Some of what follows is drawn from chapter 8 of my book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist. If you enjoyed it, please do consider buying the full book, which is available both as a paperback and an ebook. It’s available online, or from all good bookstores.
A few years ago, I was having lunch with an old friend in a vegetarian pizza restaurant in London. Now I’m no fan of vegetarian food—I think I’m persuaded by the argument that the word “vegetarian” is derived from an old German word that means “bad hunter”. However, my friend, Garth, had just started dating a devout Buddhist, so he was not merely eating vegetarian, but vegan.
Halfway through the meal, I looked up from my lentil and sawdust pizza to see Garth surreptitiously produce a small plastic container from his pocket: he opened it and shook out the contents over his pizza.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Tuna,” he hissed in a whisper.
“Tuna?” I said.
“Shhhh!” Garth hissed. “Not every vegan takes the liberal approach that I do. Besides,” he added, “I don’t know what all the fuss is. So I eat fish. Big deal. Fish doesn’t count as meat, does it? It can’t be meat if it lives in water.”
“You claim to be a vegan and you eat fish?” I asked.
“Yes. And prawns, crab, shellfish, lobster, that kind of thing.”
“Strangest vegan I’ve ever met,” I said.
“Duck, too,” he added.
“Well, they live in water don’t they.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “ you’re claiming to be a vegan—telling your girlfriend, your colleagues, and your family that you’re a vegan, subjecting your friends to vegan restaurants—all the while chowing down on anything that moves. Why not just come clean and admit you’re an omnivore like the rest of us: it’s the hypocrisy that galls me.”
“Hypocrisy?” Garth said, looking genuinely offended. “I thought you’d be more, well, progressive. And besides, who says that you get to define what the word ‘vegan’ means? Who died and pronounced you King of the Dictionary? I say ‘vegan’ to me means ‘occasionally eats meat when there is a vowel in the month’. How dare you tell me your meaning of the word trumps mine.”