A ‘vegan’ is someone who chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. So no meat, dairy or eggs. Vegans try and avoid buying any animal fur, real leather, wool, angora, alpaca, silk and down. They will try and avoid any cosmetics, beauty and cleaning products that have any animal derivatives in them or which have been tested on animals.
So the big question – Why?
My biggest fear about ‘coming out’ as a vegan was how my mother was going to take it. I was desperately worried that she would take it as a personal insult and a rejection of her values and the way in which she raised us, which it absolutely is not. So to soften the blow, I decided to write her a letter.
Here’s what I wrote…
I am writing to you because I am too scared to tell you what I am about to tell you in person! I don’t think you will agree or understand why I’m doing it but I do want and need you to respect and support it if you can.
I’m not gay, I’m not pregnant, I’m not joining the labour party (but will probably vote for them…), I’m not joining a cult, I’m not starting a revolution, I’m not getting a divorce, I’m not converting to Islam, I’m not getting my nipples pierced or my knuckles tattooed… but……………….. I am…………… going to try and adopt a vegan lifestyle.
This came about first of all through talking to a vegan friend of mine who spoke very passionately and articulately about it and made me want to go and find out more for myself. Secondly, the horse burger furore recently made me realise how ridiculously arbitrary it is that we happily eat pork, lamb, beef and salmon but are horrified by the thought of eating horse, dog, rhino or goldfish! And then Lent is coming up and I wanted to eat more healthily. So all of these things led me to do lots of reading around farming practices around the world, climate change, meat production and consumption, dietary needs etc and I was horrified by what I learned.
Below I have tried to cover most of the reasons why I’m doing it without blabbering on too much. But the biggest, overriding point I think is that we don’t need to include any animal products in our diet whatsoever. We can get a perfectly healthy, nutritionally balanced diet from plants alone. So even if you’re not totally convinced by the arguments below, you don’t need to even risk being wrong so why do we?
I really hope that you don’t take this as a personal attack on everything that you bought me up to believe in. This is not a rejection of your values. This is not remotely personal. This is not an attack on farming and farmers! This is an ideology which seems to make sense to me and black and white numbers which don’t.
So please don’t be disappointed in me or embarrassed of me but try and be proud of me for having the guts to try to do the responsible, compassionate and decent thing (even if you don’t think that it is).
I love you and I feel sick with fear at how hard this will be both physically and socially but also quite sure that this it’s the right thing to do.
- Farming livestock is incredibly wasteful of natural resources:
– Raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) uses 30 per cent of the Earth’s land mass.
– More than 260 million acres of U.S. forests have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals, and the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
– Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient, because while animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats, and corn, they only produce comparatively small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. This is why more than 70 percent of the grain and cereals grown in the US are fed to farmed animals.
– 7kg of grain will feed 10 people for 1 day. Or it can be used to produce 650 calories of meat.
– It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons – so you save more water by not eating a pound of beef than not showering for 6 months!
– Between watering the crops that farmed animals eat, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning away the filth in factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry uses half of the entire water used by the US each year.
It’s a massive contributor to Global Warming and climate change.
– raising animals for food is the second most significant contributor to global warming. (Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together cause the vast majority of global warming. Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions).
– The meat, fish and dairy industries directly contribute to all the major environmental catastrophes facing our planet. The number of farmed animals in the world has quadrupled in the last 50 years, putting an incredible strain on the environment. Food production no longer nurtures land; instead both animals and soil are pushed to their limits and beyond in an effort to satisfy the voracious appetite of the Western world.
– The current buzz word is ‘sustainable’ and yet modern agriculture is anything but sustainable. Rainforests are still being chopped down at an alarming rate either for grazing or to grow crops to feed to animals. Oceans are being destroyed by overfishing, which is devastating entire marine ecosystems, while coastal fish farms are causing extensive pollution and wildlife decline.
– The most powerful step that we can take as individuals to avert global warming is to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.
