There’s no way to explain why I’ve stopped eating meat, eggs and dairy without sounding like a supercilious, smug, judgmental shrew.
It’s now been over eight months since I ate meat, and obviously the first question I’m asked is “why?”
I’m never sure how to explain it, so I usually opt for the ‘health’ reason – although my close friends know that ‘health’ is typically low on my list of Reasons For Doing Stuff. Likely to be higher on the list are “it’s cheaper,” “I’ve had nine tequila shots,” and “I need to impress this guy”. My reasons for giving up the delicious animal flesh are almost the same justifications I used to stop buying new clothing a couple of years ago – I don’t particularly want to feed into an exploitative industry, and it simplifies my life. Most of my life-changing decisions have been geared towards simplification – at heart I’m just a girl who wants to live in a tin shed with nothing more than a billy can, a still and an endless supply of 90’s mix tapes. Sadly I’m not in a position to do that right now, so I make do with cutting out complications. Like first-world moral angst.
I grew up in a region where primary industry is almost a religion. I’ve eaten many a t-bone steak that had previously been a doe-eyed calf I’d named when it slid out of its mother. I believe it’s perfectly natural and ethical for people-folk to eat animals. It’s how I was brought up, and it’s how millions of humans have been raised for thousands of years. However, when I left behind my comfortable bucolic upbringing and poked around in the greater world, I had to acknowledge that those juicy meat packages in Woolworths don’t come from a steer that’s been gently lured into the home paddock with some sweet potatoes, then shot in the head before he even knows what’s happening. Eggs don’t come from chickens that have been fed scraps every morning by a hollering four-year-old with fresh beak-welts on her tender fingers. Milk doesn’t come from patient ol’ Bessie having her teats squeezed every morning into a tin bucket. Small family-run holdings are quickly becoming extinct, and the encroaching corporate-funded alternatives are gross bastardisations of an industry that’s supposed to be inherently wholesome, transparent and connected to the earth.
The farmers I know are kind, ethical people with passion for their chosen profession. I say “chosen”, but it’s probably all they’ve ever known. These men and women live and breathe agriculture and animal husbandry. They deserve to make a damn good living, firstly because they work really bloody hard, and secondly because they’re literally putting food on the tables of everyone in the nation. Sometimes it feels like I’m betraying them, and subsequently my heritage.
On the other hand, there MUST be a better way to do things. I have no idea what that way is, so I’ve quietly extracted myself from the machine.
Not everyone cares about this stuff. I don’t think everyone should care about this stuff. There are plenty of issues to go around, and everyone cares about something. This is merely what’s important to me, and it’s what I’ve chosen to base my lifestyle on – albeit a bit later that I should have. I don’t begrudge anyone their porterhouse steaks or their bacon double-cheeseburgers. We all know that shit’s delicious. By the same token, I don’t want anyone to begrudge my choices, but it seems people can’t help but get weird and judgmental when you tell them why you’re suddenly ordering your coffee with soy milk. Suddenly my iron, protein and calcium intake is everyone’s business. I guess it’s something I’ll need to get used to.
Health-wise, I donate plasma every few weeks so I regularly have my blood work looked at – and I’m firing on all cylinders, thank you very much. By which I mean my iron levels are fine and I don’t have HIV. I like to think that my Papua New Guinean lineage is assisting this whole transition – after all, my ancestors weren’t exactly chasing game animals the size of my Ford Fiesta across sweeping savannahs. Their red meat was limited to whatever they could gnaw off a tree kangaroo, and the odd reptile. Probably the odd human, too, but don’t mention that to my next date.
It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m having loads of fun with new ingredients and recipes I’d never have glanced at twelve months ago. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Frothed rice milk in coffee is delicious. Admittedly, rice milk doesn’t froth at all – so by ‘frothed’, I mean ‘warmed up and agitated.’ Somewhat like myself after watching Fast Five. Pedantics aside, I actually prefer it to cow’s milk now.
- You can function perfectly well on an omniverous fast food diet, but don’t attempt it on a plant-based diet. There is no protein in vegetarian fast food. You can’t live off Nando’s vegie burger meals all week without becoming lethargic and angry.
- That said, a good serve of oily McDonald’s fries at 4am on a Saturday morning is every bit as satisfying as a cheeseburger, and you’re less likely to find a pickle down your bra when you wake up at 2pm the next day.
- Pizza has always been my default reward/cheer up/hangover food, so understandably I’ve been anxious about how to replace it. Then I discovered – and no, I don’t expect anyone to believe me, but – pizza doesn’t really need cheese. I know I sound like a lunatic right now, but if you throw the right toppings on there a cheese-free pizza can be a very happy thing. Of course, it helps if you have a nice pinot gris to wash it down.
- Plant diet = cheapest grocery bill ever. My food budget is half what it used to be, and that’s taking into account all the pretentious gourmet fluff like free-range cacao butter, shade-grown tofu and fair trade tempeh.
- Apparently B12 is the only vitamin that’s lacking in a plant diet. Fortunately we don’t require huge quantities of it, and even more fortunate it’s abundant in this stuff:
Call me un-Australian, but give me Mightymite over Vegemite any day. It’s owned and manufactured by wholly Australian Three Threes, as opposed to that Kraft conglomerate. Plus it tastes better. YEAH, I SAID IT. I’ll hand back my Aussie Card now.