Annah and I made a massive change to our lives at the start of 2016:
We stopped eating meat.
I went from a steak addicted meat-atarian to an avocado loving vegetarian.
Looking back now, we strongly feel it is one of the best decisions we have ever made. This is our story (well, my side of it at least)…
Part 1. Vanity.
For 31 years of my life, I was a committed meat-eater. In fact, I used to go so far as to tell people I was a ‘meat-atarian.’ I prided myself on how much I could eat in one sitting. Growing up in a family of seven I developed a healthy appetite based on the premise that you had to get in quick or someone else was going to take your share. Leftovers? Doubt it.
Why was I so hell-bent on eating so much meat? In a word, vanity.
I grew up hooked on sports, Football, NFL, rugby, hockey, anything and everything. Naturally, you seek to emulate those you admire. You want to look like your heroes. Like any vain young man I developed (and still have) a possibly unhealthy interest in somehow finding ways to add muscle to my Ectomorphic frame (a lean slender body build with slight muscular development).
Over the last 10 years, I have spent thousands of dollars on useless supplements and poured over different workout routines for hours trying to find something that would work. As a naturally scrawny kid, the problem for me was always putting weight on and keeping it on.
Enter the solution: meat (or so I hoped). Since I struggled to digest dairy I couldn’t drown myself in Whey protein shakes so the only answer seemed to be ‘eat more meat.’ I jumped into my work like I do everything else. I could easily down 8-10 chicken thighs in one sitting. At BBQ’s I would set about my task of eating to the point of making myself sick. Annah and I would eat 1kg of mince between the two of us for dinner, she eating a few spoonfuls, me devouring the rest. I was committing genocide against entire communities of chickens on a regular basis for no reason other than my own vanity.
Every night after dinner I would spend the rest of the evening in a food coma on the couch, while my body tried to take on the monumental task of digesting an unnatural amount of food all in one go.
Favourite vege recipe No.1: Check out this Ketogenic Vegetarian Lasagne. You will not leave the table hungry…
What happened as a result of all this protein devouring? Absolutely nothing really. I would gain a couple of kg’s (and a very bloated stomach) after a few days or heavy binging. But if I didn’t keep up the ridiculous calorie intake for 1 or 2 days it would all disappear.
Was I using the wrong kind of workout routine? Probably. Was I eating the wrong foods? Probably. Was I not eating often enough? Was I not sleeping enough? Probably. Does it even matter? No.
Even if you manage to gain muscle mass after gorging yourself in this way it is only ever a temporary thing. As soon as you stop for a month it will all disappear and your body will revert back to its normal state.
Favourite vege recipe No.2: Easy Vegan Coconut Curry
What was I doing it for?
To look good in photos? I don’t even take many photos and I hate selfies so that can’t be it.
Female attention? I realise now that I greatly under-estimated the entire female population if I thought they valued muscles that highly over all other qualities.
Male pride? Every guy wants to be admired by his mates. It’s a powerful driver and it can become unhealthy. Again though, your best mates will be there no matter what.
I am a total people pleaser and garnering compliments from others makes my motor run. I think this is a massive part of wanting to look healthy and fit for me – seeking the approval of others both male and female. On top of this, my type-A personality leads me to constantly strive for incremental improvement in all facets of my life. To never be happy with the ‘status quo’. It drives Annah nuts as you can imagine.
It dawns on me now that there is this thing called genetics that determines I will always be a tall, skinny, slow-running white boy no matter how many supplements I take.
I also now realise that I can be healthy and work on getting stronger without spending every waking hour ingesting and digesting food. It might even help me live longer too!
Part 2. Awakening…
Last year Annah convinced me we should invite a puppy to join our family. At first, I was sceptical. I felt our lives were perfect as they were, so why rock the boat? Also, we never had pets in the family growing up so I didn’t understand the attraction.
I was smart enough to agree with her and go along with it though (Happy Wife, happy life), and boy did things change after that.
How do I feel now? Just look at that face!
