The Vegan Thing

Things here are in turmoil. The healthy eating was derailed by Christmas and I’m struggling to get that back.

I have separated from my husband and he is no longer living with us. That requires multiple posts all of its own, but it’s not something I feel comfortable sharing to an audience that might or might not include people I know that might or might not take the trouble to speak to me about it. Sigh.

Those things aside, what prompted this post today was that I have recently watched two documentaries:

Cowspiracy, and Earthlings.

I have always been the first person to put my hand up and state that I would never become vegan. Isn’t it funny how knowledge can change things so quickly?

Here are some things I have (shamefully) said about veganism (who have always been viewed with slight suspicion by all us happy meat eaters and vegetarians):

Why anyone would chose to eat vegan is beyond me – we clearly need B12 so why eat a diet that excludes it?

The thing with this comment is that I can see I was only thinking about one person. Me. I need B12, so I should therefore at least be vegetarian. I never really connected with the principle behind veganism – i.e. it is a sustainable way to feed a planet of 7 billion people. The horrors of the meat and dairy industry are indescribable in a blog post. Out of the two documentaries above, Earthlings is by far the harder one to watch. In fact, I didn’t actually watch a great deal of scenes because they were so utterly distressing. Cowspiracy, on the other hand is easy to watch (mostly), but is a total revelation. The utter destruction of our planet caused by agribusiness is literally beyond belief. There might be 7 billion people, but there are 70 billion cows. Do you know what happens to all the cow poo? Vast areas of dead zones, massive ocean pollution. The farming land required is destroying rainforests and other eco-systems. 51% of carbon emissions come from agribusiness. I have, just like the maker of Cowspiracy, been doing my bit by recycling and choosing green products, with no idea that just choosing not to eat meat in one meal probably beats all my other efforts for the week. As someone who cares about our planet, I had no idea that farming was causing so much devastation.

I only buy high welfare meat.

This is one I have said for years. I actually wouldn’t touch the cheap stuff in the supermarkets – I know how disgusting intensive farming is. However, firstly, there is not enough land on our planet to feed high welfare meat to every human. Secondly, high welfare meat still goes to the slaughterhouse, and what happens at the slaughterhouse is horrific. I always thought cruelty videos and dreadful conditions were from far off places in the States. Animal Aid is a UK charity and they have been running undercover operations in slaughterhouses for many years. If you want to know more about our ‘nice’ UK abattoirs, you can read more here (tmi warning). Also, even in slaughterhouses that are well run, the margin of error for “humane” stunning and death is large. Horror-movie scenes that cause workers to be signed off with depression are a daily fact. Thirdly, even organic animals receive dozens of vaccinations soon after birth. Parents are concerned about giving their children a handful of vaccines in childhood, but if you feed your children organic meat, they are ingesting trace levels of vaccinations every time they eat.

I don’t know why vegans don’t wear leather – it’s a by-product from all the meat that would go to waste otherwise.

This one truly shows my ignorance and misunderstanding. It turns out that the demand for leather is greater than the demand for meat. So much for thinking I was just buying something that would go to waste otherwise.

I only buy organic, free range eggs

Again, I thought I was doing great here. Sadly, there is no part of the provision of food for billions of humans that is “kind”. Male chickens from egg layers (even organic ones) are killed after hatching because they are of no use. They can’t lay eggs and they grow too slowly for food. Fast growth is imperative, because the demand for meat is so huge. In the UK chicken sexers are paid £40,000 a year. They sort of the males from the females and the males are frozen for pet food, or macerated alive. Millions of them.

I could never give up cheese!

