I made an important decision recently; to give up meat… mostly.
I hope to gradually move towards vegan, but right now that seems overwhelmingly difficult. Instead I have come up with what I term moderate vegetarianism. This means:
- I will be cutting meat out of my chosen diet; when I’m cooking at home I will not be making myself a portion of food containing meat and will be substituting with other protein-rich foods. However, as I will still be cooking for my husband and kids I will be ensuring that the saved money go towards more ethical sources of meat for their meals, ideally local, organic, from animal-friendly and free-range farms. I know there are farmers who care a huge amount about the animals they breed, and do so with the utmost respect for life and good treatment. I’m not about judging anyone for their choices, but I will be sharing some of my successes, encouragements, and good sources to anyone who might be interested.
- I will be eating fish and seafood, but again trying to buy only sustainable types, ideally line caught, local, and gradually cut down moving forwards.
- I will be eating minimal dairy. My house is already mostly dairy-free; the most I have is the occasional cheese shaving, and the guilty treat of a fairtrade Ben & Jerry’s, and even my ice cream may soon be vegan making me super happy. Oh, and chocolate because I’m pretty much addicted. All dairy I do get is ideally already local, organic, fairtrade, etc.
- I will be eating eggs, local, free-range, happy chicken eggs. I have also started looking into chicken rescue (BHWT) so I could be sure my diet was only arriving through happy hens and not cruel cages or cramped barns, and again use would be limited to whatever they provided, therefore voicing consumer protest at potentially cruel industries.
- If someone has cooked for me and was unaware of this choice I am not going to waste the food they provided; the judgement and waste does nothing to help the environmental impact of meat farming, nor help people feel like I care about their lives and choices. If I have choices then great, and if it comes to portions I can keep meat at a minimum. This is about my choice, not force an intolerant campaign on those I love.
- I will also be keeping an important eye on my protein and iron levels. As a breastfeeding mum of a 5m/o I do not wish to put either of us in any danger out of a lack of information or consideration.
Why am I bothering to write all this? Because honestly it still feels a little strange, like it’s a confession I need to release, like an addict in a group I’m making a choice to give up something that most find a normal part of everyday life. There is some benefit to this, of course, people knowing in advance means not being repeatedly offered a bacon butty. The less people offer me things I would otherwise have enjoyed, the easier it will be to stay on this track. It is strange though that I feel the need to justify my choices, like I’m inconveniencing others by me not wanting to put specific things in my mouth.
I must admit that I miss meat, but weirdly in the kind of nostalgic way that tries to convince me it was better than it was. I seem to miss the meal that the meat was a part of and as I haven’t *yet* found a substitute I think I miss the option. For example, I make a damn good slow-roast lamb covered in herbs and garlic, crispy and juicy and just the right level of pink. I’ve used paprika and orange before. I make gravy and stock out of the juices and bones. Alongside steamed veg and roast potatoes it is a meal that presents well and will feed a large family easily and well. Yet, the part I miss is the crispiness, the herbs, the textures, and the truth is I can do that with alternative dishes. Likewise, a favourite lasagna recipe full of herbs, Mediterranean veg, mixed mushrooms, and spice is not tasty because of the meat, and I’m pretty sure I can do just as well without it. I just have to try.
I’ve also noticed that I actually sleep better and wake up easier when I abstain. I assumed this was a fluke until I enjoyed a blip of sausage and root vegetable mash. I found it so much more difficult to wake up the next morning, my body was heavier, I felt lethargy linger into the morning. In a way this makes sense; that post-Christmas dinner nap, or Sunday afternoon snooze could have something to do with those meat-heavy meals that are traditional in our society. A light lunch of greens and fruit quite literally lighter.
The downside will always be choice. I found most frustratingly that travelling into London avoiding dairy meant a struggle to find anything more than unappetising cheese sandwiches, and without the time to run into one of the two Veggie Prets that have opened recently, I was low on options and pretty hungry before I broke and found a chicken sandwich and fruit flapjack in the garden outside the House of Lords. When there are eight choices but none of them are vegetarian it leaves you feeling a little annoyed at the world. I am trying to make a difference, I was pretty sure I came late to the table, and yet the world still seems to only see meat as the main ingredient in savoury food items.
This has to change if we are going to make a long-lasting effect for our world. We will need to alter our habits and minds to view the food on our plate as a meal whether or not it is centred around a lump of protein. It is a habit only seen in countries wealthy enough to expect meat; most of the world just can’t afford to kill an animal purely for the meat. They may collect eggs and dairy, or animals may be used still to plough fields or carry tools, but meat lasts such a short last that it’s not worth losing the benefits found elsewhere. Would you choose to eat one roast chicken or an egg a day for a year?
This comes close to explaining why I am doing this. The economic and environmental impact of the mass meat production in our society is logically ridiculous. We have the privilege of enjoying such options because we have the money to do so and the ignorance of the worldwide effect (or at least the ability to ignore things easy enough to be comfortable). I can’t ignore it anymore whilst simultaneously encouraging others to try just a little bit harder in our everyday life. While watching an interview with women from the Black Lives Matter team, where one of them reminded the audience that the truth of global warming and climate change is far more evident to poorer populations in the world who just happen to be mostly black. By saying that I wasn’t willing to at least try to make sacrifices in my life I would also be suggesting that my own comfort and preferences were more important than the lives, health, and survival, of people I claim to see as my equal. I can decrease my waste, attempt boycotting plastic, grow my own fruit and vegetables, forage for natural resources, protect the bee population, and drive electric cars all powered by sustainable energy. And yet, so long as my burger is using the equivalent to a year’s worth of showers in water, and so long as grain and vegetable resources are going to feed pigs in China rather than people, and so long as the proper standard of husbandry (where animals are cared for and respected for the food they provide) is lost on the hunt for higher profits, tighter efficiency, and greater yield causing greater pain and suffering for the animals and staff involved, the less I can justify my consumption.
I know that there are incredible farmers who do care greatly for their animals. I know too that there are chicken and duck owners who simply collect the eggs they produce while wandering freely across open ground. I know beekeepers who desperately want their bees to thrive, be happy and healthy, and try hard to protect their numbers. I know that traditionally dairy was something of a bonus from breeding animals that acted as team members, and mutton was something you’d get when a sheep died naturally after providing wool for years before. I know that we are meant to be stewards of the earth, not abusers of it. Until I can be sure that the sources I am gaining products from are ethical and environmentally sustainable, I will be abstaining as much as possible.
We only have one earth. We only have one chance to look after it. We cannot survive without the resources it provides. It can survive very well without us.