I'm a meat-lover - and a vegan
I’m a meat-lover and a vegan. The idea of chomping down on some rare flesh doesn’t disgust me, it delights me.
Well, it used to. Now it’s been a while. I didn’t stop eating meat because I didn’t like it - I loved it! I stopped eating meat because I couldn’t justify it any more.
I loved the rich smell, the chewy texture, the greasy mouth-feel. I loved the familiarity of the recipes and the routine of special occasion meaty meals. I had a poster-child, Kiwi-as upbringing of summers on the boat fishing, holidays on the dairy farm, spring days for lamb docking. I loved it and had no interest in changing.
After 20-something years a dog-patting, pig-eating lass I went on a research mission to prove someone wrong and validate my own behaviour. No-one was more surprised than I was when I converted. I’d intended to mock the vegetable Kool Aid, but I came out drinking it.
It was a big decision to take dead animals off my plate. I had to take the emotion out of my habits and lay the facts on the table, spread out like a deck of cards to be examined.
The facts I couldn’t escape; we are eating tonnes of meat. Kiwis are some of the biggest meat consumers in world, an average of more than 100 kilograms a year per person. The global population is increasing, set to be over 8.5 billion in less than 15 years. Producing tons of animal products is inefficient in terms of energy to food conversion and it's wrecking the environment. We’ve now crossed the mark in New Zealand where more than half our waterways are deemed unsafe to swim, with the biggest polluter being the agriculture industry.
Then there’s our own health. Eating animals is harming it. With heart disease the biggest killer in NZ, we’re blindly continuing to eat the very foods linked with this disease. The World Health Organisation categorises processed red meat, such as bacon, as a group one carcinogen, the same category as cigarettes and asbestos.
Then there’s how we treat animals. More than 100 million animals are factory farmed in NZ each year, in revolting conditions, fearful, in pain, wanting to escape as they are killed. None of us would send our beloved family dog to the slaughterhouse and we all know why: because what happens in there is horrific.
I used to think only vegans wore coloured glasses, distorting their view of the world. What I didn’t realise is I’d been wearing contact lenses all along too, since birth. When I took them out, everything looked different. My old favourite, lamb rack, now made me think of eating my pet cat's ribs. Cracking an egg made me think of the baby boy chick, the brother of the laying hen, who got minced alive at 1 day old because he would never lay eggs. A glass of milk made me see the two million bobby calves whose throats we slit, so I could drink their mothers' milk.
So the husband and I tossed the old recipe books, overhauled the pantry and explored new corners of the supermarket. After 18 months we did blood screens, just in case imminent death-by-chickpeas was on the cards. It wasn’t. Three years on, we’re healthier than ever.
I was always happy in kitchen, but now I’m a better cook. More creative cooking and international cuisine means we eat a more varied, seasonal and cheaper diet; Italian, South American, Middle Eastern, Indian and Thai are some favourites. There’s also meat-free-meat, which we gleefully inhale. What’s available in NZ is currently plant-based meat, made of various vegetable proteins, packing the same nutritional punch.
People ask why I enjoy plant-based meat - why not just eat meat, the ‘real thing’? I grin and ask why they play car racing games. Why not hoon down the main street doing 120kms, the 'real thing’? It’s obvious that sometimes the ‘real thing’ is harmful. So the closest version of the fun with none of the dead pedestrians - or slaughtered animals, in my case - is what I’m keen on.
It’s not weird, when you think about it. It’s the obvious thing to do. Being meat-free makes you the opposite of a meat-head. When I put it all together - the environmental damage, the health effects, the animal cruelty - my defence of “yeah, but it’s yum” seemed pretty weak.
I had a childhood of blissful ignorance chomping down animals, but it came time for me to grow up and take some responsibility. We need to eat but we can’t afford to poison the planet. There’s no excuse to needlessly breed millions of animals into existence with the express purpose of horrifically killing them a short time later. As a planet, we need to do the same; grow up and get pragmatic.
- Stuff Nation