‘Why are you a vegetarian?’ is one common question that I get asked, both when I was young, and even now. When I was young, I just used to smile and I guess people understood that I didn’t know what to answer.
Perhaps, since my family & community was vegetarian, I was also vegetarian. I guess it was a habit from birth and hence I never thought about other possibilities. Lack of exposre and availability of a huge variety of tasty vegetarian foods also helped, I guess.
In India and especially in Chennai (where I was born and brought up), it’s very normal to see a lot of vegetarian families/communities. There are many vegetarian hotels and even hotels that serve non-vegetarian dishes have separate menu for vegetarians.
Secondly, non-vegetarians are predominantly vegetarians here. They do eat meat occasionally (as far as my observations with my friends families go), but their diet consists of predominantly vegetarian ingredients. In fact, even my non-vegetarian friends are shocked to know what people eat at places like Korea/Japan. One of them was appalled to find that in a plate of dishes served to him, many items were moving!!
Anyway, coming back to the main question of why am I a vegetarian, I never questioned this practice during childhood. I have even eaten some omlettes in road-side mobile shops (who make them quiet well). But I stopped eating egg from the time I vomited after eating something called as ‘half-boil’.
That’s the first reason – When you are not exposed to non-vegetarian foods from a young age, the smell/taste is definitely not inviting. I was never drawn into it, even though my friends kept praising how excellent their meat-based foods were. When I was young, I should also have been afraid that my parents might scold me if they knew I was eating meat. That was another reason.
During my teens, like all teenagers I questioned everything happening around me. Why should I do this, why shouldn’t I do that, etc. I never found a good enough reason for being a vegetarian, but I never found a good enough reason for switching over, either.
My non-vegetarian friends used to tell me – ‘Eat chicken once in your life, you’ll know what tasty food is. If you want, I’ll give you right now – Taste it’. During those situations, I was never really tempted because I didn’t find the smell of meat, very pleasant. Besides, I always had access to a variety of tasty vegetarian foods and hence I did not feel like I was missing out on taste.
Once I politely refuse, they get offended (sometimes). Then they say things like, ‘This is a religious practice, you should come out of it’. I wonder how. In my religion, there are both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. They try to convince me that there is no strength in vegetables/fruits and I found that reason, very silly. People have been living on vegetarian diet for centuries and they have been quite healthy & have been able to live a long-life.
Once they see that I am quite certain about my decision, their internal dilemma gets amplified (you can see it in their eyes). They then try to justify their habit. I stop them and say that I am not offended in anyway with a person’s food habits & I don’t judge people that way, either. But they are not convinced.
After some time, they say ‘This is the last time I am asking you. Why don’t you try eating some meat now?’ I ask them quite firmly, ‘Can you become a vegetarian from tomorrow?’ Of course, they can’t. ‘How can you expect me to become a non-vegetarian instantly, then?’ A convincing argument.
All the while, I used to get irritated during such talks. Only had I known that they were actually looking for inspiration, I would have reacted differently.