Sunday 15 April 2012

Vegetarianism and me.

Well I've finally gone and done it.

I've finally stopped dipping my toe into the proverbial vegetarian pool, took a big breath and dived in, I have now decided to officially label myself a vegetarian.

The truth is, that I've drastically cut down on meat since last December, and I haven't really missed it, and on the occasions I've eaten meat I've not enjoyed it and felt bad about doing so.

It all started around Easter last year when I gave up meat for lent, during this time I really craved meat and ended up having a meat binge at the end of the lent period. I now put this down to the lack of cooking knowledge and poor options at restaurants.

Afterwards I went back to a more normal level of meat consumption which for me is quite low anyway and consisted of mainly chicken and the occasional smoked salmon bagel at weekends.  But around Christmas I watched the last thirty minutes of a programme whose name escapes me now, but basically the 'presenter' (I presume some TV chief or food critic who I'd never seen before) attempts to grow his own food for Christmas and compare it to what you get at the supermarket.  As part of this he decided to rear his own turkey.  At the end of the year, after all his work he hosts a Christmas meal offering both his home made produce and those from the supermarket.

When it comes to evaluating the turkey, they show his free range turkey, which was a tiny thing which they worked out to be worth around £60 (OK, that's a guess, but it was something ridiculous like that) and an offering from Bernard Matthews, which was twice the size of the free range turkey and would cost around £30.  They then showed a flashback from earlier on in the episode from the presenter's visit to the Bernard Matthews farm, and shows how the turkeys were kept in what looked like large sheds, pretty much like battery hens but with more room- but it was still not good. The representative from Bernard Matthews then explains that if the turkeys weren't kept in these conditions, then the average family wouldn't be able to have turkey at Christmas.

This made me think about vegetarianism again; did I feel right about animals being kept in these conditions just so I could afford it's meat? I would class myself as an animal lover, and I can never understand how people can do such cruel things to cats or dogs, but it can be so easy to turn a blind eye to how animals are treated in the meat industry. I changed my bank last year from a popular high street bank to the Cooperative as I didn't like the thought that I didn't know what my money was being invested in, whereas with the Coop I have that reassurance that they only invest in companies who meet their ethical policies. I feel the same about meat- I can't guarantee that the chicken in my meal has been treated in an ethical way, unless I have the money to spend on free range products.  And even then, that only guarantees their treatment on the farm, not how they were treated at the slaughterhouse.

In addition, I've never been a fan of meat on the bone, or any kind of meat that looks like the animal it came from.  By avoiding these cuts, it meant I could shy away from what I was actually eating. But if I ever catch a clip on TV of someone hacking up a dead pig, I find it hard to watch. The more I see of images like this, the more I find it  hard to disassociate the meat on my plate from the animal. And that I find hard to stomach.

Another factor in my decision is the environmental impact of the commercial meat industry.  Since being at school and learning about the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment I've always been concerned about the environment. Not only do cows account for 1/3 of the methane produced by human activity but farming animals wastes resources such as land and water. In a world with an increasing population- is this sustainable?

I'm not going to to go around shouting 'meat is murder' because I don't believe it is- we are part of the food chain and we have evolved to have canine teeth because it was advantageous to our ancestors to be able to eat meat.  However our increasing desire for meat has driven commercial farming methods which neglect the welfare and health of animal and ignore the environmental impact on our planet.

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