I don’t know what it is about 2014, but with only a quarter of the year gone, I seem to be committing myself to quite a lot of lengthy challenges. With my #100happydays finally drawing to a close (only 15 days left!) I am about to embark on the most difficult journey yet! And it is not abseiling down a Melbourne CBD skyscraper for foster kids (although I’m doing that too!) No, I am going vegetarian, and mostly vegan, for the month of April. And I have roped a couple of friends into joining me!
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants” – I keep recalling this quote of mysterious origins that I heard as a teenager, even though it’s completely absurd, and obviously not true for any vegetarian (… I think?). Only now, after Googling it 15 years later, have I found out that the sentence was first uttered by a stand-up comedian by the name of Alan Whitney Brown. Heh, this is not really important, is it?
Anyway, for me, both parts of Brown’s quote are technically true, sort of. I do adore animals, but I also don’t really like plants – flowers, to be precise, set off my allergies, so I have a deep-seated resentment of them. Botanical gardens are my worst nightmare! God, I’m barely joking. However, I’m not actually planning on eating many flowers in the next month, so unfortunately I am not really able to take out my revenge on the right set of plants. Hrrmph.
So, why am I actually doing it? As a lifelong omnivore, I live with that mental compartmentalisation that most omnivorous animal lovers employ – I’m accustomed to separating meat, which is food, from animals, who are friends (kind of like separating plants which I, err, hate, from vegetables which I love?) I’m not saying this is morally a good thing to do, but it’s actually not a thing that is unique to this situation for me. Generally, I’m a pretty detached person who can be intellectually and by principle outraged at the world’s injustices, yet not exactly passionately or emotionally engaged in the debate against them. This is just the way I am.
Like the majority of kids brought up in meat-eating families, I never gave much thought to human consumption of animals as food, but as a teenager and even into my early 20s I still failed to see what was wrong with the meat and dairy industries. I was an intelligent, well-read young woman and if I had stopped to think about it, would have seen very clearly that the quantity of meat now consumed by the average person in the developed world (or even developing world) has increased many, manyfold in the last century. Perhaps, if I had done that, I would have also wondered how that was possible? Where were all the extra animals coming from? Eventually, I would have arrived at the harsh truths of factory farming, and been as disgusted by them as I now am. Besides, the negative environmental impact caused by factory farming was not only an animal welfare issue but a problem for future generations of humans.
Farming of animals specifically for food has evolved into something completely unrecognisable, and the sheer scale of it is inconceivable to digest, pun unintentional. Gone are the days of only eating the animals you could hunt down and kill for yourself and your family, and gone even are the days when you ate meat, dairy and eggs from your own or your neighbour’s farm. What is worse is that the product of this mass breeding, mistreatment and premature slaughtering of animals feeds into the most horrible industries with no real value to civilised humans – fast food, for example, is artless, bland, unhealthy and contributes to national obesity problems all over the world, including in developing countries.
It started with the eggs. As long as I’ve lived out of home and bought my own groceries, I have bought free range eggs – is there even anyone who doesn’t these days? There is no excuse. I didn’t realise at the time that supermarket “free range” eggs did not have to meet particularly strict criteria to be labelled as such, and besides, without a car or access to markets (of which there are almost none where I lived in Auckland), I couldn’t really purchase eggs from anywhere else on a regular basis. So I didn’t really buy eggs on a regular basis, and still don’t. Then there was meat. Once no longer a poor student, I could no longer condone factory farmed chicken when I could buy free range chicken, or free range pork, and so on. I do not eat veal, ever. But I tried not to think about the fact that the Asian takeaway joints I sometimes ate at must very likely be using the cheapest meat of any origin they could find.
So my habits as a consumer was where I started, but in the last two or three years, I’ve been thinking about things a little more and getting a little more pissed off at how unnecessary all of it is. I grew up in a meat-eating family, yes, but I also grew up in an Asian family. It was not “meat and three veg” – my mum cooked Chinese dishes which were mostly staple carbohydrates, lots of vegetables and a relatively small percentage of meat (perhaps 10-15% of the bulk of the meal). Sometimes, we had fish that my dad caught. We hardly ever ate steak except when dining out occasionally. As an adult, I still prefer to cook Asian dishes (although I have a more diverse repertoire than my mother had, including many South East Asian dishes) because I find them both tastier and more nutritionally balanced, and having travelled extensively over Asia, I have definitely observed that the average diet in most Asian countries consists of less meat than the average Western diet. What is more, they made much more use of offal – the idea of throwing out the majority of an animal after selecting its most “premium” cuts of meat always seemed very sad, silly and wasteful to me – and on top of that, they used dairy far less in their savoury dishes. Dairy. Don’t even get me started on the horrible things I have learned about the dairy industry in the last couple of years.
