If someone had told me a month ago that very soon I would be a vegan I would have laughed, because then I was just like everybody else. I ate meat, drank milk and barely glanced at the products I was buying in the supermarket. Along with all of this I professed to be an animal lover. For me, finding out where things really came from was a simple matter of looking out for quality assurance marks on products, finding out if something was free range, farm assured or not tested on animals. After all such labels must mean something mustn’t they? I discovered to my alarm that they are not all what they seem. The worst discovery of all was that some ‘food’ animals are every bit as intelligent as our beloved dogs and cats, yet they suffer and die to sustain us every second of every day. In continuing as I was I could no longer profess to be an animal lover. I was a hypocrite. I wouldn’t eat my dog yet I would eat other living, feeling animals. Cue my Peta vegan challenge.
In my twenties I was a vegetarian but my dislike of all things quorn and my restricted dietary choices made me clamber back up the meat aisles. Since then I ate chicken and pork but never red meat, well until very recently. On a trip to Brazil in July I sampled red meat and from then it was back on my menu! I loved it. Yes I genuinely loved meat, I was brought up on it and part of me felt that veggies didn’t know what they were missing. I wouldn’t say I pitied them, but I did feel that in the days of humane slaughter eating meat was fine.
Fast-forward to last week. As my vegetables, vegan sausage rolls, soy milk and dairy free spread passed the check out, the assistant asked ‘do you not eat meat?’ She looked at me like I was an alien. When I told her no she said ‘I love my meat’. ‘So do I’, I told her and left it at that. I wasn’t going to explain my new dietary choices to her, she like everyone else is more than capable of doing a little research. I believe that if you are going to eat animal products and feed them to your children, you should have the wherewithal to know where your food and products come from. This knowledge will open your eyes to an industry that has become far removed from the consumer. I really think some people believe that meat arrives in the supermarket in clean little cellophane packages. When your eyes are open you will discover some stomach curdling details, for example your average beef burger is made with the meat of eight different cows. You may even discover that the Old Mac Donald’s farmyards and happy cows that we see splashed on supermarket walls and on our milk etc are things of the past.
Years ago humans ate meat when we were lucky enough to get it, now it is so readily available that people are eating it sometimes three times a day. Does anybody really need all that? If the meat trade is to be sustained on this scale I hope your appetite is worth it, because we are destroying our planet. To keep prices down we live in the days of factory farming, where the vast majority of our chickens, pigs, sheep and cows never see the light of day. They are raised in the factory for food and nothing else. Ever wonder why your doctor no longer readily gives us antibiotics? Well the answer is simple. So many of them are pumped into our animals that we have grown immune to them. Antibiotics are only the tip of the iceberg, we also take second hand hormones and animal drugs every time we consume processed meat products.
The problem is that eating meat is the norm and we all follow societies norms, that’s the right thing to do isn’t it? But we all know that norms and values often change. We live in a culture where our animals are commodities, we use their bodies to clothe, feed and clean us but we have always done this so it’s ok. It’s tradition. May I remind you that slavery was once a tradition, child labour was once a tradition, as was following what we read and see without question! But times have changed, more people than ever are educated formally or informally and we now think for ourselves.
Or do we? When I look into the extent of animal cruelty it seems we are only free thinkers when we want to be or when it suits us. You see we like our meat, so to hell with the consequences. Why change something that causes so much devastation when we enjoy it? We can all see our growing health service bill, we all know about global warming and we are all acutely aware of third world hunger. Yet are we aware that our meat and how it’s produced is a major contributor in all of these factors?
My vegan challenge has made me feel on the one hand empowered but on the other isolated and voiceless. No one wants to know. The only thing I can liken my experiences to is stepping out of a giant matrix. I have found that animal abuse is everywhere, I see it around me daily. Yet no one else wants to step out of the matrix for fear that once out they can never return.
But here’s the thing. We’ve been conned folks. We are being used by a massive global industry and our own greed prevents us from seeing this. But what if we could see? Believe it or not we can. Even though the gory details of how much we exploit our animals is never going to be on prime time TV (I really think it should be) we now have Google and YouTube.
Many people reading this, including some of my friends are vegetarian who don’t eat flesh, but they eat milk, cheese and eggs. They have no idea about what is arguably the biggest cruelty of all, the dairy trade. For us to avail of cow’s milk, calves are ripped away from their mother and killed. Why give the calf its mother’s milk when another species it’s not even designed for wants it? As for what’s in the milk you are drinking hmm how I can put this… prolonged milking can lead to infections which ahem generates puss that all the pasteurising in the world can’t remove. No other species drinks the milk of another, no other species drinks milk after being weaned. You are drinking milk designed to grow another species three times as heavy as most of us. Absurdly people wonder why we have an obesity problem!
When all is said and done, what saddened me the most was finding out that just like us animals are the centre of their own worlds, they want to live and they value their lives like we do. Every ‘food’ animal, even those you see happily grazing in fields must by law go to our ‘slaughter’ houses. Modern abattoirs are so secretive that we don’t see what really goes on, even some workers don’t see the whole process from start to finish. Again a quick look on You Tube gives you a good insight. The term slaughter is pretty apt in this case. In the words of Paul McCartney in ‘Meat your meat’; “If slaughter houses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarian”. No one wants to die at the hands of another or in this case for the stomach of another. I think I will save toiletries, clothes and other household products for another time.
As for me when I complete my challenge on Friday will I remain vegan? It’s still early days, but I know I will never eat meat or drink milk again. I will never buy beauty or household products without the cruelty free logo (a leaping bunny if anyone is interested) and I will never buy leather or suede again. In a country dominated by meat, I will always face challenges. Going for a simple coffee in town can be difficult, we don’t even have a vegetarian restaurant (never mind vegan), finding a suitable lunch is like mission impossible and where items that you expect to be animal free aren’t, mistakes are easy to make. A term I discovered recently was vegan’ish and I imagine that’s what I will be. Regardless of how I term myself I know my life and views have changed forever. Do I still have that leather sofa? Yes, I also have leather bags, shoes and even seats in my car. For me these products are bought now, the damage has been done and quite frankly I can’t afford to replace them. But when I do, they won’t be replaced with someone else’s skin.
Everything is now moving towards being open and transparent, I think it’s time our meat and animal industries did the same. If we all question our food supply a little more we could see real changes in animal welfare and human health. I just hope that those reading this, those who love their meat as much as I did will have a look at the wealth of information out there. When you have done that, if you can’t go as far as I did, how about you cut down a little? I challenge you not to a full vegan challenge but how about a few meat free days a month? And by that I mean no animal products on those days at all. If we all did that perhaps Northern Ireland could for once be known not for taking lives but for saving even a few.