Why I’m going to go vegan ... with some exceptions
Yes I know it sounds fishy, but meat me halfway
Something terrible is happening to me. I know too much to ignore it any more, I’ve reached the tipping point. It's like being in a bad relationship, when you go from self-delusion to preparing for a breakup. But, this is bigger than that. This is meat. I can’t continue with the pleasure of self-deception any longer, because the deception is no longer pleasurable. The fact is that eating meat, the way we eat it, is really, really bad for us. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out. Firstly, I’m not an animal lover. In fact, I would almost consider myself at best, an animal disliker. They smell bad. Secondly, I’m a chef. I need butter. I love meat. I can’t imagine a kitchen without stocks. Cheese is the bottom layer of my personal food pyramid. I judge vegans with a judgment usually reserved only for religious zealots.And now I’m strongly considering becoming one of them. A vegan, not a religious zealot. Or at least a part time vegan, or a vegan with exceptions. I have no problem consuming meat, I don’t think humans were meant to be vegetarian. It is definitely not going to be cheaper and I don’t think I’ll suddenly become waif skinny. A vegan meal can be a can of Coca-Cola and a packet of potato chips. I’m sure being vegan can be healthier, and eating a lot of vegetables will be good for me. I’ll contribute less to carbon emissions, but honestly, that’s not it. Look, I even watched Earthlings and aside from being disturbing it didn’t really do the trick.
This is because of something worse. I’ve finally understood something that I had learned a long time ago but never grasped. The way we produce meat is wrong. We’ve gone beyond husbandry to treating animals as if they feel as little as a head of lettuce. The food system acts as if animals are brain dead. I don’t know, or want to argue, to what degree animals are conscious, but it is beyond argument that they have instincts, and I would argue that the smarter ones form thoughts and make decisions. All dogs will shake their fur when wet, baby turtles know to head for the sea. Calves know to suckle. Furthermore, they feel pain; it is a survival mechanism built in to protect you from dying. Every animal has the will to live, and pain is a necessary feature of keeping things alive. The food system producing meat has disregarded the physical and mental state of its captives completely.The way we are raising animals, through intensive farming of pigs, chickens and cows, treats animals as if they are devoid of receiving sensory input. When vegans obnoxiously say eating meat is cruel, they are wrong. Eating meat is not inherently cruel, but treating animals as if they were vegetables or factory parts is wrong. There is no way that the lives of these animals is not lived in, at best, extreme discomfort and, at worst, demented misery. It is not how they die (although slaughtering processes are also dubious), or that they die so we can eat them, it is how they live that is the problem, for me. I’m honestly surprised when people say foie gras is barbaric, or that it's cruel, when every other animal is being treated with approximate violence. For me, it is also no good to stop eating meat but keep eating dairy and eggs, because they all come from the same animals living the same really bad lives.I know there are ethical farms, with healthier animals, but I haven’t been buying that stuff, and I currently eat meat almost every day, which I cannot afford if it is all organic, grass fed and free range. Plus, because the food system is not transparent enough to reassure me as to what degree their lives are better, I feel distrustful of the industrialisation of the system.With fish, it is no different. To put it simply we have become better at catching them. And fish farms are not nearly as effective as land-based agriculture. Think about it like this: there used to be wild animals everywhere, and then we hunted them and now there are few. Fish used to be protected because we couldn’t get to them to the same degree that we can catch them now. Trawling them, and other mass-catching methods, is going to wipe them out. It’s mass extinction looming. I don’t want to be part of that either.So, I’m left in the predicament of loving meat, and facing a future in which I will be eating a lot less of it. I think I’m going to become some sort of new vegan subsection, an urban vegan. It’s the easiest line for me to draw. As a chef, I know I can’t really trust prepackaged animal protein from supermarkets. Butchers are potentially trustworthy, but what I would prefer is to do it myself. On our family farm, I will eat lamb from sheep I can see roaming freely from my window. Likewise, I’ll happily fillet a fish I caught with my flyfishing rod in Dullstroom. Meat from game shot by hunters I know personally will be acceptable. Wild food. In the same vein I will not be eating vegan sausages, or ubiquitous frozen vegan burger patties. I’m dreading cashew “cheese”.
But most of all, I’m going to really, really miss butter.