Ethical Vegetarianism

I tried being a vegetarian once, my first year of university. I was 18 and realized with delight that for the first time, my culinary options weren’t bound to whatever my parents came up with for dinner.  I could stop eating meat, and nobody could stop me! Besides, I thought vegetarianism would help me lose a bit of weight and ergo meet more girls, a goal of paramount importance at the time.

Anyway, I lasted a month. For awhile I liked it; being able to be picky, feeling light after meals, munching on protein pills, experimenting with exciting new foods like tofu, and feeling solidarity with the vegetarian masses from my exceedingly vegetarian-friendly hometown, San Francisco. But one day, a hunger pang so great came upon me that I instinctively knew only good old fashioned meat would satisfy it. So I caved and ate a chicken burger. Then another. I was deeply, deeply satisfied and haven’t considered vegetarianism ever since.

Kunming, where I now live, has a fairly sizable population of vegetarian foreigners, and as a result quite a number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants exist in the city. Yet the other day I met a foreigner who has chosen temporarily to give up on vegetarianism while living in China. He has by no means become a full-blown carnivore, but has simply accepted that occasionally he will have to eat meat, like it or not.

When I asked him why, he gave me two reasons. First was simply convenience. A number of vegetable dishes and even the odd tofu dish in China contains bits of meat, and this vegetarian simply grew tired of asking waitresses in broken Chinese to alter the dish for him.

More surprisingly, he gave up vegetarianism for what he termed ‘ethical’ reasons. He recalled traveling into the Yunnan countryside and being the guest for a rural family who obviously had little money. This family had slaughtered a pig to serve he and his friends, and he simply couldn’t bear to refuse them. So he ate the pig.

He told me that he normally avoids meat and when he returns to the West, he’ll happily resume being a vegetarian.  But for now, in a nod to his new environment, he’ll eat meat when he feels that it is appopriate to do so.

I found his story quite interesting, and wondered whether such behavior is unusual. So, a bleg to the LL community as I’m sure a number of you are vegetarians. Has your vegetarianism changed since moving to China? Have any of you temporarily or permanently begun eating meat in China?  If so, why? Also- have you encountered a situation in which you felt bad about refusing meat?

I’d be interested in reading your stories in the comments.