To be honest, I think I still think this. But I am also carrying knowledge of what the farming industry has to do to supply the world with it’s cheese, cream, milk and ice-cream. Dairy cows have their calves taken away (what do they feed the calves? I don’t know if I want to learn any more), and are milked relentlessly. They are artificially inseminated to cause recurring pregnancy so the cycle can be repeated. After around 3 or 4 rounds of this, the cows become so weak and milk production starts to fail (all mums who have breastfed will know how much demand it places on your body). They die years before their natural lifespan. And even at the most well run farms, collapsed dairy cows can only be moved with farm machinery – in the jaws of a digger, or dragged by rope with a truck/tractor. Can you even imagine someone doing this to human slaves? Repeatedly making them pregnant? Expressing until they produced maximum milk? Trucking them to the crematorium when they collapsed? Sigh. It makes me, as a mother, so very sad. Who are we to treat animals this way just so we can have milk on our cereal? Why are we allowed to do this? (Also, did you know that artificial insemination is a skill that requires practice? The people that do this are allowed to practice on female cows at the slaughterhouse. Because the cows are going to die, it’s okay to violate them just beforehand.)

The demand for meat and dairy is so enormous, and the profits are so massive, that we have moved from traditional farming to ever more high-tech and intensive methods to generate the goods.

And in doing so we treat animals like a commodity. We forget that they feel pain, fear and attachment to their young.

They are, in the industry, an inconvenience for being alive in the first place.

And then the industry works very, very hard to conceal anything distasteful. Happy chicken pictures on packaging. Cows in fields. Sanitised, homogenised, standardised, dyed products that do not “remind” us of the transition from alive to dead.

How many of us would kill an animal in our own garden in order to eat it?

So what now?

I apologies if this post sounds preachy. It’s not my intention to lecture anyone on their choices. I have been choosing to eat meat and dairy for most of my life.

For me, personally, my opinion has been changed. I have always looked at diet and nutrition from a selfish perspective – what’s best for me? I can’t believe I didn’t know before about the impact my choices have on the planet, and on the animals themselves.

We have a fair amount of meat and milk in the house. My children eat it and always have. I have no idea where to even start. But I do have to start somewhere, because to be honest the thought of now consuming meat and dairy makes me feel faintly queasy.

17 thoughts on “The Vegan Thing”

  1. So sorry to hear about your separation. That is so hard. I wish the best for you and your family!

    I’m always surprised by all the similarities between our lives, given that we live in different countries and have never met. So interesting that I found your blog those years ago.

    I have been a bit obsessed with food documentaries lately, but I’ve been deliberately ignoring the ones about animal agriculture. I’ve made many changes in my diet, moving more and more towards vegetarian and vegan choices. But I’ve been doing it for selfish reasons. There’s so much research out there that shows the role that animal products play in chronic disease. I haven’t declared myself vegetarian or vegan, but I rarely buy meat anymore. I have to say, my cooking has greatly improved since making the switch to vegetarian and vegan recipes. Way more flavor and considerably fresher and healthier. The most amazing byproduct is that I now like to cook whereas before it was my least favorite “chore.” I do spend way more time in the kitchen now, but I’m hoping that as I find my go-to recipes that become part of my regular rotation of meals, that my time spent in the kitchen decreases as well.

    Best of luck to you as you make this major transitions in your life!

    • Thanks Alisa. It is strange isn’t it? We must be kindred spirits! I love food documentaries, but like you I have shied away from anything too confrontational as I have a sensitive disposition and it would give me sleepless nights. However, I am glad that I did watch what I did, even though I cried. I LOVE to hear that you are enjoying cooking more, because I hate cooking!!! Haha. Maybe less meat and dairy will make cooking nicer. I’ve always hated preparing meat. Fingers crossed it will be the same for me x

  2. Faye, I’m so sorry to hear your news. Sounds like you’ve really been through it lately. I echo Nancy’s response.
    On another note your sentiments about veganism is brilliant and I’m so pleased you’ve come over to the Vegan side. I don’t confess to be 100% vegan but those documentaries changed my whole thinking about food. It’s been a gradual process for me but I’m nearly there now. It’s odd because people just don’t “get it” until they see those documentaries/find their own path to veganism. I look forward to reading your food journey and very best of luck for the future.

