About the word “vegetarian”

“Vegetarian” is a word that means somewhat different things in different subcultures. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure that you know which definition of the word they mean.

In most English-speaking cultures, “vegetarian” means “someone who doesn’t eat animals.”. That includes red meat, poultry, fish, and anything else you’d have to kill an animal in order to eat.

In some subcultures, “vegetarian” can mean “someone who doesn’t eat meat”, where meat is defined more narrowly than “all animals.”

For instance, in the observant Jewish community, most people don’t think of fish as meat (in part because it’s not defined as meat in the rules about keeping kosher). So, in many Jewish circles, a good percentage of people who describe themselves as vegetarians eat fish, but not other animals.

From both sides of this, it’s worth being aware that “vegetarian” is a word that’s used different ways in different communities. If you aren’t sure, it’s ok and good to ask what someone eats. Similarly, if you’re vegetarian and someone asks you whether you eat fish, it’s a legitimate question, not them being willfully ignorant about what the word means.

Short version: “Vegetarian” is a word that’s used differently in different subcultures. If you’re a vegetarian eating with someone from a different community, it’s important to make sure that they understand what you don’t eat. If you’re feeding a vegetarian, it’s important to make sure you understand which definition of vegetarian applies to them.

When food is too hard: Sometimes making and freezing helps


When you can cook, make more than you need and freeze the excess. Make sure its something super nutritious. Then, when you can’t cook, just unfreeze one of your pre-prepared meals. That way, you can get all the nutrition you need at a much lower cost than a take-away.

Realsocialskills said:

That is an effective strategy for some people, some of the time. Especially when you use paper plates to eat the food.

It’s not completely effective for most people who have this problem, but it can be useful.

Some thoughts on how to do this:

  • Freeze the food in individual portion sizes, not big tupperware containers
  • If you’ve frozen something in a large block, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to eat it when you’re low on spoons
  • One way to do this is to use freezer bags to freeze the food. Put a meal-sized amount in each bag. Then press the air out.
  • Make sure the bags are freezer bags and not storage bags – freezer bags preserve frozen food better.
  • Keep paper plates and plastic silverware on hand

But also keep in mind that this doesn’t work for everyone, and that it’s ok if you need a different strategy, or if you sometimes need a different strategy. Some reasons it might not work:

  • It only works if you are often able to cook. Not everyone *has* a time when they are able to cook.
  • If you can’t reliably recognize homemade frozen food as edible, freezing food ahead of time won’t be reliably helpful
  • Defrosting and heating food might still be too many steps sometimes.
  • It’s not always obvious how long to microwave things for
  • And it can be really hard to figure out how to heat things evenly
  • Freezing food changes the texture in ways that can be a problem for some people

If freezing food works for you, it’s a good strategy. If it doesn’t work for you, or doesn’t always work for you, that’s ok too. It just means you need other strategies.

The three second rule

In some very informal contexts, it’s considered acceptable to eat food that you dropped on the floor briefly. This is called the three second rule. Here’s some things I think I know about it:

Procedurally speaking:

  • You have to pick up the food right away. That is why it is called the three second rule.
  • (The reason this makes sense is that if you only dropped it briefly, you know what happened to it. So you know that nothing even grosser happened while you weren’t looking).
  • The three second rule only applies to your own food. You can’t pick up someone else’s dropped food and eat it. Eating other people’s food is generally considered gross, and combining that grossness with eating dropped food makes it extra gross.

The three second rule only applies when you can presume that the surface you dropped the food on didn’t contaminate it. For this reason:

  • The three second rule does not apply if there were obvious changes to the food (eg: lint stuck to it or it changed shape)
  • The three second rule only applies to food dropped on a dry and apparently-clean surface (eg: it would be considered gross to eat a piece of candy you dropped in a puddle or in the dirt)
  • The three-second rule only applies to dry food (eg: not a lollipop you’ve already started licking, and not an ice cream cone.)


  • The three second rule only applies in very informal contexts
  • It tends not to apply outdoors, although local customs vary
  • The three second rule is usually about snacking; at an actual meal it’s usually considered rude to pick up and eat dropped food
  • (This might not be the case at some summer camps)
  • It does not apply in restaurants or other public eating places, usually

A note about disability:

  • If people know that you are disabled, they might think it’s always unacceptable for you to rely on the three second rule
  • Even when you’re doing exactly the same thing as everyone else
  • Folks might see it as evidence that you’re gross and don’t understand anything about hygiene and manners
  • If people are reacting to you this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing anything different from what others are doing
  • Or that you are failing to understand the rule, or that your disability is making it hard for you to understand the rule
  • It might just mean that people are unwilling to let you use the three second rule

Remembering that food exists

It can be hard to remember that food exists, or notice it while it’s there.

I know a few things that work for some people to mitigate this problem:

For some people, cooking for other people regularly makes it easier to notice that food exists:

  • Sometimes remembering to cook for other people works as a reminder that you need to cook and eat
  • Sometimes the motor/sensory/tactile experience can make it easier to remember that you have food
  • Because for some people, motor memory works better than visual memory

For some people, asking other people for direct help is useful:

  • If you feel like you need to eat, asking a friend to tell you to eat might help
  • Or asking them what you should eat
  • Or how to find the food
  • Some people who can’t figure out food for themselves, *can* tell other people how to find food
  • So if you and a friend both have this problem, you might still be able to help one another

Stashing food in places where you’ll see it can also help:

  • Keeping a box of cheerios or granola bars or something else that lasts a while by your computer might work as a reminder that food exists

These are strategies I know about. Do any of y’all know about others?

Hunger can impair communication

Some people who can usually use language to communicate lose a lot of their words if they get too hungry.

When you’re hungry, you don’t have as many cognitive resources available, and some of what is available gets taken up by dealing with hunger. For some people, this can mean that the resources needed for language simply aren’t there.

If you’re finding that you often can’t speak well in the middle of the day, it’s possible that you are forgetting to eat. This might be the case even if you don’t feel hungry.

If you get used to not eating properly, it can be hard to notice hunger. If you’re too hungry for too long, sometimes you get used to automatically ignoring the sensations of hunger, which can make them hard to identify.

If you’re experiencing sudden cognitive or communication impairment, and you haven’t eaten recently, it might be a side effect of hunger. Sometimes, if you get too accustomed to the sensations of hunger, you don’t notice feeling hungry until it stops you from thinking well.

If you used to be able to use language reliably but are experiencing seriously diminished ability, it might mean that you haven’t been eating properly for a long time.

Hunger isn’t the only reason some people have intermittent language problems, and it’s not the only reason people lose language skills in a longer-term way. But it’s very common for people with communication disabilities to have dramatically worse communication problems when they are chronically hungry.

If you’re having communication problems that seem to be more severe than you expect, it’s worth checking to see if you’re also having trouble eating enough. And if you are, it’s worth making fixing that a priority.