This needs to be said before anything else: this post is absolutely not intended as a criticism of people who eat meat, or other animal products. I don’t think being vegan/vegetarian makes you a good person, and I don’t think eating meat makes you a bad person. Everybody is different, everybody has individual circumstances and needs that I would not even dream of passing judgement on. I wrote this as an exploration of my own dietary changes, and some of the stuff that went on in my head to cause those changes. You might completely disagree with me and my reasoning, and that’s okay! I promise not to take it personally if you don’t! Now, with that disclaimer in place…
I never decided to stop eating meat. I didn’t stand at the oven, stirring a Bolognese sauce and thinking, “Farewell my beloved, this is the last time we can be together.” I almost wish I had – I feel like that relationship didn’t get the closure it deserved. I didn’t go to the shop one day with the decision in mind that this was it, no more meat going forward. Leaving aside my own feelings on meat, I don’t live on my own, and so my weekly meals weren’t solely up to me. In theory I could have started cooking meat-free meals just for myself, but I like sharing a meal with Partner of an evening! And I didn’t fancy doubling my cooking workload, so I looked for a compromise.
We switched to higher-welfare chicken as a way to support better quality of life for farmed animals, a move I was determined to make in the hopes I would feel like less of a hypocrite. Perhaps ironically, the actual effect was the opposite. I was willing to spend twice as much on smaller portions of meat, in order to feel less bad about the fact that animals were being killed, and probably mistreated, for my food? Maybe it’s just that I was thinking more about the whole thing, but every time I put meat in the shopping trolley, I felt… uncomfortable.
I thought I could accept the fact that I love animals, was aware of the short and painful lives many farmed animals lead and was willing to continue eating meat anyway. I thought I could gloss over the issue of the environmental impact of large scale animal farming, even though I’m deeply concerned about the state of the planet. It’s not like that’s the only area of my life where I do things that aren’t strictly in line with my values. Every time I drive from Manchester to Brighton I know I’m making an environmentally unfriendly choice, but I do it anyway because it’s the most convenient and flexible way for me to make that trip. Given the choice between letting food go off in the fridge or eating it, even though I don’t really want it, I’ll go for the former option more often than I’d like to admit. Because I’m picky about what I feel like eating, and I’d rather just dump the food and pretend that’s the last time I’ll let myself do it. Still, for some reason, my discomfort about the meat industry and my participation in it only grew over time.
I started to plan at least one vegetarian meal a week, although I didn’t make any great statement about it. Partner would ask what we were eating on a given night and I’d say, “Stir-fry… veggie stir-fry…” and wait to see if he’d comment. He didn’t, so I kept going. Then he came home one night after I’d bought some of that ready-cooked chicken for my dinner from Tesco on a very hungry whim and he commented, “Good protein. Not vegetarian, but good protein.” So much for my sneaky vegetarian swaps!
After that, we stopped cooking or eating meat at home. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m not a vegetarian, not properly. Once in a while, usually when getting Chinese takeaway or eating out at a restaurant, I will order something with meat in it. I reckon I currently eat meat something like twice a month, and I anticipate that number shrinking to zero eventually, although I’m not desperately invested in making it happen immediately. I am also experimenting with vegan swaps for cheese and milk, although I’m not sure I’ll ever go fully vegan. At the moment, for me, it’s about taking steps to be truer to the causes I feel are important. Not about being perfectly vegetarian, vegan, zero waste etcetera. I like the quote, which comes from Anne-Marie at The Zero-Waste Chef; “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” I think that applies all over the place, and it’s certainly the philosophy I’ve taken to heart when it comes to my meat-eating.
Have you experimented with alternative diets or lifestyles? How do you balance staying true to your ethics or values with convenience, or are those things not in conflict for you? Let me know in the comments!