The Vegetarian Choice: A Reflection on Privilege

I’ve been doing the vegetarian thing for a few weeks now, and so far, so good. I don’t know if I necessarily feel better, but I eat more of my vegetables, and less of everything else, which from a rudimentary nutritional perspective is good.  I haven’t been craving any kind of meat, and I haven’t really been inconvenienced.  In fact, when I went to dinner at an Indian restaurant last week, I was surprised to find that there was a vegetarian version of my favorite dish – an easy choice.  Which is exactly why I’m writing this post.

Occasionally on my afternoon walk back from campus, I give granola bars or bags of snacks to the people experiencing homelessness who I pass.  Last week, I had a bag of grapes I hadn’t eaten, so I asked one man if he’d take them.  He gave me a brief look and said, “Ma’am, I’ll take anything.”  Anything. His words struck me because I quickly realized when you’re hungry, you don’t have a choice. You eat what you can get.  This is a notion I’ve certainly encountered before, particularly while serving in soup kitchens and noting that main dish wasn’t something I would choose to eat, but in light of my recent vegetarianism the idea took on a new notion.

In choosing to be a vegetarian, I’m exercising a privilege.  I can choose what I eat, because I have enough money to buy my own food instead of depending on what somebody else provides for me. I can choose fresh fruits and vegetables, because I live in an affluent area where those things are readily available, unlike in the food deserts found across America.  And I can choose to not eat meat even though I can afford it, while millions of people in the world would probably like to, but don’t because they can’t.

I acknowledge that recognition of privilege doesn’t solve injustice, but I do believe it is the first step.  For now, I encourage you to check out Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s blog about being a vegetarian and challenging himself to live on food stamps in a city known as a food desert.


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