| It has been my experience that it is one of the less attractive aspects of human nature is the tendency of people to like to apply labels to other people based upon anything that differs from whatever they do or believe. During the age of exploration it was typical of Europeans to call anyone who had a culture that differed from theirs or did not believe what they believed, heathens. They would also apply the term to anyone within their own society who deviated from what was considered acceptable behavior or opted for a different lifestyle. This could include anything from how a person dressed or how they lived to what they ate or how they ate it.
I suppose that labels are a way for people to differentiate between themselves and others in a manner that makes them feel superior on some level and to explain why there are people doing things other than what they consider “normal”or things they just don't understand and can't relate to. Back in my youth if a guy had long hair he was labeled a “hippie” regardless of whether or not he fulfilled any of the other requirements necessary for true hippiedom. Having long hair made him a hippie and it wasn't necessary to find out anything else about him. If you objected to the war in Vietnam you were a “commie lover”, and your reasons for objecting were irrelevant. It didn't matter if you were a Quaker and war was against your belief system; you were a commie lover anyway. Most hawkish types also thought that Quakers were cowards, which I guess, made them commie loving cowards, which was even worse.
I have been called a “tree-hugger”, in a manner meant to be insulting, although I really cannot understand why anyone would think it is. Why would caring about our little planet and the things that grow upon it be insulting? I decided that it isn't really the hugging of trees that people see as a problem but rather, a general philosophy or belief system that they think goes along with it. I think it is a lot like calling someone a heathen was back in the day, as if a respect for the environment makes you backward or naïve, or just plain simple and unsophisticated, or as if hugging trees is a gateway to worshipping the moon and engaging in rituals that involve dancing naked around bonfires and performing human sacrifices.
Nothing in my prior experience with labeling, however, prepared me for the reaction that some people have when they find out that I am a vegetarian. I never imagined for a second that it was a lifestyle choice that could bring out such wretched behavior and antagonism in some people. Most people are cool with it, thank goodness, but some people become amazingly belligerent, insulting, and oddly aggressive about it. When I get that response I find it kind of fascinating. I cannot imagine why what I choose to eat would concern them one way or the other, much less make them react the way they sometimes do. I have had people laugh, snarl, make derisive and insulting remarks, accuse me of being smug, make tasteless jokes, and generally behave in a manner I can't help finding inexplicably weird. Why on earth do they care? I couldn't care less whatever anyone else chooses to eat. My choice is personal and my own and in no way do I feel compelled to justify it or force it on anyone else.
In truth, it is not unusual in human behavior for people to sometimes feel compelled to challenge behavior in others that in any way deviates from their own, and it happens all the time, hence all that labeling by people of others. Nonetheless, I confess that certain reactions tend to surprise me and I sometimes attempt to discern the root of why people react the way they do.
It is not unusual for people to react as if by simply being a vegetarian myself, I am somehow accusing them of something despite the fact that I am not doing anything of the kind. I have had people ask me, “How can you be a vegetarian?” in the same tone of voice that they might use if they asked me, “How can you be a public executioner?”. Weird.
I have a theory about the aggressive reaction some people have to learning that I don't eat the flesh of my fellow creatures. It could be way off base, of course, but I have done plenty of personal research and I think it's viable. I believe that the people who react in a defensive, offensive, or insulting manner to finding out I am a vegetarian do so because on some subconscious level they are having their consciences pinged. On level they experience a sense of guilt that makes them angry and they don't like it. I may make them angry... but I'm not wrong.