In early 2013, I decided I no longer wanted to eat meat. And as bizarre as it sounds, it all started with my dog.
My partner and I adopted a puppy, and I fell completely in love with him. He was so small, so helpless, and so affectionate.
One day I looked him in the eyes and thought, ‘How on earth can I love a puppy this much, and grimace at the thought of him being hurt, but support the abuse of the pigs, cows, and chickens I regularly consume? How does that make any sense?’
For many people, including myself, the realisation that you're consuming animals who have been bred in appalling environments and (sometimes brutally) killed is one you can't come back from.
But once I stopped eating meat, something became glaringly obvious: by identifying as a vegetarian, I had opened myself up to unprecedented criticism. Immediately, friends and family wanted to challenge me on every aspect of my lifestyle, and point out how it contradicted with my new-found philosophy.
"Well, your shoes are leather!" people would point out, even though they were shoes I had bought years earlier, and I couldn't see how throwing them out would help anyone.
"But you still eat eggs!" friends would argue, as though as a human you have two choices: to be a devout vegan or to chow down mindlessly on meat.
What has always bugged me is that the friends who pester me about my choices often consume a great deal of meat, and aren't careful at all about how their lifestyle impacts animals. Sometimes I just want to yell, "AT LEAST I'M DOING SOMETHING."
Then on Tuesday, I saw someone eloquently put words around how I felt: Osher Günsberg.
After attending Derby Day, Günsberg was attacked on social media for appearing at the horse racing event as a "vegan".
“Really disappointed to see you here. I thought you were against animal cruelty?” read one comment. “I’m confused? Vegan but supporting horse racing? Are you vegan for animal rights or health?” read another.
Of course, we live in a day and age where everyone's looking for a 'GOTCHYA' moment. With anyone in the public eye, people are waiting to be able to point out hypocrisy, or the (often very large) divide between how people portray themselves on social media and how they are in real life.
But this seems to be particularly true when it comes to vegetarianism and veganism. Perhaps people perceive those who adopt these lifestyles as coming across as pretentious or arrogant. But often, they're not.
I know I'm not. I don't have an opinion on what other people should eat. What's right for me isn't necessarily right for others. I get that.
In response to the criticism leveled at him, Günsberg posted a series of tweets defending his choices. And there were a few sentences that struck a chord with me. Five words in particular.
"I do what I can," he wrote.
I do what I can.
That's my philosophy. I can't give up chocolate. I still eat eggs. I even put $2 in the office sweep today. I'm not perfect, and by saying I'm vegetarian I'm not claiming to be. Really, I'm just trying to express the fact that I don't want to eat meat in the most polite way possible.
In another tweet, Günsberg wrote, "I shoot film, some of my meds have gelatin caps, there's a number of ways they sneak into my life."
Indeed, I'm sure there are many parts of my life that have an impact on animals that I'm not even aware of. I want to know more about how my choices affect both animals and people, but that's a process. It's not going to happen overnight. And I'm not always going to be able to implement permanent changes.
The all-or-nothing attitude around our moral choices isn't helpful. And neither is the constant policing of personal behaviours that don't affect anyone else.
Just do what you can. And I will too.