: “They also look for support online, but there’s nothing like face-to-face.”

A: “Definitely”

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