Why Vegetarianism?

I’ve been an “environmental lacto-ovo vegetarian” for over a year. This means that I don’t eat meat or fish for environmental reasons. As the world population increases, more and more pressure is being put on the planet’s resources (like water, farming land, and grain production) so the less meat you consume (especially beef, which is a particularly inefficient meat to produce), the less you are impacting on the planet and wasting the precious resources that are available.

When I was living in Spain, people would often assume that I became vegetarian for animal welfare reasons, and it’s not my main motivation in my dietary choice. I’ve hunted, I’ve fished. I’ve killed animals and eaten them. What I don’t agree with is industrially produced meat’s impact on the environment and global food economy, nor the effect that hormones fed to animals affect human health. In a perfect world, I would have my own animals and slaughter them myself, but the world is far from perfect, and I can’t afford to only buy organic and locally sourced meat, so I chose to “go without” for a year as an experiment before going to Central America, giving up something I enjoy in order to save money for my trip, and also as an experiment in discipline (I’ve struggled for years to finally kick nicotine. How would meat compare?).

It felt like a very natural transition. I had been eating less and less meat for the 5 years leading up to that point, and as I travelled and met people from all over the world, a higher percentage of my friendship group were veggie and vegan, so cooking vegetarian and going to vegetarian restaurants was already “the norm” for me. Also, being naturally very pale, people would assume I was vegetarian years before I made the switch, so maybe I was just born to become one.

The Problem

The biggest myth about vegetarianism is that people can’t get all of the required nutrients from a vegetarian diet. Quite simply, this is not true. Cooking at home, I am careful to add extra nuts, seeds, beans, and plant based meat substitutes to my meals.

However, travelling and working away can bring with it some challenges. As a typical Brit, I don’t like to impose and prefer not to force other people to spend time and energy accommodating meals to my peculiarities. So eating in cafeterias in schools in Spain was a little tricky, as most vegetables have a sprinkling of pork on top, and the “vegetarian option” tends to be a bowl full of iceberg lettuce and little else.

I’ve just come back to reality after spending two weeks working at a learning English summer camp in Spain, which was kind of like a cross between ‘Highschool Musical’, ‘Mean Girls’, and a concentration camp. The day was often a high-intensity work out, on what can only be described as a protein free diet.

Something that I really admire about Spanish culinary habits would be their utilisation of beans (chickpeas/garbanzos, butter beans, lentils) yet sadly this was not on my menu. That being said, I wasn’t even tempted to eat the heavily processed “meat” they were serving. I’ve often heard Spanish people bash English cuisine after chaperoning students on a week long trip to England, as companies tend to cut costs on food, often serving the lowest quality, cheapest food they can get away with. My sense of satisfaction that this problem is universal was counterbalanced by my feelings of exhaustion and lightheadedness.

The Fall from Grace

So, entirely depleted by a testing two weeks (which felt more like two years), the first time I ate meat was when I was travelling through France, and accidentally bought chicken couscous salad from a supermarket instead of the meat free version. I thought “Whatever. I am too hungry for this shit!”. Then, arriving at my boyfriend’s parents house, we defrosted some delicious home cooked leftovers from the freezer (thank you, Maman), which we discovered contained mutton. “It’s ok, I’ll eat around it” I said. But I didn’t eat around it. I scoffed it all down. And it was delicious! Then, Yoann’s parents came home from their holiday in Corsica, with some lovely, organic, artisanal cured ham, which I scoffed with delight. My boyfriend’s mum, relieved that she could feed the resident vegetarian organic, locally sourced meat and fish, preceded to cook wonderful dishes made of dead animals wrapped in other dead animals, which were so scrumptious that I just didn’t have room for the special vegetarian dish she had prepared especially for me.

One day, we were coming back in the car from a day trip, and I just thought “Fuck it. When was the last time I had a Maccy D’s?”, so we stopped and went inside to order a meal. It had been so long since I’d been in a McDonald’s that I literally didn’t know how to order. There seemed to be a lot of confusing screens around, so we just stood there, not knowing what to do, until a kind employee came and asked us “Do you need help?” and I thought “Yep. Lots.” (incidentally, when did the people employed in McDonald’s stop being greasy, spotty, repellent, gargoyles? Was it when they started selling salads?)

So, here’s a video of moi, a vegetarian, eating a McRancher cheeseburger.

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The Conundrum

As you can see from the video, it wasn’t a huge hit. I’m sure you will agree that the images on the advertising are to real fast food what photos from dating website profiles are to the person who actually turns up on the date. Life is full of disappointments. Which leaves me with the dilemma:

If I can’t afford to eat only organic, carbon neutral meat, and Marine Research Council endorsed fish, then should I carry on being an ecovegetarian, even though consuming dairy also puts pressure on the environment?

Phobia of being called a “hypocrite” is why so few people feel empowered to do anything on a personal level about multifaceted issues such as the environment, the global food trade, and how the things that we consume (aka BUY) has an affect people in the countries that produce our goods for us. We think “Well, I don’t have the time, energy, or resources to buy EVERYTHING fairtrade and organic, so I might as well not do anything”. The old all or nothing, black and white view point.

However, before I was submitted to the gruelling summer camp regime, I had been a home vegan (no animal products in my cupboard or fridge at home) for about 3 months. For me, a special diet like vegetarianism or veganism requires a support network, e.g. friends who are interested in similar things and can tell you where to buy all your weird ingredients.

Conclusion

While I’m in the US abusing the Milwaukee Public Library System, I’m going to do some research about the environment. I find it depressing because I feel like what I do is a tiny drop in the ocean, but it’s also a hobby of mine that I enjoy, bringing me into contact with amazing people and making me feel like I’m doing “my bit” in these global issues. The first step in changing any habit is to be informed so you can make choices based on your belief system.

Sometimes, choosing the lesser of two evils is all that you can do. As the old Guatemalan saying goes “Esto es mi granito de arena” (literally “This is my grain of sand”), meaning that it is your humble contribution. Maybe, after my research, I will alter my diet to include the occasional consumption of local, organically produced animal products.

But the problem is, whether milk does or doesn’t contain addictive hormones to hook calves (and us) into craving it, for me, it’s much easier to give up tuna completely rather than buy the “dolphin friendly” one. My “saving money” mode (absorbed during my humble upbringing),  is so deeply ingrained that if I’m faced with the choice of paying “normal” price or the more expensive option, then I’m sad to say that the “cheap version” will win the battle, hence why I became a complete vegetarian in the first place.

My dream would be to have my own land, with: a vegetable patch, some chickens, some ducks, and a pig to feed waste food to (which I would ideally like to slaughter myself). Until that dream is realised, I need to find a balance between health and cost, both financial and environmental.

Veggie forever? Future vegan? Localvore? Watch this space!

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