On becoming vegetarian

P1060070

Cows crossing a river on a New Zealand beef farm on the South Island’s West Coast

I became a vegetarian after I read this book, but a seed was planted long before that: my mum was a vegetarian until I was around 8 years old (her culinary repertoire remained largely vegetarian even after she reintroduced meat to her diet), and I didn’t like red meat as a child anyway (not to mention my whole family always did and still do love animals A LOT). Back then I was almost vegetarian by default.

But things changed when we moved to New Zealand: Encouraged by a culture that really and truly loves its meat (and arguably, some of the meat here is of much higher quality than a lot of that found overseas – ALL New Zealand cows are grassfed, for example), I became a proper carnivore. Medium rare steak was my favourite thing at restaurants; I’d go fishing with my then boyfriend, then gut the fish and fillet them like a pro; and I’d eat the wild deer he’d bring home, taking some comfort in knowing that at least the animal had had a better life (and death) than most farm animals could hope to have. I ate more lamb and beef than anything else during my undergraduate years at university, because most of my friends came from sheep and beef farms = free meat supply.

When I described this lifestyle to friends and family in London and Warsaw, I often got the same reaction: “that’s…gross” and, “your boyfriend HUNTS?” The irony was that they were meat-eaters themselves – it’s just that their meat came nicely packed in trays and cellophane with little evidence that it was ever a living being, which likely lived its short life in terrible conditions. The sad truth is that we are so divorced from the reality of where our food comes from, that that is half the reason our food system continues to be in the state its in.

Still, I started having trouble even thinking about the wild dear in a way that justified my eating it. I was plagued with thoughts of a philosophical nature… do I need to eat this dear? Why do I think that my horse deserves a life, but the dear doesn’t? I consoled myself by repeating. “it’s the circle of life. And I am the lion.” Only I’m not a lion… but I’ll come back to that.

In 2009, New Zealand’s pig farming methods and laws came under media scrutiny. As I sat watching the news one night, I was appalled to hear of the cruelty taking place in our piggeries. I vowed not to eat pork again, and, realising that chickens were no better off, chicken was off the menu too. This, coupled with my constant philosophising, meant my relationship with meat became tenuous. 6 months later I came across ‘Eating Animals’ in a bookshop and, well, that was that.

I want to elaborate on a few conclusions I have come to in my journey to vegetarianism: I still don’t know whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to kill animals for consumption (to go back to the lion analogy, I’m not like a lion because I have a CHOICE. But not all humans have (or feel like they have) a choice either…). I think that a right-or-wrong standpoint is too simple, and does not take into account the many, many reasons people have for eating meat. My decision to stop eating meat altogether – even the wild and organic kind – is a personal choice that feels right for me.

I do however think that intensive farming practices are abhorrent. It is a system that abuses both animal and human rights, and places the welfare of our planet in jeopardy. Do I think that my decision not to eat this meat has a direct effect on market demand? No, but by choosing not to eat it, it gives me a little piece of mind that I am not part of ‘the system.’ And I hope that as the number of people who call themselves vegetarian, vegan or ‘conscious omnivore’ increases, the more awareness there will be around the topic, and the greater the chance for a revolution (!)

My final note is on labels, and, as I anticipate the question, why aren’t you vegan? I will answer that here too: I call myself a vegetarian, but in truth I am not such a fan of labelling at all – it can lead people to feel guilty for ‘failing’ their label, should they ever eat foods outside of those ‘allowed.’ I think this is very unhelpful, as anyone trying their best to make a difference should never feel judged for their food choices. For example, when I am with my family, I will occasionally eat (sustainably caught) fish. I am not vegan because, whilst I think the vegan lifestyle is admirable, I personally am happy to eat organic eggs from content chickens (I try to limit the eggs I do eat to ones from farms I know, because the labelling of ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ eggs in supermarkets is a contentious issue. One day, I’d like to own my own chickens!). I try not to eat any dairy, although I am partial to goat’s feta. I think a rigid dogma around what constitutes veganism or vegetarianism is something that really puts-off anyone who might otherwise be curious to know more, and do what they feel is right – whether that be avoiding all animal products, eating only ethically raised meat, or simply restricting their meat consumption to weekends. My conclusion: labels-shmabels – lets just support each other!

If you’re interested in making ethical choices around meat and animal products, I recommend gathering some info from Farm Forward (it is an American website, but a lot of the information is relevant to the Western diet in general). Also, ‘Veg Everyday’ is a fantastic cookbook by British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is not a vegetarian or vegan, but who nonetheless believes that people would do well to cut down on their meat intake. He is also keen to emphasise that vegetables CAN be the dinner plate’s centrepiece!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to comment below! X.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “On becoming vegetarian”

  1. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog so I could discover yours. I love this post, especially because I dislike labels myself. I have taken to calling myself an 80% vegan because that is the most accurate thing I can come up with, but I don’t much like that, and would rather just abandon labels altogether. I share a lot of your views here 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article! I am also living mostly on a vegetarian diet, but every now and then I love to eat seafood. I guess, seafood is meat as meat from any other animal…but it still means I eat a lot less than many other people on this planet.
    So reading a lot about vegetarian and vegan diet convinces me that this is what we humans are made for. But now: I was just talking to a number of really interesting kiwifruit growers in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Some of them are very well aware of environmental sustainability, passionate organic growers, but they use fish fertiliser. So what now! Are we as vegetarians even aware of that? Would we choose not to eat certain fruit and veggies (even organic) because they use fish fertiliser? I think it is a commonly used product. But I simply don’t know what to think of it now….any thoughts?

    1. This is such an interesting point! I’m going to do some research, and include it in this week’s Sunday’s Spoonful. Hopefully some people can offer their perspective!

  3. I can so relate to this whole article because I have recently made the change to vegetarianism too! But, like you, it is a hugely personal thing which arose from a number of factors quite recently. Though I’ve really been finding it very easy, I’ve been shocked by how so many people almost take offence by my decision to no longer eat meat! So it’s really very reassuring to read an article like this, and I wish you all the best with your venture too!

    1. Food is such a personal thing! I think people feel threatened by other people’s choices, because they feel your decision is saying something about what you think of THEIR choices. Thanks so much for visiting and reading – I wish you all the best on your vegetarian journey too! : )

      1. Thanks Natalia, I totally agree! It’s definitely something about feeling threatened by my choice. I never try to push it on anyone though! And thank you for also stopping by my blog (:

  4. Why do I only read this now? : ) Even though we talked about it a lot in NZ and I also do over here in Germany, I often find myself a little helpless and suddenly lacking arguments whenever someone starts questioning my food choices or critizising my conclusions. This article sums up the most important points- I might keep a copy in my purse, haha. I’m excited for a fresh, inspiring start in Berlin …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s