“To deny an animal its right to self-determination, its right to live out its life as it chooses in its natural habitat, that is an aggression; it’s an aggression against the planet and all other sentient beings. Start with one meal a day, then up it to one day a week, then one week a month. Work your way into not consuming animals and animal products and inform yourself. It doesn’t take anything at all, and it’s very easy to do. Then you start to think, ‘What else?’ This process begins your consciousness.” – James Cromwell
Let’s start at the very beginning.
It all began with a superiority complex. As far back as I can remember, my mum has always hated animals and she raised me with the same mindset. I was brought up to actively despise animals, not to feel neutrality or indifference towards them or to love and respect them, but to harbour deep contempt for every animal species for no apparent reason. And I did, based on nothing.
Dumb animals. Stupid animals. Ugly animals. Inferior animals.
I was conditioned these beliefs and they became quite an integral part of who I was. Early on, they led me to develop a deep-seated fear of dogs which didn’t subside until I was about 17. If a dog came anywhere near me I’d panic, thinking they might bite or viciously growl despite neither ever having happened. The only dogs in the world that I liked were Sandy, the adorable dog from the musical ‘Annie’, and my best friend’s dog called Lily, a Western Terrier (who, not coincidentally, was the only dog I actually had first-hand experience with). Still, with the anomalous exception of my love for cats, my hatred for animals pursued.
It comes as no surprise then that growing up, I was one of those people who hated vegetarians, let alone vegans. Someone merely labelling themselves as a vegetarian I’d almost take as a personal attack, causing me to automatically dislike them and to believe that they were unintelligent, belligerent, perhaps even borderline crazy. Because meat was delicious, right? You needed meat to survive! You needed meat to be healthy! (Did I mention that I point blank didn’t eat any vegetables until I was about 12 because I thought they were disgusting? I wasn’t exactly the pillar of health.) I distinctly remember my best friend telling me, ‘I might go vegetarian when I’m older,’ and looking at her with scorn, only to reply, ‘Ew, why? I would never go vegetarian.’
…Ah, the irony.
As an infant, my mum had to ‘wean’ me onto dairy-based milk. Dairy would break me out in eczema rashes all over my body – my mum used to have to put socks on my hands to stop me from scratching myself. A few years ago, after I’d finally accepted my ‘intolerance’ to dairy, I began to find it difficult to forgive my mom for that decision. As someone who has suffered from digestive issues most of her life and now chalks it down to a primarily poor childhood diet, it irritated me that I continued to be given animal milk when my body was so obviously averse to it.
If anything, my mum’s decision to try to ‘ease’ my body into tolerating dairy (which never truly happened) simply goes to shows how ingrained our mentality is: for parents – for people in general – to feed themselves and their children a ‘balanced’ diet consisting of all ‘food groups’, even when the food proves to contradict its own health claims. For example, people will continue to argue the case for dairy as a good source of protein and a dietary necessity even when it has been directly linked to problems such as acne, sluggishness, bloating and weight gain, and even when they’re seeing those problems arise within themselves.
Growing up, oblivious to any dairy ‘intolerance’, my favourite drink by far was cow milk. Semi-skimmed, no less. The full fat stuff was too creamy and the skimmed stuff was basically white water. At nursery, we’d have a milk-and-cookie break before nap-time. They’d be served in these dinky little cartons with a picture of a happy cartoon cow on the front. I’d come home and drink more and more, glass after glass after glass of refreshing milk under the misconception that it was not only a yummy drink but a nutritious source of calcium. The thought is laughable now. Of course, what I didn’t know – what no one ever tells you – is that milk is hormone-laden; it is full of oestrogen and a synthetic bovine growth hormone, as well as containing antibiotics and traces of pus. They don’t remind or inform you that cow milk is essentially growth serum for calves. Cows are mammals; the exact same way that breast milk is designed to feed and grow an human infant, the purpose of cow milk is to feed and grow a baby cow, hence why the correlation between dairy consumption and weight gain is so strong.
The dairy industry also chooses to leave out the fact that although commercial milk contains calcium, it does not contain phosphatase, an enzyme our body requires to absorb calcium. Therefore, the calcium in milk becomes redundant. Ironically, in countries where LESS dairy products are consumed, there are much lower rates of osteoporosis. Milk does not give you ‘strong bones’, quite the opposite.
What they do choose to tell you are myths. I grew up believing that cows were somehow perpetually filled with milk, that was just part of their innate nature, and therefore if they went without being milked, they’d explode. Yes, I genuinely believed that (I used to proudly use it as a non-vegan argument) and a lot of people continue to believe it.
