I’ve been following a vegetarian diet for two weeks, now.  For nearly as long as I’ve been doing this blog, in fact!  It began as an experiment to see what life as a vegetarian would be like, and to see how long I could last.  I immediately learned many things, such as having to check that food hasn’t been cooked in animal fat, and there were also factors I just hadn’t thought of, like gelatine in jelly and marshmallows.

Yet, I’ve found it far easier than I expected to.  This is helped in part due to the wide availability of meat replacements from quorn and soya, which has eased the transition.  I still don’t know of imitations for steak and fish, which are the two foods I’m missing the most.  Finding food at school is also a struggle, but I plan to devote a separate post to that travesty.

I have no idea how long this will continue for.  I could keep it up indefinitely, or I could also stop tomorrow.  A few people have been wafting bacon in my face (quite violently sometimes), I assume in the hope that I’ll have some kind of relapse and bite their hand off.  But if I do return to eating meat it will be after a firm decision I’ve made – not due to a moment of weakness.  I’d like to think I, or most people for that matter, would have a stronger will than that and stick to their decisions.

So what caused this sudden decision?  It wasn’t something I’d planned doing, I just decided then and there to stop eating meat.  I guess there are several factors: I’d just met some adorable piglets who are being reared for meat, and I suppose I felt that renouncing meat gave me a right to enjoy their company.  I’ve also had several discussions with my Auntie, who owns a farm, over the nature of keeping animals for food, but considering I’m a meat eater I’ve never had a leg to stand on.  I’d also been having a exceptionally terrible week, so I suppose it was something to focus on.  The mind makes interesting decisions like that.  Perhaps I should be grateful.

But vegetarianism is something I’ve long considered.  Every time I’d previously had a conversation with a vegetarian I could feel myself being pulled closer.  My primary reason, like most people, is that I’m increasingly becoming uncomfortable with eating something which had once been so clearly alive, and thoughtful, and emotive, and so similar to myself.  I know eating meat is natural and, assuming I keep this up, I’d never have a problem with it if I needed to for survival; but I’m thinking, while I have the option to lead a healthy life without eating meat, I should take it.  There’s also the ‘wishy-washy’ reason that it will lead to a more sustainable society.  I’m pretty sure I read a figure that if everyone in the world became a vegetarian, due to the complex nature of growing crops and energy transfers (I don’t really know the details), there’d be more than enough food for everyone in the planet for many years to come.  (Okay, there’s already enough food on the planet for everyone, it’s just unevenly divided, but with a growing population there won’t always be).  And of course, assuming I can keep a balanced diet, it’s far healthier; I’m already noticing how many more fruit and vegetables I’m eating.

Though I’ve not been doing this long enough to be offering advice, I will anyway: if you’re considering vegetarianism, even as a vague idea, just try it.  Don’t think longterm. I’m still looking ahead to the future when I’ll let myself eat meat – even though I hope I can avoid it happening – to make it seem like less of a big decision, and more something I’m just trying out.  I still refuse to label myself ‘a vegetarian,’ in case I do have a relapse, and that’s fine.  There’s no shame in not being able to continue with it; I don’t think the diet is for everyone.  But once you’ve tried it, you can know for sure, and you’ll have a better idea of what’s involved if one day you do want to make the big step.

Animal Rights

I’ve recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds – a very good film – and it’s given me some thoughts on the nature of how we keep animals as pets.  The image of a bird in a cage is normal in our society.  Children, when learning about animals, associate birds with cages in the same way they’d associate cats with comfortable mats.

I’m by no means an expert on birds.  I’ve never even kept one myself, so this is based on very limited experience.  I just don’t see how keeping a bird in a cage is humane.  Birds need freedom of movement more than most animals, even humans, yet it is perfectly acceptable to keep them as pets in cages, perhaps for their entire life.  It is debatable whether they are unhappy in cages, but certainly from my visits to pet shops they do appear jumpy, flying from one end to the other, cut off, and having to fly back just for the exercise.  Cages also make no attempt to imitate a natural environment.  There are many arguments against zoos but a good zoo will recreate an animal’s natural environment to the best of its ability.  Birds would have large areas to fly around, trees to nest in, etc.

In fact, most pets in pet shops seem miserable.  I visited a raccoon recently, which looked so on edge, so discontent.  In a space of around three by four feet.  I know this is supposed to be temporary until it is bought, but what if nobody buys it?  Okay, this raccoon was particularly cute, so I expect it’ll do alright!  But what of the ones who are not so sought after?  Spending day after day in cramped conditions, faces staring down at them who have no intention of taking them home.  Most prisons have better conditions, yet these animals are completely innocent.

This isn’t even broaching the subject of battery farming, which I would hope nobody will need convincing is utterly brutal and unacceptable.  The way we as a species treat the other inhabitants of this planet is sickening, in my opinion.  This is why I would propose the creation of laws, or at least some international agreement, on the treatment of animals.  A ‘Declaration of Animal Rights,’ if you like.  Though I am certain that if global food production stays the way it is meat will one day become a luxury most can’t afford, people are always going to keep animals to slaughter for food, so I would not expect vegetarianism to be part of such rights.  But we have a responsibility to treat the animals we rear and use with respect.

Progress has certainly been made.  There are tight controls on circuses in many countries to ensure animals are not abused.  The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (RSPCA) in the UK works to ensure all animals are treated properly by their ‘owners’ and investigates many cases of animal cruelty.  The European Union is working towards reducing the amount of eggs on the market from battery farms.  But a clear list of rights animals possess would leave no doubt over the way animals should be treated.  We have a mutually beneficial relationship with them.  Aboriginal cultures on the whole seemed to realise this, but this simple fact of nature seems to have been lost in our modern capitalist industrial frenzy.  Only when we care for nature and protect it will we have earned our place as the dominant species on Earth.