I was born in the mid-1980s, and with the fortune to be born into a vegetarian household. My parents had met some vegan anarchist in a pub who asked them a question they could not answer: “If you are socialist because you believe all lives are equal, what about animals?”
My health-conscious mother was already open to the idea, and my ex-butcher-boy father never had liked the taste of meat. Neither could fault the logic of universal compassion, either.
This compassion was normal for me. I was only ever served home-cooked vegetarian and often vegan food. My mother is also what I call a “veggie-minimiser” - a vegetarian that avoids and actively replaces many animal products and favours vegan food, although is unlikely to go fully vegan in their present circumstances. I thought this was all normal. All I had registered when I was very young was that I was not allowed to eat this thing called meat. It was bad.
When I was at a friend's fifth birthday party, she ate a small sausage on a stick and offered me one, too. I did as I was taught, and asked if it contained meat. It did. I said I was not allowed to eat it, but at that age, could not remember why. She explained it was tasty and everyone else eats it.
The next day I was curious, so I turned to my mother and asked,
“What is meat?”
My mother answered, somewhat vaguely,
“It comes from animals, and your father and I think it is wrong, so we don't eat it.”
My mother strained and looked uncomfortable as she explained the next part,
“One day you can choose, but we will never give you meat.”
“But milk and eggs come from animals, so why are they okay?”, I remember asking, somewhat perceptively.
“The animals don't have to die.”
I furrowed my little brow. The animals do not have to die. Why would animals have to die? I repeated my original question:
“What do you mean? Why do the animals die? What is meat?”, as it slowly dawned on me, my expression was horror-struck and aghast. My mother slowly explained, trying hard to balance telling me the truth and not horrifying a young girl. However it happened, I realised that meat is the bodies of dead, murdered animals.
I remember the swarm of emotions. Absolute horror. All the people I knew, they were eating corpses. What was worse, this fact that meat is animals was common knowledge. The rest of the world were, as I saw it (and still do see it...), murderers.
Simultaneously I remember this awful sinking feeling, knowing that from that day forth I would never truly feel one with society, society being your average corpse-eater on the street. I would never fit in. I did not agree and so I would be different. What was worse was this growing pull in my gut, a sense of moral obligation, my young conscience. I knew my parents were right, and the rest of the world was wrong.
I closed my mouth to form the words, “Okay.”, and with that, I signalled my total, utter and unending agreement. I felt blessed to have been born to a mother that did not have an appetite for dead flesh, and at odds with the murdering majority.
* * *
I went vegan at 16, when I found out my mother had been wrong on one count: animals do die for eggs and milk. I had never wanted to go vegan. The first vegan I met was arrogant and twisted (and gave up veganism within months). But what she said was true, and I did my research. I saw the minced chicks, I saw the veal calves. I read about animal experimentation, fur farming, factory farming and fishing. Slowly I started to realise the ways our society is mechanised to enslave and torture sentient beings. But I still did not want to go vegan – for this reason, I am still unsure when exactly I did go vegan. I just know I felt this same pull I had when I was four years old. I would have quiche, cheese, or white chocolate in front of me and I stopped being able to eat it. From the bottom of my stomach came a feeling, telling me this was wrong, this was not mine to eat. So I suppose I did not really go vegan: I started buying vegan cheese and pesto with my pocket money (my mother soon started giving me a “vegan food allowance” - I love my mum!) and asking my mum to make a vegan version simply because I could not eat the vegetarian version any longer. I would take a mouthful and swill it in my mouth, feel the animal fat against my tongue, think of who it might have come from, how they must have suffered. My face would grimace as I promptly spat it out. I became vegan because I stopped being able to put the product of another animal's suffering inside me, not because I wanted to be different. I never wanted to be different. But if the majority is wrong, we must rebel. And so I rebelled again.
* * *
I love my mother. The original rebel, who in the 1980s braved social worker harassment for breastfeeding when vegetarian. Who accepted my choice and cancelled the school milk order when she found out I was giving it away. Who accepted that the taste of eggs make me want to throw up, and so never forced me to eat them. Who accepted and supported me in my choice to go vegan at 16, and has followed me several steps further along the way. She gave me the greatest gift in addition to life itself – compassion, with the courage to rebel and show it. This is a gift I can but hope to pass on.
After seeing the radical improvements in my health, skin, hormones and weight, and observing how simple my mono-meals were, things quickly fell into place for my mother. Suddenly she had an absolutely irrefutable health argument for going vegan, like she had really wanted for many years. My non-confrontational could finally give those that question her choice a quickfire answer - look at me then, look at me now. The complications of replacing x with y were gone with the realisation she did not need to eat normal meals, that fruit is nature's very own perfect food. Veganism was finally achievable and defendable.
My mother has now been a low fat high-raw vegan for around three months. She is strong in her resolve to never eat animal products ever again.