I became vegetarian when I was 8. I don’t really remember what my reasons were but my parents’ tell me it happened after I watched Dr Doolittle and was won over by his persuasive songs. This may well have been the case but all I remember is one simple thought that has stayed with me for the last 23 years…
‘It is wrong to cause suffering for pleasure.’
I don’t know where this thought came from and I don’t know why I attached it to the idea of killing animals – maybe I was surprisingly literate and heard it was wrong to kill a mockingbird, who knows. It is such a simple idea that I am still to this day amazed that people feel the need to ask me the same question
‘Why don’t you eat meat?’
Isn’t it obvious?
‘It is wrong to cause suffering for pleasure.’
People who eat meat always look shocked if you reverse the question and ask ‘Why DO you eat meat?’ as though that is not a conscious choice and I can only imagine for many of them this is the case. I find this truly startling. Something as important as whether you are going to be responsible for the death of other creatures isn’t even something you are going to make a decision about? You are not going to consider it? You were brought up eating meat and so that’s OK? Odd. It is similar to those people who are convinced the one True faith is the one they just happen to have been brought up in. What a coincidence…
When meat eaters are confronted by their decision to eat animals they tend to come out with the same excuses. That is fine with me. I have more respect for those people who have thought about NOT eating meat and decided to continue than those who have never considered it at all. I guess it is because I remained a vegetarian for so long before going vegan. Some of the arguments they give are the same that I would have done (health, money, lack of knowledge). I thought it might be worth considering some of them here.
All the vegans I know are self-righteous and preachy. This is one I most often encounter online (big shout out to all the Guardian Word of Mouth crowd). This is a simple argument to counter. ‘Don’t be one of them. It isn’t catching’. It also isn’t true of course. Most vegans don’t bring the subject up unless asked but I guess no one likes their world view being challenged.
It isn’t healthy. This is what I believed for a while when I was stayed vegetarian. I had been brought up believing that calcium only came from milk and that I needed protein from eggs. A healthy vegan diet needs some thought and planning, but that any diet should have some thought and planning anyway. A balanced vegan diet is as healthy as any other balanced diet, and because you are pushing meat and dairy off your plate there is a lot more space for nutrient dense vegetables and fruits that come with fewer side effects.
It isn’t natural. I love this argument, often heard now grunted by followers of the Paleo diet. What is ‘natural’? It is probably natural for us to steal, rape and murder, we make the ethical decision not to do these things. I don’t really care what we had to eat thousands of years ago, I care about what we can eat now. The fact that we no longer have to cause suffering to animals to survive is something we should celebrate. One argument that comes along here is B12. This vitamin isn’t in a vegan diet. It is produced by bacteria that gets consumed by animals (usually in the form of a supplement added to their feed) and then gets into humans that way. Skip the middle man and take the supplement yourself.
It is expensive. At the moment a lot of food is expensive and a vegan diet can be as expensive as any other if you want to eat well and have a lot of variety. However it doesn’t have to be expensive. No Meat Athlete had an excellent post a while ago extolling the virtue of ‘A Grain, A Green and A Bean’ cooking. This is incredibly cheap and incredibly healthy. It may well be that there are people out there in LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Countries) who cannot afford to follow a vegan diet, let us be thankful that we are not one of them!
It isn’t a solution to all the environmental problems of the world. No kidding. It certainly solves some of the huge problems created by the animal farming industry but no, of course it isn’t perfect. Let’s not pretend it is – it is a small step towards treading lightly.
Vegan food is boring. Only as boring as the person cooking it. I have never eaten a more varied diet. It forces you to look as food in a new way and try new things. Each meal now is a celebration and the food feels good as well as tastes delicious. This is probably the hardest point to explain to anyone who hasn’t tried it, and is a very different feeling to going from omnivore to vegetarian. It is a radical change in the way you are cooking. There are some really exciting cookbooks out there to give you inspiration (Isa Chandra and Bryant Terry are two of my favourites).
My friend tried it and… Well, your friend was probably an idiot. OK, a little harsh. When I was a vegetarian I didn’t have the knowledge to convert to veganism. I tried it and failed a couple of times. I didn’t understand enough about nutrition, I didn’t know enough about meal planning and I guess I didn’t have the will power. Going vegan isn’t easy but it is not as difficult as you may think. There are loads of great resources out there to get you started and thousands of people just waiting to offer help and support.
What do people say to you if you don’t eat meat? And if you chose to eat meat, can you explain why?