It is always good to pause for a while and take some time to think about the way we lead our lives. How do our lifestyle choices impact the world around us? Does anything I do make a difference? Good question! Hell yes!!!
I switched to a meat free diet nearly 15 years ago simply because I love animals and I don’t agree with the cruel production methods of modern intensive farms. However, I would not necessarily call it a healthier life style, unless you are prepared to really work at it.
I had seen a couple of documentaries about abuses that had taken place in British abattoirs and felt distressed at being part of a system that would work hard to improve human rights, but cared little for the suffering of the animals which made up a substantial part of our food production chain.
I have always believed that our humanity is defined by our compassion and intellect. You do not have to think very hard or for very long, to know that there are things wrong with the way our food is produced. I recall arguing at length with my colleagues, some of whom would tell me that vegetables had feelings too, so why differentiate? Durrrr,OK, it’s a dumb question, but I would answer it anyway. We cannot know if cutting wheat causes the plant to suffer, but we have clear demonstrable evidence that confinement in narrow pens and imprisoning animals in squalid conditions causes distress. We also know that animals experience pain and emotions, as any pet owner will already be aware. We don’t need to commit an act of barbarity in order to know that it is wrong to do so. Our criminal justice system relies heavily on mature people having an understanding of what is right and wrong. However, when it comes to the food we eat, the divisions between right and wrong are deliberately blurred. Supermarkets happily take care of everything, so that the meat we purchase no longer looks like the fluffy sheep or happy cow chewing the cud at the farm gate. Meat packed in little plastic punnets with attractive pictures of a rural idyll are all part of a much larger and insidious deception. If food producers are happy to deceive us with their packaging, after all nobody wants to see an image of a cow having its throat cut on the family sized pack of stewing steak, then what else are they doing with our food?
Just to give a few examples: Red meat packaging can have oxygenated gas injected in order to preserve the red appearance of the meat and thereby extend the ‘sell by’ date. What about growth hormones and steroids used in cattle feed or the powerful insecticides absorbed through the skin of sheep when dipped? How about antibiotics in poultry feed? Then there is the sharp practice of adding water to poultry and ham in order to increase the weight. Have you ever wondered why ham from the packet is often wet? Water has been sprayed on together with phosphates in order to increase the weight and thereby charge you more for less. Quality, has nothing to do with it.
Vist this page mindfully.org for more detailed information about unexpected consequences of packaging.
The turning point came as a result of two seed changes in my working life. I had been reading the business success literature, trying to bring my own rather insignificant limited company up to a level that others would want to invest in. From what I had learned, it would seem that all change started with desire and this included becoming a better and more caring person. Whilst reflecting on ways that I could improve my own performance and, by extension, my company, I realized that we are nothing more than the product of our thinking. The logic is infallible, we become what we think about all day long. We are also what we eat.
I recalled sitting in the control room at BBC Radio Bristol as a guest, whilst the sound engineer tested the radio microphones of the celebrities taking part in the show that was being recorded that day. Spike Milligan was seated alongside Kingsley Amis and for the sound-check, they were each asked what they had for breakfast. “Fried mushrooms on toast with baked beans” replied Spike who had clearly become irritated by the slowness of the proceedings. OK, I could live with that, and then I started to think about what other things I could eat that did not involve having Tescos mow down animals and vacuum pack their bodily parts for my convenience.
The problem is, where do you draw the line? Perhaps a vegan diet is better, certainly kinder, but for me also a little extreme. For example there are vegan proponents on Youtube that recommend eating 50 bananas a day! How can that be logical, natural or healthy??? In my experience, not all vegans turn out to be earth loving, tree hugging bunny lovers! Some decide to change their diet simply so that they can lose weight faster. Vanity rather than any underlying love of nature being the driving force. From my own (rather unscientific observations) there appears to be a group who see the vegan lifestyle as an act of pure rebelliousness, a rage a against a world that is unfair and controlling. At least by controlling your diet strictly, you are in control of one area of your life.One of the craziest diets (in my view) has to be the Atkins Diet, it is protein rich and just the thought of it is enough to send your average vegan into a coma. However, people lose weight on this extreme diet. Despite all the cholesterol, studies have shown that followers generally experience a reduction, maybe as result of carrying less weight.
