I can’t decide what I want. Am I vegetarian? Or pescatarian? I definitely don’t think I want to go completely plant-based or vegan, but should I? As I munch on my consciously-bought quinoa crisps, I realise I’m completely and utterly lost when it comes to my opinions on animal product consumption, especially as there’s a lot of opinions throwing their weight around.
A lot of you have probably watched Cowspiracy, What the Health or Food, Inc. on Netflix amongst many other documentaries aimed at everyone from on-the-fence vegans to the completely clueless. Films like these are massively thought-provoking and can only do good when it comes to educating the masses on controversial topics such as industrial meat production. But they are also incredibly biased, featuring the same almost-celebrity nutritionists each time, and cherry-picking research and warped observations on nutritional science.
Take What The Health for example. The duo behind the film are big animal rights activists and they cover some legitimate and important areas including pollution from pig-farms, animal advocacy and the disturbing revelation that organisations like the American Heart Association are given money by various beef industry and fast food conglomerates. But some of the ‘facts’ are downright exaggerated. Shoddy science runs through it, such as eating processed meat being the same as smoking five cigarettes or that carbohydrates can’t be turned into fat. Scaremongering about autism, and insisting that eating fat is bad. The film does a lot of good, but I just wish I was given the straight facts about what consuming animal based products actually is doing to my body. But then, these films wouldn’t be as entertaining would they?
I honestly only considered eating less meat in the last couple of months and animal welfare didn’t come into it. I’ve always been able to separate myself from the cute little lamb running around a field to what’s on my plate. Selfishly, my health was my primary concern. After watching many documentaries and doing my research, it’s definitely safe to say that following a heavily plant-based diet does wonders for your health, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and this, that and the other. And for me, that’s enough to make the change. But there were all these other bonus reasons too like reducing our carbon footprint, avoiding toxic chemicals (particularly found in fish, which I didn’t realise), reducing famine, and of course sparing the pain and suffering of farmed animals, who spend their lives in crates or stalls which they can’t even turn around in.
Moving to the UAE has certainly accelerated my shift in opinion. In the UK, I knew my chicken breast was from the UK and it was organic and free range if I so desired. I simply cannot find chicken here that isn’t either from the Ukraine (what is that about?!) or so freaking huge, that one breast is the size of my thigh. And I’ve got big thighs. If that isn’t pumped full of hormones then I don’t know what is. If I do find a product which is well-labelled and not full of chemicals, it’s usually imported and therefore is much more well-travelled than I’d like and also five times the cost! There’s a mega lack here in environmental awareness and basic food labelling or animal rights – which means I want to be extra careful about what I’m putting into my body.
Unfortunately, my favourite foods are as follows:
Pizza (the cheesier and meatier the better)
Anything brunchy like eggs benedict or smoked salmon and scrambled egg
Cheese – a whole baked Camembert all to myself is the absolute dream
My entire list of favourites is completely based on animal based products – and don’t try to tell me that vegan fried chicken is the same. I’ve been to Temple of Seitan in east London, and it was fine, at best. Seitan is like 100% gluten or something though so although I was being environmentally conscious, I was also hurting my insides – thanks world, just trying to do a good thing!
I could totally cut out all these foods if I had to, but the world would be a blander place for sure.
For me right now, with so many contradicting opinions floating around and a meat-eating husband, I’m only at the point where I’m making small steps. I’m going to use the word Flexitarian, sorry if that offends you. I feel like I can’t go on knowing that there are so many negative implications from the consumption of animal products, but I also have a lifelong addiction to cheese that realistically and in all seriousness, I’m not going to just quit overnight. Going cold-turkey vegan or vegetarian (for want of a better phrase) isn’t going to do anyone any favours. It’s like losing weight. Sure, if you eat 800 calories a day or drink only diarrhoea-inducing teas, then yes, you will lose weight. But as soon as you stop, and you will, your body will put more weight on than you had before and hold onto it even harder! Labelling yourself vegetarian or vegan overnight will not only make you feel deprived of your favourite food choices, but statistically it’s not going to make you permanently develop good habits.
There’s a good chance I will fall into category vegetarian in the future, but I’m taking it one day at a time and not labelling myself just yet. Unless I have to, in which case the word Flexitarian (there it is again) is the closest definition. But just avoid labels, they bring no credibility to your food choices and can only bring disappointment if you’re new to the plant-based world.
Below are the small changes I have made over the last couple of months. Please note that I come from a life-long passion of bacon, sausage and cheese, so these changes are momentous, and I hope they help you in some way.
Six things I’ve done to reduce my animal product consumption:
1. I no longer eat chicken (fact!), even the juicy fried type, but still need a comparable level of protein so I’ve replaced it with tofu. Something which still makes me gag slightly.
2. I seem to keep ordering mushroom truffle pizzas which is my new favourite thing and haven’t touched pepperoni in months.
3. I don’t really eat any sushi (but that might just be because it’s so expensive here).
4. I never drink milk. We only have almond milk in the house. *Air punch*
5. I only eat red meat about once a fortnight.
6. I had a whole week of vegetarian/vegan meals last week and didn’t miss meat at all! We did end the week on bacon carbonara though. Oops.
What I will do moving forward:
1. Still never eat chicken or drink cow’s milk
2. Completely cut out red meat
3. Educate myself on fish sustainability and toxins – one minute I’m told to eat 2/3 portions of fish a week and the next I’m told I’ve got mercury poisoning
4. Be open minded about vegan cheese (sigh)
5. Eat less eggs
I’m not single-handedly changing the planet and these changes are by no means revolutionary, but if the developed world took on more of these habits it would be a start. I don’t know where I’ll be in thirty years, but that’s ok. There is however a good chance now that I’ll eat less bacon sarnies, and I’ll be eating more avo on toast in a teepee made of chickpeas, and I might just live a few years longer too. I’ll take that.
Are you in the process of cutting out more animal-based products? Do you have any advice or struggle with it at all? Comment below!