Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose – The Vegan Society
Five years ago, I went vegan overnight. Often people transition in stages, first cutting out meat and fish, then dairy and eggs, eventually honey and everything else. But that’s not how I work. Once I have decided on something, I do it all the way and then some. My self-control surprises even me, sometimes.
Back then, my best friend of 13 years had been vegan for a while, and vegetarian for many years before that, but he was passive to the point of placid about it. We rarely brought it up in conversation, aside from my occasional outbursts of “I love animals, but I could never do it. What about cheese!”
Looking back, I regret that it took me so long to catch on. In the end, it took something as fleeting as a boyfriend to kick me into gear, one who was in it mainly, if not only, for the health benefits. But that wasn’t what really convinced me, in the end.
“Mum, did you know eggs are full of cholesterol? And that male chicks are ground up alive because they’re useless to the egg industry? Ew, apparently every glass of milk has a bit of puss in it! And male calves are taken from their mothers straight away and turned into veal, and…”
“I don’t want to hear it!”
That summer, as I finally began to “vegucate” myself, my mother and I had conversations like this that went round and round. She held firm in her unspoken opinion that ignorance is bliss, something that infuriated me beyond belief. Ironically, she was vegetarian for many years before she had me, then I came along and meat consumption did too. She tries her best now to leave animals off her plate and is very supportive of my lifestyle, but she just can’t stand non-dairy milk. Her seven cups of tea a day just wouldn’t be the same without normal milk.
What is normal about grown humans drinking the breast milk of another species?
I have read about fifty articles this week, each more depressing than the last, and watched videos that I wish I never had to see. But I don’t know what it will take, what will make it click. What the final push will be, if it will even happen… Logically, I know that consuming animals is wrong. It clogs your arteries, it destroys the planet. Not to mention the death. So much death. 56 billion land animals per year. I’m an animal lover, I always have been. Right? Am I really, when I eat them? Oh God, I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Veganism is the one of the fastest growing movements in the world. Here in Sydney, it seems like a new vegan place pops up every month. As more people are realising that we need to drastically reduce animal consumption if we are going to save the planet, plant-based eating is becoming more common and accepted. Even if a restaurant doesn’t have vegan options marked clearly on the menu, generally they are happy to cater to you – just ten years ago, the cook would have scoffed at you in disbelief and walked away. Times are changing. Big chains are cashing in on it. Hungry Jack’s has a vegan burger. Woolworths is about to release a vegan cheesecake. Magnum and Cornetto released dairy-free versions of their classic ice creams just last month. Hell, even Hog’s Breath – a restaurant built around peoples’ love of eating giant slabs of animal flesh – has a vegan schnitzel burger. It’s not great, but it’s something. Five years ago, if I went out to eat my options were often limited to fries and salad, but now I walk down the street inundated with vegan versions of any cuisine I can imagine. Times have changed.
One of the chickens, Delilah, isn’t laying. Mum adores “the girls”, and she’s really worried. I do some googling and tell mum I’ve figured out Delilah’s probably egg-bound.
“Lethargic, not laying, not eating or drinking. God, mum, they can’t recover from this. I think she’ll die.” A few short days ago, Delilah was crooning happily with the other girls, enthusiastically pecking through the grass and casting sidelong glances at Hamster the ferret who had the audacity to live nearby. Now we’re cradling Delilah in our laps, stroking her silky feathers and fighting back tears. She’s so small. I never realised she was so small.
“She’s going, Bell.” Mum clutches my hand.
The tears fall as Delilah lets out a final sigh and goes still forever.
I dig her a grave and feel something inside me beginning to shift.
Looking back, I recall many times in my life that left me feeling like my food choices were undeniably hypocritical. The depth of the grief I felt when not only pets but any creature died or was injured should have signaled something to me long before it did. Society loves tradition, and finds it very hard to break. Eating animals was entrenched in me from a young age, as it is in most people. From school canteens giving out milk “for your bones”, to doctors encouraging red meat consumption “for your iron levels”, the advertisement and normalisation of eating animals is widespread and constant. But that’s changing. As nutrition science gains traction, we are learning that processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen on the same level as cigarettes. As the environmental situation becomes dire, it is coming out that cutting down animal product consumption is one of the best things we can do, as animal agriculture is “the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after fossil fuels and is a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.” And as activists are putting themselves on the line to learn what really happens inside slaughterhouses and factory farms, we are confronted with images and sounds that will haunt us until our dying day and cause us to question our habits.
I clicked the link to a video that popped up on one of the many pages I have been picking apart this summer. It was about a German dairy farm. The farmer was going to send his 25 cows to slaughter since they weren’t financially viable anymore, but some locals started a foundation to re-home the cows so they could live out the rest of their days in peace.
The farmer’s son Jan Müller was grinning from ear to ear as he was interviewed – “I simply love cows,” he quipped, “they are such gentle animals.” The cows were let out into the field for the first time in months, and they literally jumped for joy. The camera panned to the farmer, Hans-Georg Janssen, and he was tearing up.
He was so grateful that the cows had another option, and he mused “someday, you have to give something back to the animals.”
That was it. That was the moment. As I watched those gentle giants kick their legs into the air, rub their faces on the grass and spin in circles, tears etching permanent memories down my cheeks, something clicked. The cage labelled “cognitive dissonance” that had been locked around my thoughts for so long was shattered and scattered to infinity. To the empty room that was so full of change, I whispered “I can’t do it anymore”, and I was vegan.
Are you vegan? When and why did you make the change? I’d love to hear your stories.
If you are interested in starting your own vegan journey, Veganuary has some fantastic resources including this list of books and films to get you started.
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