Wow, your first vegetarian. This town has made me forget that vegetarianism is not normal. The other day I saw a housing ad and it said “Cooking meat in kitchen is allowed”!
So let me give you a little rundown.
People are vegetarian (or shades of vegetarian) for a variety of reasons. Some are for health reasons. Some are for animal rights reasons. Some are for aethetic concerns (the thought of eating flesh oogs them out- I fall mostly under this catagory). Some for religious reasons (lots of Hindus, some Buddhists and pretty much all Seventh Day Adventists). Some because they don’t like the taste of meat. Some don’t like cooking meat (my boyfriend falls under this catagory). And some people are vegetarian for no good reason at all.
There are also different kinds of vegetarians. The most extreme is fruitarians (you are unlikely ever to run into one of these) who will only eat unprocessed plant food. Then comes vegans (pronounced vee-gan) who do not eat any animal products. Vegans are most likely to be motivated by animal rights and take on other restrictions like not wearing leather. Next is people who will eat dairy products but not eggs- I believe most Hindus do this. Then comes ovo-lacto vegetarians. Around here, this is the default and it means that no animal flesh is allowed, animal by-products (like gelatin) are iffy and dairy and eggs are okay.
After that comes a variety of semi-vegetarians or people working their way towards vegetarianism. Some will eat fish but no animal products. Often this is justified to them because fish live relatively free lives until they are killed. I’ve head them called “happy meat”. Other people believe that the health benefits of fish outweighs the bad. Finally, some are just using the historical precident (which is still upheld in other parts of the world) that fish is not “meat”. Other people will also eat chicken, or only eat turkey on Thanksgiving, or only hamburgers at McDonalds, or whatever. These people would have a hard time honestly being called vegetarians, but if they eat a largely vegetarian diet and want to make this clear to someone (say, someone who is inviting them to dinner) they might say vegetarian just to make things easier than explaining every peculiarity of their eating habits.
And sometimes, really honest vegetarians slip up and end up picking up some sushi. Anyone with beliefs is bound to have them tested and sometimes give in to temptation.
Vegetarians are usually happy to explain their reasons for being vegetarians, but don’t usually want to debate it. For most people it is a personal decision and they are willing to share but are not intersted in swaying others or being saved. No vegetarian appreciates smart remarks like “Why would God make animals out of meat?”.
And remember that vegetarians are not required to be particularly consistant. As long as they arn’t being evangelical about things, they are only obligated to live up to the standards they set for themselves, and sometimes those standards are contrdictory or hypocritical. For example, I never order soup at restraunts because I know it is probably made with meat-based broth, but there are some questions I won’t ask at restraunts (like do you fry your beans in lard) because I don’t want to know the answers. This isn’t consistant at all, but it is what I am comfortable with. It is almost impossible to avoid any animal products (you can never know what is in the “natural flavorings” you find in almost all packaged foods, and even the plastic food is wrapped in may contain trace animal elements) so you just have to set standards you are comfortable with an go from there.