Despite the risk of putting off some readers (at this early stage, too! Am I crazy? Probably), I do feel that sharing my first step towards living more ethically is the best place to start this journey with you. Rest assured, non-vegetarians, that the aim of this post is a personal share. I’m not (yet, at least) trying to convince you to make a drastic change to your diet.
I took my first step towards living better at the tender age of 19, when I decided to become ‘vegaquarian’ (I didn’t know about the existence of a ‘pescetarian’ diet!).
I had always been picky with meats – but not in the way you might think. I refused, for example, to eat turkey because I thought they were weird to look at, had never eaten rabbit, had grudgingly tried kangaroo once but was not keen to have it again, and had always, since childhood, refused to eat anything that had even a drop of blood still visible. It drove my parents mad.
Despite this, I had always taken eating meat for granted, and considered it part of a normal lifestyle, until I began studying philosophy at Uni, and took a subject called ‘How Should I Live?’. While the majority of the readings were about Kant’s Universal Morality, or Utilitarianism, or whether there was such a thing as true Altruism when people gain personal satisfaction from their altruistic deeds, there was one chapter of my textbook that explained that the established moral theories about how people ‘should’ live dealt exclusively with how humans should behave towards each other, while not one mentioned how humans should treat animals. It followed, therefore (reasoned my text), that one could be an incredibly moral person, according to these theories, yet be cruel to animals. The chapter also detailed some of the living conditions of animals bred for meat and that was enough to convince me. I told my mother that day I was becoming vegetarian. She had, unfortunately, already defrosted chicken for dinner that night and told me it was fine for me to become vegetarian but I would have to wait until I’d moved out and was cooking for myself. Fearing a blow-up, I agreed, but couldn’t stomach the chicken she’d prepared. Once I’d made the decision, it tasted like rubber in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow it. (Unfortunately, since I have worked hard to not be a hoarder, I no longer have the textbook I referred to, so I can’t give you the reference to that reading. If anyone comes across it, please let me know via the ‘contact’ page.)
Turns out I learnt to cook a lot earlier than I would have if I hadn’t made that decision – my mother refused to cook two meals so for the first 6 months I cooked a separate meal for myself. Eventually, mum got sick of us eating different things and started to prepare vegetarian meals for all of us (though I still helped her cook most nights).
While I have eaten fish on and off for the last 11 years, and have not yet managed to give up other animal products (though I have replaced cow’s milk with soy or almond for the last 6 years and my husband is building a chicken coop in order for us to have our own eggs), I know that just cutting out meat from my diet has made a huge difference to my personal impact on the environment. While one person’s habits may not be enough to shock the meat industry into refining their practices, I have at least spent the last 11 years feeling ethically comfortable with my diet choice. I don’t let people tell me I’m not making a difference so I may as well eat meat, or, conversely, that I’m not making enough of a difference so I should cut out all animal products. I am doing something, and something is always better than nothing. What’s more, because this choice works for me, it is something I can stick with. And something for 11 years is far better than everything for three months followed by nothing for three years.
We can all take small steps, bit by bit, to improve the way we treat ourselves, our bodies, and our environment. It’s about living better, and not living ‘right’.
A final note:
My goal in sharing this part of my personal journey with you, as I said, is not to convince you to become pescetarian, vegetarian or vegan. Some of you may already be, some of you may be on the way to being, and some of you may be staunchly against the idea. This is one reason why I haven’t included statistics or gruesome descriptions of the inner workings of the industries in question. What I will suggest to all my readers is that you revisit your motivation for making small changes to your lifestyle. Are you motivated by a concern for the environment, or for the health of you and your family? Then, do your own research on how consumption of animal products affects that primary concern of yours. You are far more likely to stick with any changes you decide to make if they come from a genuine desire to change something.