by Sheela R.
As a young girl, growing up in multi-cultural Malaysia, I have had my fair share of challenges. Raised as a vegetarian long before it was recognised and accepted as a healthy lifestyle, I have had to constantly explain my dietary habits to people who are unaquainted with vegetarianism.
As a student at the primary and secondary levels, I had to frequently put up with comments such as,
“Oh! You don’t know what you are missing!”
“If you eat only vegetables you are going to grow up looking green!”
“If you don’t eat meat you won’t be strong!”
“Ikan tak boleh, ayam tak boleh, semua tak boleh, kesian!”
“A vegetarian? What’s that? Are you some sort of vegetable?”
Naturally, such comments riled me, but over the years, I grew to understand that they stemmed from silliness or ignorance rather than wilful malice. I learned not to react to such distasteful comments but to respond with dignity. I eventually found ways to explain to others, the socio-cultural reasons for my diet. Invariably, once they understood my reasons for abstaining from meat, they became highly respectful and sensitive towards my dietary requirements.
In retrospect, imagine if I had responded in kind,
“You flesh eaters are all going to end up as Dracula!”
“You are insulting my race and religion!”
I would have stooped to their level and it would have been impossible to foster any kind of understanding, let alone respect.
There will always be persons lacking in judgement or cultural sensitivity. Take the case of our famous or rather infamous couple, Alvivi. Their antics are undoubtedly stupid and deserve censure. However, throwing tantrums and “baying” for their blood for misdemeanours such as this won’t help, but a dignified response would go a long way.