An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life
English chef Amy, the latest contributor to our series, explains how she went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight and what it means to her
I turned 30 this year; my immediate family is now just my brother and my mum. I was brought up in a very traditional family, in which we sat down at the table for meals, we helped cook, and we helped clear it all away. My dad was of the “meat, veg and bread and butter” generation, so meals were typically traditionally English – pies, oxtail, lamb shanks, etc. And I loved that food.
I also loved learning to cook from my mum, who, ironically, is now and was then a vegetarian. Mum was a vegetarian, however, because she didn’t like the taste of meat, so I never questioned the ethics of eating animals. It was genuinely something that I never came across until the last couple of years.
At 21 I fell into the world of chef-ing quite by accident, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. After my first year I was managing a kitchen, and two years into that I received my accreditation. I loved watching Masterchef, and would get really creative with food on my days off, spending all day making dinner.
Most recently I moved to work at a steakhouse. The induction into the job included visiting a slaughterhouse, the farm our cows are raised at, and the “cutting plant” (basically a massive industrial-scale butchers). I still never questioned it.
We all agreed on leaving the slaughterhouse that “it’s not nice to see, but it’s just the way it is, and at least they were calm and it was over quickly for them”. Writing those words now makes me feel cold.
A few of my friends had already gone vegan, and were sharing things on Facebook: videos of the atrocious conditions animals were being kept in; day-old calves being dragged away from their mothers and the mothers chasing after them; messages of “cows’ milk being for baby cows”; videos of male chicks being thrown live into macerators.
I would see them and it would break my heart, but I would think, “that’s awful but I don’t think what I buy comes from there”. It obviously played on my subconscious because my thoughts started to become, “I would go vegan if I could, but I really like cheese”. Then I found out about vegan cheeses. I tried them and thought… hmmm they don’t taste the same, but they’re still good!
I don’t know if there was a eureka moment as such but I went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight about four months ago. The more I read about the myths of “free-range”, and about the unnatural animals we have created through selective, intensive and over-breeding the more I knew I had made the right decision. I mean, I wouldn’t treat my dog, or any dog, like that, so why did I think it was right to treat an animal with just as much sentience, intelligence, emotions, any differently? The hypocrisy of getting so outraged at cultures eating dog suddenly became very apparent.
I think I was more shocked at the egg and dairy industry than I was with the meat industry, although I find both as horrific now.
The fact that hens and dairy cows were going through prolonged suffering, and spending their unnaturally short lives being forced to create something they were not designed to produce so much of or so often, and then died so much earlier than they were meant to because their bodies were exhausted, all so we could eat something that we had been brought up to believe we needed, or something we liked the taste of just seemed ludicrous.
Based on the fact I have made this decision on moral grounds – that we cannot warrant causing harm to others, for sensory pleasure – I honestly cannot imagine a reason I would ever go back to being omnivore. When I see meat and dairy now, I just see everything that goes on behind the scenes to produce it.
When I first went vegan, I ate a lot of meat and dairy substitutes, which I think is quite normal when you’ve first made the decision, as you are still looking for the taste of meat. I would have a smoothie everyday with berries, spinach, and chia and flax seeds, just to make sure I was getting those in my diet at the start of my day.
Obviously you become more aware of what you need and where to get it from as you go, and over time I have realised that meat substitutes are not the best thing to live on, although they definitely have their place. I found my body was craving vegetables, and funnily I started to go off the taste of the vegan ‘meats’.
I am now much more into creating meals with vegetables, pulses, nuts, tofu etc. But being a chef at heart, I am big on flavours and textures so it is important these meals pack both of those in big quantities. Creamy, cheesy pastas, rich smoky mushroom and lentil mince, spicy tangy sticky sauces coating vegetables in Chinese steamed buns… I love cooking and eating things like that.
It has been great for me to experiment with flavours and ingredients, as I certainly could not just live on salads and vegetable curries.
That whole journey encouraged me to look at where I get protein, B12, Omegas and other nutrients from. It’s funny that one of the first things that crops up in discussions with non-vegans is a sudden concern for your wellbeing and where you are getting all your nutrients from, and ironic Continue reading “‘People get upset about other cultures eating dogs, yet do not make the link with any other animal flesh’”