The truth, the obvious truth when you think about it, is that female cows spend their lives being exploited for their reproductive systems. In order to produce milk, they have to bear offspring, and in order to bear offspring they have to be impregnated. A ‘rape rack’ (as it was dubbed by farmers, not vegans) is used to continually impregnate the female cow through artificial insemination for the purpose of her milk production. The milk, of course, goes to us, the humans, and the calf is taken away from her usually in less than two days. If the baby cow is a male, it will be taken to be slaughtered for veal. If the baby cow is a female, it will follow the same fate as its mother. Once the farmers have decided that the mother cow is no longer required to produce milk, she will be taken to slaughter. Happy life, right?
What about eggs, you’re asking? Surely the production of eggs can’t be so tragic? Well, the sad case is that hens have their beaks cut off with a hot blade which causes them an inordinate amount of pain. Because free-range simply means uncaged, the vast majority of free-range chickens are still kept in poor conditions in very close confinement, and the battery hens usually have less than a sheet of paper’s worth of space. Similarly to female cows, many hens are used for their production of eggs and then taken to slaughter after about a year. Male chicks, seen as being purposeless due to their inability to be used for eggs or meat, are collectively ground up in a machine whilst they are all still alive.
Our go-to meal at home was pasta tuna sweetcorn slathered in tablespoon after tablespoon of mayonnaise. I hated sweetcorn (it’s the only food I still detest) so I would spend about 10 minutes picking out each individual corn kernel and eating around it. At my Grandpa’s house, my sister and I would eat sausage butties with brown HP sauce. As a treat, my mum would pick up spicy chicken thighs from the Deli at Morrisons and we’d devour them all in one go. And I’d still be rolling my eyes at vegetarians, laughing at vegans and pushing the vegetables on my plate to one side. Then, when I got a bit older and started to become more health-conscious, you’d find me munching on hard-boiled eggs or lapping up spoonfuls of Greek Yogurt with honey.
Basically, eating animal products was never a problem for me. It was never something I thought about in passing, let alone critically or in terms of ethics. It was simply a part of human life, as normal and necessary as showering or sleeping or going to school. Although I began to limit my dairy intake as a teenager solely for health reasons, my moral compass still played no part in what would be put onto my plate and into my mouth.
So what happened? Where did it all go, well, right?
It was late 2015. I had just turned 19 in October and although my diet wasn’t terrible, I had a very negative relationship with food. When November rolled around, something peculiar happened. Out of nowhere, I began noticing animals. Obviously it’s not as though they didn’t exist before, but I’d never really paid any attention to any non-human species which wasn’t a conventional pet, I only passed a herd of sheep on my way to college. Nonetheless, for some reason, it seemed as though every TV channel now featured animals. I swear I started seeing them everywhere. They were unavoidable! Cute videos of farm animals were constantly popping up on my social media feeds. I’d watch them and they’d make me smile, and though I didn’t think much of it at first, the more I watched these videos, the more my perspective started to ever so slightly shift.
I remember watching a video of a happy baby goat bouncing and bounding from obstacle to obstacle, another of a chicken giving a hug and another of a piglet doing a little dance. I was surprised when I found myself thinking these animals were actually quite smart. Funny, even. Not in an I’m-laughing-at-your-stupidity kind of way, in a charming way. It’s almost as if they had individual personalities…
As ridiculous as it may sound to say The Universe was giving me a sign primarily through exposing me to cute 30-second videos, that is genuinely how I feel in hindsight. Because what those videos did, silly and sweet as they were, were pave the first steps of my journey to Veganism by challenging my long-term perception of farm animals as incredibly dumb, docile, characterless, vegetative, essentially already-lifeless creatures. Their ‘otherness’ was fading. Suddenly, it seemed ridiculous for anyone to compare a cow to a carrot or a pig to a plant.
I feel like all vegans experienced a tipping point. For some, it’s simply doing educative research. For James Cromwell, it was singing a song to an adorable piglet in Babe. For Miley Cyrus, it was her dog being killed by a coyote. For me, it was Christmas 2015. My mum brought round enough food to last us a fortnight; there were turkey legs, a whole chicken, chicken breasts, duck spring rolls, beef, ready-cooked meat, frozen meat, fish. Maybe it was the sheer volume, but looking around the countertops and in the fridge and the freezer at so much flesh, I started to feel, for lack of a better phrase, grossed out. Almost sick. Just remembering it now as I’m writing this is making me feel queasy. I felt surrounded by dead bodies, and that’s because I was, I’d just never looked at it that way before.
