Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago and it kinda got lost in my drafts as life got busy. Yesterday morning Andrew and I watched this really, really beautiful heartfelt clip by Kalel and I felt inspired again to share my thoughts and words on where I am right now. Also, this post is not meant to attack or make anyone feel bad – it’s just my honest reflections and observations since that wonderful day – the 3rd of December 2014 – when I decided to stop consuming animal products.
So it’s been just over nine months since I made the decision to become vegan. Enough time to nourish a whole other being into life! Man, have I learnt a lot in these nine months – about myself, about other people, about the world we’re brought up in and the way we live our lives. People warned me in the beginning that it would be hard, and whilst I still am one hundred percent behind the statement that going vegan was the easiest decision I have ever made in my life, some things have stayed the same and most things have changed. I’ve had to grow a thick skin. I’ve had to breathe a lot and learn to ignore a lot. Dinner parties and social gatherings around food still make me nervous – I never know if fellow guests are going to take offence or not to the way I live my life and having to be ready to defend yourself 24/7 can get exhausting. I’ve had to practise understanding and compassion on a level I never thought possible, because goodness – if you’re vegan, you’re not allowed to be angry… you must always be seen to be kind and understanding and accepting. If you get mad or hurt and tears prick in the back of your eyes at the injustice of the way animals are treated, then you’re just plain “weird” or “extreme”. I’ve had to grit my teeth and smile through many a silly argument. I’ve had people tell me, on discovering that I don’t eat any animal products, that they would never be my friend or invite me over for a meal. Yet, at the same time, some of my favourite people to eat with (Ands and Nix – looking at you girlfriends) aren’t veggie and are always hugely supportive and understanding. I’ve had the entire way I live, and have lived my life, put under a magnifying glass – sometimes by complete strangers. Every single decision I make and every word I say, has to be constructed carefully – and it is tough work. But, really, truly, I’m still little ol’ me – dirty-minded, sarcastic, foul-mouthed, fun-loving, deep belly-laughing, crazy-nutter, dorky Keri.
Becoming vegan has required more discipline than getting a degree, maintaining an intense health programme or even sometimes tending to the budding seeds of a young marriage. It’s the biggest commitment I’ve ever made and it has brought out both the ugliness and beauty in every moment I’ve lived and every person I’ve interacted with over the past few months. I won’t lie, I’ve often thought about how much easier it would be to put the blindfolds back on and return to “normality”… but that normal is no longer my normal. And it can never be my normal again, not knowing what I know now. My eyes have been opened and my heart has been ripped out about so many things – largely about how the world, society and tradition functions around food and the treatment of non-human animals. I’ve started recycling, being mindful about food wastage, seriously questioned starting a family of my own and I have read and watched and studied SO many documentaries, papers, books and articles that I swear my brain is about a zillion times bigger now. It’s unstoppable and every day feels like I open up new pages to a secret book we really should all be reading. And hard as it may be, I will never ever close that book.
In a nutshell, nine months down the line, these are the things I know for sure and what being vegan means to me:
ANGER SOLVES NOTHING
Knowing the truth about how animals are bred and farmed and killed makes me angry (and sad). Bringing it to the attention of others who would rather not know this information, makes them angry. VERY angry. And yes, of course there are some wonderful farms and butchers who breed and raise and kill animals the “right” way… but they are very few and far between on this planet of ours. Ninety-eight percent of the meat sold and consumed around the world is factory-farmed meat. What I have learnt through numerous discussions with many people is that we can all (largely) agree that animals should live a good and kind life on nice big farms with lots of space and access to light and fresh water and natural food. We all agree on this – we share videos against animal cruelty and the terror of factory farming and how bad it is for the environment… but, unfortunately, not many of us will stop supporting these practises financially. Many may speak about it over their “ethically-farmed” wagyu beef burger at a fancy restaurant whilst sitting with their veggie friends – but the next day they’re off buying Eskort bacon, without a second thought, in its convenient plastic packet from Pick ‘n Pay, for their Sunday fry-up. And that is what really angers/saddens me. Unfortunately, the way it is right now – factory farmed animals, and the chemical and hormone ridden flesh butchered from their bodies – is cheap. Getting up every Saturday morning and going to the farmer’s market to buy “ethically” farmed pig/beef/chicken for the week is not that easy (and pretty expensive). We have been conditioned to a life of ease – and that includes convenient meat, dairy milk and cheese – at the price of animals’ welfare. So while many will argue that “not all” meat is factory farmed, we can also safely say that “not all” people will ensure that the meat that they are consuming is not factory-farmed. The truth is that we can get angry about our food choices, or how someone tells us how to eat our food and live our lives, but that anger is not going to help the silent victims or solve the very real problem that we are, quite simply, killing ourselves and the earth by continuing to eat the amount of animal products we are currently consuming. Everyone needs to stop being angry and rather be constructive – listen, learn, read, take action.
