Wednesday 16 February 2011

Contesting the term 'Non-Vegetarian'

About two months ago, I read a book by Kancha Ilaiah titled Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism. I agreed on many things he had to say but one argument that stood out is the usage of the term 'non-vegetarian.' Ilaiah contests the term 'non-vegetarian.' He coins another term "meatarian." Somehow Ilaiah seems to say that by using the term non-vegetarian, it gives an impression that vegetarianism was the previous order and after a point in history, people started to eat other food items such as meat and related products.

Now, I am not quite aware of this part of history but his argument seemed quite sensible and valid. Why should one divide the category of food based on vegetarianism. It is like a racist exclusion of one group. Though the term 'non-vegetarian' is used quite commonly by all and sundry, the sudden realisation that the word spells out a division which quite favours vegetarianism is quite amusing and interesting (no wonder, I wanted to write a post on this).

Well, some of you might ask: What is there in a name? But name is the first criterion by which identity is established. I am being quite mild here on this issue but if you read Ilaiah's book, his scathing remarks might leave many with a taste of ash in the mouth.

All said and done, vegetarianism and meatarianism is a matter of personal choice so please don't take this post as a tirade against vegetarianism or vegetarians.

After having read the book, I have resolved to use the term 'meatarian' instead of 'non-vegetarian.'

What say, dear readers? Which term do you prefer and do you agree with me when I say that meatarianism is a suitable word than non-vegetarianism?

Image: Internet


  1. Susan,

    Interesting. I am a life long vegetarian and all I ever hear is that I am a "non meat-eater." In my world, the default seems to be set to meat with vegetarians occupying the minority status. Then you get into the whole "vegan" thing with various factions of vegetarians competing for their own labels and recognition.

    I eat dairy products, I don't eat fish or anything else that had a face... Personally, I don't care what I am called as long as there is something for me to eat when I get there...

    Suprisingly, even in Portland, with a large vegetarian population, this seems to be too much to expect. Food providers seem to go out of their way to add meat to everything as if it is a sign of value. I pretty much starve at 95% of corporate functions and other venues where I cannot order my own food.

    Salad used to be a safe call, now you have to modify your order or you'll get a chicken/bacon/shrimp concoction.

    Good post, provocative topic!

  2. Paul:

    Probably I should have used "in India" to be specific. Well, cultural issues here. Thanks for setting the scene of your place. I still want to dig into the historical aspect of the different usages. I love words and their associations and hence this interest. Thanks for coming by :)

  3. Interesting post! I'm not sure about the labelling thing...."meatarianism" to me just sounds gross, but maybe that's because I haven't consumed animal flesh in almost 15 years now! I think of the terms , herbivore, ominivore and carnivore and how us vegetarians that strictly don't eat animals with faces (as Paul above puts it) would be considered herbivores, while those individuals that eat animals and plants would be considered ominivores...and those that strictly ate meat (I'm not sure I've met a person like that! But such a diet is found in other animals) would be a carnivore. To me meatarianism seems to imply, when I read it, being a carnivore, foregoing all other food sources, that's just what I think personally when I read the term.

    Paul makes a good point ...restaurants, producers processed and packaged foods...they all seem to want to add meat to everything! It's very hard to find things that don't have meat secretly added to them. One has to be weary of the label "natural flavors" for oftentimes it means it has meat derivatives...and my biggest irk is hard is it to make a soup that would be vegetarian if you put vegetable broth in it instead of adding chicken or beef broth?!?! Sorry...starting to rant! lol But I share Paul's plight and it got me thinking a bit here as did your provoking post. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Jessica, as I mentioned to Paul, the scenario in India is completely different. Being vegetarians or meatarians is a highly politicised affair. Being a vegetarian is associated with an exalted status.
    That vegetarian is healthy is a product of today's times but of yore, that was not the status. If you read the book I have mentioned in this post, you will be able to understand better.

    Thanks for coming by and jotting down your insights :)

  5. I don't know if I'd go for that word. But to me it doesn't really matter as I eat everything including faces. So you can say I am in no way racist, biased or prejudiced on what a person eats. But please don't complain about it. If you want to go to a restaurant pick one you know will serve proper vege meals. If you can't find one take your own and just use their table.

    Cheers A

  6. Oh dear Susan, this post made me giggle.;) I am a true carnivore and I love meat.;) I have briefly been a vegetarian, but I missed meat too much. I like your new term as indeed, we have been a meat eating species since our very cradle so why exclude the term when describing the way we feed?
    Have a splendid mid-week.;)

  7. Dear Susan,

    There is another book by Illiah "Why Iam not a Hindu" which I highly recommend. I felt it is better than Buffalo Nationalism and his scathing remarks on caste and his discription on lot of other aspects such as feminism, patriach system in accordance with caste is very interesting and thought provoking.

