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I think that some view vegetarianism as a rejection of their lifestyle. As if somehow my choice to not eat meat is a comment on their choice to keep eating it.

This is my perception exactly.

In terms of disarming them I've noticed that most people's follow up question is "why are you a vegetarian?" (That is, if they don't jump straight to "Have you heard the way carrots scream when you pull them out of the ground?")

I've found that a casual shrug with a dismissive "Eh, just a personal choice" tends to end the matter.

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