Sunday, May 1, 2011

American Vegetarian

Just the other day, some friends of mine made a classic assumption of me: you're vegetarian, right?

This has happened to me more times than I can remember. An employer of mine, whom I had been working for for three years up to that point, was surprised to see me eating a steak. An old chef I worked for had a confused look on his face when I came into his new restaurant and responded "no" to the vegetarian question. Just about every friend, and almost every new acquaintance, has made the assumption that I am vegetarian. What's funny is that I was a vegetarian, once upon a time, back when everyone made the assumption that I ate meat. Differences in towns, I suppose.

This assumption is strange for a variety or reasons. To begin with, the friends of mine who've made this assumption have known me long enough to realize that I am not a vegetarian. In fact, many conversations I've had with these very people have been about my favorite restaurants, and about my favorite meat products from these restaurants. The strangest case was my former employer's shock. Strange because I had eaten countless meat-filled shift meals and I was a full-time employee. He assumed that I was vegetarian because I cooked good vegetarian meals for the few vegetarian customers who came in, and for the two vegan wait-staff that I worked with.

What I think it really comes down to is this way that people equate eating meat with being aggressive, or with being an asshole. This is another assumption that people have made of me, though. I remember a couple of years ago, while at Portland Community College, a woman had told me that I had a very "calming aura" or something. She mentioned that she felt calmer and less stressed when she spoke with me. And, as a matter of fact, she asked me if I was a vegetarian. I know what she meant, but I didn't find it to be a particularly great compliment. Turns out I'm not a vegetarian: so, does that mean I let you down? Do I have potential for being an asshole now that you've discovered that I actually am not a vegetarian? While I was learning how to cut my steak, my mother was also teaching me how to be impolite to strangers and to act high-strung, as it might help me to fit in to other's pre-conceived notions about the human character. It's alienating to have someone put you into a box and to assume that you would be proud of, or humbled by, that characterization.

As you have probably guessed already, I think equating 'peaceful' with vegetarian is fucking stupid. I think this weird attitude Americans have (since I can only speak on behalf of the culture that I've experienced) is the remnants of new-age culture and their pious belief in all-things-Eastern. I imagine some people's conception of  the American vegetarian is of having a vaguely ascetic lifestyle, where the practitioner is self-conscious of his judgmental thoughts, being that he/she is already so conscious of an animal's well-being. This is pretty bullshit; it doesn't take long to find militant animal rights activists who clearly don't give a shit about human rights.They're zealots for a cause; Americans to the fucking core. To be fair, this is usually the vegan crowd. Listen to some of the hardcore music in the 90s, and you might find quite a bit of this intolerant attitude in the lyrical themes. Before you know it, they might be deeming native cultures everywhere as bullshit and irrelevant, since they were animal slaughterers. But hey, they were just a blip in the music-as-political statement spectrum. Who really cares what a bunch of urban teenagers thought?

This is somewhat of a cliff-hanger, since I could probably spend a lot more time riffing on why I think young-people movements and cult-like behavior are obnoxious and stupid. But, I gotta go.