The secret lesson of the vegetarians

I’m a vegetarian, and have been for (what?) a year or two. Not for health reasons, or ecological ones, but for ethical and religious reasons. More about that later, maybe.

And when you read personal  narratives of vegetarianism, there comes that assumption that there must be a reason, other than simply not liking to eat meat. There has to be some higher purpose, as if the cuisine isn’t enough. It’s not just a diet, but a diet that calls for an apologia and even a meta-narrative. Others do this — oh, ye paleo or raw food people — but most people don’t, and probably wonder why. And as someone who used to make wicked jokes about vegetarianism, I know that “eating on purpose” can be annoying.

But here’s the thing. All else being true,  it’s cheaper (overall) to be a vegetarian, and especially about a century or more ago when vegetarians were organizing into groups. Meat was expensive — heck! food was expensive. So for some diners — this is where proper history helps — simple vegetarian fare was (first and foremost) affordable, served with a side of moral uplift and resolve.

So what?

Think about churches. There are true believers and people who are in vested in the institutions. The “churchiness” of it. The theology. But  many will care about the stained glass or the organ. A kind word over coffee. Or learning in a class with other oddballs. “Unchurchy” reasons. One reason that you can find non-Christians in all kinds of Christian churches; a liberal approach to participation.

The secret lesson of the vegetarians is that the high — no, not high, but particular, formal and sacrificial — commitment approach to church life, which works for “churchy” people like me, is a turn-off for people who want to make their own experience in our shared setting. There’s room for all kinds of people, including those who are “churched” for their own needs and own convenience.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

4 thoughts on “The secret lesson of the vegetarians”

  1. I love the way you put that.

    When I attended the UUCF Revival at the Universalist National Memorial Church a little more than a decade ago, I really appreciated the time you took to explain to me how to eat (as a total vegetarian) at that event, which was not difficult, and your mention of that Persian restaurant not far away.

    Thanks,

    John

  2. Thank you for your kind comments about vegetarians. And I’d like to hear more about your ethical and religious reasons for being vegetarian as well.

    There are a lot of vegetarians and vegans who are followers of the religion of Jesus, or want to be. The universalist perspective is (or would be!) appealing to many, because vegetarians tend to be anti-dogmatic, liberal, and empathic. But most vegetarians just can’t find a place in any church. Especially problematic is the “Heifer Project” which even the most progressive churches often reflexively support. How can a committed vegetarian support with their time and money an institution that, by its words and deeds, opposes their most cherished values?

    There are an increasing number of vegetarians who are raising exactly the kinds of concerns that you are talking about. Good luck in your efforts.

  3. Hmmm… vegetarianism can be made cheaper with over-reliance on beans and rice and pasta. But as to whether it is cheaper than animal products, over my 41 years of mostly ovo-lacto vegetarianism, the cost balance has varied according to droughts and freezes, shifts in government price support policies, and whether I lived in an agricultural state. Lately, there are so many gourmet and processed vegetarian products that the food bill has risen sharply in the weeks I am too lazy for — or tired of — the same old seasonal stir fry.

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