I’ve been asked countless times, “why are you vegetarian?” yet every time, the question stumps me. I usually just say, “meat doesn’t seem like a food to me,” and then struggle to explain what that means. I have been vegetarian since I was three, but I could never attribute the reason to any environmental, ethical, religious, or health causes. Recently, I think I’ve finally found a cohesive answer to this question in some articles by Paul Rozin, an influential author on the subject of disgust.
There is a type of disgust that makes us withdraw from things that remind us that we are fundamentally biological creatures. This disgust involves things such as death, corpses, and violations of the external boundaries of the body. It is called animal-nature disgust, and it differs from core disgust, the fear of incorporating offending substances with one’s body and interpersonal disgust, direct and indirect contact with strangers or undesirables. The latter two types of disgust are meant to prevent contamination of our bodies and keep us from getting sick. However, animal-nature disgust is different in that it has a strong connection to fear of death. Just like animal bodies, human bodies die. I do not eat meat because it reminds me that we, like animals, are vulnerable and mortal.