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Vegan month: ‘I finally gave in’

Posted on - 21st January, 2011 - 5:13pm | Author - | Posted in - Campaigns, Food & Drink, Opinion, People

This week has been tough – no doubt about it. Maybe it’s different when you’ve been vegan from birth, but when you’ve completely changed your diet in the space of two weeks, it’s incredibly hard.

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Fake cheese, fake milk, fake butter – it all tastes vile. My normal breakfast of cereal or porridge has been replaced by toast; my lunchtime sandwiches have been replaced by egg-free pasta with a tomato sauce and my dinner has been replaced with a mountain of vegetables.

Then, if you dare to eat out, be prepared to go hungry. After heading into Preston to meet some friends I wanted something fast and filling but couldn’t find anything. I ended up with a packet of salt and vinegar crisps I had bought on the train home.

This isn’t an isolated incident either – I couldn’t find soya milk, a vegan substitute for the real thing, anywhere locally. And as I don’t drive and only buy a ‘big shop’ monthly, I had to do without.

So, it is with no regret whatsoever that I report I fell off the vegan bandwagon. I went out and bought organic free-range eggs, milk and cheese. I had a proper cup of tea, I had a pasta bake with cheese, and for breakfast I’ve had egg and soldiers, buttered with regular butter. I’m sorry, but I was hungry, and I couldn’t do it any longer.

I still don’t want to eat meat, and feel that I’m highly unlikely to go back to eating it at this point – after having my eyes well and truly opened last week I find it to be highly shallow to kill an animal because you like the taste of it. But I can’t kick the dairy. So for the last two weeks of this experiment, I will be a vegetarian, and not a full-blown vegan.

A part of me feels like I’ve failed, but then I remember this is what the experiment is all about. Getting hold of cheap, tasty substitutes for your normal diet is not easy – and neither is creating a new diet for yourself.

In times gone by I’ve picked up the cheapest eggs, either not knowing what hens go through being ‘caged’ or not really caring. But now I’m checking to see if the hens are properly looked after.

Throughout the course of week two, I spoke to people who are pro-meat and animal products. I had the opinions of the vegans and vegetarians last week and needed to see what the grass was like on the other side.

I spoke to Sue Roberts, a former vegetarian and chicken-keeper, at Jubilee Farm in Blackpool.

“I was vegetarian for 38 years because I don’t agree with factory farming. I started eating a bit of white meat for health reasons but I don’t eat red meat, and I would never buy food that is mass-produced,” she said.

Mrs Roberts also suggested that anyone concerned about the welfare of hens should look into getting their own:

“You don’t need a vast amount of space to keep chickens, maybe about four foot by six foot. As long as you have enough room for them to roam about in, and for a small coup and run, you’ll be okay. Mine come running to greet me when I get home; they’re like dogs.”

Mrs Roberts said: “Once they start laying, they’ll normally lay every day during the summer. They don’t lay eggs during the winter because of the dark nights.”

So why do we have eggs in shops all-year round, I asked her?

“Factory farms keep the lights on constantly, tricking the hens into laying all year round. It’s so unnatural, cruel and it shortens their life span. Imagine being at work 24/7 yourself, it’d kill you,” she explained.

Another visit that was high on my agenda was to an abattoir. I wanted to see the process an animal goes through before it is slaughtered with my own two eyes. I was anxious to see how our country deals with animals.

Unfortunately, nobody would speak to me. The one person at an abattoir that did, albeit briefly, refused to go on the record, and refused point-blank to give me their name.

‘Well-looked after’

What they did say however, is that all animals are killed according to approved plans from DEFRA (Dept for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and the Foods Standards Agency.

“Animals are either stunned with electric stunners or a captive bolt, and it always works as far as we’re concerned,” they had told me.

When I asked what would happen if it didn’t, I was informed they always have a backup “just in case.”

At that particular abattoir, vets are constantly present to monitor the safety and welfare of all the animals. It was also pointed out to me that there used to be hundreds of slaughterhouses in the Lancashire area, and now there is only a handful. This was put down to the stricter legislations regarding the slaughter of animals that are now in place.

Unfortunately, their reluctance to go on record and let me have a look around, along with the accusation that I’m “fighting the veggies’ corner” means I couldn’t see this first-hand.

Phil Cathcart, 26, an ex-farm worker, said that while videos and stories circulate showing apparent mistreatment of animals, they were well looked after on his watch: “Water was always available; extractor fans were always on because of the heat generated from all the birds and alarms were in place in case there were any failures,” he said.

While Mr Cathcart never saw inside an abattoir himself, he says the workers who came to take the birds away for slaughter never showed bravado and said the birds were humanely killed.

He said: “I was told that the birds were stunned before their throats were cut. It was an electric jolt, which stuns the birds unconscious to minimise any stress.”

As for his own food preferences, Mr Cathcart is a meat-eater.

“From a very young age I was brought up around animals. I helped with lambing and calving, dishing out vaccinations and castrations, rearing animals from young – looking after them to the best of my abilities before seeing them shipped off, either to another farm, auction or slaughter.

“I respect the decision of those who don’t eat meat and I can understand the flip side of the coin but from my personal experiences and the exposure I had to the processes surrounding animal slaughter, I can still eat meat and not feel guilty.”

This coming week I’ll be look at the ease (or difficulty as I have already established) of getting hold of vegan food, including how supermarkets make it clear which foods are suitable or not. I’ll also be looking at some foods that you would suspect to be vegan-friendly, but actually aren’t.

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Image couresty of Flickr user; dan65.

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