Vegetarian for God

by Tapati



A typical Indian-inspired meal at our house

I am often asked why I’m still a vegetarian if I left the Hare Krishna Movement. The only way some people can make sense of being a vegetarian for thirty five years is if religious conviction is involved. It is rare to find a vegetarian for health reasons abstaining as strictly. Don’t we all lapse from our commitment to do certain things for our health? Who avoids sugar all the time, even when they’ve made a promise or a New Year’s Resolution?

My own vegetarianism came more from my upbringing on my grandparents’ farm than just from a rule given to me by ISKCON. While that helped me make the final commitment, I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian from the age of 8, when I saw my first cow slaughtered at the meat market in our trailer court. I stopped eating chicken altogether after seeing one killed on the farm. My mother fought this every step of the way, but even so there were very few types of meat I could bear to eat.

When I got older and learned about some of the abuses connected with factory farming and the process used to kill the animals—which doesn’t always worked—I decided that even if religion weren’t involved I wanted no part of this system.

As an Anthropology buff I realize that meat was one important component of the human diet. In some areas of the world, our ancestors wouldn’t have survived without eating meat. Currently there are people who need meat for various health reasons—allergies to vegetarian sources of protein or particular nutrition needs due to illness. In some areas people still hunt for food to survive. One can even get meat in health food stores from animals that are raised under more natural conditions and killed as humanely as possible. I don’t fault people for making these choices. These days I’m a pro-choice vegetarian.

My vegetarian chili in Mom’s old pot

What I do object to in modern life is the over-consumption of factory farmed animals. Humans are not meant to eat huge quantities of meat (or sugars, for that matter). I don’t believe we have the right to cause immense suffering to satisfy our palate. Some are boycotting producers who pen hogs in such tight quarters that they can’t move and create environmental hazards with the waste. I believe we all have a responsibility to think about where our food comes from.

Religious vegetarians normally condemn meat-eating for any reason unless one is starving and there is no other source of food. One might imagine a plane crash in the wilderness or similar situation. They are not all fanatical about it, but many can be just as dogmatic as any pro-life proponent standing outside an abortion clinic. If they could flash a picture of suffering animals and slaughterhouses at your dinner table, they would.

Of course, fanaticism about vegetarianism can also be found in the group PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) who stage in-your-face protests of any form of animal abuse and don’t care about the collateral damage. They’ve recently engaged in campaigns that indicate meat eating makes you (God forbid) fat. Those of us who are both vegetarian and fat of course protest this tactic.

If some religious or fanatical vegetarians had the power to outlaw meat eating, they would, just as the pro-life movement would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. I object to both efforts on religious grounds, namely that I should not be required to follow someone else’s religious convictions.

I try to avoid the subject of my vegetarianism most of the time. I have no desire to argue with anyone about what they should or shouldn’t eat. But when asked, I will briefly state my own reasons for being a vegetarian. I sometimes feel like one of the last vegetarians standing. My vegetarian friends are all eating meat now. The proliferation of vegetarian restaurants in the 1970s have dwindled to a very few. Health food stores used to be meat free but now I have to read carefully to discern which frozen or canned foods have real meat or “faux” meat. I don’t miss meat or have any trouble abstaining from it so I’ll just carry on, cooking what I cook and being amused when contestants on cooking shows freak out at the vegetarian cooking challenge and call leeks a protein just because they’ve made them look like scallops.*

*Recent challenge on Top Chef.


Tapati McDaniels is a freelance writer who started a forum designed to meet the needs of former Hare Krishna devotees at

She is working on a memoir and her personal blog can be found at

Be sure to read Tapati’s NLQ series: “Patriarchy Across Cultures.”

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