I began to settle into a lifestyle where I not only ate predominantly Asian dishes with their fairly small ratio of meat, but did not eat meat for many meals, and often for a few full days per week. I rarely bought cheese and began to drink only soy with my coffee. I started to wonder if everyone ate the same quantity of meat and dairy as I did or even less (for I was willing to go further), the corresponding industries would be far less intense, factory farming would be less necessary and the world would be a better place. The truth is, and I probably knew this, even if it would be enough (which is doubtful), there was next to no chance of it happening unless these industries imploded on themselves one day. We have gone down a road that is hard to tread backwards on, and even poorer countries are popularising fast food chains and increased meat consumption. Too many futuristic dystopian books I have read depicted a world where meat was no longer readily available because we had destroyed the ecosystem in some way.
At the risk of hate mail, I may as well state that I do not personally have an intellectual issue with the humane taking of the life of an animal for food; but – I have huge a issue with the torture and prolonged suffering of animals (who feel pain and sorrow) for the purpose of feeding a ridiculously excessive industry that churns out more product than humans should even healthily consume. Many vegos would argue that it is not a human right to take the lives of animals for our own use on any scale. I wouldn’t say that it is, either – but there are no “rights” involved in nature at all.
I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by dragging out the comparison of a lion hunting down its prey because it’s obvious that, unlike big cats in the wild, as humans we have many other ways of getting the nutrition we need without killing other species if we so choose. Evolution has transformed us so that we have become more intelligent than other known animals on Earth, including some very intelligent mammals that I am not at all underestimating. Largely because of this, we have been omnivores for very many, many, many thousands of years. We may have invented hunting weapons followed by agriculture followed by industralised machinery, but we did not “invent” human intelligence – we have simply used what cognitive abilities nature gave us to devise ways to get “what we want”, through the accumulation of knowledge over time.
I’m not saying this is commendable of our species, I am saying that’s what has happened. But that is not to say that we can’t draw the line wherever we want to draw it!
- I do not want to condone factory farming.
- I do wish to greatly reduce my (already modest) overall animal product consumption.
- I want to limit my routine dairy consumption to a three days per week, and aim to reduce this to one or two days over time.
- I want to limit my routine meat consumption to a maximum of three days per week, indefinitely.
- I want to always give more thought to where and when I eat meat and eliminate, wherever I can, eating dishes that may have used meat that is likely to be factory farmed.
- I will investigate the true story behind a “free range” label and, when I can, buy meat supplied by farms where I know truly humane farming is practised.
- I WILL live as a mostly vegan vegetarian for at least 30 days in order to calibrate myself with this adjusted lifestyle and to put my money where my mouth is.
- I want to repeat this challenge at least once every year going forward.
I also would like to use this month to raise some awareness among my friends and acquaintances of the issues I have brought up today, and animal welfare in general – more on this below!
What I don’t want:
- Abuse or judgement from anyone reading this post, though I am open to hearing differing opinions and am all for healthy discussion.
Why have I posted about this?
I wanted to publicly express my views on these issues, and I wanted to prepare you for some delicious, simple vegan recipes coming up on this blog; but most of all, I want your help. My friends and I have set up a fundraising campaign to support our challenge in which everything raised will go to a local animal rescue organisation or animal welfare organisation. Who it ends up going to will depend on you. When you make a donation, you may nominate a relevant cause that is close to your heart, and the winning two non-profits will split the final campaign total! Here is where you can donate:
The reason I am not going 100% vegan for April is, in part, because I may still be using non-dietary animal products such as leather boots only if I already own them, but it’s also a psychological thing. It’s to ensure the success of my challenge and make it much more likely that I’ll stick to it, with the knowledge of just a small window of lenience that I may not always even use. At home and during working hours, I will be 100% vegan. During my social commitments, I’ll still try to be as vegan as I can, however, it would be a huge adjustment for an omnivore today to go to a restaurant tomorrow where the only vegan option is a leafy side salad without dressing (for example) – in these cases, I would choose a vegetarian dish if I couldn’t adapt anything to be truly vegan. I understand this is something “real” vegans actually face in meal outings without cheating, however, as a newbie I need to start less hardcore, and perhaps graduate to this in future challenge months.
It’s actually been over six weeks since I decided to set out on this journey for myself. Just this Sunday, I went to a Vegan Market Day held by Animal Liberation Victoria where a stall was displaying fliers about the “Vegan Easy Challenge“, which is, you guessed it, a program that challenges you to go vegan for 30 days! I took the pamphlets and information booklets, as I thought they’d come in handy, but I didn’t sign up for the program as I had already made up my mind to do my own thing. However, I do encourage my readers to join!