The Journey to Veganism

Zoe Carriere

By Zoe Carriere – mother, teacher, vegan

Life is a journey, and the road to becoming a vegan is not an easy one when you started out as a meat eater.  The purpose of this article is to provide an anecdotal account of my experiences, both the difficulties and triumphs on this journey as well as advice for those thinking they wish to choose this lifestyle.  I will also be posting some vegan recipes in the near future that my family and I love for your culinary pleasure.

I wasn’t born vegetarian, much less vegan.  I grew up in a family of meat lovers, and throughout childhood was oblivious of the link between animals and the food on my plate.  This continued until my teenage years and after we had moved to a beef industry town, where at 13 years old I noticed the cattle trucks passing on regular basis and made the link to their unfortunate end.  These encounters triggered empathy for cattle, and other animals used for their meat.  Despite these newfound understandings of the implications of what I was eating, I continued to eat meat with a bit of a guilty conscience.  Information revealed by a friend employed at a slaughter house continued to bolster my mounting distress.  I could no longer stay disconnected, and made the decision to become an Ovo-lacto vegetarian (eats eggs and dairy).

It was a little bit difficult at first as I really liked the taste of meat, however my already high energy levels increased and I felt so much lighter body and soul.  My mother was reasonably supportive and made family meals as normal, minus the meat for mine.  My brother, sisters and father made the obligatory animal sounds as they ate their meat, knowing it would bother me (as siblings do), and at school friends gave me the same light hearted treatment.  There were some people who were quite hostile with me however, especially children brought up on cattle farms, some even outrageously stating that the animals do not feel pain!?  There also was little to no vegetarian options at restaurants, cafes, or BBQs  which made it a challenge at times to socialise.  I was not fussy though, and was more than happy to munch on salads or side vegetables.  At 15 years old my father insisted I was too thin and needed to start eating meat again.  I had always been quite thin, I had just gone through a growth spurt, and was very energetic, so I found his reasoning a little bit flawed, however, to keep the peace I eventually complied.  A few months later, he  asked if I had missed the taste of meat to which I replied “yes”, as it was never the taste that I had issue with.  Then he bet me that I could not go back to being a vegetarian.  I took up the challenge, but told him that if I did, he had to support my choice to be a vegetarian, and he agreed.   Being a man of his word, he never sought to make me eat meat again, but the light teasing continued.

At 17 years old I had another awakening to the plight of commercially farmed animals.  I went to visit my big sister who was living on the outskirts of Brisbane at the time, right near a battery hen farm.  The miserable sounds coming out of that farm made me (and my sister) cry into my pillow every night, especially when I discovered what the conditions were like for the chickens.  This sparked the beginnings of my awareness of the power of the consumer.  I vowed to never again support such an industry, and would only ever purchase free range eggs.  This information was passed on to family members and loved ones, who all now only purchase free range eggs.

My vegetarianism continued after I had left home and looking back on it now, I realise that I really did not have much knowledge of the nutritional requirements for vegetarians.  I ate a lot of bread, pasta and cheese when cooking at home….however, the move to a big city gave access to more restaurants, and opened a whole new world of vegetarian culinary delights!  I worked at a Tibetan restaurant, where I discovered the joys of tofu in a Tufu Curry, and I also worked in a Turkish restaurant which gave me access to hummus, falafel, dolmades and other such wonders.  Then there was sushi train, kebabs, and so many other options for a hungry vegetarian.  Thank goodness for multiculturalism!!!!

I moved to Canada at 21, where I encountered a huge vegetarian/ health food culture and I was introduced to health food stores and the large variety of vegetarian options available there.  I befriended my first vegetarian friend, and I felt so much relief because we ate the same way and understood each other without having to justify our choice.  She also introduced me to organic foods (which I also researched when I heard the term) and cooking with tempeh and lentils as well as other grains and pulses.  I transitioned to veganism (no animals products at all) at this time for health reasons, while living with my little sister (an avid meat eater), ordering fresh organic produce every week.  I was so excited for the delivery each week, and the fruit and vegetables were so delicious and flavourful.  This fell by the wayside when I moved in with my vegetarian friend, as we both shared so many meals together and she still ate eggs and dairy, which proved too much temptation for me.

During this time, I also had a really good conversation with my uncle, who hunts deer.  I of course was horrified with the thought, but he explained that he hates mass produced meat and the innate cruelty that it brings.  So he hunts his own meat, where he recognises the price of a life, thanks the animal for its sacrifice, and uses all its meat.  This resonated somewhat with me as it speaks of a natural, mutual respect between the hunter and its prey…not that I could ever pull the trigger, but I agree with my uncle, it’s better than mass produced meat.

My first meat slip in quite a number of years came when the vege kebab I had ordered turned out to have meat in it.  At first annoyed, I suddenly got an overwhelming urge to eat that meat right up, which I did, shocking myself with the strength of that urge.  I knew something was not quite right with me, and sure enough…I was pregnant!  I moved back to Australia to have my daughter, and apart from that initial slip up, maintained my vegetarianism throughout my whole pregnancy.  I encountered a doctor while pregnant who was concerned I was a vegetarian, so prescribed pills and supplements even though my bloods were normal.  I was annoyed at the lack of insight this doctor had about nutrition and wellness, so I declined the prescriptions explaining my reasoning.  She was not too impressed.  My daughter was born a healthy 8 pounds 9, with no allergies or health problems of any kind.  My daughter and I then moved in with a man who proved to be very emotionally abusive, and a year into our relationship, I bowed to pressure and began to cook meat for him, eventually succumbing to the urge to also eat it.  It was not a good time in my life, and I was not being true to myself.  As soon as that relationship ended I went back to vegetarianism for both myself and my daughter.

