Until my fifties, I was an enthusiastic meat-eater. I had always felt vaguely uncomfortable about this, aware as I was of the multiple evils of industrialised agricultural farming, and I tried to eat free-range chicken or game when I could. Beyond that conscience-appeasing concession, I did not allow myself to think too much about what I was eating.
Then one day, into my Facebook feed dropped a short video of an aging farmer’s son, reciting a poem, with cows grazing contentedly in the rural background. He spoke of “the broken piece of body on my fork”. Of how parents are passing on our addiction to “eating the dead” to our children. He likened our desensitisation to the suffering of animals to attitudes that existed towards the oppression of humanity in far-too-recent history. And suddenly something slotted into place for me. What I had always known became real-ised (made real) in that instant. I could no longer separate the truth of the suffering of animals, plus ecological disaster and starvation for millions of other human beings, from what I put in my mouth several times each week.
I tried to eat meat once more after that, but “the broken piece of body on my fork” took on the power of a mantra. After 50+ years of denial, I could not experience it as anything other than the decomposing flesh of a fellow creature who had lived a life of torment and died horribly for my ravenous appetite.
And so it has remained. To think of eating crispy chicken skin, or picking a carcass clean, which used to bring such pleasure, is horrible to me now, because skin has become skin. A carcass has become a carcass.
I knew a combat veteran who told me he woke up one day as if from a trance and real-ised the atrocities he had committed toward other human beings he had viewed somehow as a separate species; that he had to view them thus in order to be able to justify killing them. I can never imagine the horror of his experiences, or compare mine to his, except to say what I experienced was also an awakening, as if from a trance, after I heard that poem.
My journey from vegetarian to vegan took a further 18 months. I liked cheese, very much. Although I used plant-based milk on my cereal, I “needed” cow’s milk in my coffee. Eggs were OK, surely? I only ever bought free-range.
But my conscience had found its voice, and reminded me, late at night, of the long-ago late-night bellowing of mother cows whose calves had been taken from them. When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, and later breast-feeding her, the crying of these other mothers in the intimate early hours distressed me. But empathy departed in the light of day, as I drank the creamy milk their babies never could, delivered by the kind farmer next door, still warm from swollen udders.
Ultimately, health problems led me to trying veganism for a month. I told myself I could go back at any time. The first two weeks were challenging. All I wanted was cheese! Soft-boiled eggs paraded before my eyes, seductively spilling their yokes. A young vegan friend mentored, and sometimes counselled, me through those first cold-turkey days. (Pun intended!) When out for meals I told people “I’m trying out being vegan” then, realising this implied a temporary experiment, switched to “I’m vegan now”.
And then I was.
Transitioning to a Vegan Diet
It was hard work at first. As a vegetarian, most standard dishes could be adapted. Not so much with vegan meals.
A holiday in Albania inspired me to use fresh tomatoes, aubergines and prolific herbs to create simple, gorgeous dishes. I designed nutritious, delicious soups and smoothies. When I discovered that ground cashew nuts deliver a rich, creamy, entirely cruelty-free lusciousness when added to absolutely anything, my happiness – and conversion – was complete.
It’s easy to be vegan these days. Coconut and cashew products are ubiquitous. Many cafes have soya, oat and almond milk – and vegan cake to die for! There are so many varieties of vegan desserts, ice cream and chocolate that bad habits can be maintained unhindered. While as delicious as their commercial counterparts, they often lack refined sugar and harmful fat. (I am now cutting down on these, but have enormously enjoyed experimenting and being continually pleasantly surprised).
The biggest surprise of all has been how differently I feel about the world and my place in it since I’ve been vegan. No longer denying my conscience or connectedness with other living creatures in order to make it possible to eat them, I experience my own existence in a new, more vital way, as part of a whole, incredible – oh, I’m going to say it – Circle of Life. Becoming vegan brought me “ home”, after 56 years, to the truest sense of who I really am. A new level of compassion has flooded my life; for the other beings of the world, and for myself too.
If anyone had told me, just a year ago, that I would enjoy a vegan diet more than I have ever enjoyed food before, I would have laughed. But it’s the truth. At 57, I am living proof that it’s never too late for radical change!
Each November, Animal Aid offers The Great Vegan Challenge – an invitation to go vegan for a month, with a free pack of great resources and support from them. If, like me a year ago, your conscience isn’t completely clear – or your health could use a boost – or both – why not give it a go?
For so many reasons, it might be the best change you ever make!