When I went vegan a few years ago, I would have not guessed in a thousand years how strongly and how quickly I would change from a meat ‘n’ cheese-guzzler into what has been described by some as an “extreme” vegan.
At the beginning I was co-existing with my meat-eating loved ones quietly. Just spending my energy on new shopping habits and enjoying the feeling of a plant-based diet and a clearer conscience. I would never be – as I promised my husband at the time – an over-the-top type of vegan. It wouldn’t impact on our lives, just the fridge and that was a promise. I really did mean it.
For 36 years I ate the very animals I now fight for
My daughter and I visited sanctuaries, lazed around hugging rescue cows and ate the best plant-based burgers and cupcakes in town. We went on some protests and walked around festivals in our Go Vegan tees. It was all going rather nicely – then it all changed.
A few months after ditching animal products I learnt about bearing witness outside slaughterhouses. I joined Facebook in the summer to find out more and soon found myself outside Cheale Meats abattoir with Essex Pig Save. The moment the first truck was slowed down, my heart was racing and I gingerly peeked in one of those awful livestock trucks, the kind we pass on the motorway and cringe in shame and sadness before returning to that bacon roll, not quite getting the connection that buying the bacon roll put those pigs in that truck and worse.
My hesitant eyes met those of a young male pig about to be killed – that was the precise moment everything changed. He looked up at me, sad and confused. He was six months old on his way to be electrocuted, he was defeated and lost, swaying from side to side crashing into other vomit-covered pigs helplessly as the overcrowded truck slowly rolled by us. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen.
The fight for animals in that moment became very scary and real, and I felt very clearly that it was absolutely my duty to fight for this huge injustice I was seeing at first hand, even if this meant unsettling those I knew. That pig had no right to his own life, no chance of survival or even of a moment’s happiness or consideration in his awful forced existence. He was a product, a barcode, a dish on a menu that happened to have a soul, a family and the ability to feel fear. He was all the things people who still eat them don’t want to acknowledge.
At first my friends expressed concern and perplexity as to why I was choosing to witness such horrors in the freezing cold for hours on end just for a moment with these animals. Some still do. They questioned the “extreme” change in me, uncomfortable that my newfound passion for animal rights unfortunately highlights the darker side of their dinner. Not many like to be told they are paying for something that is so cruel and nasty – I know I didn’t and found it hard to accept what I had been supporting. I always liked to think of myself as a genuine animal lover and fairly ethical person, I now get it that eating them and caring about their welfare can’t go hand in hand. So, it is of course far easier to point the finger at me labelling me as extreme rather than to face the victims and take responsibility. I’m not sure exactly what it is that is so extreme I am doing – I’m rather too boring to be “extreme”. The situation these animals are in because of people’s dietary preferences is extreme, not those trying to help these animals – perhaps if the pigs were dogs it would be easier to understand.
It is an amazing thing when friends or family members tell you they are going vegan, considering it or have stopped eating meat
I am well aware that by trying to expose the horror of how animals are treated does not always sit well with people, and that to me is actually really positive. No one I want to call a friend should feel comfortable with the way animals are treated in the food and clothing chains especially in this country and predictably some lighter friendships have fizzled out. My close friends have been supportive even if they don’t yet understand it fully. Slowly but surely though more and more people are asking questions now – not in a defensive way any more, calling me names, joking about vegans and labelling me as extreme, but in a more understanding and empathetic way, cautiously wanting to know more about the plight of these animals and the damaging environmental issues that come with livestock farming and the effects of eating animals has on our health.
It helps that more and more high-profile sportspeople, actors, singers and celebrities are going vegan and speaking out about animal rights, the latest being Lewis Hamilton and Will.i.am. It feels like the newspapers and various TV shows are covering exposés on UK animal welfare failings on a weekly basis – and not just in The Guardian! Vegans and farmers are being invited to debate their differences, and there are UK-wide vegan poster campaigns – some taking over entire tube stations. You can’t close your eyes forever no matter how comfortable it is in the dark.
Change is coming and the more activists out there the faster that change will be.
Since that first vigil well over a year ago it has been an ongoing learning curve on how to channel the vigil and other activism energy – a mix for me of raw anger, empathy, upset, love, grief, hope and huge determination – and use it positively, inclusively and peacefully to try and help people to understand what they are buying and to show by example how easy it is to adapt to vegan lifestyle even if you have young children in tow. It’s hard to stay calm about injustices, just start a conversation on dog fighting or the dog meat trade and suddenly everyone can relate. However too much anger is self destructive and doesn’t really benefit anyone, so i’ve also learned that when its becoming too much it’s important take a break.
So would I change anything about going vegan? Absolutely not. I have so much still to learn and it’s inspirational to be around active people who are promoting kindness and positive social changes; I have made some amazing new friends among them. I feel much more comfortable in the company of compassionate people these days. Of course there are some unpleasant vegans, aren’t there in any group of people? I just steer well clear of campaigns and opinions I feel are offensive to people and the movement and focus on the activists who use a love-based inclusive approach – luckily, there are far more who adopt this style of advocacy. Meeting other vegan parents and kids has been brilliant for my daughter too.
The best part though is when friends or family members tell you they have gone vegan, are considering it or have stopped eating animals, or adopted a companion animal rather than used a breeder. Even those experimenting now with a plant-based meal once or twice a week means the message is being heard, and these animals’ lives are starting to be valued as they should be not just as slabs of flesh on a plate. It’s a domino effect, I’ve stopped counting now how many people I know are going veggie, and each shift in habits – however small at the beginning – equates to fewer animals’ lives being demanded and a change in attitude towards causing them harm. Even my then six-year-old daughter has helped one of her teachers at school along the road to veganism!
I will never stop doing whatever I can to get the message out there, even if it means losing a few friends – it’s a small price to pay. How can I turn away from these wonderful and innocent beings when I have seen what terrible things we do to them?
For free vegan starter packs, great recipes, tips, support, advice and inspiration, click on the links below and of course feel free to drop me a email if you have any questions. I have included a 40-minute film Land of Hope and Glory at the base of this post. This film is for anyone who still believes that animals are treated with respect and dignity in the UK. As an ex-meat eater I used to look out for Red Tractor and RSPCA-assured food, free-range and organic labels as a way to tell myself these animals did not suffer for me – they had enjoyed life before their “humane” slaughter. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The footage is all from UK farms and are standard practices for the vast majority of farmed animals. Please watch and question whether a five-minute meal or snack is worth their life.
- Vegan beginners guide
- Easy ways to get into AR activism