The Easter holidays are approaching. The opportunity to meet in a small committee, coronavirus requires. But “traditional” family meals can also be the scene of tensions around what is on the plates. Dounia * knows something about it. The 26-year-old from Lausanne, a vegetarian for three years now, still has vivid memories of Christmas. On the menu: a Burgundy fondue. That same evening, the young woman therefore decides to bring her own meal. While his vegetables are struggling to heat up in his pot, a member of his family keeps calling him: “But go ahead, eat a piece of meat, what will it do to you?” His grandmother is also annoyed, explaining that “young people invent new diseases for themselves, that at the time we weren’t fussy, we ate what we were given”.
A testimony that may surprise, when we know that supermarket shelves are now full of meatless products and that a survey conducted in early 2020 by SwissVeg shows that currently around 5.1% of the German-speaking and French-speaking Swiss population qualify. vegetarian or vegan, a figure that is constantly increasing. Some of the people we spoke to also believe that hostility towards vegetarianism in Switzerland is unusual, unlike that towards veganism. “Many people are vegetarians and some only a few days a week, also recalls Laurence Ossipow, professor at the University of Social Work in Geneva, who notably published the article“ Vegetarianism ”in the Encyclopædia Universalis. It is even valued on a climatic and nutritional level. This can create fractures at the table, but nothing to do with thirty years ago, when vegetarians were often seen as members of a cult. “
Are reactions like those of Dounia’s family therefore rare in 2021? Not so sure. If mentalities have indeed evolved, calling oneself a vegetarian, even without being militant, does not often leave you indifferent. Evidenced by Elodie, 29-year-old Swiss, doctoral student in science. Sensitive to animal and vegetarian causes since adolescence, she first suffered bullying at school because of her choice. “The other students would tell me, every time they ate meat, something like: ‘Look, it’s a corpse of a baby animal, it must have suffered a lot!’
“They absolutely want to show me that I am wrong”
If her relatives accepted it well, when a person she does not know realizes that she does not eat meat, the remarks still fuse today: “They absolutely want to find a loophole in what I do. eat to show me I’m wrong, that it’s not healthy or environmentally friendly. I don’t bother people, everyone eats what is right for them, and I find it exhausting to always have to defend what I have on my plate. “
The reactions are of very different levels, notes Soraya *, 33 years old. This French nutritionist and entrepreneur created an Instagram page, “Anti Végéphobie”, followed by several hundred people. “These are often small acts and not very serious jokes, but, repeated every day, they can become exhausting, as is the case with street harassment.”
She stresses that more extreme cases are not, however, exceptional. She mentions the testimony of a vegetarian on her page: during the holidays, her family adds small pieces of meat to all sides to prevent her from eating vegetarian and is prevented from bringing her own dishes. Or, more seriously, in Ireland, in 2017, when a 12-year-old boy was driven to suicide by his comrades because he was vegan.
How to explain such reactions, from the simple question to the frank hostility? “Vegetarians, often seen thirty years ago as village idiots, have become those who reveal a difficulty: how does our society justify killing animals to eat them?” pointe Jean-Pierre Poulain, professor of sociology of food at the University of Toulouse, and author of the Dictionary of Food Cultures (Ed. PUF).
For the working classes, meat represents in a way the food of the rich days, specifies Jean-Pierre Poulain. “Eating it means continuing to have access to well-being. Their reactions to the vegetarian world come from the fact that they themselves experience these postures as violent. For some, refusing what is so valued socially weakens society. ” Identity is also defined by eating, adds Laurence Ossipow. “Being vegetarian means displaying a slightly different identity, and therefore standing out from the crowd.”
“It’s disgusting, a burger is with a real steak!”
A difference that can therefore be disturbing. So, while Dounia, newly vegetarian and at the restaurant with a friend, is about to have a burger without meat, the latter tries to dissuade her: “She was telling me, but what are you doing? You are getting difficult! It’s disgusting, a burger can be eaten with a real steak! ” Unsure of herself, she ends up letting herself be convinced but then feels bad. In the medical community, Dounia has not avoided remarks either: while she wants to make a check to make sure that the absence of meat is not harmful to her health, a medical secretary tells her that taking supplements food rather than eating a good steak is “unnatural”.
The association between vegetarianism and anti-epicureanism also seems common. “My fellow cooks asked me if I liked bland things, if I liked life, if I punished myself,” says Dounia. I believe that for them, it is a little as if I had not understood anything about life, that I was not living fully. ”
An amalgamation with vegans
The rise in visibility of vegans is also proving to be a double-edged sword for vegetarians. On the one hand, some people hear themselves say: “Ah, that’s fine, you’re not a vegan!” But on the other hand, the militancy associated with veganism creates amalgamations. “Their postures, more radical, often appear to be aggressive,” says Jean-Pierre Poulain. This is what Laurence Ossipow also believes: “When omnivores think ‘vegan’, they often think of the curdling of butcher shops, of those who want to impose a new diet on others.” Luckily, chocolate should make everyone agree this Easter.
* Loan names