HATRED TOWARDS VEGANS IS REAL
This was a big learning curve for me, because whilst I was the biggest meat eater on the planet before December 2014, I never really had a problem with vegetarians or vegans. Their lifestyle was never an issue for me (although I probably felt sorry for them and all the steak they were missing out on) and I never took offense to their line of thought – probably because, deep down, I kinda agreed with them. Since I was a little girl, I remember driving behind trucks packed with pigs/cows/chickens/sheep off to the slaughterhouse and thinking, “I shouldn’t be eating them”. I pushed that thought away for twenty nine years. Many people and many non-vegans have spoken out vehemently against the idea that vegans are hated, but a few recent threads on social media, several real life interactions and a couple of tweets in the past few months have really taken my breath away. People (and intelligent people for that matter) declaring things like “this is why everyone hates vegans” and “let’s band together against the vegans” and “fuck vegans. I’m going to go eat a steak wrapped in bacon and sprinkled with chicken nuggets right now” quite literally broke my heart. It’s not at all funny. It’s hugely insensitive to the thousands of animals locked up in tiny crates in dark sheds who are unable to even turn around, never mind run in a field, as they should. Never in a million gazillion years, even as a former fillet steak/calamari/roast chicken lover, would I ever have thrown out such brash statements against a group of people who are, quite obviously, animal lovers with their intentions in the right place. It kinda reminds me of people who were anti-apartheid and anti-slavery being ridiculed and labeled as “nigger lovers”. Fighting for the rights of other beings, no matter how “extreme” you think it is – needs to be celebrated, not condemned. Also, whatever anyone says to try and justify eating animal products is not going to change my mind about it. I’m cool with being being hated because I’m compassionate. It’s a path walked by many before me.
First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Animals are living, breathing beings and just because some people feel very strongly about the value of their lives on this planet, does not mean that those people are terrible human beings. Vegan-bashing is deeply, deeply shameful behaviour and I, personally, would have been highly embarrassed to put out statements like that – even when I was a full-on meat-eater. Please stop defending animal abuse – because slaughtering an animal – even if it is for your food – is still abuse. I’m 100% positive that if a cow or pig or lamb or chicken or fish could speak human, they would pretty much say, “hey, please don’t kill me, I just wanna go live in the field/sea with my mates until I die of natural causes”. It is well-documented that cows cry actual real tears in the line up to their slaughter. There are plenty of videos and countless reports of ex-slaughterhouse and farm workers online if you want to check it out. I grew up on a farm and have lived on a beef farm for four years. I know what I saw and heard and felt, and an anti-vegan argument from a city clicker living in a Cape Town or Johannesburg flat, far removed from the reality of where meat really comes from, makes me see red. And for the love of god, please don’t argue that plants have feelings too. Plants don’t have eyes and they don’t bleed, shit or fuck. A mere two hundred years ago, non-Caucasian people and women of all colours were thought of as nothing but property – they too had no choice in how their lives played out. Seventy-odd years ago, Jews were rounded up and treated just like we are treating factory-farmed animals today. Women in Saudi Arabia have only just been allowed to register to vote. Think about it. Really – think about it. Farming animals is just another form of slavery. Just because they don’t speak human or have the brain power and hands to make weapons, does not make them our slaves. And as for the evolution excuse… I think if you were confronted unarmed in the veld by a lion or a grisly bear you’d change your mind very quickly about who really is at the top of the food chain. The wheel turns. And I want to be on the upturn in my lifetime.
IT’S ABOUT INTENTION, NOT PERFECTION
I can’t tell you how many friends and acquaintances I have who are changing the way they eat but are too scared to call themselves vegan, or even vegetarian, because of the judgement they may receive. And, getting to the other side… as much as I love being vegan and can confidently say that I wake up every day with the intention to live as kindly as I possibly can in every way, there are always people just waiting to watch you slip up – and they are both vegans and non-vegans. Yes – I have eaten a tiny bit of cheese since I’ve been vegan. Yes, I may have unintentionally eaten something with egg or cream in it (damn you sneaky bread rolls) or drunk wine or beer that is not vegan. Yes, I use my leather handbag every now and then (I had it before I was vegan). I’m not a saint, and never will I be, but I will never intentionally, and with my own money, buy anything made with animal products in it, ever again.