  8. Moses: I have already read that book long ago. Thanks for writing. Have a good day.

  9. AG:

    You are right in your own way. Good for you. Hope you are having a good day :)


    Giggly giggly Zuzana. Same here. I am a true carnivore as well but if I can't find meat to eat, I don't complain. You should read that book I have mentioned. Your last line struck a chord :)
    You have a lovely day and a good remainder of the week.

  10. I would go with the meatarian.
    There are people who contest where egg, milk fall under- veg or non veg
    Then non-veg has been borrowed for drinks and adult jokes

    So it would be safe to go with the 'meatarian'

  11. John:

    Let's popularise the term now on. Hope I can trust you on this. Thanks for the solidarity, mate. Cheers :) You should also read the book.

  12. i am definitely an omnivore..well except lima beans...those are nasty...plants have feelings too you know...smiles

  13. Where was I,all this time,when I was in Delhi,I had thought of coming back and reading your posts,somehow it didn't happen. I really like the things you have written..will take my time to read each one,and learn.I have been a full fledged 'meatarian',but of late,turned to be a veggie,not for anything regarding its pros and cons,but solely to loose weight..and yes,I like the word,'meatarian'.

  14. Meatarian it shall be, Susan. I haven't read KI's book but having heard him speak I know how convincingly he can put an argument across! Frankly I hate that people assign values to what the other person eats - like you said, people who eat meat are not 'clean'. Which reminds me of some house guests I had who not so quietly objected to our dog eating meat in the same room where we took meals. This after my husband and I took pains not to cook or eat any meat for ourselves out of respect to them. They had been warned that the dog ate meat and we took care to make sure he had his meals at a different time from ours. Needless to say, we're not having them over again - in fact, they're not in our circle anymore!!

    Food for thought indeed!

  15. Honestly am in different to either. Now being a yoga practitioner I get a lot of raised eyebrows when people find out that I eat meat and drink!
    To me what I eat or drink should not make or break me as a person or my practice.
    Being a non vegetarian or vegetarian does not identify me or my practice or journey.
    In very simple terms I practice because of the benefits I get and am not interested in enlightenment. I look for balance between my inner and outer self.

  16. Alpana:

    Glad that you could catch up. Welcome and thanks for coming by. I am glad that the word won your approval. Come by whenever you find the time and energy :)


    You have heard him speak? Wow! Loved your wee anecdote. People can be quite temperamental when it comes to food and related issues. Food for thought, yes. Now, I am craving for meat!

  17. Savira:

    You sound like a saint, Sav. I am glad you are what you are :)

    Joy always.

  18. I don't really have a preference. I am a vegetarian, but don't have a problem with the categorization. This gives me something to think about!

  19. I have a strange perspective perhaps as was raised on a small farm. My early years were filled with the production of animals and their slaughter. I am and probably will always be a meat eater, although my consumption is limited.

  20. Labels, titles, whatever...does it really matter? What a person eats does not define them. It is a personal preference if they have a choice.
    This makes me think of my daughter's diet. There are so many things that she cannot eat, almost to the point of being vegetarian, although she can eat meat and does if I can find it gluten-free organic. I do purchase a lot of vegan foods and condiments and also organic. That's just the way it is.
    In answer to your question, I can't really answer your question as I don't label anyone by the food selection they choose to eat:)

  21. Susan Deborah, I just love how your think! You write some truly unique posts about things that I have never thought about before!

    I don't know about the terms but I long to be a vegetarian but don't think I can do it in the culture I live in! Some places it would be so easy.:) I know that is really just an excuse, I guess I should say I am drawn to vegetarian eating but don't think I would commit to it for long.:)

    Hope you are having a lovely day!

  22. I find both a bit of a mouthful (no pun intended). I don't recall ever hearing the term non vegetarian but then I live out in the sticks and we all eat meat here.

    It's an interesting concept of thinking about how you address a way of life, a choice. If you think about it we don't call childless couples non parents so I guess I do actually agree with him.

  23. Ahhh another unique post from Ms Deborah:) This is an interesting topic. Never though of the term 'non-vegetarian' like this. But yeah 'meatarian' sounds good too. So why not use it and spread the light !! :P

    Have a meaty week Susan.


  24. I agree with SJ, Susan. I also don't recall of ever hearing non vegetarian... I only know of vegetarian because they only consume veggies in their diet. Otherwise, there is not really a specific label to it. Meatarian sounds like animals in the wild that devour the meat of their prey... yikes! Pardon me if I don't agree to it. That's just me though.:) XOXO

  25. This is an interesting question! On the one hand a vegetarian doesn't eat meat and a vegan is a hard-core vegetarian, but many meatarians eat vegetables and all manner of food. I don't know why but a meatarian makes me think of a Neanderthal or something! Maybe it just has to grow on me. I love your blog and how you keep us thinking and discussing!

  26. Interesting. My wife is a vegetarian. I just call myself an omnivore.

  27. Until today I had only heard of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. Who knew there was this big debate between the terms meatarian and non-vegetarian? If I must choose I'll go with meatarian. I just like the sound better.

