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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Veganism – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mushroom

When I made the switch from casual vegetarian into strict vegan (which was prompted by the finishing of a fantastic book, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals), I was born again.

For you see, it was just so darned easy to be a vegetarian. I could load my plate at adult dinner parties, skip arrogantly past the meat section, and receive witty compliments about my So Good For The Environment Morally Honest Truly Sensitive lifestyle. Becoming vegan, and sticking to it, proved a lot more difficult. It was more then a habit. More then a lifestyle. It was, and still is, a religion. I have to plan meals(!). I have to talk to wait staff about my “dietary needs”. And, mostly, I have to do my research. It is like joining a cult. Or, perhaps because of its emphasis on not harming people and creating harmony and lack of group suicide, an ‘anti-cult’.

I don’t want to announce my lack of eating animals to get a pat on the back. I don’t want (ever) to corner people into feeling guilty about what we eat. I want to write to you a succinct(–ish) reason for not eating and harming animals. I have received every kind of response upon telling people I am a vegan—guilt, denial, aggression, disdain. I have also received compliments, encouragement and inspiration. On occasion, somebody will respond by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle—an accusation of my own non-vegan endeavours (e.g. make-up products tested on animals, wearing fake fur). This is quickly followed by an assertion of the meat-eaters’ own, which often goes a little like “I’m easy, I’ll eat anything!” or “I’ll support you by eating twice as much meat!”

If I received a dollar every time this happened… well, let’s just say the SPCA would be millionaires. These didactic ways of talking about eating animals—opposing sides of the spectrum— are extremes, and not logical realities. Everybody embraces veganism in different ways: I am now proud to say I wear only make-up products that have not been tested on animals, but I still wear fake fur. In Foer’s own words:

“We need a better way to talk about eating animals. We need a way that bring meat to the centre of public discussion in the same way it is often at the centre of our plates…[W]e all know in advance that our positions will clash with those of our neighbours. What do we do with that most inevitable reality? Drop the conversation, or find a way to reframe it?”

I want to reframe your idea of veganism from the unhealthy, aggressive, inconsiderate or the just plain strange to something you might feel comfortable with. I believe the best way to do this is to frame the conversation around facts. These are just some of the same facts that made me vegan.

Free-range eggs vs. Stella Artois: making informed choices

Of course, there are countless people who want desperately
to make the right choice with their food. Unfortunately, there is such a large demand for ‘animal-friendly’, ‘free-range’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’ that the terms are now marketable, and consequentially profitable. Many companies bend the rules in order to make their products appear a certain way to the consumer—a New Zealand company is now undergoing a legal trial over their use of the term ‘fresh range’ (misleading customers), and free-range as a term has been manipulated before. A company using ‘free-range’ are still entitled to keep their hens in a barn, which does not classify the same restrictions as a cage, but certainly doesn’t indicate free-roaming chickens. In America, the US Department of Agriculture has no standards, and allows egg producers to freely label any egg as a free-range egg.

Then there are the products that use eggs and animals without feeling any need to tell you. This includes, but is not limited to, alcohol. Beer in particular often uses a refining method in its yeast with isinglass, or in other plainer words, the bladder of a fish. When they feel like making a beer that’s accessible for vegetarians, they use eggs in this refining process. Are these eggs free-range? The question is rhetorical—do you think they care about something as insignificant as animal welfare?*
What is important here is that we know what we are putting on our breakfast tables and in our babies mouths: being vegan means knowing not only what is in your dinner, but also knowing it hasn’t harmed anyone or anything along the way.

  • * For more information on vegetarian/vegan beer or wine—visit veggiewines.co.uk. Stella Artois, my namesake beverage, passes the test!
  • Harm unto them, harm unto all

    Animal agriculture makes a 40 per cent greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change. Perhaps one of the most shocking statistics that I have encountered is the fact that it takes 4000 glasses of water to make 1 glass of milk. Considering agriculture’s weight upon the destruction of our environment, anyone seriously considering conservation would not buy an electric car but rather cease eating meat.

    Animal agriculture should be at the forefront of our own country’s environmentalism debate: instead, we busy ourselves with fruitless research into sustainable fuel practices and bigger taxes on our travel (the government: a whole other argument). Why isn’t it at the forefront? Because introducing the notion of not eating animals is taking a real risk—it’s making a serious critique of what we eat.