If I’m invited to a dinner party where wine is served that I’m not entirely sure is 100% vegan, or if the host has catered for me as best he/she can, but has added feta cheese to the salad, I will not fold my arms and refuse to eat or drink anything. I may push aside the cheese on my plate, but I won’t add fuel to the fire by asking if everything is vegan. So at home I eat and drink vegan completely and when I eat out I stick to vegan choices as much as I can, and if I’m invited to a dinner party, sometimes I have to suck it in and eat vegetarian (and deal with the inevitable tummy-ache the next day). This is SA, not LA, and many people here have never even heard of the concept of Veganism. I’m not going to be the one who makes it sound like a complete chore. I choose to not eat dairy and I have not touched a piece of animal flesh in nine months, but I also won’t be that person who turns ten people at a dinner party off becoming vegan because I cause a scene if the meal has some cheese on it (yep, picking it off discreetly has become a fine art). And, for anyone asking, I still buy and feed my cat Hills Science soft food because we got her before I went vegan and cats need meat to survive. As for my dogs, transitioning them to a vegan diet (completely possible) is still on the cards – largely because my husband is not vegan, and as much as I wish I could, I can’t force him to follow my lifestyle choices, although he probably eats vegan fifty percent of the time now. I don’t feel that any of the above makes me less of a vegan – I’ve opened my eyes to the truth and am doing the best I can, every day, to set it right in every possible way I can.
VEGANISM IS NOT A BELIEF
My absolute pet hate is when people say that my being vegan is a “belief ” and then liken it to religion (this is usually done by atheists or people who look down on religion. Just for the record – I am not at all anti-religion and I totally believe in my God). But abuse and slaughtering animals in not a belief. It’s not something I chose or imagined to be. It’s very real. As far as I know, religion is labeled a “belief” because people cannot physically comprehend God or Buddha or Allah (or whoever floats their boat) with all of their five senses. I chose to be vegan because of concrete, tangible facts – I have seen and heard and smelt and felt with my own ears and eyes what I have growing up on farms. And with one click of a button you can see and hear and feel for yourself the very real ill-treatment of farm animals on YouTube. I have yet to see evidence of God or Jesus or Allah on a YouTube documentary. So please don’t tell me that you respect my “belief” in being vegan and that I should respect your belief in eating meat – because it’s not about belief. It’s a very real thing that is happening to billions (yes, BILLIONS) of animals every year. It is not imagined, it is not something written about in ancient texts – it is happening right here, right now and right under your nose. You just have to open your eyes to see it. Simple. Please don’t reduce millions of animals’ painful existences and every day suffering to an unseen entity that relies on belief to exist.
And while I’m on the belief subject, another pet hate is when people tell me that I should not share stories about going vegan or facts about animal agriculture because those facts make meat-eaters/farmers/chefs etc etc feel bad and that I should rather just “live and let live“. The irony of this phrase does not, I feel, need to be expanded on here. If you don’t get it, please email me and I will explain why this is a “fucking stupid thing to tell a vegan” (my meat-eating brother’s words – not mine). As long as I continue to get messages from people every week thanking me for sharing the material and information I have, the longer I will keep doing so. If it offends you, perhaps you need to think about why that’s so.
LOVE CONQUERS ALL
I have thought many, many a time, that, well, maybe if I don’t have kids, then I don’t have to worry about the earth’s future; let me just live my life and eat all the cheese, and it’ll be good – it’s just little old me… what difference am I really going to make?
But then, I simply pull it back to love.
Because becoming vegan is the ultimate declaration of love a human can make: love for all other animals (obviously), love for our children, the environment and mother earth (watch this if you think I’m smoking crack) and most importantly, love for our fellow human beings. I refuse to give up on us a species and I refuse to give up on this planet. I believe in happy endings and in fairy tales. And this refusal to give up is at the heart of every vegan person. The certainty that we can make a difference – that our children and grandchildren can live their lives on earth as we do now – perhaps even better – because of the choices we make now. Choices made in love, choices made in respect, choices made in compassion – choices made from the depths of our hearts.
I won’t give into the darkness.
With every breath of every waking day, I am fighting against the current prediction that our children will live in a dark world, void of the sea, wild animals, deep jungles and fresh water. Deep down I believe in miracles; deep down I believe in human intelligence and kindness and reasoning and, deep down, I believe in the love that exists between all beings when an eye meets an eye and a soul speaks to a soul and an unspeakable understanding is felt far beyond words and time. I believe in love and I believe in hope and that is why I am vegan. Not to annoy, not to anger, not to question lifestyles or to judge choices, but to ensure that I play my part in moving forward together on this beautiful planet – hand in hand with complete faith that this beautiful, amazing, and wondrous space we call our home will be ours for as long as our own children can breathe and love and make children of their own.
Images: Kate Martens Photography