Thursday, 28 May 2009

Becoming a vegetarian

I have often been asked why I became a vegetarian. This is one of those questions that I get asked so frequently, I really should have a standard response for it.

I have long been interested in animal welfare and animal rights issues, ever since I can remember. As a family, we always had pets, and myself and my brother and sister were always taught to respect the rights of animals. We were taught that animals could suffer pain, experience emotional distress, and were sentient, in much the same way as humans.

I can remember when I was about ten or eleven, when I proudly became a member of the Junior World Wide Fund. I used to carry my membership card (a small green booklet) in my inside school blazer pocket. I carried it with me everywhere.

When I became a teenager, I became a member of the now defunct anti-fur organisation called LYNX. I used to wear their badges, had one of their posters in my bed room (a picture of a wolf caught in a fur trap, and a model wearing a fur coat) with the headline "Rich Bitch, Poor Bitch". I actually stole this poster from a train on the London underground, whilst visiting my sister (who didn't mind me doing this in the least). I used to sell their raffle tickets at my gigs too (I used to play the drums in various bands in a former life). I later joined the animal rights campaign organisation PETA.

I have read the arguments (from books, newspapers and campaign material), watched the documentaries, and became very familiar with the issues. During my lifetime, I have watched some shocking video footage of the barbaric cruelty that humans are capable of inflicting on other animals. I have watched dogs and cats skinned whilst conscious on Chinese factory fur farms, I have watched seals clubbed to death (or at least until incapable of trying to escape), watched sea turtles being eviscerated whilst conscious, whales being chased for hours before being harpooned, bulls being tortured in the ring in bull fights to the jeers of a baying crowd and many, many other acts too awful to mention.

I have come to the conclusion, that while there are a great many kind and wonderful people on this planet, there are also a great many cruel people who view animals as nothing more than a commodity. A source of food, fashion or entertainment.

I made the decision to become a vegetarian when I was eighteen years old. This made perfect sense. I felt that to campaign for animal rights, whilst still eating meat, would make me a hypocrite. So I made the decision to become vegetarian for ethical reasons.

I have never once regretted that decision, and never once have I ever been tempted to eat meat since. My family initially had concerns about my decision. Whilst they approved of my decision on ethical grounds, they wanted to be sure that I would have a healthy diet. In fact, a vegetarian has a very varied, low fat, high protein diet, that has none of the risks associated with a meat diet. Over the years, the selection of vegetarian foods has increased enormously, with practically all supermarket chains having their own range of vegetarian foods, as well as many other food brands also having their own vegetarian range of foods. There has never been so much choice.

A vegetarian is someone who has taken the time to consider what they eat, and made an ethical choice based on those considerations. Far too many people have no idea where their meat comes from. School children in the UK, when asked where lamb came from, gave replies including apples and potatoes. While witnessing the meat production process is not pleasant (I have witnessed it from undercover footage), I would say that if you do eat meat, you have an obligation to know how your meat gets to your plate. If you do not want to see this process, or are distressed when you do see the reality, then choose vegetarianism.

I would like put to rest a popular misconception that I have heard far too often. "I'm a vegetarian, but I still eat fish". No, you are not a vegetarian, you are a pescatarian. The Vegetarian Society's definition of a vegetarian is:

"We define a vegetarian as someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits, with or without the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products."

It irritates me when I hear people referring to themselves as a vegetarian, when they then state they eat fish in the same sentence.

From my own experiences as a vegetarian, it is varied, tasty, and healthy. I am a member of the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club and Audax UK - the UK long distance cycling club. So any concerns as to whether you can be fit and healthy, and be vegetarian, are unfounded. With its associated diet that is lower in fat, and higher in protein, I would argue that in fact a vegetarian diet is healthier than one containing meat.

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