Why are vegetarians so annoying? A teetotaling non-vegetarian responds.


The pink elephant in the room. Pun by Nina Strohminger and illustration by M. R. Trower

Like my labmate, Matt, I’m pretty open in the first “getting to know you” conversations. I’ll freely offer up information about my career, hobbies, reality TV preferences, even my sexuality (for the record, my answer to all four questions is “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”). But there is one topic I avoid discussing for as long as I can get away with—I don’t drink.

After the big reveal, the inquest begins. No, I don’t drink at all. I do not enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or a snifter of port at Christmas. I’ve never been drunk. I don’t know if I like the taste of alcohol. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, and alcoholism doesn’t run in the family. I don’t use any drug for recreation. It doesn’t have anything to do with health, and it’s certainly not a moral objection. Whatever you do, please don’t call me “straight edge” (a crypto-religious and painfully uncool musical subculture whose puritanical sanctimony represents no minor threat to my patience).

My inquisitors want a satisfying answer to the question ‘why’, but alas, none exists. Mine is less a deliberate choice than it is a preference (if it helps, think of me as gay, but for not drinking). In terms of overall utility, it’s not at all clear this preference leaves me better off. It makes me an awkward installment on dates, at parties, at pretty much every social gathering. It also raises the threshold of tolerability for such events considerably. It was a particularly absurd and socially suicidal eccentricity in college. I’ll admit, though, to having developed a sort of taste for the look of consternation on collegiate faces when boys discovered that their red plastic cups were useless against me.

But it’s not just would-be suitors who have expressed deep concern and alarm over my recalcitrant sobriety. Lurking beneath the curiosity of strangers is an unmistakable defensiveness. I am careful not to flaunt my club soda, but the very act of abstaining is seen as an indictment. This is because most of the reasons to be a teetotaler—like most of the reasons to be a vegan or vegetarian—are rooted in some form of moral concern. Drunkenness is not exactly associated with responsible decision-making. Meat consumption contributes towards such minor piffling matters as animal suffering, environmental destruction, and global injustice. Even health-based reasons carry with them a sort of moral weight, for the body is a temple, and self-control a virtue. The devil is in the sizzle of every delicious steak and the buzz of every flavorless PBR.

What makes the moral minority irritating is not that they hold exotic moral beliefs. Quite the opposite: most everyone feels the force of the arguments against eating meat or drinking alcohol. If our conscience were not pricked even a little, we would not feel implicitly judged. This explains why only certain idiosyncrasies provoke the inquisition. No one gives me a hard time about not drinking coffee, because (Mormonism aside) there is no commonly understood moral position against indulging a caffeine habit.

Everybody enjoys a good irony, and in my case that takes the form of having subjected many vegetarians to my own tedious ruminations over the years (while I could easily do without bacon, it is difficult to imagine a lifetime without cheese). But take heart! This windbaggery is actually a form of soul-searching. Whether flesh-eater or liquor-imbiber, it comes from the same vulnerable place: the desire to be—or at least be seen as—a good person.
~by Nina Strohminger~

8 thoughts on “Why are vegetarians so annoying? A teetotaling non-vegetarian responds.

  1. I am a vegetarian, a lesbian, AND I don’t drink (like you, for the simple reason that I don’t want to).

    Needless to say, I feel your pain!

  2. This is an interesting post. But I’m not sure I agree that people’s perplexity about why you don’t drink stems from their unarticulated anxiety about the moral propriety of their own drinking. I think you’re right to think that drinkers sometimes suspect non-drinkers of being judgmental (if they’re not recovering alcoholics). But I doubt that most drinkers worry that drinking alcohol is in itself morally concerning (I write as I sip a cool glass of vinho verde). For many of us, moderate drinking never leads to irresponsible behavior (although most of us can remember past instances of immoderate drinking that have). And so for many of us, we are not in the least morally troubled by it. Eating meat is a different matter entirely. I suspect that many politically liberal meat-eaters (myself included) are uneasy about eating meat. But again, it’s unnecessarily reductive to think that their pangs of conscience issue exclusively from a desire to be seen as a good person.

  3. It’s refreshing to hear that my personal preferences for not drinking and being a vegetarian resonates in others as well. It always surprises me that for a society that thrives in diversity, we become threatened by shifts in one single individual. Glad to know that I’m not alone in facing the inquisitor brigade.

    • “The inquisitor brigade” Haha! I love it!
      I didn’t even bother to mention that I have gluten intolerance–it’s not worth having to explain that I’m not trying to be trendy, that I had genetic testing because I was sick all of the time…


      And if you read my blog, I’m 100% physically disabled due to spinal cord injury and spinal disease.

      Indeed, we speak of accepting diversity, but do we really?
      **shaking my head***

      Thank goodness I have a sense of humor!
      : )

  4. Pingback: Back at the table: veganism, revisited. | meganonatrailer

  5. It’s nice to read about fellow teetotalers. I don’t drink chiefly because I don’t enjoy the experience. A beverage that tastes bad and fogs your mind? No thanks. The hardest part for me is suffering through social situations where people find out you don’t drink and are totally baffled. For some reason they forget all social etiquette and cannot possibly fathom why you don’t want beer after work, wine with dinner, or a mimosa over brunch. Most of the time I drink water, which for some people is even weirder than drinking a non-spirited soda. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  6. When you were talking about the Straight Edge, you mentioned in your phrase also the band, which started it – Minor Thread. Was it on purpose?

    Anyway, I’m vegan and I don’t drink or do any drugs, so I can understand what you are saying. While I do agree that people are desperate when they find out that you are different from them, trying to push you towards their beliefs about what is right. But the “what is right” is gradually changing. Other people begin to understand us, it changes, people have less prejudice, and so on. It’s the work of popular culture, writers, activists, and even states in some cases (in the US, it was officially declared to be a healthy full diet).

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