It’s incredibly easy to create a detachment from the meat you consume and the life of said meat (to practise cognitive dissonance) when you’re merely eating a bowl of spag bol – the mince doesn’t come remotely close to resembling a cow. It’s a little bit trickier when you’re cutting up some raw chicken breast or eating around bones, but still very doable. It’s a bit harder still when you’re eating a steak and the blood gushes out of the middle, but again, doable. It starts to become pretty difficult to maintain any sense of disconnection when you’re at a public barbecue where there’s a whole dead pig being roasted on a spit. That Christmas, surrounded by all of those dead bodies, I could feel myself making that connection, probably for the first time ever, and I did not like it. I didn’t sign up for this! I just wanted to enjoy my Christmas dinner!
But the feeling wouldn’t go away. I saw the marinated, seasoned, stuffed raw whole chicken as a corpse. I saw its flesh as something that, if you cut into me, wouldn’t look too dissimilar from my own. For a second, I imagined the chicken as it might have looked pre-slaughter, with reddish-brown feathers and a head still attached. I saw a life that had been discarded just for someone to eat a 20 minute meal. And that someone was me – I was the villain in this story (or at least one of them). Still, I ate that 20 minute meal. But, for the first time in my entire life, a small and conscious part of my being felt something I’d never felt before when eating meat: guilt. It was a feeling I was uncomfortable with, and if I tried hard enough I could have simply pushed it back down into my subconscious; made more excuses to compensate. I’m glad I chose not to do that.
A few days after the New Year, I decided I wanted to cut meat out of my diet forever.
I started doing some research. I watched documentaries (Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Vegucated etc.); I watched YouTube videos; I started thinking inquisitively, extensively and candidly about the question of ethics and my own belief system, and by the end of February, after having two ‘slip ups’ (both which I felt guilty after, the last one of which I had a stomach ache after), I did what I set out to do: I stopped eating meat for good. And it felt fucking awesome. I’ve never really been into meat substitutes so I just compensated for the removal of meat from my diet by largely upping my fruit and veggie intake. Immediately, I was less lethargic and my urges to binge-eat declined significantly. Although I don’t pretend that it was now perfect, my relationship with food and even my body image improved more than I’d expected. I even lost a bit of weight.
Whilst it took me only two months to become a Vegetarian, it took me over half a year to transition from Vegetarianism to Veganism.
I believe in promoting Veganism. I don’t, however, believe in pressuring people to go vegan as it’s very ineffective – Veganism is a personal change somebody must make for themselves. I’ve described it as somewhat of a revelation or a bit of an epiphany moment when the curtain finally drops. Even though I had educated myself on the cruelty of the dairy industry AND knew that dairy did my body no favours, for some reason I wasn’t having that same revelatory feeling I’d experienced concerning meat. With dairy, it took my brain much longer to stop disassociating and see the bigger picture.
Near the last month of being a Vegetarian, I finally began to have a bit of a breakthrough. With everything I knew, I felt a bit like a hypocrite. I couldn’t deny to myself anymore that the meat and dairy industries were inextricably linked. I couldn’t say that I was ‘vegetarian for ethical reasons’ because the phrase itself seemed oxymoronic – the dairy industry is as cruel as the meat industry. Just as the meat industry paints a picture of ‘humane slaughter’ (yet another oxymoron) – cows, pigs, chickens and lambs living happy, carefree lives, fed nutritious food and given plenty of exercise, space and care, then taken one-by-one to be graciously killed in the quickest, least painful way possible – the dairy industry is perhaps even more misleading. Here’s Bessie The Cow being lovingly milked for her own well-being in some cattle shed with a red roof, and once the bucket of milk is full, she’ll be patted on the back and taken out into the field to reunite with her friends and family, and bask in the sunshine to her heart’s content. Not quite.
Common procedure in slaughterhouses, where all farm animals are taken to meet their demise (except a miniscule lucky minority who receive the miracle of being rescued), is that the animals are hoisted up by a machine from which they dangle upside down. Their throats are then slit, allowing the blood to trickle down their bodies whilst they writhe in pain and terror. It goes without saying that this causes them incredible trauma before the blood loss eventually kills them. Even animals which are murdered promptly through being stunned, a less common procedure, are still being murdered. They still have their lives, of which they are entitled to, taken away from them.
