There was a period of 10 years when I didn’t eat red meat. For many of those years I didn’t eat chicken either. And I haven’t eaten veal since I came to understand that it means ‘baby calf who is still milk-fed by its mother’.
I began eating meat again a few years ago and I love the taste of it but in the past few months, I have been heading back towards vegetarianism without even consciously realising it.
I am not one of those people who does it for health reasons or environmental reasons. For me, it’s always been a struggle to reconcile animals with food. I know that many people do not have this problem and eating meat does not make you an animal hater but some of us just aren’t able to make peace with it. I am a very imperfect vegetarian but I’m trying.
Growing up I was a meat and potatoes girl. Literally. I survived on chops and chips. Occasionally just to gee things up a bit I ate spaghetti bolognaise, but that was about it. As I grew older my taste matured and I started to eat different foods but meat and chicken were my staples. I was very much a carnivore and to be honest, I was a little wary of vegetables.
I am not sure how the change happened or at what point my already overly sensitive nature decided to turn its focus on to food. But I do know that I started to think about where the meat I was eating came from and it made me feel distressed an,d in truth – it made me feel extremely guilty.
For me it was not about eating animals as such, it was more about how the meat got to my plate. I am under no illusion that an animal has to die before I can eat it and I knew it sure as hell wasn’t going to walk there but I worried about the journey that animal had made. Death is one thing and, being a fatalist I can accept that, but it is the life that the animal experienced before death that really got to me.
I tried to pretend that cows chomped happily and idyllically on grass for the entirety of their lives before a sudden blow at the abbatoir made them into steak, but increasingly I heard the term “grain fed” beef. I may not know a lot about farming or even biology but I do know that cows don’t naturally graze on grain.
I tried to pretend farmers spent their morning running after chickens that had, up until that very morning, roamed around the farm pecking at grain on the ground. But I knew that the sheer number of eggs and chickens at the supermarket made that fantasy impossible to execute.
I tried to pretend that no-one in a humane society would ever torture animals by keeping them in concrete pens their entire lives with no access to sunshine, fresh air or place to stretch their muscles, but increasingly I discovered that I was wrong.
I made a conscious decision to stop eating meat, not because it is not healthy, not even because I don’t like the taste but simply because I could not condone cruelty to animals. I am at peace with my decision, I feel better about my footprint on this earth and I feel healthier because of this (even if it is only my mental health that has been affected). I only purchase meat for my family that has been ethically raised with respect and humanity.
Interestingly the only really big change I have had to make is acceptance. I have had to take a crash course in being tolerant of those around me because, as much as I feel completely validated in my beliefs, I am equally conscious about not ramming my thoughts or opinions down anyone else’s throats – even those of my family. I know that it is all too easy to cross the line between idealism and fanaticism. I do not want to be a zealot, I think that scares people. It doesn’t educate them and it certainly doesn’t open their minds.
Where others see packaged dinner, I see death. I simply cannot understand how they don’t see the same thing I do but then I know many religious people who probably cannot understand why I don’t see God or salvation in the same way that they do.
Whenever I become hysterical about the plight of the animals or I balk at the rows and rows of packaged meat in the supermarket, the animal carcasses hanging in the butcher window or the ducks in the local Asian take away – I realise that my beliefs may not translate so easily to people around me.
Thank God then for movies like Food Inc made by Robert Kenner – he does all the hard work for me and allows me to come across well, almost sane.
You should see it. I however am too scared.
What’s your relationship with meat? Do you eat some things but not others? If you have children, how do you handle that watershed moment when they make the connection between the fluffy lamb they saw on a farm or in a book and the chop on their plate?