Last November I met a goat by the name of Rusty. We didn’t hit it off – he was somewhat taciturn and domineering in nature – but he was possessed of such gravitas as to ensure a lasting impression on me.
I was visiting Rusty at his home at Edgar’s Mission, a couple of hours north of Melbourne, so as to give him and his horned, feathered and hoofed companions a meal and help out with cleaning.
Rusty was the first of many rescued farm animals I met that day who struck me with their distinctive personalities, emotional depth and intelligence. Of course I had met many a dog and cat with more character than a Dickensian villain, but – urban-dweller that I am – I did not expect a chicken to stare me down with a penetrating gaze, nor a pig to sidle up to me with a coy pout soliciting a pat.
As I stood in a field doling out Wheat Bix to gaily bleating sheep with tails intact (yes, sheep do have tails) I realised that “farm animal” is a human categorisation, and was somewhat abashed to acknowledge that I, a lifelong vegetarian and animal lover, had allowed this categorisation to shape my perception of certain animals as more valuable/interesting/affectionate/lovable/intelligent than others.
I spent the day attending to abused and neglected farm animals who, despite having been treated with unspeakable cruelty, have largely recovered and learned to trust humans. Even Rusty, who had been taught by his former owners to ram everyone and everything, agreed to a truce with me.
There was something profound about seeing these animals taken out of a traditional “use and consume” farm context, for at Edgar’s Mission it’s the human volunteers who labour while pig, cow, goat, sheep, chicken, horse, duck and donkey simply live out their lives giving homo-sapiens nothing but the pleasure of their company.
Although I lived with a vegan activist for two years who spent her evenings liberating all manner of creatures from farms, factories, houses and laboratories – one morning I awoke to discover 100 house guests of the fluffy tailed, long-eared variety in her bedroom – I had never truly considered her dietary choice and the reasons behind it.
A vegetarian since birth, I was nonetheless guilty of seeing vegans as extreme, unhealthy, intolerant and self-righteous. Of course many are, but so are many vegetarians, meat-eaters, Christians, Muslims, Jews, conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, et cetera.
There at Edgar’s Mission I was forced to confront the implications of my fondness for all things dairy. The unpalatable truth, I was made to understand, is that cows do not simply share their over-abundant milk.
The dairy industry keeps them in an almost constant state of pregnancy so as to produce a continuous supply of milk. Calves are separated from their mothers within hours of birth and either slaughtered or given milk replacer.
For further harrowing detail, I subjected myself to an afternoon of googling the dairy industry and was shocked by the suffering it took to deliver me a tub of yoghurt. As if the guilt of supporting an industry perpetuating animal cruelty wasn’t enough, it would seem I was also supporting an industry massively contributing to environmental degradation and climate change.
For someone who obsessively turns off power points and light switches, who cycles doggedly through smog, rain and road-rage, and who would gladly swap democracy for a Bob Brown led dictatorship, this was simply too much to bear.
I’ve now been vegan for 9 months. I have honestly not found it difficult and if anything, I’m healthier and I eat more interesting food – although it certainly helps that I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Living in the Inner-West of Sydney also helps, in that I have plenty of vegan friendly options for eating out and places to buy supplies of the soy/mock variety.
Certain foodstuffs and kitchen appliances have been instrumental in making the transition to veganism, namely:
- Soy products (tofu, tempeh, cheese) and mock meat
- Non dairy milk – rice, almond, coconut, quinoa, soy
- Flaxseed meal (the ultimate egg replacer in baking)
- Beans of every description emotionally, psychologically and sensorially fill the gaping hole left in my diet by the absence of cheese
- Food processor – there is much diversity and deliciousness to be had in dips, nut butter and soup
- Ice cream machine – for me a world without ice cream is not a world worth living in, and it’s so easy to make amazing vegan ice cream
The irony of being drawn to veganism by a tempestuous goat with a penchant for ramming people is palpable. Everyone has different catalysts. I’m glad I didn’t have to write about visiting an abattoir to explain mine.