Originally Posted by yellowpansy
There are many ways to be a vegetarian, just like there are many ways to be a christian. Vegetarianism is a belief system for many and therefore not something easily defined or easily analyzed under public scrutiny. So, don't get offended if somone's definition does not fit your own.
I don't think there are many ways to be a vegetarian, and I think it is natural to feel offended because that is the way people defend and protect the meaning of their belief. I may be in the minority here, but I don't think self-identifying always works. You can claim to be a member of a certain group because of perceived benefits, but it doesn't mean it is a fact. It's like people saying they are not racist, but then actively engaging in racial discrimination. This dichotomy in their practice vs. the belief they espouse erodes the sanctity of the belief and does a disservice to those who work against racism.
Dietary beliefs can be a lot like religious ones, but saying vegetarianism is like Christianity just doesn't work because of the long and complicated history and doctrine of religions such as Christianity. Vegetarianism is a practice based on certain beliefs and while the beliefs surrounding may be varied and complicated, the central action should be fairly well-defined. Even with Christianity you can argue that while there are so many different actions you can do or not do that might define you, there is one central action that defines all practitioners--a belief in Jesus Christ as the savior. I'm sure there are those who call themselves Christians, but if they don't believe in Christ let alone believe in God, they are just claiming an identity that doesn't match with the very basic definition. But if there is to be any meaning or purpose at all in their decision, it would seem to come in the discussion of the ideas and why they are choosing to do what they do (or not to do what they don't want to do). Just blithely accepting them at face value seems useless.
So too, I think the same with vegetarianism. Various forms of vegetarianism have deep roots, especially in a number of religions or cultural practices, but vegetarianism as a political movement defined by uniting those who eschewed animal flesh is fairly recent. If people say, "Oh yes, I'm a vegetarian who eats meat" no one is served if there is at least not a discussion and a laying out of terms. Someone can say that in her religious, vegetarianism is defined a certain way, but I definitely can see another vegetarian arguing against the appropriation of terms like vegetarian and vegan which were coined in the 19th century, from my understanding, and used with deliberate intent. I think vegetarians have a right and a duty to protect their beliefs just like other groups do. I had a friend who actually used to get irritated with vegetarians because of the history of practices within certain parts of Christianity to fast from animal flesh and all animal products during certain times in the liturgical calendar (like Lent). He felt like modern vegetarianism detracted from the greater meaning of fasting from meat for reasons of purity or a higher spiritual purpose. So I guess in one sense he felt like the vegetarian movement was too far removed from all the reasons human beings have had for avoiding animal flesh, but I felt like the modern vegetarian movement is something that stands on its own, apart from a particular religion's dietary practices and customs. So I certainly think vegetarians can and should discuss all of this when someone claims to be a fellow practitioner.