There are two reasons that usually guide people to a vegetarian diet. One is for personal health reasons, and another is out of kindness to animals. Lately, the protection of Earth's natural resources has also become a factor for many people. These are all good reasons not to eat meat, but they are also just as valid as reasons simply to not eat as much meat, even if one is not a "pure' vegetarian or vegan.
So then, what is to be gained by striving for some notion of dietary purity? To me, that is the question a Buddhist might want to consider. We cannot lead perfect lives, although we should make the effort to. At the same time, if we develop feelings of moral superiority, or condemn others, then how much further does that remove a person from realizing their Buddha Nature which is intrinsically pure to begin with? Even if we save a million animals by not eating them, this is only a very tiny amount compared to how many beings one would benefit as an enlightened being.
Being a vegetarian or a vegan, in Samsara, is a very nice thing to do, but that's really about all it is. So, thanks anyway, but don't act like it's some big deal, because it isn't. And any merit gained from such righteous culinary actions are quickly destroyed by an attitude of superiority (pride), which is a very hard habit to break.
Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. But what does "refuge" mean? It is the path to realization of the end of suffering, meaning that it is the path one chooses as the method of liberation. And while it is a good thing to be a vegetarian Buddhist, it is another thing to "take refuge" in vegetarianism, or veganism, which, I think, is actually what some people do. Then they propagate vegetarianism or veganism as a path in itself, and when confronted by Buddhists who might eat meat, they experience a contradiction, or see people as hypocrites, and this does not conform to the picture in their minds that they cling to, about what a Buddhist should be. Then, they argue vegetarianism under the pretext of arguing some sort of "correct" Buddhism.
The fact is, some Buddhists eat meat and some do not. And then, they die. And I think, to argue vegetarianism as the only true way a Buddhist should eat misses the whole point of the Buddha's teachings, and reduces Dharma to a set of dietary laws. And since the act of chewing and swallowing anything takes up less than 2% or 3% of a person's whole life, maybe the issue is blown out of proportion. If the Dharma is only available to vegetarians, then it is a very narrow and limited path.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth. Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.