- I am doing this for animal welfare reasons. Factory farming methods and standards around the world are sadly not what they are in Herefordshire and most of the UK! I imagine if most of us spent a day inside an abattoir we would be vegetarians before we could get out. And I don’t think sadly it matters whether you buy locally farmed, organic, free range or not – all meat consumption is increasing demand for meat and I don’t want to be a part of it any longer. If animal welfare was my only concern, then I could certainly ensure that I only buy responsibly farmed meat and dairy produce but unfortunately this is just an aside to the far greater and more urgent environmental reasons listed above, and so is not a solution.
And there are other things I hadn’t ever realised which I suppose are incredibly obvious when you think about it – I just never really had:
– Most dairy cows are forced to have a calf every year (which in itself seems rather cruel considering their calves are taken away within a day of being born so that we can have the milk). 100,000 male dairy calves (in the UK alone – so don’t even think about US stats!) are killed shortly after birth each year as there’s not enough demand for veal.
– 30 to 40 million male chicks (UK alone) are minced alive or gassed every year (this is completely legal and approved by both the Humane Slaughter Association and the RSPCA). I’ve seen the videos and it’s unbelievable!
The effects of livestock farming on global poverty I also hadn’t understood previously:
– There is more than enough food in the world to feed the entire human population yet there are more than billion people starving to death. Obviously there are various other factors at play here, including political corruption, farming subsidies, grain stores etc but our overwhelming demand for meat is largely responsible also. We funnel huge amounts of grain, soybeans, and corn through all the animals we use for food. If we stopped intensively breeding farmed animals and grew crops to feed humans instead, we could easily feed everyone on the planet with healthy and affordable vegetarian foods.
– If this trend continues, the developing world will never be able to produce enough food to feed itself, and hunger will continue to plague hundreds of millions of people around the globe. Author George Monbiot, writing in the U.K.’s The Guardian, explains that there’s only one solution: “It now seems plain that a vegan diet is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue”.
– This trend will contribute to continuing malnourishment in the developing world, global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and species extinction because more animals mean more crops are needed to feed them: the planet cannot feed both increasing human and farmed animal populations.
– So if we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more ‘energy-efficient’ and generally lessen our environmental impact, we must also examine the most important factor of our personal ecological footprint: what we eat.
Loads of love,
So that was nearly a year ago and those were my main reasons for making the change. I can now add several other points to that list, including;
I’ve come to see that our attitudes towards different animals are completely arbitrary and nonsensical and are merely a product of our upbringing and what we become used to – habit! We are used to seeing dogs, cats and horses as pets and wouldn’t dream of eating them and yet we look at cattle, sheep, pigs and chicken as food because we have been bought up to view them that way. When my girls (aged 4 and 3) are around animals they don’t make this distinction because it’s not a human instinct – it’s something that we learn. They don’t look at a pig and see food any more than they do when they look at a puppy – and quite rightly they would be horrified if I said “right poppet, pass me that knife would you, mama wants some bacon!”. Of course over time we become used to this process and we accept that animals need to die in order for us to thrive because we are told that we need milk and cheese for calcium and strong bones (not true), that we need meat for protein (not true). The only reasons we eat meat are that it tastes good, everyone does it and we’ve always done it. That’s it! And they are not justification for doing something that we instinctually know is wrong! We have just become so desensitised and switched off to the fact that millions of animals are being slaughtered behind closed doors so that we can have pepperoni on our pizza and steak frites. Yet there are very few people I know who are entirely comfortable with the idea of killing an animal – everyone would like it to be as painless and humane as possible and some are happy to do this themselves to ensure that it is, but it’s still not something anyone enjoys doing and if you did you would be referred to a psychiatrist to be looked at. So once you step outside of what you have grown to understand and know and look at it with fresh eyes, it is startlingly clear that the only reason we are able to be part of something so cruel and unnecessary is because we have been taught it from a young age by those we respect and admire. This is how the horrific events in history came about and I just don’t see how we can say in one breath that gassing people alive is evil beyond words and in the next say that it’s ok to gas millions more baby male chicks alive just so that we can eat chicken and eggs. I’m sorry to draw the comparison but I think its worth making. When you are brainwashed into thinking that doing something utterly unthinkable is necessary and acceptable then we are capable of behaving in a way we wouldn’t imagine possible otherwise. Slaughtering animals for no good reason is no different as far as I can see. Just because you’re not the one doing it does not make you any more unaccountable – if you’re consuming the products then you are merely paying someone else to do it for you.