    • Thanks Sophie – it’s been a bumpy few months. My opinion on veganism has literally done a 180. I am astonished at how badly informed I was before. I always thought veganism was the result of some kind of misplaced belief in the “right” way to eat, or that people were brainwashed by Peta and aggressive guilt PR. I have tried to read up from factual sources as much as possible that aren’t all “you’re eating baby animals! you’re killing innocent babies!” and actually, it turns out the farming industry is truly horrific, even on a black and white, facts-only level. I have bookmarked some online resources and my brain is noticing the animal products in every area of our kitchen and bathroom already. I’ve decided I won’t force the children to follow what I do, only encourage them to eat well. But you know what? I am excited about changing. Nervous, but excited 🙂

  3. Sending lots of love lady! I have been a vegan before (not by choice bc of animal cruelty but bc Chad had cancer) I had never felt better! My body always felt great and needed less sleep. It was amazing. I kissed comfort food though and have slowly made my way back to crappier eating,..though I am sure I eat way better than the average American! I often have to eat my words about many things I have once said. ;).

    • Thank you 🙂 That is great to hear. The fact that it seems to come with so many health benefits is really encouraging. I love the idea of feeling lighter and more energetic. God knows I need it as I am permanently exhausted, it seems!

  4. So sorry to hear about your separation.

    As for making the change with the family, I would make it more gradual for the kids, especially if they are big milk and cheese fans. Maybe make substitutions along the way to ease them into it. They may also share some of your concerns if they are old enough (I know they baby isn’t).

    • Thanks. Oh yes, the kids love milk and yoghurt (they haven’t gotten in to cheese yet!). I will continue to buy these – I won’t force my choice upon them, only encourage them to try what I eat.

  5. Interesting! I’ll be interested to read about your transition if hats the way you go. I reckon I could go go vegan (except for the cheese – soooo tricky). I don’t crave meat and i love a lot of the alternatives to dairy and egg. It would be more of a transition into generating fav recipes that fit the eating guidelines. I eat meat now mostly because that’s what I know about cooking. I would worry about getting all my vitamins too. I’ve never know a vegan who isn’t a little bit crazy and I think that’s a vitamin deficiency thing. I don’t have the emotional response to animals that many people do so I guess that’s what keeps me doing nothing. I know a lot of the stories you shared and I think it sucks for sure. I also am interested in arguments against anthropomorphism. My academic vegan friend says there is a lot of research in this area at the moment and she says it’s the cutting edge of anthropology. I have no idea one way or another but I am interested to see what comes out. I do get so sad for those mama cows 🙁 and the babies. Separated and then treated so violently. It’s truly awful.

    On another note I am so sorry to hear your sad relationship news. You know I’ve done the single mama thing more than once and the one thing I have learned is that when your relationship is hard or bad in any way it is actually easier to be in your own even if it is a logistical nightmare with all the children. You will be busy but happier when you settle into a groove. I’m always here if you want to talk single parenting. Flick me a message anytime. Look after yourself xoxox

    • Thank you – and you are right that it’s actually easier on your own, despite the busy-ness of it. Nothing so stifling as trying to continue when things are not going well, and it’s not good for anyone.

      I think people do tend to attribute human characteristics to animals – I certainly do – which I think is why it impacts me so much. But then, some of the wildlife programmes I’ve seen (do you get Blue Planet? It’s brilliant), show such intricacies in their communities and behaviours it’s hard to think that they don’t have at least some human-esque emotions.

      I have just not stopped thinking about it all. I’ve felt really down about it and really sad. I had a (organic! high welfare! – although not that it makes that much difference) chicken in the fridge yesterday to roast for dinner and I felt like crying. And then I felt awful for being part of the problem that is destroying our planet… oh man. And the kids hardly ate any anyway. Like you, I’ve never loved or craved meat. I eat it mainly out of habit because Steve was a meat eater (I used to be veggie, long ago). I hate preparing it too. And organic meat is £££. I’m going to stop buying meat and fish. As for the rest I’m not sure yet, but I went out for a coffee yesterday and I ordered a coconut milk hot chocolate, with NO cream (obviously), so I avoided my favourite treat because of it, lol. I need some replacement recipes, cause to be honest, I can’t even remember what I used to live off when I was a veggie, I am that ingrained in cooking with meat protein all the time.

      • I know what you mean – it’s getting that repertoire expanded. I made a really nice soup the other night that I later realised would have been vegan – essentially lots of veg, cannellini beans, tin tomatoes and middle easter spices. It was sooooo good and the kids even liked it.

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