    This is not a meal: food is more than food

    Foer again puts it perfectly when he says “Food is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joyfulness, humiliation, religion history and of course love.” Not all vegans are aggravators—I have my own personal rule of not talking about eating animals when somebody is eating them. (I’m sorry, Joe, about that one time you were eating chicken sushi. Please forgive me. N.B. Joe is now a vegetarian). Food is never just food. When Kiefer Sutherland ate those noodles that became maggots in The Lost Boys, I was scared of noodle dishes for months. The first year I didn’t eat Mum’s Christmas leg of ham, I had to hold back tears. One can very easily know that hurting animals is wrong and then not know when it comes to eating. This is because food is tradition, food is comfort, and food is family. This is why it is so hard to ignite a conversation about not eating animals—and why it is so hard for us to change.

    In answer to my own postulated question ‘Why become vegan?’ Well, why not? In a nation as privileged as New Zealand, in a time where food has moved steadily from a place of survival into a place of luxury: in a place where we can sit, talk and critique the lens through which we view the world, why not question what we do. It is through this questioning that I discovered something mattered to me—something bigger then myself—I became a voice for animals and remained a lover of animals. It certainly improved my life. I leave you with the words that helped me make that change.

    This is Safran in conversation with his Grandmother about WWI in Germany:

    “I became sicker and sicker from not eating, and I’m not just talking about being skin and bones. I had sores all over my body… I ate things I wouldn’t tell you about… The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

    “He saved your life”

    “I didn’t eat it.”

    “You didn’t eat it?”

    “It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”

    “Why?”

    “What do you mean, why?”

    “What, because it wasn’t kosher?”

    “Of course.”

    “But not even to save your life?”

    “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

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    Comments (7)

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    1. Electrum Stardust says:

      Excellent article– but just why is this filed under ‘News’?

      P.S. In other “news”:

      “[I]t was just so darned easy to be a vegetarian. “

      — It is even easier to give (general) vegetarianism a try once in a while, if one chooses one of many traditional Asian-stye meals where you have a plant-based staple like rice or noodles. The amount of this base can easily be varied according to how hungry you are, or to the type and amount of the incredible variety of vegetarian sides that you then add to the mix. The possibilities are essentially limitless…

    2. Elle Hunt says:

      Oops, our mistake. Now correctly under Features.

    3. Zoe Reid says:

      Awesome article!!!

    4. Gary Davies says:

      Brilliant. This topic is one of the most important we face – the horrific environmental impact of animal farming. And indeed, it needs to be at the forefront of any discussion – so good on you for writing a great article on this vital subject. “But meat tastes good” is no justification for wrecking the world. It’s time for everyone to wake up.

    5. Chris Noaro says:

      Great article, thanks so much!

    6. Michael Morris says:

      Brilliant article. Good to see veganism getting some positive publicity. As the author states, it is hard to be a minority in a vegan eating world, whether there is often an undercurrent of eye-rolling disdain even among the supposedly politically correct enlightened folk preaching lip service to tolerance of the beliefs of others. However, it is not actually intrinsically that hard to be a vegan. If you live alone or with other vegans, work from home and don’t care what others think of you, being vegan is a breeze. Just some of the advantages (apart from the obvious ones of health, environmental preservation and not contributing to animal cruelty) are:

      It is a lot cheaper.
      Food preparation takes a lot less time when you are not roasting or cooking hunks of dead flesh for hours.
      It is much easier to clean the kitchen. No slimy, dust encrusted films of grease.
      My bins don’t smell of decaying corpses

      For those wanting to start a vegan lifestyle and need some recipes, there is no shortage of help available from vegan groups. There is also terabytes of information on the internet and any google search will turn up more hits than you can possibly use.

    7. Stella Reid says:

      My favourite recipe book for vegan options is Now Vegan! By Lynda Stoner.She is the Australian actress that received abuse (and even death threats) when she made it public knowledge she would raise her unborn child vegan.

      (I might just casually mention her son is a professional athlete now).

      She has been vegan for three decades so she knows her delicious stuff!

      I also altered the front cover so it reads, Now Vegan Stoner! which makes it hilarious and informative.

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