Earning the trust of our little Cavoodle, ‘Maddie’ and developing an intense bond with her has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s hard to describe how much admiration and love I have for her. I guess dog owners know what I’m talking about, the rest are still waiting to discover this.
Four months after Maddie came into our lives we watched a documentary called ‘Earthlings.’ Nothing could have prepared us for something so heart-wrenching and moving. I have seen my fair share of PETA movies and factory farm horror snippets over the years but I always told myself ‘I’ll buy free range instead’ to assuage my guilt. Earthlings is a feature-length look into what animals in this world go through for our culinary pleasure. Whatever you do, don’t watch it with your kids in the room.
I never took pleasure in the idea of eating other sentient beings but I always rationalised it as normal behaviour. I was a big fan of the paleo diet which reinforced this frame of mind – we have always eaten meat, we’ve evolved to eat meat and that’s the way of the world.
‘That’s the way it’s always been’ is also how a lot of people felt about slavery until the 18th century and about the subjugation of Women’s rights until the 20th Century, not to mention Gay Marriage rights too. Not ideal analogies I know, but sometimes it helps to sit back and look at what most people think is ‘normal behaviour’ and think about whether it actually fits with your principles and how you want to live your life. Just because it’s ‘normal’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing.
It is also worth asking how much of this perceived normality is driven by profits? A lot of people would lose a lot of money if the world reduced its meat consumption. Do you think those same people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo?
Do vegetarians and vegans have a vested interest in persuading more people to eat less meat? Maybe they could sell more hemp wallets but I’d say it’s the factory farmers that have a lot more to lose than anyone else if we see any fundamental change in the way we choose to feed our families.
No one visits the farm anymore…
In our modern convenience-focussed society we have lost our connection with animals. Paleo hunter-gatherers appear to have respected animals in a divine manner. They didn’t see themselves as ’superior’ beings but instead constantly feared for their lives when living in environments frequented by lions, alligators, hyenas or similar. Long before Christianity and Islam came along and put homo-sapiens on a pedestal, most religions appeared to be ‘animist’ where human cultures worshipped certain animals. You risked your life every time you went hunting and took on nature.
Hunter-gatherers didn’t have shotguns and fish finders and bottom trawling. In fact, most evidence points to the majority of their calories coming from the gathering side of the equation (tubers, seeds, fruits) rather than eating meat which was a bonus when it was available. For more on this subject check out the incredible book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Now we simply see animals as a priced commodity, purely in existence to feed our species by the sacrifice of their own. We don’t have to hunt out and kill the animals we eat, we don’t have to look a cow in the eyes before we take its life. We simply decide how well we want our meat cooked.
Favourite recipe No.3: Vegetarian Pad Thai This is now our go-to meal when friends come over for dinner.
But animals in the wild hunt each other – so isn’t it normal?
The difference between us and lions in the wild is that we have a choice. Sentient, intelligent animals don’t have to die to fill our dinner plates but we choose to take part in this great sacrifice every time we eat meat.
Our eating decisions are based largely on the pursuit of pleasure, rather than need.
Part 3. The Solution
What if I told you there was a simple choice that you could make every day that would…
A. Save you money.
B. Help save the environment for our kids and their kids and all future generations.
C. Improve your health and help you live longer.
D. Take away a little bit of suffering in the world.
The first step is to start calling it what it is, eating animals. When you walk into a supermarket there is a disconnect. You see the food on the shelves and it instantly becomes a commodity, like milk, butter, eggs, bread, flour, baked beans etc. You walk down the meat aisle and you look at the packaging, the colour, you look at the price and you make choices accordingly.
“Should we have eye fillet or rump steak on Thursday? Chicken breast is crazy cheap, what could I make with that?”
If every week instead of going to the supermarket you had to drive down to Ohariu Valley and visit farmer Jim, pick out your favourite Chicken, chase it around a paddock as it tries to run away from you, and then kill it with your own two hands, do you think you could do it? Could you stand on the line at the slaughterhouse with the stun gun and end the lives of cow after cow to collect a pay-check?
