It had been my plan to give up meat for one year starting in January. To more fully embrace a dietary path I have been partially committed to for a year now anyway. Cooking vegan has been a joyful adventure and my imagination continues to brew feasts. In January, I said, I will remove meat from my diet for one year. Our favorite restaurants are vegan anyway, so no problem, in January.
But then we went to see, as part of Sudbury Indie Cinema Best of Hot Docs, Liz Marshall’s powerful documentary, The Ghosts In Our Machine. It follows the life’s work of vegan photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as she documents cruelty to animals. I have seen Vegucated, and Food Inc, and Fast Food Nation, but The Ghosts In Our Machine managed to bring home what I am doing/participating in by eating meat. I am participating in the cruelty machine. My little ice cream habit, for example, is helping to keep dairy cattle trapped in tight quarters, slaughtered as soon as their contributions to industry are spent. Ice cream isn’t meat, you might think to yourself. It’s fun and festive food until you think about how milk and cream are harvested. I will continue to crave ice cream but I can no longer eat it. Solution? Buy an ice cream maker and enjoy almond milk ice cream knowing I am not adding to the cruelty of the world. There are solutions everywhere for the “problem” of how to live without meat, which isn’t a problem at all. When we wonder how wars keep raging, we can also look down at our plates and the violence that contributes to our dinner. Little innocuous rectangles of meat in the grocery store do not tell the truth. I would not kill an animal with my bare hands, so I have no business eating one. This struggle has been going on in me for years, but more potently since I embraced vegan cookery and its thrilling versatility and flavour.
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not find himself at peace.” –Albert Schweitzer.
I have no plans to preach. This will be a mostly silent journey aside from great conversations with my partner and anyone who is interested in the experience. I feel no need to blog each step of the way because my life has been predominantly meat free. My emotional connections to certain food items are deep and it will be a long process, saying goodbye to meat that I have “enjoyed” all my life. Real “foodies” eat meat and other myths. Bacon is for me now the screams of pigs en route to slaughter in a crowded truck. It always was, but I kept eating bacon, abstracting. The comfort food of roast chicken, the sausage penne to please the boys in my life, just can’t be done anymore. I will be reading Eating Animals and Vegan on Main Street and educating myself slowly and quietly. Nothing bad will happen to my health; it is a myth that being vegan is hard work, dangerous or ineffective in terms of changing the fate of factory farm animals. I never feared for my health when I think of a life without meat; I fear for my morality and mental health if I keep eating it, knowing what I know now. Courting conflict inside myself is of no interest: it is why I stopped drinking alcohol, too, because the inner conflicts were too numerous and frankly, too much work. I like things simple.
The film shows, through making connections between the fur industry, animal laboratory research, dairy farms, pets, and pigs, cows and chickens that we do not need to eat animals to survive in 21st Century western society. We haven’t needed to eat meat in forever, but because it signifies prosperity, wealth, and vitality in so much messaging in our society, we keep buying the bland little rectangles in the grocery store and abstracting for sanity’s sake.
I’m really looking forward to this journey, which is not about doing without, becoming inconvenient, or limiting choices, but rather, exploring the good feeling of a life less invested in cruelty, unconscious or conscious. Mindfulness is my goal for all areas of my life. That is never too much work.