I think people underestimate the psychological effect of being a vegan in a non-vegan world. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I see the world in an entirely different way now; I describe it as having taken off rose-tinted glasses. Until you go vegan, you never realize how much meat propaganda there is absolutely everywhere, constant positive reinforcement. In our society, meat consumption is not just encouraged but romanticized to the point where you’re mocked and looked down upon for not participating in it. Every day, you’re confronted with the very thing you’re passionately against, and it can be pretty exhausting. For instance, I live with 11 housemates, only 1 of which doesn’t eat meat. If I go downstairs and someone’s frying ‘bacon’, a smell I once salivated to, all I can think now is that there are pieces of somebody’s daughter or son on their pan. Obviously I never say anything because it isn’t my place, but it is a bit upsetting to deal with things like that on a daily basis. You just learn to put up with it.
It’s so easy to resign yourself to the standpoint, “I could never go vegan.” By saying that, not only do you give yourself a free pass not to try, you also give yourself an ostensibly ‘valid’ reason not to explore but ignore the question of ethics, by hiding behind the [false] idea that it wouldn’t be sustainable for you anyway. But in those moments, it would be more honest to say instead, ‘I could go vegan, but it’s much easier for me to carry on the way I am.’ People try to present Veganism as an extremist, impossible feat because the process of challenging and changing a deeply ingrained, long-term mindset is not just terrifying but a whole lot more effort. It’s easier to be territorial about your beliefs, even if they’re deeply problematic. From personal experience, most meat-eaters choose to remain oblivious. Think about it, how many do you know who have visited or watched footage of a slaughterhouse where their meat comes from? For years, I chose to keep myself in the dark because the light could have shown me things I didn’t want to see, know or accept. I was in denial. This is all why spreading the word about Veganism, challenging the general consensus and showing people the truth – albeit a brutal truth – is so important.
When I was transitioning to Veganism, I started to recognize my body as the graveyard that it was and that I no longer wanted it to be. The sense of adamant entitlement I’d felt for as far back as I could remember was vanishing, and in its place would come to live a sting of shame.
Contrary to what the industries want everyone to think, Veganism isn’t about thinking you’re better than somebody else. It’s not about superiority at all. The opposite, really. It’s about putting your pride aside, taking responsibility for your actions and saying, ‘What I was doing and what I was supporting were wrong. So I’m going to stop doing it.’ As simple as that.
I’ll be the first person to say that I don’t believe under any circumstances that meat-eaters are bad people or that vegans are better than them. It would be extremely hypocritical as I ate meat for 19 years. It isn’t about self-righteousness; it isn’t a competition on who’s better or worse than the other. (Besides, the focus should be on the animals, not on human victimhood. We are not the victims.)
The way that I like to think of it is like this:
Veganism isn’t about giving up food, it’s about realizing that it was never food to begin with.
So to me, dairy isn’t food. Meat and fish and eggs aren’t food. Vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, they’re all delicious, plant-based food.
Thankfully, it’s now becoming the general consensus that Veganism is healthy; that a herbivorous diet is in fact healthier than the standard omnivorous diet. Not only has the whole ‘protein’ palaver been debunked, studies have actually found that vegans have higher blood protein levels than non-vegans. They’re also the least likely to be overweight: vegans on average are within a healthier BMI than vegetarians, who are within a healthier BMI than omnivores.
Studies have found that processed meat (things like bacon, hot dogs and ham) is carcinogenic, meaning that it can cause cancer so it’s best to avoid them at all costs. Animal products are also extremely high in saturated fat which clogs the arteries, potentially causing issues such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
So, in summation, why am I a Vegan?
- I’m a Vegan simply because I believe an animal possesses the same basic, fundamental right to live as a human does, and subsequently deserves not to have that right denied, exploited or diminished.
- My secondary standpoint is that I am also a Vegan because I’m aware of how animal agriculture, honey consumption and commercial fishing are quickly and thoroughly damaging our Earth, of which we only have one.
- My final standpoint is that I am a Vegan because I believe that meat, fish, eggs and dairy products have highly adverse effects on human health, and our diets are therefore much better without them.
(This post focused primarily on ethical reasons because I’m probably going to write a separate blog post about the colossal negative impact of an omnivorous diet on our global environment, and how something as simple as switching to a herbivorous diet will help to counteract that.)
I’m a very indecisive person but if there’s one thing which I am 100% sure of it’s that I will never voluntarily consume animal products ever again. I’m proud to be a Vegan. I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to say that; it was one of the best and most positive changes I could’ve made in my life.
Give it a go – maybe you’ll surprise yourself.
“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer