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No meat, no eggs, no dairy: the year of the vegan

04 Jul 2016

From Netflix to JME, Heather Barrett shares the inspirations and motivations behind her personal journey into veganism.

One quiet evening after Christmas, during the no man’s land between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, I was on Netflix. My search for something educational yet gripping led me to Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. A documentary directed by Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, it exposes the vast detrimental impact that animal agriculture is having on our planet. I had been putting off watching it for a while, assuming it would be full of animal abuse videos trying to deter me from the meat loving life I was born into. However, I was pleasantly surprised, and found myself adopting a vegan diet that very same day.

The documentary gives you an insight into an industry that is already guilty of unnecessary mistreatment to animals. Kip and Keegan help to further expose animal agriculture as the leading cause of pollution, water consumption, deforestation, and many other environmental evils. And the best suggestion they come across to fix this out of control destruction is to cut out animal products completely. Nobody bats an eyelid at vegetarians anymore; today’s gastronomic hipsters are vegans. You have cafés and restaurants, cosmetic brands and clothes shops popping up all over the place promoting the vegan lifestyle and its benefits.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with not eating meat. The cost of it alone put me off, and I would rather have cooked a nice vegetable soup. However, what I couldn’t imagine before Cowspiracy was a life without dairy. At the height of my love for milk, I was having two glasses a day at least. Fast forward to 2016 and this is not the case anymore.

When you think about it properly, it makes a lot of sense. There are many different elements that go into agriculture that we just aren’t exposed to unless we do some of our own research. You have the amount of land used for animals, land used to grow food for these animals, water to help grow the food and water to give to the animals… But obviously none of this springs to mind when you’re thinking about having a cheese burger.

Rose Richards

Image by Rose Richards

To put it into perspective, in the United States alone, 70% of the grain grown is to feed farm animals. Also, 82% of starving children live in countries where the food is fed to farm animals, which are then eaten in western countries. Do you know how many people would eat if the food we grew for animals was given to humans? Everyone. We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, and with a world population of 7 billion I would say that’s more than enough.

However, these facts still don’t do it for a lot of people, they certainly weren’t enough for me. I consider myself well and truly desensitised to a lot of crap going on in the world, and a few statistics aren’t going to put me off something for life.

Then the film started to explore milk. My milk. The same milk that’s in your butter, cheese, ice-cream, whipped cream, double cream and yoghurt. The milk you put on your cereal and in your morning, afternoon and evening tea. Oh dear. Milk has long been promoted as the number one calcium enriched product on the market – a must have for any growing child who wants strong bones and good teeth. However it turns out that it is very, very bad for you.

A cow’s milk is custom designed for a calf, helping it to grow to eight times its size by the time it’s weaned. Then, it stops drinking from its mother. In fact, most animals do. Except humans. We continue to fill our temples with the milk of other animals, but the human body is not designed to take in all these hormones and saturated fats so in turn it rewards us with cancers, diabetes, heart disease, acne, and even calcium deficiency. This is all explained much more eloquently in the film by Dr Michael Klaper, an American physician, author and vegan who actually grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin.

I admit it, finally they had me. I was shocked. At one point the use of the word pus alongside milk led me to picture my tall, cold glass of bliss as all lumpy and bloody. I couldn’t get it out of my head. To add insult to injury, I found out that cows are artificially inseminated, lactating for ten months after the birth of a calf (that is removed from them at one day old) and then immediately impregnated again to keep the milk flowing.

That was enough negative vibes for me. I didn’t need to drink pus-filled milk that’s been stolen from a young animal. A bit of googling helped me see how ignorant I was about most animal products. Free range eggs, that means the chickens get space outside to run around and play, right? Free range means they get a little more space than your average battery hen, but usually inside a shed, and they’re still de-beaked without painkillers and completely overcrowded. What about organic meat? Buying organic meat means that you will be less exposed to the antibiotics and growth hormones farm animals are usually pumped with, but the animals are still brutally killed with bolt guns and electrocution.

It was time to stop buying mislabelled foodstuffs and kidding myself that these were the more moral choices. I had to do something. If I was going to do this, I was doing it properly. So my 2016 resolution was to go vegan. It’s been ten times easier than I thought it would be, cheaper than I was led to believe, and a lot of research has taught me that it’s actually better for my body, not to mention my mind. I feel at ease. Each day a person on a vegan diet saves around 5000 litres of water, 20kg of grain, 2.7 square metres of forested land, a crap load of CO2 emissions, and one animal’s life.

I highly recommend watching Cowspiracy. They try to interview many leaders in the green movement but are shocked that these leaders themselves don’t seem to want to comment. I won’t ruin it for you, but things get so tense they have to consider whether continuing to film is even safe.

I don’t think people who consume animal products should be abolished from the world. I loved meat, and to be quite honest if I was raising and killing it myself I would be quite happy to continue indulging in it every so often (sorry to all the Friends Not Food advocates). We just can’t sustain our planet if everything continues this way. There’s no balance right now, no harmony, and until we find that place I will not support it. I’m just trying to do my bit. Plus, JME’s vegan and he’s an absolute babe.