About 3 weeks in I noticed my energy levels improving. I hadn’t had low energy levels before but suddenly I had buckets of energy and didn’t have those peaks and troughs throughout the day (which I’d always contributed to coffee, carbs etc). My bowel movements changed dramatically – without wanting to paint too full a picture, I became much more regular (same number as number of meals) and they were what Dr Gillian Mckeith would describe as “marvellous in every way!”. I’ve got clearer skin, I sleep better, I have a higher libido, think more clearly, feel more positive and I feel much happier in general. I also lost a stone quite quickly (within about 3 months) and haven’t lost a pound since so my weight stabilised very quickly. And I’ve never eaten more food or more carbs so all those potatoes and rice I’d been avoiding previously to stave off those extra pounds seems to be twaddle when it comes to me. I’m 5ft 10″ and did weigh between 10.5 and 11 stone (BMI of around 22) and now I’m between 9.5 and 10 stone (BMI of around 19). How much of this is psychosomatic and how much is real I have no idea – but the bowel movements and the weighing scales don’t lie!
Our weekly food shopping is much cheaper also as meat and cheese are jolly expensive (especially if you’re trying to buy organic, grass fed, free range etc). Replacing those items with more pulses, grains, fruit and veg is much better for you and much cheaper.
Because being vegan is something you’re aware of regularly throughout the day – every time you have a drink, a snack, a meal etc – I’ve found that the constant reminder of your principles and values and the constant opportunity to exercise personal choice has made me much more mindful in other aspects of my life. I feel much more aware of the effects that our choices make and have found myself being much more proactive than I ever used to be – buying local and organic as much as possible, camping holidays instead of a flight abroad, switching to a mooncup, installing a composting bin, taking the bus instead of driving places more often, being more inventive with leftovers than I used to be, having less baths and quicker showers, supporting an independent coffee stall instead of Starbucks, buying second hand as much as possible, supporting ethically minded companies more etc. The list goes on and of course I’m not saying I always make these decisions – but certainly a lot more than I used to and I think of the impact of my decisions every time I set out to buy something.
The social side of veganism I have found by far the hardest challenge. I’ll talk about in more detail in another post but there have been lots of tricky situations – many of which I’ve handled terribly! I had not foreseen what a hugely contentious issue it would be for so many people and I certainly hadn’t accounted for how many people would take my being vegan as some sort of personal attack on their lifestyles and choices (which it certainly is not!). More of that later… but on the plus side, I have had so many engaging, fascinating, heated, passionate, enlightening conversations over the past year that even if I were to give it all up tomorrow, it would have been a really worthwhile experiment in that regard alone.
I don’t think I would have got through the first year if it wasn’t for Ed doing this too. I would have crumbled at the first dinner invitation or disapproving gaze from an aged aunt…! Thank goodness we both felt exactly the same way about it. We’ve debated it endlessly and continue to do so and it’s been a really fun and engaging project for us to share together. We’ve changed our style of cooking entirely and our cupboards are completely unrecognisable from what they were a year ago. We’ve spent weekends experimenting with recipes and evenings scouring out the best vegan food in London. We now spend less money on food (both at home and out) but more time planning and experimenting and more time in the kitchen together chopping, preparing, cooking and chatting. So I’m really grateful for having the perfect teammate and also very aware of how much harder and less enjoyable it would have been on my own. So thank you – I love you so much and am so bloody relieved we seem to be leaning in the same direction! x