The Accidental Vegetarian

You know that thing hynotists do? That’s how becoming a vegetarian felt to me.

‘When I click my fingers you won’t be able to stomach eating meat, including chicken…’

It wasn’t a considered decision – boom! one day a few weeks ago, I just couldn’t eat those things anymore – but I think I know what triggered it: all the cute animals clips I’ve seen on Facebook. Particularly this one…

There’s something about seeing different species of animals hanging out together, playing, and being nice to each other that touched me deeply and made me start considering my feelings about eating any of them.

Then there was this one, which I’m sure you’ve seen, of the goats playing on the metal arch thing.

I know they’re probably not really playing as we do, it’s natural goat behaviour to climb on things, but something about that clip got under my skin.

I don’t even particularly like goats (those creepy eyes) but it made me start to think about farm animals in particular and how I have allowed them in my head to become a commodity, a resource for humans – rather than as creatures having a life, as I do and my cat does and dogs I’m particularly fond of do, for no reason other than to live it.

The final straw was a Facebook-posted video of cruel US farming practices. I’m not going to describe it and ruin your day, but it made me sob and that was it.

I’m still bewildered how this has crept up on me. For years I’ve championed the Top of the Food Chain argument. Nature red in tooth and claw and all that. I still sincerely believe that Homo sapiens is an omnivore species – it’s the industrial scale of meat ‘production’ I can’t live with.

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So what about feeding the two ferocious carnivores I live with, who would happily eat chorizo for every meal?

I still want to cook meat for them (my husband can’t cook, but does all the hoovering, ironing and cleaning up the kitchen, so it’s a division of labour which suits me fine) so I was sure I’d soon get over this sudden reluctance to eat it.

I thought it would happen around about the next time I roasted a chicken …but I cooked that bird and put some on my plate, only to find I simply couldn’t bring it to my lips.

Chickens-Help-Your-Garden
The same happened when I made a big family roast dinner. They tucked in to roast beef and all the trimmings. I had the trimmings with extra beetroot and a big dollop of humous and was perfectly happy with it.

So I’m not finding it a strain to feed the family. If I make them meat, I eat everything except that, we’re all having more bean and veggie meals (I love the recipes of those brilliant vegan Irish boys at the Happy Pear ) – and more fish, because I must confess I still eat that, so really I’m a pescatarian, rather than a vegetarian.

I know fish are animals too and working by my new logic, have as much right to live their natural span as a cute lamb or piglet, but I’m not ready to give up eating the catch that’s brought in by small fishing boats just metres from my front door, just yet. Nothing about this decision seems entirely rational, so I’m just going along with it.

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I’ve no idea how long it will last. So far I’ve got through meals out and parties with no problem, but there are many tests to come and I don’t know how strict I’m going to be about it.
Remembering how irritated I’ve been myself in the past, am I up to telling dinner party hosts ‘I don’t eat meat…’?

Will I give up making gin and tonic jelly because it requires gelatin? Will I be able to forgo the haggis I so adore next Burns Night? Would I be able to resist the tandoori lamb chops at Tayyabs (a Pakistani restaurant in London’s Whitechapel)? I just don’t know.

I’m not making any promises to myself, or anyone else, but for now while my husband and daughter sit with meat juices running down their chins, my next order at Half Man Half Burger (the fantastic burger joint in Hastings) will be the Halloumi Be Thy Name grilled cheese burger.

19 Comments
  • Kate Loughton
    June 15, 2016

    Hi Maggie.
    Whilst I respect your decision and understand your reasoning, please please read Lierre Keith before you commit to this lifestyle. It might change the way you see things. Why are only the cute animals exempt? Why aren’t the animals that are killed to provide your wheat and corn and oats important? It’s not just what’s dead on your plate.

    The Vegetarian Myth – Lierre Keith.

    It’ll change the way you look at food, agriculture and the environment. Plus it’s beautifully written – always a bonus.

    I love your writing and very sorry that you’ll no longer be entertaining me on Sunday mornings in The Herald.

    best
    Kate

    • Maggie
      June 15, 2016

      Thanks for your kind comment about my column. I’m gutted, as you can imagine… I can’t promise I’ll read that book – I’m confused enough as it is!! but I will look at the outline of it xxx

      • Kate Loughton
        January 10, 2017

        So why have you disappeared???

        • Maggie
          January 13, 2017

          ha ha good question…. I’m about to get back to it. Life has been insane.Thank you for caring x

  • Nicole jenkins
    June 15, 2016

    Good on you, Maggie. I became vegetarian 25 years ago and it was the best choice I’ve ever made. Some people took offense and I still feel like it’s a bother when people invite me to dinner but I’m happier now that my relationship to animals is less complicated. Just take each day as it comes and find what works for you.

  • Sevasti Myriofitoy
    June 15, 2016

    Hi Maggie,

    You need to do what feels right for you. Being vegetarian is not so unusual as it once was, it should be no hassle no matter where you go. For me, I prefer to eat the meat and fish my husband hunts. That way I know the animals and fish did not suffer.

    Sundays for us always mean breakfast out and reading your column in The Age, so sorry you will no longer be entertaining us. Best wishes

  • Leonnie Gleeson
    June 15, 2016

    Love you Maggie. Don’t worry about consistency, or vegans who deride all those who fall short of their (infinitely admirable) standards – every little bit you do towards kindness to animals helps. And you will hopefully influence others to join you.

  • Nicola
    June 15, 2016

    I’ve been vegetarian for 3 years – I also eating meat after one too many reports of cruel practices. Although I stopped eating meat for ethical reasons, I feel so much healthier now and this was a benefit I had not anticipated. I don’t cook meat for my family either – I put a lot of effort into finding tasty food the family like and now have a large repotoire of recipes they enjoy.

