Question: I turned vegetarian two years ago, and am the only one in my family. Despite being aware of this, my relatives still arrange gatherings at non-vegetarian Chinese restaurants. I reckon that some old folks prefer Chinese food and don’t seem to believe in skipping meat even for one meal in a fortnight or month. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is a show of disregard or ignorance. I told myself that perhaps I should ‘随缘’ (accord with the conditions) so long I have the ‘meatless’ dishes. However, sometimes, I can taste the difference, which is probably due to the cooking oil, wok and/or sauces used. I also dine at non-vegetarian restaurants that serve vegetarian food with my own family and friends. I ‘accommodate’ because I try not to be hassle to others. Is this a right view? What is your advice for a vegetarian living with a mostly non-vegetarian circle of family members and friends?
Answer: I would like to express gratitude to you for practising a kinder diet for the welfare of countless animals, the environment and even humans (as human starvation is partly due to over-consumption of grains that could otherwise feed the poor instead of breeding more animals for slaughter). It is not always easy when peers around us do not share the same vision, but am glad to know you have followed your heart and head well so far! Although vegetarianism/veganism is not a must for every Buddhist, it is part of the Bodhisattva precepts in the Brahma Net Sutra and Surangama Sutra (among others), observed by those eager in expanding their practice of compassion in a more universal manner.
For gatherings at restaurants, how about volunteering to coordinate the next one at a Chinese vegetarian/vegan restaurant? Treating everyone once a while is wonderful too, not only as a practice of generosity for offering a more compassionate meal, but also for changing their minds about how vegetarian food is like. Yes, as we know, they can be delicious too. For those possibly ‘addicted’ to meat, some mock versions are also available as means to help them with the ‘transition’ – even if for but the occasional meal. You can send them nice pictures of the dishes to be expected to urge them to go to the restaurant to try it out. Hey, it’s your treat anyway! No losses on their part!
While eating, you can gently share with them on the advantages of eating less animals, starting with health issues, which is usually a more universal concern. It’s good to learn more about vegetarian/vegan nutrition to share nuggets of health tips too. Remember to back them up with scientific information. It’s good to gently urge reduction of meat consumption. Yes, vegetarianism need not be all or nothing; there can be a sliding scale for a start, which is still better than being just heavy meat-eaters all the way. A good source for continual learning is www.vss.sg – the local Vegetarian Society’s website. Do sign up for the newsletter for more occasional health tips and eating places to go.
Don’t worry too much about the possibility of your choice of diet being disregarded or disrespected. Just remember that all such instances are simply due to being misinformed or under-informed about the value of a greener diet. As such, it is much up to us committed vegetarians/vegans to be ambassadors, to speak up more skilfully for our causes. Often, it is because we don’t speak up enough, that our choice of diet gets conveniently ignored. There’s no need to accommodate others all the time, especially when we have principled preferences. You can politely request for accommodation once in a while too. Taking turns at choices of restaurants would be fairer.
It is generally alright to ask for vegetarian options at restaurants that are not wholly vegetarian ones. However, if you are certain that there are animal ingredients in the mix, it is indeed to that extent not vegetarian. If it’s really trace amounts that you feel is negligible, because it hardly adds on to demand for more killing, or make you crave for more of those dishes, it is probably not a big issue. However, if it’s obvious or too much, it might be a better idea to skip future meals there – or just stick to vegetarian drinks and desserts. On the whole, it is always better to support vegetarian places more often as we want them to thrive and multiply!