For 32 years I have driven past the Taylor-Preston’s factory in Ngauranga Gorge nearly every day of my life but I previously never allowed myself to picture what actually goes on there. One of my best friends used to work there and I still didn’t allow myself to contemplate what was going on in our backyard.
I don’t say this to gross you out but just to highlight the disconnect that now exists between what we see and feel in a supermarket and what has to happen in the dark depths of the food industry to make those choices available to us.
Animals are no longer animals, they are simply a manufactured article of food that is marketed to us by companies that make a profit from suffering.
Watching earthlings reminded me of the ‘costs’ in terms of suffering and miss-treatment paid by other sentient beings for the sake of my food choices.
Why is it that we love dogs, wear cows, and eat pigs? Why is it that Cows, Chickens, Sheep and Fish bear the burden of feeding human beings? My personal belief is that when agriculture became a big deal 12,000 or so years ago these loving, placid animals were the easiest to control, hence we could fence them in and treat them like property. After 12,000 years of farming animals (and many more thousands of years hunting them), eating animals became part of our culture and completely normalised behaviour.
The difference now though is that we don’t need to eat animals to survive. In fact, eating animals is costing us our environment. We eat animals purely for our own culinary pleasure.
Melanie Joy put it best in her TED talk on ‘Carnism.’ (I highly recommend checking it out when you have a few minutes to spare).
One stunning takeaway from her talk: 1.2 billion farmed animals are killed every single week…
That’s right. 1.2 BILLION.
In 1 week, more farmed animals are killed than the total number of people estimated to have been killed in all wars throughout human history.
Seriously. Isn’t that crazy?
The documentary Cowspiracy (available on Netflix) was another game-changer for me. It focusses on the environmental cost of our current meat-focused diet. The infographic below features some of the more telling statistics covered in the film.
I have decided animals no longer need to die for me to eat dinner. I will no longer be complicit in their suffering for the sake of my own vanity or pleasure.
We have decided we will try to make a difference to our environment by no longer eating meat.
I always thought vegetarians and vegans were crazy hippies who weren’t ‘realistic’ about the world. Now I admire them for reducing the amount of suffering in a cruel world and for helping save our planet so our kids and grandkids will have more than just a fried, greenhouse gas choked wasteland to enjoy when they grow up.
Are we perfect? No. My Wife, Annah and I still feed our dog some meat occasionally. Which leads me perfectly to my final point:
We need to stop looking at vegans and vegetarians with an ‘us against them’ mentality.
Before taking the leap, it can seem like the effort required to be vegan is monumental. In reality, it isn’t that difficult. But it’s easy for us mere mortals to look at these people and say ‘oh they’re crazy, good on them but that’s way too hard, I could never do that’. It’s similar to the way we look at people who run marathons or those crazy people who go ocean swimming in Wellington (WTF?).
It doesn’t have to be like that. Just because you don’t run marathons doesn’t mean that little 5km jog isn’t good for you. Just because you don’t don your wetsuit and swim the harbour in July doesn’t mean a few lengths at Keith Spry pool won’t be amazing for your health.
Eating, or not eating meat doesn’t have to be a binary (all or nothing) decision. One meat-free day a week can make a monstrous difference to the environment and that is the place to start. Heck, most of us are vegetarian until 6pm at night anyway when you really think about it. You can just eat breakfast twice in one day and you’re there!
It isn’t much of a stretch to take meat out of that final meal and add kumara, falafel, beans or (my personal favourite) a shite-load of avocado instead. Your wallet will thank you, you will be helping the environment and you’ll be doing your body a favour too. Plus you’ll take a little bit of suffering out of the world as well. Not bad for a nights work!
What we watched:
Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices – Melanie Joy
Eatings Animals (interview) – Jonathan Safran Froer
Earthlings (do not watch this with your kids)
Favourite vege recipe No.4: Paleo Chocolate Brownies (nut free). I’ve saved the best till last. These will change your life.
Thanks for taking the time to read this far. As always, let me know your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you.