For a while there, I thought about going vegan. I decided against it. Here’s where I stand.
At some point my switch to real food (motivated by health) led me to the issue of animal welfare and factory farming. I was introduced to the concept at the beginning of all this real food stuff, when watching the film Food Inc (a film worth watching, if you haven’t already seen it). It shocked me. But I did a little research online, determined that Australia’s standard farming practices were thankfully not as bad as America’s, and carried on much as before.
Recently, however, I came across Animals Australia’s Make it Possible campaign against factory farming. I added my name to the pledge that I would refuse factory farmed products. That anonymous internet pledge made me feel a sense of responsibility. It also led me to read more information and learn that some of my supermarket meat choices (I was already trying my best) weren’t as ideal as they might at first seem. I made sure to buy only quality free range eggs, organic where possible, and began to source our meat directly from local farms. Our pork and beef now comes as a CSA share from Jonai Farms. This small family run farm is located about a 45 minute drive from my home and prides itself on producing quality ethical meat. I love their mission and the meat is absolutely delicious to boot!
I kept reading things though. I’m not sure how I come across them. It just happens. And it happened with dairy. The lot of an average dairy cow doesn’t seem so bad when you first think about it. Or, better still, if you don’t think about it at all. But in truth the production of dairy is less than ideal, and in some cases downright cruel. You can go to Animals Australia’s dairy information here if you’d like to know more (go on, you should).
Around the same time I was also reading a lot about vegetarian and vegan diets. Not so much because I was interested in them, but because it was a side effect of looking for vegetarian and vegan recipes (this ethical meat thing is fantastic and all but it’s to be eaten in moderation, not to mention very expensive). People out there in internet land (internet vegans in particular) seemed to be pretty enthusiastic about their choices and the impact on their health.
And so an experimental dairy-free April was declared.
Dairy-free April came and went without any (ok, very very little) dairy. Results: going without dairy wasn’t as painful as expected, but no amazing health improvements were noted.
Then I reevaluated things. This is where I dabbled in the idea of veganism.
Note: I jumped straight to veganism because with all my new found knowledge it seemed to me that being vegetarian for ethical reasons was almost pointless. I’m sure vegetarians would beg to differ, which is totally ok, but this is how I see it. If one decides not to eat meat because it is wrong to kill animals, then one should probably extend that to dairy products. A meat animal lives a while doing what it does (depending upon which farm it has had the (mis)fortune of being born) until one day it is shipped off and slaughtered for food. A dairy animal is forced to produce offspring yearly (many of which are poorly treated and then slaughtered straight away) and have its milk taken daily until such a time as it is no longer useful. At which point it is most likely shipped off and slaughtered for food. Summary: live a short life and die vs live a longer crappier life and then die. It’s an all or nothing kind of call.
I considered my options, did some soul searching and decided that I feel animal products do have a place in our food system. Lions can eat gazelles, cats can eat mice, people can eat cows (etc). We do, however, have the enlightenment, empathy and ability to treat our farmed animals humanely and with respect. This should happen more than it does.
As for dairy products, many against dairy have put forward the argument that humans are the only animals to drink another animal’s milk after weaning. I find myself wanting to say ‘Er, yes, but humans are the only animals to do a lot of things: make fire, talk, build buildings, invent electricity…’. Again, provided the animals in question are treated with respect, and the individual consuming dairy has no adverse reaction to it, I see no issue with a little dairy. Ditto with eggs.
So my rules for ethical eating are as follows: eat only humanely raised, naturally fed meat, eggs and dairy. Preferably local. Always in moderation, second to a healthy variety of plant based foods.
Which sounds great, but is difficult in practice. I’m not perfect. I’m so far from perfect I can barely glimpse perfection on the horizon. I’m lucky to live in Australia where conventional farming practices are better than some but let’s face it- Ethical meat and dairy is expensive and hard to find. Conventional meat and dairy is much more attractively priced and hard to avoid. I guess you just have to focus on the fact hat every good choice is a step in the right direction and accept that it will be a challenge to uphold this ideal, especially beyond the walls of your own home. Especially when you love amazing food. Especially when there is an incredible smelling, mouth-wateringly succulent looking piece of slow cooked bbq pork belly of unknown origin being offered to you… (yes, this was recent… yes, I ate it… gosh it was yummy).
Another work in progress.