Bee Wilson at The London Review of Books:
Vegetarians themselves often argue that they make us feel uncomfortable because their existence is a reminder of the cruelty and carnage that the rest of us refuse to see; there’s probably some truth in this. But I suspect that the root of our hostility is more basic. It isn’t so much that they remind us of the slaughterhouse – meat itself does a pretty effective job there – as that they make a mockery of our unthinking preferences. What we’re protecting when we ridicule vegetarians isn’t our own ignorance about the way meat is produced – however it’s done, killing animals for food isn’t nice – but our taste for it: the smell of sausages sizzling in a pan, the charred umami crust of a good steak, the pink tender pieces of a rack of lamb. Meat tastes good, ergo vegetarians must be idiots.
It sounds a little selfish, though, to say that we’re prepared to squander the world’s resources and see animals die to satisfy our taste for savoury dinners, so we think up other excuses. We say we eat only small quantities or only free-range and ‘happy meat’ (unless we are buying take-out curry or a sandwich, when different moral rules seem to apply). We talk of ‘cuisine’ or ‘tradition’ or how it’s ‘in our nature’ as human omnivores to eat meat. When all else fails, we invoke what nutritionists call ‘the wisdom of the body’: we’d be happy to go vegetarian, if only our bodies weren’t telling us they needed meaty replenishment.