I think that the reason behind Dr Atkins’ success, is that there is a link with feeling satisfied after a meal that is rich in protein. After a high carbohydrate meal, the feeling of being satisfied seems to come after you have eaten too much, at least that is how it works for me. The vegan, anti protein videos on Youtube make little of this.
Inevitably there has to be some compromise. I eat eggs and cheese and yes I do have problems with the way these are produced, but you have to do what you can. Vegetarians always risk becoming social lepers, nobody wants you at a dinner party, worse if you are vegan! Friends may say they want you to dine with them, but the invitations will stop! Small price to pay for helping the animals, but you will not be able to help anything if you start to suffer with diabetes and heart disease brought on by a classic, carbohydrate rich, veggie diet. More on this later…I think we should all eat less meat, the world would be a better and kinder place for it. We are hunter gatherers, and it is natural that we would eat some meat, but not the quantities we do and certainly not in the way we currently produce it.
You see, I am not actually against meat. My previous neighbours farmed beef and I would have been happy to eat any meat produced on their farm. I am however, against deceitful, grasping and greedy third parties controlling an industry that should have compassion and humanity at its core, rather than pure profit.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that meat produced in a kinder way, also tastes better. The problem is that it generally tends to be more expensive to produce. The current problems with obesity would suggest that in the Western World at least, we are all eating far more than we actually need. So why are we trying to produce our food on the cheap? Who benefits from very cheap meat? Not the consumers, if you take health into account, certainly not the animals, not even the farmers who are forced to intensify their working practices in order to earn the same or less than they did shortly after the war. The only beneficiary of cheap food (in real terms) are the intermediaries in the supply chain. Yes, the supermarkets! They are the pipers that call the tune that the rest of us must all dance to.I was lucky enough to play guitar at a Bastille Day celebration for Bristol’s celebrated but now defunct five star bistro, Harvey’s. In addition to payment for our musical contribution, the deal included a meal for the band. Sadly, Harvey’s chef, a rather imposing French man, was perplexed by having to cater for the absurdity of a vegetarian in his midst.
During the break, he sat down with me along with a bottle of wine and we discussed at length the merits or otherwise of a vegetarian lifestyle. By the time we got to the end of the evening, he stood up, warmly shook my hand and said that whilst he had not been persuaded that vegetarianism made any sense whatsoever, he did agree with my views about food production methods. He told me that from this point on, Harveys were going to be only ordering organic meat that was humanely produced. It was a victory of sorts.
I could never go back to eating meat, but I don’t think that the vegan extreme path is a realistic solution for most people either. If you are thinking of becoming vegetarian, also spare a thought for the people around you. It may be better to step into it gradually by eating meat less often and smaller portions. I would also add that in the light of new research, we should all be careful about eating too much high glycaemic load, carbohydrate rich foods such as baked potatoes, white bread, pasta and rice. For me, becoming vegetarian coincided with the time when I started to gain weight. It is not healthy to be overweight, even if you only eat grass!So, why not give it a go? If you have just started as a vegetarian, try not to go around convincing people to change by using clever arguments or by being dogmatic. The best way to get people on board has to be to lead by example. If people look up to you, they will want to be more like you. Just like Spike Milligan and I. Here was a guy that I admired and loved. Perhaps by learning from his compassion I could be a better person. I am still trying, but thank you Spike. The world is a better place thanks to you!
Perhaps a better known supporter of a vegetarian lifestyle was the great man himself. Amongst his many words of wisdom, this quotation was said to be written above his death bed.
“My life is my message” Mahatma Gandhi 1969 – 1948