I am not a vegetarian. I have never been a vegetarian. I have been friends with vegetarians, lived among them and even dated them, but I have never, ever joined them in their meatless way of eating.
Yet people think I am one. Friends who have known me for years, who have come to my home and eaten my chicken soup and my homemade beef chilaquiles will greet me at their cookouts with, "Reg, we got you some veggie burgers." Or they'll email me things like, "This restaurant looks good, but I don't see many vegetarian dishes on the menu for you."
Why? Why do people who have watched me eat meat think I'm a vegetarian? Likewise, why do people who have never seen me eat anything think the same thing? I've had brand new co-workers make assumptions about my "vegetarian" diet, when we had yet to make it to the lunchroom. What is it about me that, in spite of my daily habit of consuming either chicken, beef or fish, makes people think I'm a vegetarian?
I'm going to take a stab at it here. I think there's a stereotype about vegetarians and people think I fit it. I think it goes like this: vegetarians are shrill, judgmental ideologues who think too much, lean left politically, don't wear makeup and prefer sensible shoes. They often have spiritual beliefs that include reincarnation, karma or the principle of attraction. They meditate. The women often steer hard and the men tend to back down.
I think that's what people see when they look at me. I think that's why they think I am a vegetarian, even while I'm chowing down on a hamburger.
I went to U.C. Berkeley. Then I went to graduate school in Ithaca, NY. I've known those vegetarians. I've lived with them, cooked with them, gone dancing with them. I might have liked them despite their shrill ethics, but more likely I liked them because I, too, was unpleasant. I felt comfortable with their Birkenstocks and their flowing skirts because that was my counterculture at the time. Visualize world peace? Sure! Think globally, act locally? I'm down!
That was twenty years ago. I've moved on. I now wear suits and lipstick. I keep my hair short and have no patience for people who chirp, "It was meant to be!" I act however I want to act, whatever effect it might have on our children (none of which will be mine, anyway). I might have orgo-cookie, hippy granola airy-fairyness in my past, but I don't wear it into my future.
Yet it must be there. My crunchy, hair-product-free past must cling to me so that people sense the vibration and although they can't fully articulate it, they manage to express how alien I appear with the label "vegetarian."
Of course, the people who make this assumption are never vegetarians themselves. The co-workers and friends who make this mistake are always red meat chompers. True vegetarians are shrewd, or perhaps psychic, enough to perceive that I'm a meat eater with no more evidence than the meat I eat every day. They're amazing.
So what's the problem, fellow meat-eaters? Since I'm one of you, why do you try to cast me out? Is it just that I seem alien in general and "vegetarian" is your best attempt to describe my difference?
That must be it. I must seem odd in general. Even with the full hamburger or fried chicken evidence before them, people (even friends) call me "vegetarian" because that's their gentlest word for the kind of bizarre I am.
If that's the case, I guess I can live with that. I'd rather seem like a general weirdo than like one of those ascetics who tries to talk her friends out of their favorite sub sandwich or beef stew recipe. I'll push my opinions on others about a lot of things (and I still think that's one reason people think I don't eat meat), but not about killing animals and consuming them. That's one cruel act I am down with.