    I agree with Leonnie – there will be people who will knock your choices ( and it is true that most of us can never lead a completely cruelty free life) but every little does help.

  • Lara
    June 15, 2016

    I applaud you. For many years I have felt uneasy about my self-proclaimed hypocrisy of eating meat. I loooove lamb roast, mum’s beef mince rissoles and don’t get me started on chicken laksa but I also looooove my (2nd hand) cat, my share dog, pigs, lambs, possums, echidnas (not that we eat the latter two) and I volunteer at the local animal shelter.

    My best friend is a committed vego and when I stay with her (twice a year for a few days at a time) I happily eat vego. In fact I flirted with being a vego (I won’t lie, the odd roast lamb did pass my lips) for about 12 months many years ago when living alone after cohabiting with a die-hard carnivore for a decade and really enjoyed exploring chickpeas, lentils, new spices, etc but my iron levels plummeted so returned to carnivore status on doctors orders. Now that I’m older and a wee bit wiser, I realise I could have done with consulting a dietician.

    My advice (for what it’s worth) – consult a dietician or naturopath to get qualified advice on supplementing your diet to ensure yo get adequate protein. Without it, you may struggle to stay full and in extreme cases can suffer hair loss (sharp intake of breath !). You may also need vitamin / mineral supplements which can be as easy as taking a tablet each day. (There are some amino acids which are specific to meat). Being post-menopausal (I’m assuming), you won’t have to worry about iron levels 🙂 Secondly, give friends and acquaintances plenty of warning when arranging get togethers. Your real friends will adapt. The others, well that’s their problem….

  • MST
    June 16, 2016

    Good for you! And your decision doesn’t have to be one or the other. Even if you eat meat occasionally you are still making a difference. Don’t give in to the food police and just stay happy with your own choices.

  • Zayin
    June 16, 2016

    Good for you!

    Cruel farming practices are an abombination, because they’re SO not necessary.

    My plan is to one day, raise (and kill) all of the meat I consume personally. (I live on a farm, so it’s actually quite possible).

    Like this lady:

    twwly.com

  • Anne At Home
    June 16, 2016

    Good on you Maggie. My 10 year old daughter proclaimed she was pescetarian about 3 months ago ( she’s a committed animal lover). Rather than cook different meals for her, the rest of us are pretty much following suit. My 5 year old is still a devoted carnivore so we have red meat or chicken once a week for her and I grill a piece of salmon for the pescetarian. I only buy organic, grass fed meat to avoid the nasty practices. It’s very affordable when you only eat it once a week. We are eating so much more plant based protein now which is only a good thing!

  • Janine O'Neill
    June 16, 2016

    Yes, you have to do what feels right for you Maggie. I would emphasise Lara’s post that you need to read up/get advice re a balanced diet without meat (that’s the nurse coming out in me).
    So missing The Rules, and shocked that the replacement column is just a copy. I have passed my comments on to the Sunday Age editor.

  • Anita
    June 16, 2016

    “There’s something about seeing different species of animals hanging out together, playing, and being nice to each other that touched me deeply”

    I had the same experience and also on Facebook. Am still eating meat occasionally but don’t feel good about it. My next step is to look into ethically sourced meat as my 15 yo son still wants to eat it.

    Great article, thank you

  • Bernadette Green
    June 16, 2016

    Dear Maggie, I totally get you. I haven’t eaten pork for at least 15 yrs now (they are too close to dogs to eat in my opinion). Fish I do eat. I still find a little free range chicken I can manage (but I am very thingy about where it has come from, etc). Facebook posts have definitely had an impact on me too; those millions of huts in the fields where the baby cows/veal live in isolation … oh no. That cannot be good for any creature or human being to be involved with in any way. B

  • Sharon Derby
    June 16, 2016

    Hi Maggie, I’ve been in the same position for a few years now. I just can’t eat meat. I haven’t ‘come out’ as it were, just avoid eating it. At home it’s easy, although I still cook meat every second day for the family. Eating at restaurants I just order the vegetarian. At friend’s houses it’s harder, but a lot seem to serve self service and if I pile up the salads or veggies no meat is not obvious. I just don’t want to be difficult to cook for, or have to keep explaining my viewpoint. Just quietly on my own crusade against some barbaric treatment of animals.
    Just very sad too about The Rules no longer appearing every Sunday. As a blonde who now wears yellow and loves it, and all black with a neutral shoe, I loved hearing your viewpoint.

  • Linda Mondy
    June 17, 2016

    Yes, I’m sliding that way too. Can’t bear to buy or touch meat these days, but I will eat it when I’m out on some occasions. Can’t resist the $8 Coles BBQ chicken though.

  • Georgina
    June 22, 2016

    I’m the same – no more meat for me (white, red, pink) but I still eat seafood. I actually gave up red meat in 2002 after watching one of the Jurassic Park films – the weird order of the species thing just hit me! Pork and chicken only went a few years ago. I would love to be able to say adieu to dairy too – such a dreadful industry – but what to do?

    P.S. So sad about your column! I love your writing and would love to be you :)) G

  • Justine
    September 17, 2016

    Hi Maggie. Sorry to barge in on your lovely post, which was great reading by the way, but I think I’ve just seen a Jayne Mayle dress you have that I covet SO badly on Ms Mayle’s new venture. It’s your black tea length dress with the white lace on the bodice. You wore it with gold heeled sandals and wrote about it and I’ve loved it ever since but never have been able to find anything like it. It’s the Therese dress on her new site. Not available yet. Have a look and let us know what you think please oh please?

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