Becoming a pesky vegan

Just over two weeks ago my husband and I gave up meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Subsequently I’ve felt the health benefits (loosing 7lbs, improving my heart rate, sleep and energy levels) but I’ve also had to adjust to certain difficulties; like why does EVERYTHING have to have milk or eggs in it (?!?!?!) and the realisation that I’m the new black sheep of my family, who now lovingly refer to me as “the vegan”.

Explaining the reasons for removing myself from the “normal” human diet has elicited some interesting responses from my friends (“rather you then me”, “I could never do that”, “what? Even milk?!”) but none more so than from my family, particularly my mum and her husband (who we’ll call Jeff for the purposes of this article).

On Sunday evening I cooked up a roasted vegetable and vegan pesto pasta, which my family promptly covered in cheese, then we had a long conversation about why people choose to be vegan. It started with my mum asking with great concern if I was getting enough protein and iron in my diet. I explained that I can get everything I need from plant matter apart from vitamin B12, which helps to keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and for it to make DNA. However there are plenty of ways I do get vitamin B12 now, for instance by including nutritional yeast and Gary (vegan cheese) in my diet. My husband also takes B12 supplements in pill form.

Then the conversation turned to chickens. My mum and Jeff have two ex-battery hens, whom they’ve loved and cared for going on 2 years now. In their previous life the hens had stopped laying eggs and were going to be killed. They had been ragged and tattered birds but good feed, open space and a fair amount of love/time meant they were able to pop out eggs for another year (to the delight of my mum’s breakfast table).

My family’s point regarding the chickens was that if humans didn’t eat eggs, or indeed the chickens themselves, then the birds wouldn’t be alive at all. And what’s more all of the animals we eat wouldn’t be alive, that there wouldn’t suddenly be wild cows roaming the world. On their first point I could only respond crudely that there are an infinite number of people and animals who will never live. As a 28 year old myself I could have already had a vast number of children (but I haven’t). I also explained that many wild animals no longer have a place to live because of the land used for farming, even to the point where wild animals are killed to make space for this land. We need diversity of species not pure quantity of say 5–6 species. If we used less land for the feeding and rearing animal protein then there would be more space for wilderness and more food for people.

Jeff and I then had a discussion over the proportions of wild land destroyed for the purposes of agriculture over the amount deforested for wood. Jeff believing that the main cause of deforestation is our human desire to have furniture and homes full of wood. I’m no expert but I imagine the numbers are similar, after all we live in a capitalist economy so why waste the wood when it can be sold for a profit whilst you’re clearing land for agriculture?

They didn’t seem convinced. Not that I was trying to be evangelical or to change their lifestyle choices, but rather to help them understand mine. “But what is the end goal?” They asked. In the first instance I suppose it’s to not be a part of propagating the environmental problems caused by livestock farming. But maybe in leading by example and having these conversations we can make people think again about the impact of their food choices, even if they don’t want to become full time pesky vegans themselves.

My mum described my diet choice as a “first world decision” she said people who are starving, people who only have access to a small amount of low nutrition foods, would literally kill (animals) to feed their families. However I’m certain that if a starving family had access to my fridge and cupboard contents then they wouldn’t be baying for animal blood and flesh.

It strikes me that people seem addicted to the lifestyle they are brought up on and it is seen as “normal” to eat animal products. I know first hand how easy it is to bury your head in the sand, ignore the ingredients information and live on an animal-protein based diet. At first it’s not easy and you have to have a strong head on your shoulders to withstand the invasive questions and sometimes the out-right anger at your diet choices. But so far nothing has been said to convinced me I shouldn’t continue.

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