  28. What an interesting insight Susan! A very very valid point - Loved your post as always
    (No wonder I am hooked on to your blog :))

  29. Susan

    You do find some interesting words that seem to resonate with some folks--This gave me a big chuckle -- it has a sound to it when said out loud like a slang-curse word.
    I am not sure I would refer to my meat eating friends as meatarian - but if it got them to stop eating animals than sure I would use it all the time.

    Warm wishes,

  30. Betty:

    God bless you, Betty. I'm glad that you don't worry about these issues unlike me. But sometimes, these issues do matter. What say?


    Meatarian, you are!

  31. Mary:

    I'm afraid, these labels are bit too prominent in our country. Even for renting house, one of the questions is "Vegetarian or non-vegetarian?" Strange as it may sound, it is a cruel reality.


    In India it is very easy to be a vegetarian. I think you should think of settling down here!
    I wish you a lovely forthcoming weekend, dear Colleen.

  32. SJ:

    No pun intended! Okay, shall ignore the pun part, deliberately. SJ, I should have specified India in this post but I never overtly gave a thought to that issue.
    Your analogy is brilliant, SJ.
    Thanks for coming by :)


    Please use it and spread the term.

    No meat here as I am away from home :(

  33. Jorie:

    As I mentioned to her, I should have specified India. You are you and I love you that way. Big hugs, Jorie.


    I like the way you think of Neanderthal men on viewing this term. How words can give pictures and imaginations! Quite fascinating.

  34. Doug:



    Thanks for following, dear Rachel. I am honoured and glad. In India, this term matters a lot and is highly politicised. Glad that you like the sound of the word. I see that you are a senses-person like me! Great.

  35. Yuvika:

    Thanks a ton for that lovely comment, dear Yuvika. I am glad that you enjoy doing the rounds here. Honoured, indeed.


    Slang and curse word??? Joanny, I am enjoying reading different responses to this word. Words, are magical, by Jove.
    Thanks for stopping by, Joanny. Love it when you come over here.

  36. Dear Susan,

    I think i would go with your term... "Meatarian"... the term non-vegetarian is quite not good to ears and sets limit... though i spent 4 years of my life being vegetarian i still agree with your views with regard this issue... you know i always admire your words though i was not an active reader in here... you seem to know a lot of things and i enjoy exchanging words with you... i hope you're having a good time... belated Happy Hearts' Day!!!^^


  37. oh Susan, you....

    They say we humans are better fed by eating just plants, that is fruit and vegetables, especially fruit, since the times of Adam and Eve... And I believe that is truely the healthiest way to go. I love to eat meat ( meatarian) and fish (fisharian?) ocassionaly. But I prefer pasta! pasterian I am, not Italian, but Canarian...I don't eat little birds,though, but they are delicious I know...products and subproducts...

    Back to the question. I would not like to be called either of those meatarian or non-vegetarian... I prefer 'You Are What You Eat'
    love and bon apetite!

    (Talking about food makes me hungry)

  38. Kelvin:

    Glad that you liked this term. Kancha Ilaiah will be happy indeed. Thanks for your kind words, Kelvin. You can come in whenever you want, regular or not. You are laways welcome :)

    Thanks for your wishes. Hope you had a good Valentine's yourself.


    Canarian, that too, a sweet one! You are what you eat, Canarian :) Sounds good :)

    Have a lovely weekend, dear Dulce.

    Joy always :)

  39. If we go backward tending to the Old Testament food requirement God commanded His people to eat, it is pretty clear that He did not exclude the meat which of course comes from the animal sources. Though I have no personal vote against Vegetarianism if the person happens to be intolerant with meat.

  40. Inday:

    Lovely to see another comment from you. You are right in quoting the Old Testament. I think that Vegetarianism is a recent phenomenon.

    Thanks for coming by Inday :)

    Have a good weekend.

  41. Brian:

    How I missed replying to your comment. Lima beans!!! Never heard of them. Shall look up.

    Have a fab weekend.

    Joy always :)

  42. Meatarian... I'm not sure how I feel about the taste of that one on my tongue. I just know that though I'm not a vegetarian, I'm not such a huge fan of red meat, or of meat in general. I don't mind meat, and every once in a while I just want to go out and enjoy a huge steak dinner. But calling myself a meatarian might suggest that that is all I eat, or what I am most interested in eating... and that's just not really the case. How about I just call myself the good old-fashioned omnivore!

    Have a lovely weekend, dear Susan!


  43. Dear Nevine:

    There are so many kinds of eaters. It is just mind boggling to think of all the categories. I guess, we in India don't have many categories as that and so I took for granted that meatarian will serve the purpose. How wrong, I was.
    Thanks for your always insightful comments, dear Nevine.
    I wish you a fabulous weekend.
    Joy always :)

  44. Sorry Susan of the incoherence due to typo but am sure you get the gist of what I was trying to explain. I just find your entry very interesting that stirs up different opinions and views from your readers.



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