Be Kind To Animals or I’ll Kill You
I think if you spoke to most of the people I know well, they would tell you that I love animals. I’m *that* person, you know, the one that you send a link to about a rescue parrot with no feathers or a puppy that can’t stay awake. Oh and that I love food. LOVE IT. I’ve always eaten with gusto, often lick plates clean, take delight in cooking for others and eating with people I care about. I’m one of those people that literally can’t fathom forgetting to eat lunch. How can one of the day’s highlights pass you by without you noticing it? What are you daydreaming about if not your next meal?
I’ve always had a tender heart when it comes to animals. When I was little I wanted to be best friends with the family dog – a beautiful, huge German Shepherd – so much so I would try and eat from the same bowl as her. My taste-buds have come a long way I promise you. Rescuing two one-eyed cats (#BettyAndChester) from a bursting-at-the-seams animal shelter and seeing them develop from timid, scared little kittens into relaxed, content happy moggies has filled my heart with joy in a way that’s hard to describe without sounding a bit too little intense.
I’d never kill a spider in my flat even though they give me the heebie-jeebies, or step on a snail as I walk to work on a damp morning. I rescue bugs – and the odd mouse – that have fallen into swimming pools on holiday with my husband. I gasp with delight if I ever see a fox darting into the garden on walks home from the station. That moment when you’re walking around suburbia and there’s a flash of green and a screech as parakeets fly above is never wasted on me. I love animals and have always thought of myself as someone who would always treat them gently.
For years I’ve been aware that it’s important to rescue pets rather than buying them from puppy farms or weird people on the internet. I’ve thought of fox-hunting as cruelty dressed up in fancy clothes; and thought that fur is gross and nasty. I’ve hated seeing horses dying at the Grand National and felt my throat tighten with anger at the pictures of caged dogs and cats during Yulin. I’ve been uneasy during trips to the zoo as I’ve watched big cats pacing, dead-eyed, in bare, grey concrete pens. I’ve hated bull-fighting and dog fighting and grouse shooting. I was pissed off when that dentist killed Cecil the Lion and thought that circuses shouldn’t have wild animals and that elephants shouldn’t be dancing on damn tip-toes for some scary-ass looking clown.
For years I’ve eaten mac-n-cheese, burgers, fried-chicken, ribs, lobster and even, very occasionally, foie gras. I loved cheese – especially squeaky cheese or deep-fried cheese. I’ve saved up for leather handbags and shoes and loved wearing silk blouses and dresses. I’ve used make-up without knowing or caring who made it or how. I’ve said, more than once, and pretty loudly “naaaah I could never go vegan” and I meant it.
I can’t stand to look at it
And then I started seeing posts on Instagram. And twitter. And feeling little pricks on my conscience. Posts about the impact of clearing rainforests for livestock on endangered animals. Or the fact that cows get excited when they solve puzzles or how pigs are smarter than dogs. Or the fact that billions of animals are slaughtered for food each year.
Then I saw a video of a couple of pet pigs playing with a football on a Christmas morning. They were running around excitedly, kicking wrapping paper in the air, and they looked like chubby pink dogs. They were gorgeous. And I carried on eating sausages.
But I started feeling bad about it. I started arguing with myself that it was OK for me to eat meat and that I wouldn’t make a difference and that eating out with other people would be tough, that animals eat other animals, and that I would miss cheese too much.
And then I was sick one day so stayed at home. I was lying on my couch, Homes Under The Hammer had finished and I was trapped between feeling lethargic and restless, so I watched ‘Earthlings’ and then ‘Cowspiracy’ and it was like taking the red pill in The Matrix. It really was like earth wobbled a little under my feet and was never quite the same again.
In Earthlings I saw footage of piglets having their tails and teeth clipped without anaesthetic and baby male chicks being ground to death. I saw secret footage of the inside of factory farms and slaughterhouses. There was so much cruelty and violence I couldn’t see the TV I was crying so hard. Cowspiracy made me realise that our seemingly insatiable appetite for meat was a protracted global suicide. Not just for us but for the systems that have sustained us and for the creatures we share our planet with.
I read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and learnt even more about how pigs and chickens and cows are raised for meat and how factory farm conditions are essentially torture for these poor animals. I read testimonies of people who work in slaughterhouses, who take their frustrations out on animals who are scared and totally unprotected from cruelty.
It ain’t easy being green
Against all of this it was crystal clear to me that no crispy fried chicken or pulled pork sandwich could ever, ever be worth supporting this system. Abstaining from meat at first, and then a few months later from dairy and eggs, was the logical and ethical next step. And it made my body feel amazing. But it scrambled my brains for months.
I got messages from friends taking the piss and expressing sympathy for my husband. I had people telling me that bacon was delicious and joking that ‘abused animals taste better’. I spotted adverts for cheap meat and dairy products EVERYWHERE. You know when you need a wee during a roadtrip and suddenly there are no service stations for miles all around? The opposite of that, but with Burger King adverts. And McDonalds adverts. And KFC adverts.
I felt guilty and angry and so so sad. Having cats who are, let’s be honest, total and utter wimps I know that when delivery men come into the flat or they hear a power-drill as we attempt some DIY, they are terrified. They hide and shake and each of their little eyes grow huge and round with fear. I can see when they’ve just eaten and washed and are falling asleep that they’re feeling content and satisfied and safe. Knowing that millions of animals across the world would never know that feeling, of a gentle human hand tickling their belly or stroking their snouts, cut me up.
I wished, a few times, that I had never found any of this out because ignorance was bliss.
Best Decision Ever
But it really wasn’t. As naff as it undoubtedly sounds nothing tastes as good as being vegan feels. For me it’s not about #CleanEating (not that eating nutritious, healthy foods most of the time doesn’t make me feel absolutely tip-top) but about going to bed each night knowing that no animal was killed, or kept in miserable conditions to feed me. That is what feels #Blessed. I still get to eat pizzas, cheezy nachos, creamy chocolate, spicy curries, stodgy pies, curly fries, crisp refreshing salads, home-made soup, ice-cream, oodles of noodles, tea and biscuits, dirty fry-ups, comforting jam-topped porridge, yuge bowls of pastas; but all of it is animal-product free.
I’ve eaten food I would never have tried before. Some of it has been miss, rather than hit, but most of it has been knock-out. Friends have made special vegan meals and cakes for me that have knocked my socks off and made me realize my good fortune to know such special people.
I’m still a work in progress and I sometimes eat something to later discover it has milk in it (seeing crisps that don’t have milk powder often elicits an excited ‘NO WHEY’ from me). But this is not about being perfect. I’m starting to realise people can’t exist without fudging something up somewhere or other. But if I can live without causing another creature suffering, why the heck wouldn’t I?