Monday 4 August 2014

Dolly On ... Becoming Vegan

I was born in 1993, when Mad Cow Disease was the talk of the town. My mum, being the hypochondriac that she is, decided to vow off meat, and raise little old me as a vegetarian. As I got older, and the fear of Mad Cow abated, my mother went back to eating meat, but I did not. There were various opportunities along the way (as well as some very disapproving family members) for me to become a meat-eater, but for one reason or another, I did not. Sometimes it was because of the animals, sometimes I think I just liked to be different. By the time I was in secondary school, two out of my three closest friends were vegetarian, and my diet moved away from being a choice, to just being a part of who I was. I won't pretend I've never been tempted to eat meat, growing up I dreamed of going to a restaurant with my family and being able to choose anything on the menu! But, whether by choice or just habit, to this day I have never eaten meat. 

So, why, and when, did I go vegan? I'd been thinking about it for a while to be honest, since I read something about dairy being bad for your voice, but it was when I watched the documentary Vegucated that I found I could no longer even think about putting a product of animal origin into my mouth. The film follows three meat eaters who convert to veganism for six weeks, during which time they are well and truly 'vegucated'. They are taught how to lead a healthy vegan lifestyle, from where to look for vegan products to how to get protein in their diets. But, they're also show what it looks like on dairy farms, and how badly cows, chickens, and other farm animals are treated. They show the artificial insemination of cows, and the removal of their young, and explain that when the cows are no longer able to produce young, they're killed. I'd never really investigated dairy production before, but it is truly horrifying. 

Since I watched that film, back in March, I've tried my hardest not to eat anything of animal origin. I won't lie, it's been hard, and I've very nearly ordered a whole pizza from Dominos just to satisfy my cheese cravings, but I've stuck with it, and can see myself being vegan for the rest of my life. The first few weeks after watching that film were the easiest, if I'm trying to give something up, I do best if I go cold turkey (that's exactly how I gave up biting my nails). In those first few weeks, if I even looked at a bottle of milk or a packet of cheese, the image of a female cow being artificially inseminated against her will flooded my mind. This image pulled me through. 

I feel that since I've become vegan, my diet has actually become more varied! As a vegetarian I had a pretty unhealthy diet. I ate a lot of cheese. A lot. I'd eat a lot of pasta, and bread and potatoes, basically anything I could eat with cheese. Now though, as a vegan, I feel like I've had to rewrite the entire recipe book in my head. I never used to like baked beans, but now I have them with everything! I'm eating a much bigger variety of vegetables, from carrots and broccoli to sweet potatoes and kale. Although my diet has technically become more 'limited', I actually feel like the amount of food I can eat has doubled. OK, that's not technically true, I do miss the choice you get being a vegetarian. Being able to go to a shop and pick up a sandwich, or going into a cafe and grabbing a slice of cake, is a thing of the past, but it's something I've got to deal with.

Now I realise I've started to talk about this like it's an illness I'm getting over, working one day at a time to see myself through it, and, of course, it's not. It's a choice I've made. But the fact that I chose to live this lifestyle doesn't make it any less difficult. If I'm really craving cheese and you say to me 'well, you chose not to eat it', while true, it's not very helpful. The choice I've made, to me, is a no-brainer. Living any lifestyle that is not vegan just seems incredibly selfish to me. What gives humans the right to treat animals like a product? Animals are alive, they have hearts, and lungs, and blood pumping around their bodies. They have brains! They can think! They may not realise they are being kept ripe for slaughter, but a female cow knows when her new-born calf is taken away from her as soon as it's born. Allowing an animal to go through pain in order for me to have grated cheese on my pasta is just not worth it. It's selfish.

It seems that as people get older, having grown up seeing eating meat as 'just the way it is', there seems to be less questions about their diet. I'm guilty of this myself, I never really questioned my diet growing up, I actually thought I was doing a really good thing being a vegetarian (which I was, to an extent). I think that veganism and vegetarianism should be discussed with children at school, if for nothing else than to let them know that there are other options out there. There are so many questions I'd like to ask about meat-eaters, like why cows, pigs, chicken and sheep? What have these particular animals done that's so bad they deserve to be farmed to death? I've spoken to my friends about this, and while most would turn their noses up at even the thought of eating a horse, they're absolutely fine to go out and buy a Big Mac. I think this is the thing that annoys me the most about meat eaters, it's the fact that it's a blind following of the 'rules'. It's not even a choice anymore. I know I am always looking to break the rules, but in this case I think it's fair. Eating dead animals is just the way it goes, nobody (or very few) questions this. 

Over the past few months, as I've said, I've been very tempted to go back to being a vegetarian (who am I kidding, to eating cheese!), but I've taken the time to think about it, and have realised that this is the self-centered option. I could eat cheese, but then I'm just contributing to the culture of factory farming and treating animals like they're a commodity. Over the years, so many meat-eaters have said to me that they would consider becoming vegetarian if meat didn't taste so good (usually they mean bacon). I've usually just nodded along politely and explained that I wouldn't know, because I've never tasted meat, but I wish I'd responded differently. I wish I'd asked these people why they think their personal experience of delicious food is worth more than the life of an innocent animal. I'd like to hear what they'd have to say to that.

Reading this back I feel like I've strayed from talking about veganism, to being down-right mean! I don't intend to be, I just have a lot of feelings, and it really helps to get them all down on paper. Or at least virtual paper. If you're reading this, I don't want you to feel offended, I just want you to think. I would love if one person read this and thought about their diet. Not in a calorie-counting way, but in an ethical, self-less way. 

Thanks for reading. None of these pictures are mine, but they are click-through. 

To read the rest of the Dolly On ... series, click here!

No comments:

Post a Comment