A Vegetarian Journey

Submitted by Laurie

Born in Melbourne during the 1950s to a working class family, lamb chops, overcooked cheap cuts of steak, rabbit stew or roast chicken with plenty of boiled vegetables & mashed potatoes were staples. One of my own father’s favourites was dripping (congealed animal fat) slathered on bread. We always shared our lives with dogs and cats, and were encouraged to be compassionate towards our fellow creatures, even though we ate some of them on a daily basis.

In those days vegetarianism was unheard of in our circles and only hippies would be weird enough to forgo the consumption of meat. Surely these creatures were incapable of rational thought, emotions like joy or pain, loss or anguish? Even goldfish were so vapid & devoid of memory, they could happily live all their lives in a small glass bowl. Their actions were purely driven by instinct alone, or so we were led to believe. I have since seen so many instances of play in birds for example, as well as intelligence and emotion in all sorts of higher organisms, that it defies belief that any thinking person could still adopt these outmoded viewpoints.

In my teens I was apprenticed as a commercial cook and spent the next 12 years in this vocation. During this time I butchered, cooked and ate many birds, animals and fish, with barely a thought for what they may have gone through during their lives and just prior to their slaughter.

As the years went by it slowly dawned on me that what I was doing was intrinsically wrong and I became more uncomfortable with the concept of animal husbandry and meat consumption. By the time my daughter was born I had given up eating birds and animals but was still consuming fish and other marine life occasionally. My daughter’s immediate family were leading a vegetarian life style, which influenced my decision to take the next step.

In 1998 I was visiting friends in Victoria, staying on their property in a rural district. One evening we attended a family get together where fish was consumed. That was the last time I ever willingly ate fish again. I had questioned for some time why I avoided eating one higher organism but still chose to eat another. The time had come to stop questioning and to act, especially being aware of the over-harvesting of marine creatures on this planet.

Reading books like “The Pig who sang to the Moon” and “Committed” for example have also helped to reinforce my resolve. For many years I had nightmares dreaming that I was eating meat. I always woke with such relief that it was only a nightmare, as the core feeling was one of overwhelming guilt. It has been some time now since I dreamt those dreams thank goodness.

On a family skiing holiday in New Zealand a few years back we stayed with friends on a dairy farm during the calving season. We were appalled to discover that of the 1250 calves taken from their mothers soon after birth approximately 1000 were trucked off to be slaughtered for pet food at around 3 days of age. Their mothers have been selectively bred to produce more milk than they would normally and their enlarged udders cause a host of other physical problems for them. Similarly some breeds of European beef cattle have very restricted movement after centuries of selective breeding aimed at muscle mass and weight. These are just two examples – there are many more. We have much to answer to.

CC BY USDAgov

CC BY USDAgov

A conflict that I share with others is the keeping of carnivores, such as dogs and cats as traditional animal companions. These animals are biologically pre-disposed to consume meat. By keeping them in such high numbers we are dooming many other creatures such as horses, cattle, sheep, kangaroos and poultry to often short, exploited lives and/or a sad ending. Some people choose to feed their “pets” a vegetarian diet as well but I’m not convinced that this is fair to them. Perhaps we should give more thought to selecting herbivores or omnivores as our animal companions? What about a pig, goat, duck or turkey?

I cannot call myself vegan yet but have substantially reduced dairy products and eggs in my diet. I have the greatest admiration for vegans, as I do for anyone who either chooses to avoid eating a particular creature or minimise their consumption of higher organisms, dairy foods, eggs or the wearing of leather and other animal products.

Every small step can make a difference.

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