I met a friend for lunch in Orlando just outside of downtown at a small restaurant. It was a great place for a sandwich she told me, so I was a bit excited to eat there, especially on a bright, sunny, cool, fall day. I met my friends outside then walked inside to the counter where a checklist of ordering instructions hung beside the counter.
The first instruction on the menu was: Choose your meat.
When the man behind the counter asked me to choose, I told him, “None.”
He frustratingly shook his head, gave me a double look, and irritated, asked again, “What kind of meat do you want?”
“No meat,” I told him.
He shook his head again and jerked his body to shake off the anger. He was somehow upset with my refusal to eat meat. Fine enough.
Until I got my sandwich.
My vegetarian sandwich came from the kitchen minutes later. I picked it up, anxious for mouth-watering vegetables until, just before I took a bite, I realized one half of the sandwich contained chopped chicken and the other half sliced chicken.
Clearly, this was intentional.
My first instinct was to grab the heap of food, set it on fire, and throw it at the arrogant, spiteful child who took my order. Instead, I took it back to the counter and politely told him my order was wrong.
Moments later, I received another sandwich, this time correct to my order. Presumably, this time the meat was replaced by spit because, by God, how dare I order food without a dead animal on it. “I have a societal standard to uphold here. It is my duty as a man to eat meat, not make my own choices based on rational discourse.”
Where I find blatant disrespect is not so much in the spite that someone took against me. If I hadn’t noticed the meat and eaten it, it wouldn’t have killed me. But this person got genuinely and adamantly upset with me for not eating meat. He decided to act in a way designed to hurt me, even if I didn’t know that I was being “hurt.”
His mind hardly seems like an intellectual one. Not because he eats meat and loves it, and not even because he was mad that I do not eat meat. Instead, he obviously clings strongly to this societal standard that states men must eat meat, and if they don’t, they should be served some sort of passive-aggressive punishment.
Our society often prizes the individual for courage to make one’s own decisions and life-altering evaluations regardless of what society, friends, or parents say should be done, but what about the effects of this?
My experience at this restaurant was a rare one. As a vegetarian, some of the common responses I have encountered are simple and polite: “Oh, why did you become a vegetarian?”
Others are less enlightening: “I love meat too much, so I could never do that!” which is usually followed by an overly self-gratified, self-satisfied laughter from uttering something both profound and humorous that I have never heard before.
What makes our decisions valuable is the evaluation we have employed in arriving at them. We have put the time in, thought out all the possibilities, bravely considered all the options, and decided upon an answer, not because our parents or society thought it should be so, but because we burned our fears and discovered our own conclusions.
Eat meat. Don’t eat meat. I am not concerned with anyone’s dietary preferences. I am only concerned with one’s bravery in living life, in small choices and large – regardless of the consequences.
Be brave. Think for yourself. And don’t childishly and spitefully sneak meat into a vegetarian’s sandwich.
Phil Grech lives in Tallahassee where he is pursuing an MA in English at FSU with plans to obtain a PhD after. He published his first book, “Don’t Waste Your Hands,” with Blue Cubicle Press in July 2009. In 2012, he self-printed a collection of essays entitled, “Iambic Pentagram.” He won the 2012 National SPJ Award for Online Opinion (small colleges). He has written for a diverse amount of magazines and newspapers. You can purchase his second book through his blog, and follow him on twitter.