In January this year, I participated in ‘Veganuary‘, a month-long campaign run by the British vegan organisation of the same name. I’d already been a vegan for a year, but I thought I’d participate anyway, just to see what else I might learn and to lend my support to the cause. A few months ago, the folks at Veganuary asked if I’d be willing to describe what led to my decision to become a vegan. Here’s the essence of what I sent them…
I was a meat-eater till I was seven or eight years old. My mum decided to stop eating meat for health reasons and, I think, for religious reasons. So I never learned to cook it and I didn’t eat it again until I was in my early twenties and decided to see what all the fuss was about, and because I had realised that the choice to be vegetarian hadn’t really been mine. I could remember enjoying the meat meals my mum had prepared when I was tiny, but I enjoyed her vegetarian meals just as much. So I tried some steak on a flight to Sydney once – it was as tough as boots and that was the end of my meat-eating experiment, for the time being.
I was thirty-three when I met my husband, who’d been a meat-eater all his life. He was happy to eat whatever vegetarian meals I prepared, and he would prepare meat-based meals when he felt like some meat. I’d partake in what he’d prepared from time to time, but wasn’t really into it. I never liked the texture of meat, particularly red meat. Plus, I’d always been quietly glad that I wasn’t participating in the slaughter of animals (or so I thought – I didn’t know then what I know now about dairy), so I was never what you’d call an enthusiastic meat eater.
Somewhere in my late thirties, I came across some information about the dairy industry – how the cows are bred with udders so large that hip problems and torn ligaments are inevitable; and that they take the calves away and slaughter them. I knew first-hand how strongly bonded cows were to their calves, as we’d had a dairy cow when I was a kid. I used to milk her when I was about eight. We kept her calf until she was a good size and the calf lived in the same paddock as her mother. (I’ve never asked what happened to either cow or calf. I suspect I know the answer.) So we shared the milk with the calf, I guess. Even knowing about that intense maternal bond, when I read about the cruelty inherent in dairy farming, I was somehow able to look away, to distance myself from it. I was too reliant on having dairy products in my life. I guess I also felt a kind of right in that ‘well, at least I’m vegetarian’.
In 2013, a remarkable dog, Monty, came into our lives. The two years he spent with us were life changing for both my husband and me, in so many ways. The story of that time is the substance of a book I’m writing. A few weeks after he died, well before his time at only seven-and-a-half years of age, something changed in me. By this time, which was late December 2015, I’d been a card-carrying member of Animals Australia for about six months, having heard about the organisation via Peter Singer’s book, The Most Good You Can Do, but I was still eating dairy and eggs. Over the Christmas break at the end of 2015, I finally spent some time reading and watching the material in the info pack Animals Australia had sent me when I joined. I guess it was the right time for me to finally drop animal products entirely, because from that time on, I’ve been vegan. I fully credit Monty with this change. Somehow, having loved him as intensely as I had – an intensity of love I’d never experienced before with either human or animal (including my husband, and don’t worry, he feels the same!) – I could no longer ignore what I knew about the cruelty of animal production.
Interestingly, Monty’s previous owner, who had stayed in his life even after we’d adopted him from her (long story), had the same reaction to his death. And she’d been a meat eater her whole life. So for her, it was an even bigger change, but she had some support from her sister and brother-in-law, who’d also made the switch to a vegan lifestyle some time earlier. Again, it was Monty who prompted her choice. Quite astonishing. We both believe that souls never die (neither human nor animal souls), and we believe he’s definitely been influencing our decisions.
It took my husband a while to understand that I wasn’t going to eat dairy or eggs anymore, but he gets it now. He’s still a meat eater but I notice he no longer buys bacon (I showed him an Animals Australia video of a piglet going through the horrors that factory-farmed piglets go through in their first few days of life). He also started buying vegan mince and brewing up a nice big pot of chilli non-carne for our dinners on occasion. I really appreciate that.
I do miss dairy cheese, for sure. The substitutes are getting better but still have a way to go. I’ve tried loads of different ones and I’ve found an almond feta I quite like, and a cheddar-style one based on coconut oil, but none of the ones that claim to melt actually do melt like real cheese, in my experience. But I’ve just decided not to worry about it. I can live without properly melted cheese.
We still have dogs, and of course, they eat meat, which I feel conflicted about. I’ve thought and read about vegan dog food but even the producers of such food say it’s unfair to expect a dog who’s eaten meat-based food all its life to switch to vegan food. So for now, we continue to feed them meat. But at least I’m vegan, and my husband has definitely cut down on his meat intake (even though he’s made no official pronouncement to that effect), so as a household, we’re doing what we can for animals.
So, the summary is that it took me about eight years to switch from vegetarianism to veganism, even knowing what I knew about dairy. It took some kind of event – Monty’s death – to trigger the change.
If you’re thinking about reducing your reliance on animal products but don’t really know how to go about it, visit Veganuary for helpful info, vegan recipes, profiles of vegan celebrities, and more. Animals Australia also has a free vegetarian starter kit to help you find delicious and nutritious alternatives to meat, dairy and even eggs.