I began a relationship with a man, my current partner who proved very supportive of my food choices.  He is an excellent cook, and would make us amazing vegetarian meals.  Unfortunately, I saw a documentary (which again I researched after seeing it), which showed dairy farming practices which did not sit well with me.  I could not justify avoiding meat but continue to eat dairy, when the basis of my decision is the humane and ethical treatment of animals.  It was difficult for my partner for me to transition back into veganism, as he did like to cook for me, but he realised that to love me, he had to let me be true to myself.  I negotiated with him ensuring he knew it would not place any extra work on him as I would cook for myself and my daughter.  He has cooked for us some awesome vegan chillie, and pizza since then though!

I made the decision that I would only serve vegan/vegetarian food to my daughter, however she could choose whether or not to eat meat if offered to her.  I explain my reasoning to her, but she is still of an age where she does not synthesise information too deeply, so she will eat meat every now and then. Many people, including child care workers expressed concern at the lack of meat in her lunch box, but the proof is in the pudding.  My daughter is the most energetic, healthy looking child I know!  Just a word of caution though, you really do need to ensure that you have a good understanding of nutritional requirements, and ensure that all meals and snacks are nutritionally sound…..and do not over do it with the processed soy protein products.  Make sure you use mostly whole foods such as nuts, legumes, seaweed, fresh vegetables and fruits, and brown grains.  Also, ensure the foods are ultra tasty- you do not need to feel like you are missing out on the beautiful world of food.  I felt so sad to be saying goodbye to macaroni and cheese…until I found a better than the original vegan recipe for it!  If you really miss the taste of meat there are a number of great substitutes, but remember to read the labels because some products are advertised to appear vegan, but are not.  Also check labels of beauty products, clothing and household products as they may contain what you are trying to avoid.

Meat, poultry and dairy farmers may argue with me, but the fact is, most of these companies are commercial businesses and so the focus is on the bottom line, not the welfare of the animals (or the environment).  The argument may be that certain things need to be done in order for the business to continue, but I cannot and choose not to support that.   The same argument could be made about human trafficking.  I do not believe in the profit at any cost mentality, the capitalist discourse that is ruining our world.  Some steps have been taken by our farmers and the government, and I applaud farmers who are or have transitioned to organic, biodynamic, humane and ethical practice of their own free will.  You are the agents of change, and we as consumers and voters are the agents of change.  Also informative websites such as Green Foodie’s are bringing so much change-affecting knowledge.  To quote the inspiring children’s story The Peace Book “The world is a better place because of you!” (Parr, 2009).

I feel so blessed as I am now living in a time where there is so much more awareness and access to a variety of vegan foods.  I am grateful to the people and experiences that have helped to mould me.  I am so thankful that as adults, me and my siblings (and parents) are now able to exchange knowledge and come from a place of understanding, even when they act as guinea pigs to some epic vegan baking fails!  I am blessed with a partner who does not necessarily like my choice to be a vegan, but loves and supports me anyway, and my daughter who knows me so well and is so in tune with my emotions.  I don’t declare myself a saint, and have fallen off the wagon a few times, usually when I haven’t been paying enough attention to my nutritional needs.  But the point is that I’m trying, and feel healthier and more at peace with myself because of it.  Good luck on your journey, whichever path you may take… just don’t walk with your eyes closed.

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Comments

6 Responses to “The Journey to Veganism”
  1. This was a wonderful, very thoughtful article. I’ve come late to the awareness thing, but now eat largely organic. I also don’t buy meat (save for going out to eat) unless I know the meat is wild caught, or free range, free from and organic.

    I applaud you for being you!

  2. Fiona Lake says:

    Eating only ‘wild caught’ meat is absolutely the worst thing for environmental sustainability – far better to eat farmed produce – domesticated animals bred specially to be eaten.

    • Zoe Carriere says:

      I would be interested to hear your justification of this comment!? Currently the livestock industry is one of the most damaging environmentally. The UN estimates that 30% of the world’s land mass is used for grazing and growing feed for livestock. The equivalent of seven football fields of forest is cleared every minute to create room for farmed animals. Soybean is the main crop grown in the Amazon, which is fed mostly to livestock, contributing greatly to the alarming depletion of that rainforest and many of its species. Grazing creates soil erosion and desertification. It is extremely inefficient as so much resource (water, energy, food) is needed to produce comparatively small amounts of meat. I could go on. Obviously I am not suggesting everyone grab a weapon and go hunting for their own meat, however, due to the effort required and the link to the value of a life, the gluttoneous and wasteful behaviour that is prevalent in the western world may alter if meat were not so readily available and it were not so easy to disassociate from the life/death cycle.

  3. Mello says:

    I loved your story, it’s inspirational and uplifting, something I am afraid I could not pull off being a bit on the militant side. Thank you for writing it.

    I have been coming to grips with how on earth I can combine living in the world with living vegan and one thing I took on board was not to give up if you fall off the wagon, accidentally or intentionally. People can be cruel and unsupportive but they are the ones who you wouldn’t want in your life anyway.

    One point I would like to make is how western culture has such contradictory values with animals. Many people will spend hundreds and even thousands on veterinary bills for a beloved dog or cat and yet farmed animals are killed by the millions and their carcasses sold for a few dollars a kilo. To me there is no difference, I just cannot get my head around why that would make sense to anyone. Do people just not think about it?

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