Vegetarianism has a tremendous ripple effect. I’ve been thinking about why this is, and I think it’s because of our deep and abiding desire to share food.
Eating is a deeply social act. At the start of our lives, it’s literally impossible to eat without another human being. As infants, we always eat in the company of another person, whether we are breast or bottle-fed. As school children, we eat lunch with our class mates. If we’re lucky, we eat breakfast and dinner with our families. When we have a birthday, we share cake with our guests. When we come home from college, or a far-away jobs, our parents’ immediate impulse is to feed us, no matter how old we are and no matter how late it is when we get home.
Sharing food is instinctive. If our friend forgets her lunch, we share what we’ve brought from home. When someone says, “that looks good!”, we offer a bite. If we give a toddler a snack, he’ll feed us cheerios whether we like them or not.
The impulse to share is so powerful that it often trumps food preferences. Most of my family and friends really enjoy eating meat, but I can always count on them to feed me something I can eat. If we’re at a restaurant, it’s not uncommon for a friend to order a vegetarian entree or appetizer so that I can have a bite too. It doesn’t mean that the omnivores in my life stop eating meat, or that they stop eating meat when I’m there, but it does mean that they incorporate more vegetarian food into their lives.
When it comes down to it, the vegetarian ripple effect depends on the love of omnivores. It’s our impulse for sharing, our desire to nurture others, that makes the ripple effect possible.