I knew she was going to say something. The moment I sat around that restaurant table with my friends and their grandmother, I knew. As everyone around me gawked at pictures of burgers, baked chicken, and fried shrimp, I was scouting out my options around the salad section of the menu. As so many menus are, this one was largely unimpressive. But then I saw it. In good ol’ black and white: “Veggie Burger”. SOLD ! My ecstasy was beyond my control despite my desire to be discreet. I may or may not have squealed a little and bounced around in my chair… “YOU’RE GOING TO EAT THAT?” the robust old woman asked from across me. My secret was out. “You know, my niece DIED from being a vegetarian!” At this point I went into automatic small-talk mode, otherwise I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of her statement! “Oh, is that right?’ I said looking to my friend for help. “Grandma, Pam died from LUNG CANCER. She was an avid smoker…” I just bit my lip to stifle the grin forming on my face. It went back and forth like that for some time and by the end of the conversation she still wasn’t convinced that vegetarianism was a sustainable way of life. Our waitress didn’t help matters when I ordered my food and instead of writing it on her pad she dropped her pen to her side and asked “Now where did you get her from!?” Annnd… then they were off again debating the finer points of why they eat meat, while I sat quietly embarrassed.

As my fellow veg heads can testify, these situations happen literally all of the time. Many people say things like “I could never do that”, “How do you get your protein?”, and perhaps the most painful to our Veggie hearts “I wish I felt bad about eating meat, but I don’t”. I get it. It’s hard to listen to people disregard the life of the creatures that our convictions prevent us from consuming. There was a two-year period of time before I met Jesus that I was a full-blown vegan. Saving animals was my passion and my purpose, and anyone who didn’t agree with me was the enemy. They were evil and cruel, and I wanted nothing to do with those meat eaters. It wasn’t long before I viewed myself as above them. It wasn’t healthy. Spewing hateful words into the pages of my journal, being angry every time I sat in the kitchen with my meat-eating family, and obsessively drawing gory cartoons in hopes that they would convert one of the wayward ones. Then something happened that changed all of that: Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; I realized I was no better. It was in those moments of newfound humility that God put a new purpose in my heart: LOVE. I gave up veganism. Not because I didn’t love animals, but because I loved people more. Veganism had become a barrier between me and those around me, and when I tore it down, I found beautiful souls on the other side. Even meat-eating ones!

Today, I am about 5 months back into a vegetarian lifestlye. But this time I plan on doing it right and for God’s glory. I’m a vegetarian for the animals, for my health, and for mindfulness. I also look at it as me taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth that God gave to mankind. I’m a vegetarian because I refuse to fuel my life with death. But, when it comes to the issue of whether eating meat is “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad” I don’t think it’s quite that simple. A lot of people who live a meat-less lifestyle try to make it that all or nothing mentality, but I choose to challenge that. What about people who don’t have access to meat-less options? What about homeless people and those in third-world countries? What about the men and women warring against their eating disorders? Should we tell them that their physical and mental well-being are less important than the rights of creatures that God gave us charge over? What about your family and friends whose favorite meal is a medium-well steak? Should we tell them that they are ignorant and hateful and disrespectful? I used to. Until I realized that it was ME doing the hating. I do understand that factory farming is a huge contributor to poverty and water/ food shortages all around the world, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. The point is that people come first. Period.

Jesus didn’t leave Heaven to save the animals. He came for US. People. Human beings. And if your meat-less existence is not respectful of that, then it’s simply a vain thing that you’re doing. So instead of shaming people for what’s on their plate, how about we love people and just be honest about why we PERSONALLY choose to live meat-less. People are much more willing to listen that way and may even find they agree with you. But that embarrassment that I felt on the day I ordered a veggie burger, is the same way our friends feel when we get all uppity about their grilled chicken sandwich. And is that really what we want? A reputation for being stuck-up? Because that’s exactly what we will have.

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