09 April 2012

Meat free versus vegetarian: Would you change your label?

Farm Sanctuary is urging vegetarians to avoid calling themselves “vegetarians” and instead use the term “meat free” which apparently is less threatening to omnivores. Interestingly, market research backs up this claim.
The British trade magazine The Grocer found that consumers were much more likely to purchase products labeled “meat free” rather than “vegetarian.” Similarly, in the states, companies like Gardein and LightLife have followed suit and pasted labels of “I’m meat free!” on their products with big success.

My question then is: “Do vegetarians have such a bad rap that even in 2012 the word conjures up visuals of slightly stinky long haired hippie freaks and aimless jobless flower children languishing in the fields of Woodstock?” Really? It’s astounding to me but I have to admit that in some circles, the stereotype lives on.

My oldest sister recently found out that she has a serious liver condition and after eating meat, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and smoking cigarettes her whole life, she is transitioning to a plant based diet. We talk every day (she lives in Tennessee and I’m in Texas) and some of the conversations have been about perception and how her community views her recent dietary changes.

She lives in Cookesville, a tiny pastoral town with one remote health food store and a Walmart. Yesterday was a huge success because she found soy yogurt, quinoa and nutritional yeast even though she wasn’t able to snag a stainless steel pressure cooker but her biggest challenge is her best friend who lives across the street, a hunter.

Rosemary is worried that her friend won’t accept her decision to stop eating meat (and dairy products) and even though I remind her this change has life affirming results for her, I understand her reticence to tell her friend. I have similar issues with educators I work with every day.

Like many vegans, I walk the fine line of “dietary legitimacy” at work because there just aren’t many people like me in the huge high school I work in. In fact, out of 185 employees, I know I am the ONLY meatless adult in the building even though I sponsor a vegetarian/vegan student group of meatless teenagers.

As much as I hate to admit it because the ultimate reality of this irritates me, I downplay my food at work and only answer questions. I never give unasked advice or insert myself in conversations about barbecued ribs or juicy steaks. Still, I am asked quite a bit for recipes and even offer samples of desserts I make. I left a plate of faux deviled eggs laying around for Easter and got some very positive comments about them.

Farm Sanctuary’s blog asserts that if we don’t label ourselves as “vegetarian” or “vegan” in conversation, it makes it that much easier for meat eaters to avoid lumping us into the negative visuals I mentioned earlier. It’s true that we all have our own “filters” through which we experience the world. We come by them honestly through life experiences. I get that. I also get that I need to take the higher road here and I do...constantly.

If I have to use the term “meat free” to make my omnivore friends and co-workers more comfortable with my diet, I’ll do it. After all, it’s a small concession when I think about the possible good that can come from saying it. And isn’t that the real issue here? I want to be about saving animals and my own life versus building up my ego. Who knows how many human lives could also be positively affected in the process?

What are your thoughts? Feel free to sound off on our Facebook page.

Kathryn Lorusso | O'Neill 365 | Twitter | Blog | Bio
Dallas, TX Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible. She gives vegan cooking classes at the Arlington Bikram Yoga studio, mentors a vegetarian/vegan student group and has just been chosen as one of six fitness icons for O’Neill Clothing Company.

Photo credit:cc:Mark McKie