Almost 3 years ago I watched Cowspiracy. I can’t remember what compelled me to watch it but it resonated with me. Shortly after, I decided I wanted to give up meat for a month. I’ve always considered myself an “animal person” but seeing the “Sustainability Secret” in the documentary gave me the push to see if I’d be able to remove meat from my diet for a sustained period of time.
And, it went pretty well because I ended up doing it for a year, September 2016 - September 2017. But it never really stuck. I remember always feeling awkward, sometimes ostricised, and generally just a bit restricted in life. I was constantly questioning my inner voice of why am I doing this? Whilst I was clearly able to live without eating meat, I was not thriving and not feeling good for avoiding it.
I did a write-up after I gave up being vegetarian, and concluded the following
The V word is a dirty word, still. And frequently spoke of in a derisory sense. People do not like to have their rights taken away. This is fair enough. But I don’t believe total abstinence is the way forward. Sell the idea of smart and responsible consumption of these foods instead. This year has changed my perspective for good. I feel like I get it now; I am committed to eating more sustainably. But I will still enjoy the veritable array of food we’re lucky enough to enjoy. And it will taste all the better now.
Unlike past opinions I’ve felt the need to write down, this one has actually aged OK. It’s a reasonably measured and mature way of looking at food. And so I continued. Our home cooking had continued to be largely vegetarian - mostly due to Charlotte still continuing her meat-free diet - but I would induldge my meat desires when out; typically opting for the meat option in restaurants and the like. I guess I was what is commonly referred to as a flexitarian.
I’m a logical thinker, and although I took a lot of pleasure and nostalgia in eating meat and animal products, there was a nagging feeling bubbling away inside of me that we just shouldn’t really be eating this way. I’d started following a few more vegan accounts on Instagram out of curiousity and was beginning to experiment with vegan meals at home and when out.
Almost unconsciously, I think I was convincing myself veganism was a way of lifestyle I could get on board with, and a tasty one at that. 2018 was interspersed with holidays and trips out where I satisfied my meat cravings without guilt. However midway through 2018 I decided to watch Land of Hope and Glory - a UK take on the inamous Earthlings documentary. If Cowspiracy focuses on environment, What the health on health, then Earthlings is the defacto vegan film that addresses the third pillar of veganism: animal activism and factory farming.
I couldn’t make it through Earthlings, but I decided to give the shorter running (49 minutes) Land of Hope and Glory a proper go. Especially as it focuses closer to home, on the UK’s animal farming practises (an industry the patriotic among us would say we’re quite proud of as a nation). By the end I was balling. And so, so angry at humanity. And I’m pretty sure it was at that point I realised I couldn’t go back to eating animals. And the crazy thing is, I knew what went on in the animal agriculture industry. Everyone knows. But from a very young age, we’re heavily conditioned to believe it is not a big deal, and a natural thing; just “how things are”. Bullshit.
After a bit of non-commital transitionary period of a few months, I decided going into the Christmas period that it was time to actually fully commit and tell myself and others that I was vegan. It felt good. I had my first vegan Christmas at the end of 2018, which was - admitedly - quite difficult. But I blasted into 2019 excited with a fresh outlook on food and, the world, I guess.
In my year of vegetarianism write-up, I made the following opening remarks:
That’s the key point for me. Being vegetarian is a lifestyle change. (NB: this post isn’t about veganism, which I respect as being wholeheartedly more of a commitment than vegetarianism…)
I concluded the following:
And so, it’s after 365 days off the stuff, I’ve pretty much decided cold, hard vegetarianism is not for me. Ultimately I’m not strong enough nor dedicated to the cause to fight this. If I was, I’d honestly have no excuse not to go the whole hog and become vegan. Vegetarian, whilst enlightening and valuable for numerous reasons, has been a half measure to truly sustainable eating which I ultimately don’t see myself committing to for the rest of my life.
And that’s been the difference for me. I entered into vegetarianism as a challenge; aware of the the benefits of eating less meat, but not wholeheartedly committing to it. As time went on I became less and less attached to the movement and the diet. And even back then, I identified that to make a meaningful difference, I had to go vegan (excuse the “whole hog” pun).
Vegetarianism is a great introduction into a meat-free world, don’t get me wrong; It may even have sowed the seed for me to be where I am now. But it was Land of Hope and Glory’s reporting of dairy cows that struck home for me. Cows are repeatedly and unnaturally bred for the primary purpose of producing milk around the clock until they can’t any longer. But only half the cows born are able to fulfill this task. The unfortunate meals are nearly always shipped off to be slaughtered for beef; sometimes veal.
It terrified me that the noble and unselfish act of choosing to keep meat off your plate indirectly feeds the beef industry.
Sadly the same thing happens in the egg industry. In Germany earlier this year it was reported an estimated 45 million male chicks are killed annually; either via the practise of gassing or crushing to death. Now, I love eggs. They’re cheap, versatile, a decent nutritious meal or a quick snack. It’s also an annoying thing to give up; egg is used in so many food products. Cakes being the big (and hard to give up) one.
But after finding out how half of all chicks born are treated, I could no longer sit idley by and support that practise. Something being delicious is not a morally justifiable reason for killing a living thing. I am very much firmly in this camp now.
A video by the animal activist Gary Yourovsky was shared by Gaz Oakley, of Avant-Garde Vegan; cited as the video that made him go Vegan overnight. Gaz was and still is a big inspiration for me in vegan cooking so I was prepared to give the 70-minute video my time. The video is a talk he did at Georgia Tech University in 2010; the production quality is low but bear with it. The message is a powerful one. I implore anyone battling with their consciousness on whether to give up milk, cheese and eggs to watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5hGQDLprA8
Vegetarianism feels like a diet; say no to the meat option and you’ll generally get on just fine. And I did. Except I missed meat. I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. If you are vegetarian, and you feel great - physically and morally - then more power to you. But it just didn’t click for me. Veganism, 9 months on, just feels right. In some ways it no longer feels like an effort; it feels like me. Yes there will be moments of weakness where you’d climb a mountain for a cheese toastie. But like any of those kind of moments, it passes; and you feel all the better for sticking on your path.