An etiquette problem that bugs me from time to time. My friends and relatives have had to eliminate a number of restaurants from the places they can go because I don't eat meat, and I've been in more than one awkward situation because my hosts have prepared a nice meat dish for the main course when I come over to eat...and when I'm the only vegetarian in a party of 8, I'm creating significant trouble for the host. So it does seem true that it is rude for a vegetarian not to eat meat, at least some of the time.

The saving grace is that, by being rude, one gives ones hosts an opportunity to be courteous. I hope that by being properly grateful when people are willing to overlook my rudeness, that I'm able to in some way repay them for putting up with my idiosyncracies.

Wouldn't it be the same thing as a regular meat-eater visiting a friend and finding out they're having freshly cooked dog, and then calling them rude when they don't partake of your carefully and painfully crafted feast?

Maybe the problem is that it's not rude for the vegetarian to refuse to eat meat, but that it's rude to serve meat to someone who is a vegetarian? That you consider your guest(s) when preparing a meal, instead of expecting them to conform to your tastes? If you know the person has special dietary concerns, whether by choice or not, you should make every effort to accomodate them. If you don't know, then ask them beforehand. Even if you fail to properly accomodate them, whether or not you'll try and do so speaks volumes about you. And if somehow someone shows up who has special dietary concerns, but you were unable to prepare for them for some reason (for example, they came with someone else who neglected to mention the special diet), then you should not interpret them refusing part of the meal as rudeness.

Or if you can't go without something in a meal, at least prepare an alternative, or at least a meal they can avoid the meat if they so desire? So beef stew or chili with meat would be bad choices.

Regardless, it requires the participation of two people for a host/hostess to be offended by a guest refusing part of the meal.

If I am invited to a meal by someone who does not know I am a vegetarian, I'll eat whatever they serve (unless it's sea food, to which I am allergic).

Generally, people who know I am a vegetarian make sure there is enough side dishes I can eat. That way they can eat their meat and I can eat my veggies.

What gets to me when they serve everyone else a full meal and toss me a plate of garden variety salad. Now, who's being rude here? To them I usually say, "I'm a vegetarian, not a rabbit."

Because I eat meat selectively, I welcome seeing vegetarian offerings on a menu. I don't think its rude at all for a vegetarian not to eat meat at a restaurant. Its like not being able to eat pork, seafood, peanuts or dairy products and a good restaurant will make amends for your requests, anyway.

It is rude for a vegetarian to bitch at a waiter for not having enough gluten-free bread to go around, but a true diner would know what restaurants to suggest instead of the ol'steer steakhouse. Sitting on the other side of the table from you carnivores, I am often stuck picking at an $8 caesar salad that was made four hours ago and I think its rude of you to be thinking the way you are.

Of course it isn't rude not to eat meat. There are all kinds of things I don't eat, after all. If I'm having people round for dinner, I tend to check first for allergies, dietary preferences and so on, so that I can provide a meal that all my guests will enjoy -- that's the least a polite host can do. As far as I know, it never killed anyone to miss meat for one meal, and there are so many great vegetarian recipes.

On the other hand, it is rude not to mention that you are vegetarian, when invited, if the host fails to ask -- especially if your vegetarianism is recent, and you've eaten with them before. There is nothing worse than spending all day cooking a delicious meal, to serve it, and be told "Oh, I don't eat meat (anymore), did I forget to say?" It is also incredibly rude to say "Oh don't worry about me, I'll just eat the vegetables" if, on finding you are a vegetarian, the host offers to prepare you something. By all means, say no, but don't even give a hint you are being martyred. "The vegetables here look great, thanks, I don't need anything else." would be nice.

If you have an allergy, or preference, that is way outside the host's normal lifestyle -- veganism, or a gluten allergy, for example -- you could try saying something like "I know how difficult that is to cater for, I've got some recipes I can send you if that'd help" or if you're eating out, "These restaurants have a vegan/whatever option". Any polite host will be delighted.

There's a scene in the middle of the movie "Notting Hill" where Julia Roberts' character is eating dinner at the home of her new boyfriend's friends. Halfway through it, the hostess sitting next to her asks her what she thinks of the chicken.

"I'm a vegetarian," she answers discretely.

Not two seconds later, the host on the other side of the table loudly asks the very same question. To which she replies with a broad and sincere smile, "It's delicious!" The hostess was a little surprised, and then very impressed. She wisely opted to wait until after they'd left to break the news to her husband.

Not to continue this node unnecessarily, but I think the above exchange is exactly in the spirit of the title. Yes, she was vegetarian, but for dietary reasons and not medical or moral ones. She knew that it wouldn't kill her to eat a little chicken for one night, while eating at least a small portion would be the gracious and polite thing to do. They'd worked hard on the meal, and she had been invited at the last minute. It would, indeed, have been seen as rude of her not to eat any of it.

The fact that she scored beaucoup points with the hostess because of their brief exchange was a happy coincidence.

Incidentally, the apostle Paul tackled this same problem in Romans 14, and while there were religious dietary restrictions at play there, the principle is pretty much the same. "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall" -- and the same holds for the reverse.

There's an additional factor to those mentioned above that applies to this topic, as least as far as I and some of my vegetarian friends are concerned: even if I tried to eat meat, I would probably vomit if I knowingly did so. This isn't from some overwhelming, arrogant moral principle... it's just that I made the choice to become a vegetarian back when I was four years old, and eating meat now seems (subconsciously) to me like eating (for instance) soap, or iron filings.

I've not eaten meat for so long that the notion of it now repulses me. I don't object to friends eating meat right next to me; I'd be a bigot if I did. I regularly eat meat substitutes. Hell, I even sometimes feel incredibly tempted (and hungry) when passing hotdog stands and fried chicken restaurants. But it still feels oddly wrong, somehow, for meat to pass my lips. On those occasions where I've eaten a dish only to find out half way through that it contains meat, I've normally had to rush to the toilet, to stop myself being sick. I'm sure it's massively rude to do so, but despite the best of intentions, I can't help myself.

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